Angus Dunican accurately pitches The Bravery Test somewhere between stand-up comedy and storytelling, and although he’s nominally a comedian this show is slightly weighted towards the latter. The show focuses on Dunican’s relationship with Neil, his archetypally-tormenting older brother, though we also get glimpses of their wider family life. Anecdotes, insights and formative moments are fused together to create a kind of self-evaluative journey.
Nostalgia and self-indulgence are the Scylla and Charybdis of heavily autobiographical shows such as this; however, Dunican successfully manages to navigate past these in order to create a rather lovely hour of personal exposition. His success is partly due to an eloquent script. Dunican deals in well-crafted, languid prose. Instead of truncating sentences for comic effect, he lets them flow on to their natural conclusion. Unlike other comedians who try and court the illusion of spontaneity, it feels like the written words are the driving force of the show.
It’s an interesting and refreshingly novel approach that yielded effective results from Dunican’s audience. One problem of explicitly combining the aesthetics of storytelling with a stand-up sensibility is that the audience may be uncertain as to they should react: when you listen attentively to a story, laughter becomes more like participation, which can be problematic. However, the writing was frequently funny enough to allay any discomforts the audience may have had about its mixed genre, and Dunican’s animated and forthright performance also highly aided their enjoyment. A few moments of slippage in confidence aside, there was nothing to fault about his stage presence: regular fluctuations in volume and the occasional adventure off the stage gave the show the sense of variety that it needed to maintain audience interest.
The show’s humour seems also to emerge from a writerly, prosaic evocativeness. The events of childhood are inescapably funny, and Dunican effectively mines his own life for such moments. His description of his father, a naturally hilarious character, goes down a storm. However, Dunican too frequently derived his laughs from allusions to pop culture, particularly the television shows of his childhood. This effectively served the ends of his storytelling, but meant that the explicitly comic parts of the set seemed to strike at the same note. A little more diversity in the type of his jokes would have facilitated greater laughter.
That being said, it was exciting to watch Dunican break into different territory. The Bravery Test feels like a conscious effort to establish a formal basis for the fusion of storytelling and comedy, from which Dunican can begin further experimentation. Factual prose is less given to the sorts of formal trickery and interruption that create comedy, so perhaps Dunican’s future lies in the fictive. It’s clear that he already has the tools that he needs to progress further, and he’s certainly a performer to look out for at forthcoming Fringes (and elsewhere). For now, he has created a solid hour of touching, witty and articulate entertainment, for which he deserves high praise.