Now onto his fourth Fringe show, Steve Bugeja has cultivated a reputation as a gifted storyteller with a fine line in self-deprecation and introspection, and he demonstrates his skills nicely in a smooth hour that never quite ignites into something genuinely exciting.
Almost deals with a traumatic thirteen-hour flight Bugeja suffered. Just before take-off, his girlfriend texted with the four dreaded words, “We need to talk,” which left him in an escalating state of panic. He uses this story as a stop-off point, returning to it frequently in between material on technology, time travel and his love of trains.
Bugeja is first and foremost a real comedy technician, and there’s very little in the show that isn’t carefully weighted and considered. A running concern is whether he overthinks things, to which he concludes that there are far too many ‘under-thinkers’ in the world. The structure of his set, built on a steadily increasing sense of drama he skillfully drip-feeds into his story goes some way to vindicating his claim that the more thought that’s been put into something the better. It’s tight as a drum, with hardly a word out of place and is paced excellently.
He is however, genial to a fault. So much of his material seems to be accentuating his perceived beta-male status to the point of parody that you wish he would display just a touch more arrogance and swagger. Stories of his previous lack of success with women, his lactose intolerance, and a catastrophic space cake adventure in Copenhagen are undoubtedly entertaining, but aren’t as compelling as they should be given that they’re all playing with the same idea of inadequate masculinity, and as such the laughs become thinner on the ground given they’re all being drawn from the same well.
Luckily, his storytelling skills keep things ticking over, particularly a repeat visit to his neighbour on the flight, the newly pensionable lush Nina, whose alcohol intake gets more outlandish throughout; and his growing neurotic panic over his girlfriend is neatly played. Call backs are layered like Russian Dolls and you can’t help but once again appreciate the craftsmanship that has gone into Almost.
Just when you think it’s over, there is time for a final sting that will have done no good for Bugeja’s masculine ego, but does make one realise that he’s been an insidiously enjoyable person to spend an hour with; his gentle, unobtrusive style having worked its way into your heart and then clubbing you with unexpected poignancy. A fine piece of storytelling that’s just slightly lacking in real hilarity.