The events of the last twelve months have been something of a poisoned chalice for the comic political commentator. While on the one hand, every new day seems to bring reams of ready-made material, the rich pickings mean that it’s almost impossible to come up with a new satirical twist. That seems to be the problem faced by the Fringe’s longest-running show NewsRevue, which, despite the undeniably impressive energy with which it’s four-strong cast (plus the pianist) deliver the show, seems a little jaded by its 38 years in the business.
The premise is simple: take a catchy pop song (from today or yesteryear, it matters not) and change the words to ridicule the news. Predictably, Trump, May, Putin, Kim Jong-un, Sturgeon and ISIS are among the targets between their comedy crosshairs, but disappointingly, they fail to find many punchlines that haven’t already been bandied willy-nilly in social media circles. Of course, the ubiquity of armchair satirists on Twitter and the suchlike must make it harder for original jokes to be achievable, but when May’s “shoo-bop sha wadda wadda yippity boom de boom” is wheeled out for the third time in an hour, it’s hard to escape the feeling that the barrel has been well and truly scraped clean.
Not that it’s all generic Facebook fodder; there are a handful of genuinely inventive sketches in there for sure. There’s a good gag about the new female Dr Who, the DUP are blasted uncompromisingly and a critique of Michael Gove’s performance as Education Secretary goes down well. Unfortunately, for every one of these there are plenty of satire-by-numbers jokes about Brexit, Boris Johnson and the ongoing spectacle that continues to unfurl in the White House. What’s more, the caricatures of foreign leaders (including the North Korean Chairman and the Syrian and Mexican Presidents) are distastefully done, with guffaws at pronunciation and bland stereotypes being given priority over incision. Similarly, the closing ISIS sketch smacks of shock humour rather than genuine wit.
The performers themselves should be lauded for giving it their all and for their superb singing voices, while the pianist/musical director also keeps up the pace with impressive gusto and ability throughout. The jokes do come thick and fast enough to paper over the cracks of the ones which fall; almost immediately after lampooning one political figure (often in less than 60 seconds), the troupe have moved onto the next target. However, to really recapture the edginess that has seen them nominated for multiple awards, they might do well to spend more time in front of the drawing board and less scouring social media.