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Jordan Brookes: Bleed review

| Comedy | 01/11/2018

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Rating:

Ian Cater, Chief Features Writer & Reviewer

Brookes’ new version of Bleed fails to match the Edinburgh iteration, but remains compelling viewing.  

The self-styled “riskiest comic in the biz” has landed at Soho Theatre with a typically arresting show that relies on unsettling honesty and bold sensory tricks to give its creator the laughs he craves.

Bleed, Brookes’ fourth hour-long show, was unfortunate not to be nominated for the main prize at the Fringe, where it stood out in both style and substance.  For the former, Brookes took the punchy decision to use a quirk of the venue – the Pleasance Courtyard’s hustle and bustle – as a pretence for employing technology to extend his efforts to assault the audience’s senses.  Here, in the calmer confines of a darkened performance space, Brookes has had to tweak that conceit to achieve similar results, albeit a little more telegraphed and a little less edgy in its execution.

Brookes has also fiddled with one of the central themes of the Edinburgh iteration, namely that his obsession with comedy – the need “for those lovely LOLs” – is ruining his offstage life.  A key piece of evidence, aside from the general anxiety and generational social media validation he alludes to, was the breakdown of his relationship following the highly-acclaimed 2017 Body of Work, where Brookes discussed his then girlfriend at length.  For unknown reasons, Brookes now dances around this backstory.  That’s a shame, as it revealed genuine jeopardy to his craft, as well as projecting a Gadsbian guilt onto the audience for our complicity.

Without this narrative shortcut, Brookes still manages to convey elements of vulnerability, not least during existential wonderings and memorable moments when his inner thoughts – exacerbated by the Pure OCD condition he contends with (addressed in our interview here) – are shared aloud or acted out in the darkly entertaining theatrical skits.  That’s when Brookes is at his best, choosing to shock – often with graphic sexual or violent imagery – in a way that somehow manages to remain relatable and therefore all the funnier for it.

But that vulnerability – necessary for his current comedic style – is less evident elsewhere.  Through talent and hard work, Brookes has become an assured stage presence, as comfortable holding silence as he is interacting with latecomers.  So even on the opening night of this run, there were times when his efforts to portray a ‘man on the edge’ felt a little unconvincing.

In some ways of course, this proves Brookes’ point: that comedy – specifically, the lengths he needs to go to get the level of laughter he wants – is unhealthy for him, that it’ll lead to a final, fatal Tommy Cooper moment.  But in other ways, it’s positive: pushing this highly intelligent and restless performer into more creative corners, demanding that he reaches towards his physical and mental limits.  He sums this up perfectly in a superbly grotesque routine reminiscent of the insatiable Pale Man from Pan’s Labyrinth. 

To that end, Brookes gorges on plenty of laughs in this version of the show, but would be more sated with a better balance between boldness and vulnerability.  However, that’s an occupational hazard for the riskiest comic in the biz.

Jordan Brookes is performing ‘Bleed’ at Soho Theatre until 10th November 2018 (head here for tickets).  For more information on Jordan’s upcoming work and shows, go to his official website and follow him on Twitter @jordbrookes.

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