The last time I saw Nick Helm live, it was a one-off work in progress in which he ran over by about forty minutes, alienating at least half the audience, and causing the other half to walk out before the end. It was perhaps the greatest show I saw that year. As such, I had high hopes for his return to the Fringe after a six-year absence, even if my hopes were lower for the possibility of my catching the train home.
Entering in cape, sequined underwear, and leather waistcoat, Helm is immediately at odds with the audience, chastising individuals for their facial expressions. With his mop of shoulder-length hair, and the upturned bucket he takes to standing on, he looks at times like a circus lion prowling the big top, his tamer having done a runner.
The sense of danger is palpable. From a flurry of one-liners, to a gorgeously-paced story about appearing on Comic Relief, the anger that Helm typically shows in his work is here contextualised with the revelation of a great depression, and it adds a certain poignancy to the proceedings. When he reveals that his friends often blame him for driving them away, it feels like the same is occurring in his act, and gives everything a tinge of pathos.
That is to say, at times the self-indulgence splits the room somewhat. For example, a song that is simply a very long list of film names has half of the audience (myself included) in near tears with hysterics, the other half seem confused with what’s going on. There is something of an angry Stewart Lee in this, where Helm seems to take joy in knowing that not everyone is enjoying what’s going on, which just adds to the hilarity for those of us who are in on it with him.
The highs when they hit are phenomenal, including a song about love-making whilst on antidepressants, or the moments of throwaway prop comedy. This is a wonderful hour, so long as you are prepared to work for it. Further, he is a genuinely talented singer and songwriter, in a throat-destroying rock star sort of way. Essentially, seeing Nick Helm live is an experience unlike any other at the Fringe this year, and was well worth missing my train for.
Phoenix From the Flames runs until the 24th of August – buy tickets here.
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