It’s a sparse crowd in the Cowgate Underbelly—a mere five audience members. This could be uncomfortable. John McKeever seems undaunted; there is no evidence of disappointment or lack of effort. He’s in risky territory as his character comedy is reliant on audience participation and his first character, a Frank TJ Mackey-style self-help guru, enlists the help of a full 40% of the crowd.
Thankfully the audience goes with it, despite initial awkwardness, and from then it all feels rather relaxed. McKeever’s a gifted actor and all his creations are distinct entities with convincing accents. The self-help material slightly peters out, but there are two more of his creations that prove more successful. A Northern Irish karate instructor with a strange penchant for cheese, matches absurd comedy with an undercurrent of tragedy. He’s nursing a broken heart. His wife has left him for a more ‘sexually imposing man’, and he’s riddled with guilt for the death of his sensei in mortal combat. Another audience member is assaulted, and the humour hits harder along with the pathos of the character.
McKeever mines a similar vein of vague melancholy with the Australian actor Mick King, star of 80s sci-fi drama Cosmo, ‘which ran to nearly six episodes!’ Again, this is beautifully played by McKeever, although King’s flamboyant gay persona has been done many times before, and the determination to recapture his brief moment in the spotlight by any means necessary, is reminiscent of Mark Gatiss’ Les McQueen in The League of Gentlemen.
Perhaps his most sympathetic character is MC Esterov, who acts as compere in between each act. A study in good-natured disappointment, it’s a properly heart-warming end to the show when he gets his moment to shine, albeit in slightly disturbing fashion.
As with most character-driven shows, some characters are going to be more successful than others. However, McKeever is really talented, with a real eye for the sadness that often implicitly runs parallel to humour. He certainly deserves a larger audience than he attracted.