Jay Richardson reviews The Work Of The Devil under its original title at the Edinburgh Fringe.
The brave new world of identity politics seems a subject almost deliberately engineered for Simon Evans’s withering, recessed-eyeball scrutiny.
Though revisiting some old gags tonight, he’s also adapting Douglas Adams’s theory that there are three ages of technology, depending on your age when each innovation is introduced. At 54, Evans is in his final, fogyish phase regarding self-expression, dismissing the quickening movement to consecrate individual rights at the expense of broader social compromise and cohesion.
Although appealing to the superiority complex of his only-child upbringing, the trend piques his irritability with its excess. His live-and-let-live philosophy is challenged by the huge amount of wasted time and legal fees expended on gay marriages and Christian bakers, not to mention trans-waxing.
Mischievously comparing and contrasting the publicity spin of English and Scottish nationalism – identity politics for old people – he maintains that he’s not trying to change the world, simply reassure his middle-aged demographic as it shifts beneath their feet.
So by way of example, he reprises one of his old pub jokes involving the classic ‘three nationalities walk into a bar’ setup. Flirting with racism in a way that, for now at least, is still socially acceptable, he nevertheless lays claims to a minority dog in the fight, his dad having always loved a mongrel stray after all.
He notes that that the explosion in trans expression has coincided with dropping levels of testosterone across the Western world, and snobbishly bemoans the evolution of football from a fighty, knuckle-dragger’s distraction to middle-class pastime. His tongue is lodged firmly in cheek but getting a little tasty with regard to tribal allegiance and eugenics.
Confessing to some discomfort in the research for his previous show, Genius 2.0, which touched on the nature-nurture debate and the Nietzschean ideal of great intellects raising society up, he evokes the greatest of all in his own field, Billy Connolly.
The Big Yin’s diagnosis with Parkinson’s have afforded Evans considerable disquiet, the centrepiece of his previous hour having been a routine about senior moments, a lovely, circular bit of business in which he relates perpetually forgetting why he went upstairs, reproduced here with added irony.
Worried, he got his blood tested. And he was floored by what came back. But those weren’t the only results waiting for him.
Re-framing Genius 2.0, what comes next is, frankly, jaw-dropping. Though the circumstances it describes will sound vaguely familiar to many, they’re nevertheless barely credible. And yet, entirely of the moment.
With the skill of a seasoned storyteller, Evans has carefully laid his trail of breadcrumbs and gives his humane yarn both the gravity and ridiculousness it deserves, the revelations coming thick and fast as the show approaches its touching conclusion.
You tend to expect a high standard of stand-up from this veteran performer. But in sharing something so deeply personal, he’s exceeded what seemed to be his full potential.
Apparently, Dressing For Dinner has developed over the course of this run. And so, beyond dropping its ill-fitting title, I’d expect it to get even better when it goes out on tour. Outstanding stuff.
“There are a few slower moments you might call lulls, and there is little in the way of texture: Evans’s superior attitude is unflinching, even when it’s misplaced. But the cruellest, most pointed gags are an evil delight.”