John Thompson

Review: Return of the Lumberjacks – Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh.

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15 years ago Glenn Wool, Craig Campbell and Stewart Francis made the trip across the pond from Canada for their Fringe debuts. In the time since then, they’ve all moved on to become firm Edinburgh favourites, while also racking up plenty of tours and telly credits. This year, the trio decided to get back together – due to popular demand! – and provide Edinburgh with one of the most enjoyable shows I’ve seen in some time.

The beauty of Return of the Lumberjacks lies in its format; three top drawer comics, Wool, Campbell and Francis, are joined daily by a different comedy A-lister, doing 20 or so minutes of material from their exceptional repertoires. Don’t get me wrong, I love a carefully crafted hour of accomplished stand up with an overarching theme or narrative, but it’s so rare to find shows that provide constant laughs without let up. This format, with each act offering 20 minutes of absolute gold – some old, some new – is near enough perfect.

Compering tonight’s show is Craig Campbell, who gets the ball rolling with some strong audience work, despite the Assembly Rooms’ cavernous size. His shtick isn’t always the cleverest as he barks his way through punch-lines, but Campbell warms up the room up nicely over the course of the show, with a hilarious yet shocking story about a failed mountain ascent and an Edinburgh-friendly routine on the nuanced Scottish meanings of the word ‘pal.’ Top stuff from him.

Glenn Wool is the first stand-up on tonight, though – and absolutely rips it. Wool’s 2011 show, No Man’s Land, was one of my favourite shows at last year’s Fringe, and he delivers an exceptional set here whilst using no material from his most recent hour. Starting with a surreal skit on swans, his stilted, understated delivery brings big laughs with astonishing regularity. Much to the delight of his audience, the meat of Wool’s set is spent poking fun at America for its various sins. And it doesn’t half go down a storm. This is no lazy Yank baiting session; his intelligently-written political routines deserve the continuous laughs they get in a thrilling short set.

Who can follow that? Well, tonight’s guest, Milton Jones.

Jones, with his deranged appearance and expert comic timing, is the type of man who can have audiences laughing without uttering a word. He delivers such a whirlwind set of clever and silly one-liners. This scatter-gun style can, at times, become grating over longer sets, but the quality of the gags here – and Jones’ delivery – means the pace doesn’t drop one for one second and the gleefully daft nature of his jokes infects the audience.

The show then goes from one gag-merchant to another, as Stewart Francis wraps up the show. I’m initially concerned that Jones and Francis’ similar styles may be wearing when viewed one after another, but Francis really does top things off nicely. He’s got a more theatrical style to him has Francis and his deadpan one-liners have a quicker pace than Jones’ material – and the crowd give him the same warm welcome as they have done all the acts tonight.

And who can blame them?  This is a hugely enjoyable offering from four of comedy’s world-beaters. If you’re working on a ‘laughs per £’ basis, Return of the Lumberjacks truly is a serious contender for the best value show at this year’s Fringe.

Date of live review: Tuesday 14th August 2012.