This show, prompted by tragedy, is one of the ‘underground’ highlights of this year’s Fringe. Arriving 45 mins before kick-off, it was clear that this show had built up a real buzz.

Already, at least 30 people had gathered, keen to be part of this special show. The queue was soon snaking out of the door of Whistlebinkies. The capacity of the pub’s main room could only hold 80 or so. It would be standing room only. 

Why this room and that this time?

This was the slot vacated by the tragic death of Gareth Richards in a road accident in April of this year. The void in the program has been filled by those who knew him. The money raised by the shows will go to support Gareth’s young family. So far,  the best figure has been over 800 pounds. The queue was full of excited chatter, a real sense of expectation. Rumours had been going around about who was going to appear in this compilation show. “I’ve heard it’s going to be Stewart Lee”, ” that’s what I heard too”.

Andrew White, who had shared a flat with Gareth in Bournemouth was the compère. He briefly mentioned his ‘lovely & kind & smart & funny’ friend before getting going. White got things off to a flying start, making clear that though this was a memorial event it was not going to be reverential or pious. It was his comedic spirit and the spirit of the Free Fringe (and grassroots comedy) that was being honoured. Each day, a different group of comedians fill the slot.

White was followed by Rosie Holt who has built up a large following on the back of her take-offs of Conservative politicians. In her neatly structured 10 minute routine, she engaged with a number of NHS workers in the audience, trying to convince them that the Tories were on her side, while subtly hinting they should, like her, go private. She did however express concern about some of the deprived in the country – those who had never experienced riding a horse or didn’t own one!

The third performer kept up the high energy in the room before the show moved to a crescendo with a set by alternative comedy ‘royalty’ Stewart Lee. His performance was full of the dexterity and sophistication he is famed for, as well as feeding off the audience. Lee clearly revelled in the chance of performing for a “random group of people in a cellar”, which took him back to his early days on the comedy scene. His set consisted of Lee performing and commenting on an old routine of his from 1989 (“I haven’t done a short slot since then”).  He enjoyed playing with the audience, especially when the response wasn’t full throttled (“at least admire the audacity”). 

A Show for Gareth Richards is a great way to pay tribute to someone who is clearly much missed on the comedy circuit. For Fringe-goers, it also provides a great opportunity to catch some leading stand-up comedians in a small, intimate setting away from the more fully commercialised Fringe. But get there very early: demand for seats will only rise in the final week of the Fringe. 

A Show for Gareth Richards is part of PBH’s Free Fringe @ Whistlebinkies.

Everyday at 16:00, until August 27th.

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