Edinburgh Festival review – Michael Workman

A gifted man with a moving story to tell, just make sure you don’t go in expecting Jimmy Carr

Michael_Workman1This is a show that will stay with me long after the Fringe is done this year. I know virtually nothing of Workman going into this show and it seems neither does the meagre audience. There are eight of us, including four girls in the front row who have clearly just walked into the Gilded Balloon at about 10.30pm and demanded some comedy.

They last about ten minutes. This may be the time for alcohol-rich, patience-poor punters (it’s 10.45pm) but this sure isn’t their show. Despite halving the numbers, the girls’ departure relieves the room of a lot of tension, allowing Workman to relax and start telling his story with enthusiasm – at least his meek version of enthusiasm.

So, the show. It’s an hour of delicate storytelling, told in the first person, about a walk Workman takes through a war-torn city with a dog, while homeless. It has the introspection and melancholy of a Daniel Kitson show, though without the comic rigour, as there are some elaborate tangents that test even my patience – and I’m into this.

As Workman, the dog and Penny – an art student he meets who moonlights as a gravedigger – slowly make their way through the warzone, he peels away the layers of his companions. He tells us the traits he admires in dogs, and shows us some of Penny’s (his) very personal paintings.

As with so many fictional journeys, this is an odyssey that doesn’t appear to have a destination, yet discoveries come along the way. Workman considers the idea of how much of us is inherited character and how much is unique to us alone. They long to escape the noise and terror of war by flying, but find the same solace by lying in one of the graves Penny has dug (“I could get used to this,” she says.)

The overriding feeling is one of serenity. As if Workman really has lived this warzone and come out the other side, in tact, the struggle now over. This feeling is reinforced by the fact that we can hear the rain hammering down outside, while we’re inside, not exactly cosy in the Gilded Balloon Wee Room, but in safe hands at least.

He’s big-eyed and vulnerable, and really quite gifted, as is demonstrated not only by his storytelling but by his painting and the Sufjan Stevens-esque piano-playing that bookends the show. In gothic clothes, dyed white hair and with black eyeliner, he cuts an intriguing figure, and I look forward to seeing how Workman follows this up.

This show is perhaps best approached as a storytelling show rather than a comedy one. It’s morbid yet optimistic, desolate yet beautiful – those girls don’t know what they are missing.

4 stars

Michael Workman: Humans Are Beautiful is on at 10.45pm at the Gilded Balloon.

What the punters say

Trish, Sydney: 1,000,000/5. “I wish I could see this every day. it’s so pure and brilliant – he’s fearless. This show has inspired me to be a writer.”
Dave, Edinburgh: 2/5. “I didn’t like it that much. I think if you want comedy it’s not that great. There were some good things about it though.”
Review written by Paul Fleckney

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