Note: This review is from the 2021 Fringe

The lack of live opportunities during the pandemic means most comedians have arrived at the Fringe with either un-road tested works-in-progress or pre-pandemic works that never got their fair dues. In the case of Simon Evans, it’s the latter. The Work of the Devil is the show he first brought here in 2019, renamed and refined and, if we’re being harsh, a little blunted by the passage of time. It’s a personal piece and one imagines the early tellings having an emotional rawness that two years and an intervening pandemic have taken the edge off, as well as dating some of the topical material. No matter, though. This is a story that remains well worth hearing.

The show’s overture is all about identity politics. Evans positions himself as an uncool uncle, grumpily bemoaning the tropes of our times – the explosion of genders, the radical and rapid shifts in language – and how disconcerting he finds it all. (The show’s title refers to the notion that every societal change that happens after you reach 35 feels like the work of the Devil.) If that sounds ho-hum, the droning-on of another middle-aged, middle-class white dude who “doesn’t get it”, then he’s well aware of the fact. Evans is a smart guy. Unlike some who share his take on life, he hasn’t arrived at it through knee-jerk reactionism, even if it suits his purposes tonight to play up to that. Anyone who has followed him over the years knows he is engaged enough that he could argue points from either side of the culture war. His reasoning happens to have led him in one direction. Yours may take you in another. Such is the nature of discourse.

This evening is neither the time nor the place for some of his deeper, more nuanced philosophical musings, although there are glimpses of what make him a thoughtful and provocative social media presence. Best among his early forays is a twist on the classic Englishman, Irishman, Scotsman set-up that questions the notion of prejudice and who it is directed towards. But there’s another reason for keeping the identity chat at a fairly superficial level. It is but preamble to the show’s personal climax…

Evans has talked affectionately about his elderly parents throughout and ruminated on the experience of being an only child. It would be churlish to say much more and ruin the reveal here, even if the show has done the rounds before. Suffice it to say, many performers come here with personal stories to tell, seldom do those stories intersect with genuinely eye-opening episodes of social history.

There isn’t the whiff of cynicism that sometimes comes with these trauma-mining comedy shows either. For a start, although one imagines Evans’ experience to have been life-altering, he isn’t playing for our sympathy. Instead, he delivers his story in almost matter-of-fact, lecture style as if sparing us the more moving bits. If we’re urged towards any emotional conclusion, it’s towards admiration for his parents, which makes it all the sweeter.

Evans has always cut a serious, impregnable figure. He’s an English gentleman raconteur. You can imagine him trading blows in the debating chamber or holding court at the members’ club bar and not giving much of himself away. Tonight though, you see the boy inside the man and get a chink of vulnerability. It also contextualises what has gone before. If you were of the mind at the start of the show that Evans was just another tedious, right-wing bigot, then at least by the end you’d have to conclude that not everything is as it appears…