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Published on Tuesday, 10 August 2010

4 stars

7 - 28 Aug (not 16), 7:45pm (8:35pm)
Reviewed by Craig Thomson

What if pirate radio was run by and for pirates?  That's the initial premise which Jollyboat use to hook their audience, before charting a course through a vast repertoire of laughter, sadness, magic, thrills, and more laughter.

Jollyboat, made up of brothers Tom and Ed – Ed has the evil moustache – were unambiguously the star turn of the opening night of Electric Cabaret, the midnight showcase at C aquila.  A strong performance of their pirate radio medley ('no rum and no eye'... think Bob Marley and 'no woman no cry') persuaded me to take in their full show at my earliest opportunity.  I was clearly not the only one impressed: in the packed audience, I recognised several other acts from the lineup that night. 

Their uproarious pirate schtick is easily the equal of any other musical pastiche, ranging from Joy Division to the Spice Girls, by way of Katy Perry and Abba.  As good as it is, I did quietly wonder to myself if they could really sustain it for an hour; but my fears subsided as it soon became clear that they had no intention to.  In fact, the show demonstrates a surprising range and versatility, exemplified best by younger brother Ed's emotionally charged paean to a chip shop serving girl, solo on his guitar.  If it doesn't leave you a sobbing wreck (as it did one gentleman three seats along from me), it will at least have you dabbing discretely at your eyes.

The surprises keep coming as the brothers quit the stage, leaving 'special guest' David Alnwick to take over.  Alnwick, a close friend of the Jollyboat crew, is a young magician, and his genuinely impressive illusions drew gasps of delighted astonishment from the febrile crowd.  I can't decide if it's in spite of, or because of, his slightly geeky charm, but he has real presence and charisma coupled with an easy manner with his audience and volunteers.  While he works hard to downplay expectations as part of his routine, his talent as a magician is clear.

The magic does give way again to the pirate pair, for more comic songs and a charming extended monologue from elder brother Tom – sort of Alan Bennett meets DC Comics.  It's hard to see the sheer variety on offer in the hour as a downside, but it is something to be aware of before you go in: a few folks in attendance seemed taken aback, though they were soon won round. Some of the numbers are naturally stronger than others, and one of the jokes – translating a peaceful, pleasant song into German, with inevitable Nazi results – was done by Axis of Awesome last year.  But it's a fairly obvious line of attack, and they deliver it with such Bruno-Ganz-in-the-bunker conviction it's hard to care about the duplication.

The variety-show aspect of Jollyboat will, I think, have a broad appeal that the Jolly Roger trappings might serve to disguise.  Whether ypu're of the generation brought up gathered round the TV watching the Royal Variety Show, or the one texting its mates about Britain's Got Talent, there is (to dig out a stock cliché) something for all the family.  There's also a tangible passion for entertainment underpinning everthing: great comic material and winning performances combine in a nuanced hour, mixing sly humour and real pathos with more pirate gags than you can shake your hook at.

As ever with the Free Fringe, you're expected at the end to make a small contribution of a couple of pounds if you've enjoyed what you've seen.  Be prepared to break out your booty, so to speak... because Jollyboat is a (buried) treasure.

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These are archived reviews of shows from the Edinburgh Fringe 2010.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to those we've featured, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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