Brennan Reece’s Everlong is a lovely thing, an affectionate, tear-in-the-eye tribute to his late nan. It’s comedy you’d take your own nan to, but not so tame you couldn’t get something from it yourself. In fact, the only people not really rolling with it on this final night are a group of young Americans in the front row. Maybe this brilliantly done Northern nostalgia doesn’t really translate.
There’s something of Professor Brian Cox about Reece. It’s the boyish, wide-eyed wonder of his descriptions. There’s also a distant echo of the classic 70s comedian-cum-gameshow-host, especially about his crowdwork. By contrast, certain passages end up more like modern spoken word than stand-up, complete with that characteristic sing-song intonation. That mix of old-fashioned and modern really works for him.
The show captures the spirit of the grandmother who helped bring him up, through stories of childhood weekends, coming-of-age moments, and then, the dementia which took hold of her. Nanna gets painted kindly, but not without a bit of a ribbing. In a nice running gag, he compares her multitude of outfits to Quality Street wrappers. She’s also caricatured as chain-smoking, bingo-playing and a bit of a fibber – a loving nan, to whom he owes a lot, but with funny, cheeky foibles he can poke fun at.
At least part of Reece’s skill here is in not reaching for era-specific signifiers to create the nostalgic vibe. He could have got more easy laughs from the younger parts of the crowd by playing the nineties/noughties card more often – “Anyone remember… ?”. But there isn’t really any of that. This is his nan, but it could also be your nan, whether you’re 20, 50 or 80. The backdrop in front of which he stands is, if he’s to be believed, nan’s worldly possessions. The sideboard, board games, chintzy ornaments – all the timeless elements of nanhood are there.
He adopts a slightly risky strategy of using a single audience member as his foil throughout. That person, tonight a chap in his 70s, becomes the butt of various age-related gags, Reece playing the innocent youngster who couldn’t possibly imagine what it’s like to be so ancient. Someone not playing ball or taking umbrage might make it hard going, but Reece seems pro enough to make it work in any circumstance.
In fact, if there’s one slight niggle about Everlong, it’s that it’s too pro, a little overcooked. After three weeks at the Fringe, Reece knows its highs and lows all too well, and he doesn’t leave quite enough breathing space for honest crowd reaction. Those missing milliseconds give the game away; he’s no longer responding to us, he’s responding to dozens of audiences before us. Are we not special?
Mainstream success cannot be far away for last year’s Best Newcomer nominee, and he’s not someone you’d begrudge it to. Not every Fringe hour needs to rip up the rulebook, and it’d be a hell of a miserable cynic who couldn’t see the joy in this.