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American Gun Show
Published on Tuesday, 13 August 2013
4

4 stars

Gryphon Venues at the Point Hotel (venue website)
Theatre
2-10, 12-17, 19-24 Aug, 5:30pm-6:30pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Recommended for age 16+ only.

It’s a strange thing, American Gun Show. Half of it tries to make you laugh, but the other half – the more memorable half – really isn’t funny at all. The programme blurb promises “Brecht” and “standup”, two words which simply don’t belong in the same sentence, and it’s a tiny bit ironic to bring a rallying-cry against gun ownership to a country where handguns are already banned. But despite all that weirdness – or maybe because of it – Chris Harcum’s one-man production is among the most compelling shows I’ve seen at this year’s Fringe.

The stand-up comedy is a little variable.  Towards the start, I gasped with laughter as Harcum intellectually deconstructed the experience of attending a theatre, but the humour dips a little when he moves on to more standard fare about the variety of life on the New York City subway.  Even when I wasn’t really giggling, though, Harcum kept me engaged.  He’s an actor by training, and he puts in a fast-paced, physical performance – utterly confident, and effortlessly holding the whole of the stage.

The comedy has a point of course: to dig into the psyche of his homeland, a nation which now contains more guns than people.  Harcum refuses to call it the “United States” – arguing that it’s thoroughly disunited – and he backs up his point by contrasting his current life in New York with his childhood home in the south.  There are no genuinely eye-opening insights, but providing insight isn’t really the point of this show.  It’s more of a cry for help – a desperate appeal to save a society which, in Harcum’s eyes, has taken a fatally wrong turn.

And towards the end, that point’s thrown into even sharper relief, as Harcum reveals the real-life reason that he’s chosen to make this show.  He’s sworn me to secrecy over it – and he’s quite right to do so, because this is a story you deserve to hear without having the details spoiled.  But as he sits alone under a spotlight, playing it utterly straight now, he shares an almost terrifying narrative about the events that have brought him to Edinburgh.  As he talked, the silence from his audience was absolute… and for a while, I swear I was holding my breath.

There’s no denying that American Gun Show is distinctly odd: it’s two shows bolted together, or maybe even three of them.  It’s an actor playing a stand-up comedian delivering a political broadcast, and in less confident hands it really wouldn’t work at all.  But Harcum has the skill and the presence to carry it off, and he has an important personal story to tell.  If you’re looking for a show to talk about – where you’ll leave the theatre wanting to discuss both its message and its style – then you really won’t find better than this one.

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