Review: Aaaaaaaargh! It’s the Best of Fringe Comedy from the UK

With Fringe’s dizzying array of comedy offerings, the choice of which emerging comedian to lend our ears and hearts to is almost impossible. Aaaaaaaargh! therefore provides a much-needed opportunity to dip one’s toe in the proverbial stand-up waters.

Three different acts per night reach out their arms to audiences – ‘pick me! Come to my official show!’ – as well as the host, Nik Coppin, who will also reappear elsewhere over the next month.

Tonight’s gaggle of comedians (and yes, that is the proper collective noun) boasted an angry, self-deprecating Cornishman who took fashion tips from the audience, an energetic former teacher whose anecdotes pranced about the crowd like the high school girls in his dance class, and a slightly more earnest comedian who could have masqueraded as a makeshift Wolverine in Deadpool.

These brief but great shows were tainted, however, by Coppin’s unfortunate inability to sustain the room’s energy between comedians. Try as he might, and did, Coppin’s humour could not shrug off a sliver of desperation, and that notorious whiff of offense.

Despite its fallbacks, Aaaaaaaargh! is a highly useful tool for Fringe-goers unnerved by the endless parade of possibilities. As for me, I’ll be attending Hugh Jackman lookalike Gordon Southern’s show Adelaide Hills Cop II, riding the waves of joy he delivered as third comedian tonight.

Come to the Bunka, wade through the shallows and pluck your own specks of gold from amongst the stones.

By J. M. Miller

Originally published:

Dear Headstone

Dear headstone.

You are the roof over the head of somebody who is safe now.

I know this might seem bitter,

or jaded,

or a tiny bit maligned

But the facts are that there is the downstairs room of the dead,

the no-longer-feeling

There is you, the ceiling,

And then there is the attic of mankind.

Headstone, our world hurtles on like a hijacked bus

But this world is in conflict

For its convicts, that’s us,

We are sitting backwards in our seats.

We would rather look back at the people we have loved

than forward at the people we might.

Now—if strangers are just friends you haven’t met

And friends are just strangers you have

Then you, headstone, might say we’re just getting too caught up in the individual:

that which is conditional

in those who are invisible.

Do you think we should find our way forward?

Turn on the Sat-Nav, look at all the strangers we will have?


Headstone, our world is your attic,

But we’re all asthmatics up here

And nobody’s dusted in years

As the guinea pigs of language we live through metaphor

But, really, who is that better for

When we are taught that clearing the air means telling the truth

And then we go and fail at that?

We lie

And then we lie about it being a lie

And then we lie to ourselves about lying about it being a lie

and somehow we aren’t appalled

And when the sky falls we will not howl regrets like terrible singers,

we will run to the cemetery and we will point fingers.


I think the Earth takes the best of us because it fears the rest of us.

We no longer look like the pictures in our files.

Our hearts aren’t in our bodies

On the contrary,

You’ll find most of them in the mortuary!

We are brilliant mourners on church corners

We take out huge bank loans

We give them you, headstone,

And we put all our savings into your millimetre deep engravings.

But no matter how hard we try to be particular

No matter what we write, the Earth will read,

“This specific human cannot declare war,”

And for the tiniest,

most wonderful moment,

the Earth isn’t scared anymore.

So it might seem more pragmatic to close off the attic

And pretend we were never here,

But headstone, there is air to be cleared.

Maybe you should send up that decently merry, recently buried

lodger downstairs.

I’m sure he’s qualified, I can’t imagine he’s occupied

Maybe if we saw him out of his coffin

we wouldn’t need to mourn him so often

Maybe he could bring our hearts back up with him,

if it isn’t too much fuss—

Maybe then we wouldn’t be so angry.

Maybe then we could learn how to face the front of the bus.

By J. M. Miller

First published in Empire Times (October 2015)

The Stopped Things

Loretta Asche looks like coffee being poured into a jar. Her hair is as dark as the raw, bitter energy of the beans; her skin swirls like the milk underneath. But around her is the glass. The barrier all kinds of men have surely pressed their hands against; the wall which keeps all of her in. She’s lost something. That’s why she’s here.

‘Detective Lionel Black.’ I extend a hand and kiss her knuckles. She doesn’t exchange any pleasantries, just says:

‘I need you to find my perfume.’

‘Your perfume?’

‘Yes. It’s in a white box with gold flowers, and it smells like cinnamon.’ She sees my frown. Asks, ‘Is there a problem, Detective?’

‘I beg your pardon, Miss Asche. But the things missing in this town are usually the diamonds or the husbands.’

She’s got two handbags, one smooth, one boxy. The fifties are proving a strange decade for fashion. She swings them both from one hand to the other. Lifts her chin. Says, ‘I beg your pardon, but aren’t you getting a bit old to be chasing crooks?’

‘Ma’am,’ I reply in earnest, ‘this job has been mine for twenty-five years. I can’t just slip it off. I wear it like an invisible coat, or a second skin, or—’

‘Or a favourite perfume?’ she interrupts, stepping so close that her eyelashes become rows of delicate trees. ‘Surely,’ she murmurs, ‘if I can appreciate your need for an invisible coat, then you can appreciate mine.’

I take the case. Of course I do; it’s good money for little work. Ten minutes with my guy on the street, who’s got a network like a maze of vacuum cleaner cords. He winds slowly into hundreds of inner circles and then, at the press of a button, he’s back and out and there’s just the space where he used to be.

