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The Angina Monologue
Published on Saturday, 11 May 2013
4

Promotional Image

4 stars

Emporium Theatre (venue website)
Theatre
11-12 May, 8:00pm-9:00pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Part of the Five Pound Fringe. Tickets not available from the Brighton Fringe box office. Buy on the door or visit www.brighton5poundfringe.com

I don’t like the ukulele. I groan at the very sight of a ukulele. The alleged “inherent comedy” of the ukulele got old for me about 30 years ago, and I secretly think the only reason comedians play the ukulele is because it’s easier than the guitar. So if I’m going to give four stars to a show with a ukulele in, you can safely assume that everything apart from the ukulele was very good indeed.

This show contains a ukulele.

The ukulele in question was being clutched by actor-comedian Doug Devaney, when he collapsed on a Brighton hill with debilitating chest pains back in 2010.  And if it seems I’m being weirdly flippant about such a serious event, I’m taking my cue from Devaney’s inspiring one-man show – which at first plays the incident very much for laughs, even down to an introductory mix-tape filled with gags from a Carry On film.

Devaney’s self-penned monologue is very funny indeed.  He commands the room effortlessly, yet makes his script feel more like a cosy chat than a lecture; he’s a master of the dramatic build-up to a groan-worthy punchline, and he’s dynamic and purposeful in his movement around the stage.  The humour’s warm, intelligent, and well-paced, even as it tackles the challenging subject of his time in hospital and later rehabilitation.  And believe it or not, I found myself smiling at the song – mercifully, just one song – he played on that accursed ukulele.

But I knew the laughs wouldn’t keep coming forever, and in the final part of the show, Devaney’s script takes a far more introspective turn.  The transition from comedy to contemplation was abrupt and, to be honest, didn’t quite work for me.  But once Devaney settled into a more sombre tone, I found him even more compelling than before, as he spoke of the fear of living with his condition and the effects it’s had on his self-image, even self-worth.

It’s both patronising and clichéd to call a performance “brave”, but there is a particular courage to Devaney’s approach.  He doesn’t come out wearing a serious face, demanding our respect because he has an important story to tell.  Instead, he faces what happened like many of us would – by telling lots of jokes – but he then does what most of us surely wouldn’t, tearing down the façade to reveal the trauma that his brush with mortality has left behind.

This is a show about psychology more than about physiology, and it’s more sobering than a hundred public health information films.  It’s also remarkably entertaining.  It’s funny and thought-provoking, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Even the bit with the ukulele.

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