As much as the Fringe is about dreams being made, it’s also about mortgages being paid. I’d assumed Mark Steel’s latest – Every Little Thing’s Gonna Be Alright – was one of those “better turn up and do a show” shows.
He has been around for yonks. He has had his constituency, swelled by many stints on BBC Radio 4. That nasal south London voice, those whiny Lefty views: a safe bet for a packed house, lapping up his brand of right-on political comedy. I almost didn’t bother.
But pain has sharpened Steel’s act and given him, at 57, a new edge. There’s the vexation (for him) of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. No surprises there. But, unexpectedly, there’s the misery of divorce; his marriage of 11 years recently came to an unpleasant end.
His chipper resolve to regale us with the lighter side of his darkest hour combined with his disbelief at what’s been going on in the country at large forms a blisteringly funny, insightful hour, paced pretty much to perfection. “I had such a lovely little set-up this time last year,” he recalls, once he’s got a heap of warm-up gags at the expense of the general election out of the way. “Thank Christ I haven’t got to go through that palaver,” he had thought, shuddering in his marital complacency at the idea of dating from scratch in his fifties.
But, bang, he was given his marching orders – his suburban bliss in Brighton shattered. And he circles in arias of exaggerated but impassioned perplexity over the cause of the split: “You don’t spot when things are going wrong, when people are getting angry,” he laments.
Everything annoyed his other half: his obsession with sport, his ineptitude at recycling, his desire for a hat stand. His ex can’t have detested him when they first dated – can she? – he wonders, conjuring a tongue-in-cheek vignette of her telling her friends of their relationship (“What’s he like?” “Well, he’s repulsive!”).
He piles on the indignation at divorce “mediation” (“I hope you never have to do this”), deftly linking its cold itemising of their possessions to his revulsion at a country in which “every little thing is reduced to a financial calculation”. In another glorious section, he rants about liberal offence-takers on social media: “There’s not a single thing you can put on Twitter that wouldn’t upset someone somewhere.” Blunt truth. Big laugh. I’m a convert.
Until Aug 27. Tickets: 0131 623 3030; tickets.edfringe.com