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Postcard from Brighton: May 7

A night on the tiles with some old friends means it's been - shock horror probe - a Fringe-free day for me.  Still, it's a chance to catch up on the many delights of Brighton... and in today's Postcard, to fill in the gaps on a couple of shows I've not had the chance to write up so far. 

But first, a big hello to everyone coming over from Twitter!  From a sceptical start, I'm a born-again convert to this snappy social network.  Our (friendly) rivals at ThreeWeeks have launched the pun-tastic Twittique at this year's Festival; already known for their no-flab reviews, I'll be interested to see how much they can pack into Twitter's 140 letters.

2 starsTour of Tours

Until 24 May; weekdays 4pm-7pm, weekends noon-7pm; Upstairs at Three and Ten (starting point) 

I really wanted to like Tour of Tours, the "alternative" (and factually dubious) walking tour of central Brighton starting at Three and Ten.  In fact, I really expected to like Tour of Tours: a 90-minute trip round the town, taken at your own pace and delivered through an MP3 player, it's both an unusual concept and a much-needed dig at a genre primed for parody.

Trouble is, I just didn't find it funny enough.  Yes, some of the invented local history had potential - the pier-based "murder tour" featured a suitably off-the-wall alternative theory on the fate of Jack the Ripper, and some of the zany non-sequiturs along the way raised a genuine smile.  As a live performance, this might just have worked: I could see a crowd warming to it and carrying the show along.

But it wasn't a live performance; when all's said and done this was a radio play, and radio's a specialized art.  With a few notable exceptions, the delivery wasn't up to the challenging medium - nor did the script do enough to fire up an audience of one.  On top of that, almost all of the segments were over-long, with each stop carrying essentially a single joke well past the point it could possibly be funny.

There was, it must be said, one moment of sheer brilliance.  Set in a graveyard, the "ghost tour" was founded on the wonderful conceit of a ghostly tour guide scaring her fellow corpses with tales of the living.  A fine parody of Most Haunted, the Derek Acorah impression was almost worth the trip on its own.

Sadly, though, I can't recommend a show based on a five-minute five-star segment.  It's a shame Tour of Tours doesn't live up to its promise; perhaps in a later, trimmer and punchier form, it'll realise its potential still.

The London Air-Accordion Society - Free!

11, 18 May, 6:30pm (1 hr); 25 May, 2:45pm (1 hr); Laughing Horse @ The Quadrant 

In the publicity-hungry world I inhabit , Helen Arney earns the distinction of being the first ever performer to advise me not to review her show.  "The guests are different every week," she pointed out, and - of course - she's right.  We agreed I'd come anyway, but I've pulled the star rating for this mixed-bill variety show, one of the numerous free acts performing at the Quadrant.

Helen herself is billed as "sweetly bookish" on the show's flyers, an apt description for a woman whose side job is hosting a classical music show.  Her game of composer Top Trumps worked well, but she was at her best when she went off-script and played off the colourful cast of characters sitting in the front row.  Her wide-eyed enthusiasm also made her the ideal candidate for show compere - though I'd have liked to have seen a little more of her own act, too.

First up was Tom McDonald, whose faintly embarrassing song about a panda's private parts didn't go down too well with the early-evening crowd.  The follow-up number was genuinely funny though; the main issue I had was that the surrounding patter went on too long for such a short set.

The same criticism can't possibly be made of Carly Smallman, who launched into her routine with instant gusto.  We were treated to the world premiere of her latest song, working title "I love being middle-class".  I know, I know, it's not the most original of ideas - but the choice of things which Carly defined as middle-class was inspired, and her bubbly delivery made every line fun.

Last up was Martin White, the wildcard in the pack.  Opening with a comedy gothic-horror yarn played on - prepare to be surprised - an accordion, I suspect his screaming delivery might have been a bit too much for some.  All the same, the room warmed to him enough to sing along in unison to his close-harmony final number; it was funny, but also somehow touching and sweet.

Oh, and the show's name?  Play an air accordion, speed it up and - hey presto - you're clapping.  It all makes sense once you know how.

And with that, we're up to date.  Tomorrow's my last full day in Brighton, so I've got a bumper day planned - taking in education, entertainment and my annual foray into the murky world of cabaret.  Will I make it to the end of a Festival marathon?  Find out in tomorrow's Postcard.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Brighton 2009.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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