As you cross over the North Bridge into Edinburgh’s Old Town and walk towards the Pleasance Courtyard, you’re assailed by posters of what Stewart Lee memorably described as “boys called Russell in t-shirts noticing things”. It feels sometimes not so much an Arts Festival, more of a rolling audition for T4 presenters.
James Acaster, although he fits into the same age bracket, is pretty much the opposite of this new breed of comedian. Wearing a smart jumper and some sensible slacks, he’s not so much bursting and bustling with energy as padding his way gingerly round the tiny room tucked away at the front of the Courtyard.
Following on from support slots with Milton Jones and Josie Long, Amongst Other Things is Acaster’s first Edinburgh show. The influence of Long in particular is clear to see – he displays a childlike enthusiasm for topics such as seeing the sea from a car and doughnuts – but he also does enough to stamp his own endearing personality on proceedings.
Acaster’s material could be described as twee: he does a good ten minutes demonstrating the requisite face to make when presented with a doughnut, while a teddy-bear in a full knitted uniform makes for an unlikely finale piece. Yet it’s all delivered with such heart and confidence that it’s impossible not to warm to him.
There’s also some staggering moments of physical humour, in which Acaster bends and shapes his lanky, gangly body to memorable comic effect. One particular mime of creeping around the bedroom will live long in the memory of fringe-goers long after the Festival’s finished.
It’s his interaction with an audience that really marks him out as one to watch though. Whether persuading five random audience members to donate their jackets to a particularly stubborn coat-wearer in the front row, or enthusiastically dragging up a volunteer to demonstrate a sky-diving session.
He may be a bit too low-key for some Fringe-goers, but those who stumble upon Acaster are in for a treat. Place bets on that ‘best newcomer’ award being awarded to him this year.