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Vaudeville Schmuck
Published on Tuesday, 21 August 2012
4

4 stars

The Voodoo Rooms (venue website)
Cabaret
1-5, 7-12, 14-19, 21-26 Aug, 5:45pm-6:45pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Recommended for age 18+ only. Venue may not permit under-18's - check with venue before booking.
 Free and unticketed. No pre-booking required.

Vaudeville – in this case, juggling – must be one of the most unfairly underrated of art forms.  Despite the decades of training that go into each act, it’s seen as the preserve of have-a-go TV shows, cruise ships, or street performance.  But now, in the luxurious comfort of the Voodoo Rooms (it’s air-conditioned, folks!), a vaudevillian at the top of his game sets out to tell us that he’s “not just a low-grade schmuck”.  In the process, Mat Ricardo shares a series of warmly entertaining anecdotes, demonstrates a few of his skills… and most tellingly, explains his love for his art.

Ricardo’s life follows such a different track from mine – and probably yours – that when he does observational comedy, it’s a rare glimpse into a world we simply never get to observe.  Who else can tell a true story about auditioning a Scottie dog, or the trials of getting fake machetes through airport security?  I did feel he tended to extend each joke just slightly too long; but there’s no doubt that Ricardo is a fine storyteller with an engaging personality, and he has a vast catalogue of tales to tell.

On the other hand, surprisingly, he doesn’t actually do much juggling.  With an eye to those who saw his popular show last year, a big chunk of Ricardo’s monologue is an extended apology for the lack of new stunts; and that’s fair enough, when it takes years of practice to develop the skills needed for any particular routine.  But there must be a huge number of tricks he can do standing on his head (maybe literally), a fact illustrated when he nonchalantly juggles tennis racquets to punctuate one early anecdote.  A few more of those moments would help this set feel a bit less like a regular stand-up show.

Never mind though; the work we did get to see was sometimes mesmerising.  My favourite was a beautifully elegant routine with a hat, effortlessly skilful and oozing cool.  His trademark flourish – the one with the wine and the cigar boxes, if you’ve seen his shows before – is cheerfully convoluted, building to a genuinely unexpected conclusion.  And the new routine he’s learned since last year, a pared-down sequence with four John Lewis plates, is made all the more impressive by the videos showing just how hard it was to get right (though it occurs to me that Ricardo’s in a no-lose situation here; he could drop the plates live on stage half a dozen times, and I’d come away saying he did it on purpose).

In any case, I sense that Ricardo’s skills were never meant to be the point of this particular show.  It’s at its most striking – and most unexpectedly touching – when he switches to celebrating other people’s work, hailing the century-long line of vaudevillians whose torch rests currently in his hands.  As I watched his playlist of grainy YouTube footage, and listened to his enthusiastic commentary on the subtleties of his predecessors’ routines, I grew to share Ricardo’s reverence for those who’d gone before – and understand his passion for keeping a great tradition alive.

To make your mark on history, Ricardo tells us, you don’t have to win a Nobel prize or fight a war; it might be enough to spend 20 years perfecting the comedy shtick of getting your thumb stuck in your buttonhole.  It’s an oddly inspiring parable on the rewards for hard work, and it’s compelling proof that Ricardo – and all his colleagues – are far from Vaudeville Schmucks after all.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Edinburgh 2012.  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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