Review: Camden Fringe Festival, NW1

Daliso Chaponda

Daliso Chaponda - Credit: Archant

The Camden Fringe truly is a magical thing. When much of the performing world heads north to the Edinburgh Festival, for eight years running the team behind this intrepid event have stopped the rest of us feeling left out.

James Dowdeswell

James Dowdeswell - Credit: Archant

And what other time of year can you wander to a quiet Camden boozer on a Monday night, content in the knowledge that three top quality comedy acts will be performing upstairs?

There are drawbacks of course, and maybe it’s not surprising that an early show just after the weekend wasn’t packed to the rafters, but Daliso Chaponda deserved a much healthier showing than the handful that turned up during our visit.

That said, a gig that could have been a bit awkward in front of a small crowd was made a pleasure by Mr Chaponda’s easy going, self-effacing manner and top notch delivery.

A Malawian by birth he made a lot of clever ‘outsider looking in’ jokes about the British psyche, which struck a particular chord with roughly half the audience who were also non-Brits.

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He also seems to be something of a big deal in Malawi, attracting huge crowds. Not, as he puts it, because he is any good, but because he’s the only Malawian stand-up in the world.

His heritage also gave him a good platform for some socio-economic wise cracks, but there was plenty of low-brow (and hilarious) smut in there too. His was a thoughtful, charming and very funny act.

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After a brief pause for libation, up came James Dowdeswell, whose vaguely booze-themed show told the alcohol-tinted tale of a man who grew up a pub in the west country; it’s even called Wine, Ale and I – a pun on the 80s classic film starring Richard E Grant.

Witty, meandering tales were his stock in trade; from wine-tasting in France to smuggling a giant hot dog outfit across borders in a comedic cold war style, it was enthralling, enjoyable stuff.

His audience participation was fantastic too – getting to know all corners of the crowd and bantering them without being too harsh, so everyone was happy to join in. By the end of the night the Stoke Newington native had pretty much invited us all out to his local; the Three Crowns.

Two great acts, for next to nothing and nothing not to like.

I absolutely love the Camden fringe, it should be applauded and everyone should vow to go to at least one show each year.

**** stars

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