A veteran of the Edinburgh Horror Festival, Dr Bonk (the creation of the award-winning Elliot Simpson) is a plague doctor with a highly suspect 400 years of experience under his beak. Bringing his bizarre and spooky brand of comedy to the Fringe once again with Dr Bonk’s Macarbaret, this year he has changed up his act. Rather than speaking for himself, a voice over narrator speaks in conversation with him while he amusingly bumbles and fumbles along. It deflects a bit of attention away from him in what is a variety show, even if the other acts on offer don’t quite stack up against the good doctor.

Different acts each night will always have different results, but the Macarbaret seems to hinge on having acts who can match Dr Bonk for energy, visual inventiveness, and absurdity. Drier or more straightforward comic acts fail to get a real rise from the crowd, who are warmed up by the peculiar, wonderful sight of a plague doctor playing emcee only to be brought down again by something more down to earth. It’s a balance that doesn’t especially work, and some acts will come off worse than others. 

Dr Bonk himself however remains the Macarbaret’s strongest element, and surely one of the festival comedy circuit’s most inspired creations. Leaving you constantly on the verge of giggles, be it through comedy or fear, his hyperactiveness and slew of mortality-themed jokes are a marvel. The back and forth he has with his narrator is especially entertaining, while his solution to the voice’s eternal nagging is comically gruesome in all the right ways. Even the apparently accidental things, like his hat falling of, are somehow hilarious in a low key way.

A mixed bag, Dr Bonk’s Macarbaret hinges heavily on its acts sharing a mutual love of zany energy that helps keep the night feeling tight and tonally coherent. If they do, the show can be a hoot. Otherwise, it risks dropping dead, but then death is no stranger if you boast as high a mortality rate as Edinburgh’s finest (read; only) living plague doctor.

Dr Bonk’s Macarbaret has now ended its run