It is dark and hot. An enthusiastic group of more than a few dozen are sweating and panting as they assume their positions on the chairs, fluids gulped voraciously in a desperate attempt to relieve an unrelenting thirst, the white foam sediment left smeared across their mouths. No, it is not some perverse free fringe sex orgy, but merely the audience filling out the extremely humid basement of the Liquid Room Annexe, settling down with a drink before Stuart Goldsmith begins his new show, Compared to What.
After fiddling with some sound, Goldsmith comes on stage and introduces himself. First, he thanks the crowd for coming downstairs to see the show in its shadowy and mildly uncomfortable setting (especially as it happens to be a gloriously sunny day outside). He then sets out a general theme for the next hour, making no pretence about himself or his act; this performance is all about him, and what he calls the ‘movie of his life’. Rather than sounding egocentric, there is something genuine and honest in how this comes across, and immediately he sets a precedent, illuminating us – almost poignantly – with the fact that we are also starring in a movie of our own lives, where he is passing by in a cameo role.
The rest of the set consists of a series of anecdotes and musings about the minutiae of life, related with the wit, speed, and charm of a man with a great intellectual capacity. Goldsmith takes on emotional subjects that we often collectively experience but do not talk about, then flips them round, compelling us to laugh at the alternately touching and yet downright ridiculous moments.
At the end of the set, Goldsmith mentions – in regards to the money collection to be taken – the importance of Free Fringe, and the constant toil that he and other rising comics face as they try to make their way up the ranks and provide a living. It gives pause to think that, despite not being as well known in the world of popular British culture, his performance is much funnier than many of the other established comedians who often irritatingly adorn our television screens.
While you might not get to see much of Goldsmith on television just yet, he is thankfully very much available to see perform in person for the rest of the fringe. Hopefully, like most of the audience on this particular day, you will feel that to enjoy such an engaging performance for free is practically obscene, and won’t mind sacrificing a few beer tokens as you leave, moving up through the venue to clear air and a clearer mind, knowing that you have not just supported this talented comedian, but the whole concept of the Free Fringe and the important role it plays in the development of the artists of the future.