Edinburgh Festival review – Gordon Southern

The fundamental flaws in Gordon Southern’s Borders mean he stands little chance of making it into a belting hour of comedy, writes Paul Fleckney.

gordon_southern3It’s one thing being humble and self-deprecating, it’s another to constantly undermine a show with real-time reviewing and drawing attention to its faults, which is what Gordon Southern repeatedly does to Borders.

It’s a show sprinkled with potentially neat gimmicks, but half of them are geared towards real-time reviewing of the show – the drink he drinks from if a joke doesn’t land properly, the recorded ditty saying how sometimes improv isn’t funny, or that another night that joke would’ve worked better – plus an insistence on commentating on whether things are going well or not.

With all that going on, how is an audience meant to build enough trust in a performer to relax and enjoy it? Perhaps the gimmicks are intended to soften any minor failures, instead they perpetuate them. Tonight’s audience was chatty to the point of being disrespectful, which is to their discredit, but Southern must take some responsibility for making them feel like they can do that, like the teacher who’s lost the classroom.

The show is about borders, be they geographical, social or moral, with the running theme of his relationship (now a marriage) to an Australian. There are some strong moments such as the Brixton mugging that takes a twist and sharp gags about Steve Irwin and vuvuzelas – and despite all the above, Southern is actually a very confident, likeable performer.

But there are some stinkers too – a routine about his dodgy digs with some mates in his early 20s feels like it belongs in the 1980s, and the raps that pepper the show are cringey and aren’t delivered with the lyrical flair or musical timing that rap absolutely needs.

The theme of borders also feels too weak to hang material from, and while the show’s conclusion about the nature of borders and boundaries is correct and profound, the crowd doesn’t particularly care as they haven’t bought into it. After all, borders is an abstract concept – an hour of comedy needs a firmer foundation than that (perhaps building a show around the two sisters he encounters would have worked better). This and the repeated undermining of his own authority means Southern hasn’t given himself much chance of creating a quality show, and doesn’t give the crowd much chance of enjoying it.

Two stars
Gordon Southern’s Borders is on at 8pm at Downstairs at the Tron, click here for booking.


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