Note: This review is from the 2019 Fringe

Amused Moose Comedy Award People’s Champion 2017, Ian Smith brings his new show Half-Life to the stifling-hot Buttercup venue.

Reviewing a show based on the fact that said comedian shares a prowess for Scrabble might seem an odd choice but I’m very glad I gave this show a look-in. My over-enthusiasm in sticking my hand up in record-breaking speed to his question, ‘who plays Scrabble?’ however, was perhaps not the wisest move as it leads to me being on the spot as to my highest score and my answer being declared ‘bullshit’ when I declare it was 87!

This is a very personal show, part one of a one-part show about halves, love, Scrabble and an unlikely holiday to Chernobyl with his brother, who had never been abroad before. There’s also an absurd tale of a visit to a flat where a disabled pigeon resides, sitting on a cat gymnasium eating pureed mushy peas; and the audience joining in the ‘wake-up, wake-up‘ kids’ song he performs to his girlfriend each morning in an attempt to get her out of bed.

Smith’s delivery while fast, shouty and staccato-like, has loads of energy. He is endearing and engages the audience right from the start and despite picking on Billy, a guy in the front row, whose job is in the Navy, he concludes that it’s ‘a difficult job to take the piss out of,’ and leaves it at that. Another couple, whispering in the second row, don’t get off so lightly, but it’s done in a humorous manner that says ‘this is my show, now shut-up!’

Despite having an obvious script and format to deliver, he has to recap not once but four times for late-comers who think nothing in disturbing the comedian’s flow, blaming their lateness on the weather, getting stuck in the bar queue and printing tickets. Yet he manages to get back on track quickly.

Back to Scrabble.  Smith’s set is a projected back-drop of a Scrabble board with various words, Coke – Netflix – Jumpers – Streets – Life – Love – Half-Life – which gets added to at each chapter with words including Soilier – and Fartings – and are the subjects that weave his show together. Smith explains he will cover off each word in its entirety by the end of the show. The words seem unconnected but there’s a logic to his storytelling that becomes clear by the end.

Last October, Ian had to postpone his wedding because his fiancee was unwell. This show is about trying to help her anxiety, and his own, by taking up Scrabble, because he thought it would help his fiancee relax.

In a ‘romantic gesture’ to show his love, even though he doesn’t like the game, he not only joins the Association of British Scrabble Players (ABSP) but enters a professional Scrabble tournament in Aylesbury.  Pitting his wits against a load of OAP’s, he wins 432 to Iris’ 355, despite being challenged on some of his words. He takes great delight in photographing the white-haired pensioner on his mobile phone, even though mobile phones are banned in tournaments, and sending it to his girlfriend as the OAP challenges his word by typing it into the official word-checker on the computer.

Using Scrabble to weave his stories together, Smith will have you laughing out loud as each word and the relating stories are revealed. Ultimately, it’s a personal show about trying to make big gestures when the small things are what really matter.