We meet in a marketplace. The paradox of privacy, that it’s best found in public. He’s calling himself Dennis these days and we stand for a minute surveying the market goers, until it’s safe and I tell him:

‘I’m looking for some stolen perfume. White box, gold flowers. Cinnamon-scented.’

His eyes still drifting over the crowd, he replies, ‘I hear a tall blonde guy’s got a box load of the stuff.’

‘Does this man have a name?’

‘Sure does.’ Dennis won’t say another word until I slip him a fifty, then tells me: ‘He’s calling himself Isaac.’

‘Where can I find him?’

‘I’m not too sure.’

‘Maybe you should check again.’ My hand at my waist, folding back the jacket, letting him see the gun.

‘Jesus, Lionel,’ he says quickly. ‘I really don’t know. You might find him four blocks that way,’ he jerks his head, ‘Or you might not.’

No need to thank him; he’s got my gratitude tucked into his wallet. I fall into the crowd like a drop of water into a puddle.

I’m two blocks from the market when suddenly there is an outstretched foot where there shouldn’t be. Air rushing when it should be still. My whole body where I should only have my shoes. People almost queue up to help and one guy’s apologising but I’m only interested in one of the faces.

‘Are you alright?’ she asks.

I ignore her outstretched hand, and when I’m on my feet again I say, ‘I think the real question is: have you been following me, Miss Asche?’

‘I have,’ she admits. ‘It’s always been a bit of a dream of mine, to fight crime. Like I’m in one of Raymond Chandler’s books.’

I ask her, ‘Then why hire me?’

‘Because I have more faith in you than in myself. Chances are I would get myself shot.’

‘For a bottle of perfume?’

She sighs. ‘Must we go through this again?’

‘Of course not.’ I peer into the distance, to the street Isaac is more than likely down. ‘If you’ve been paying attention, Loretta, you’ll know I’m close.’

‘Naturally,’ she smiles. ‘But I don’t have a gun.’

‘Have mine.’ I’m a little creaky with my fists but it will have to do. She stores her smooth handbag in her boxy one, and curls her fingers around the Glock.

We walk like old friends out for a stroll.

One block. Two.

We become as silent as photographs of ourselves, until the corner, the new street, my whisper swirling then fading like cigarette smoke:

‘That’s him.’

And there’s the perfume, white with gold flowers; there’s a whole row of the stuff. Isaac is kneeling down, a box in his hands, concentrating. Doesn’t see us until Loretta’s pointing the gun straight at him. Jumps, raises his hands in the air, yells:

‘I ain’t done nothin’.’

I shake my head in wonderment. It’s never been this easy. ‘How stupid are you,’ I ask him, ‘parading your stash around in broad daylight?’

‘Not as stupid as you,’ he snarls. A chill at the back of my neck. I tilt my head and see that the street is too empty. There are noises from other streets, none from ours. But I can feel gazes. The careful aim of weapons. The sinking entrapment.

But before I can do anything, Isaac sees Loretta’s awkward hold on the gun and lunges, snatches it, presses it to the side of her head. Our eyes catch and hold like magnets.

‘There’s no use running,’ sneers Isaac.

Anyone with an above-average IQ knows this. But that doesn’t stop me from taking a step—to get away, to get closer, I have no idea.

The gun jerks in Isaac’s hand. There’s no noise and I wonder if I’ve gone deaf. Loretta wrenches herself from his grasp and reaches me just before I hit the ground; her lap is soft, her nails tickle my face. I can feel my lungs expanding. Falling. Struggling. Failing. I can feel my tonsils going dry, but the air stops there. Everything stops there. Everything stops.

Then, suddenly, there’s a voice.

Loretta is speaking through the walls of the stopped things.

But instead of pleads to God and admissions of love, she sounds annoyed. Maybe I’ve heard her wrong.

But then she says it again.

‘Look what you did, Isaac. You got him all excited. No shooting next time.’

‘Sorry. I was just kind of in the moment, you know?’ There are strong arms lifting me into a sitting position, and then Isaac is looking at me. Asks me, ‘You alright, Lionel?’

‘No,’ I say. ‘I’ve been shot.’ But all of my blood is inside my body. The white perfume box stares down at me from the shelf; I pull one down and dazedly hand it to Loretta.

‘Thank you, Lionel,’ she smiles, placing it in her boxy handbag—no, shopping basket. She stands up, straightens her nurse’s uniform. Helps me to my wobbly feet.

Dennis appears behind her, flanked by a few onlookers pushing trolleys. Pats me on the shoulder and grins. ‘Back with us, are you, Lionel?’ He takes out my fifty and gives it back to Loretta.

‘I’ve never been the villain before,’ says Isaac. ‘That was brilliant. My Grandad’s got dementia but all he ever does is forget everyone’s names.’

‘Well,’ says Loretta, ‘your Granddad obviously watches less movies than this one.’ She puts the gun—no, it’s her phone. She puts it in the shopping basket. Catches me staring at the box of perfume and says, ‘It’s for Emily, remember? It’s her birthday tomorrow and you wanted to get her a present.’ She pauses, then adds, ‘It’s 2014, Lionel.’

‘Oh, yes,’ I reply cheerfully.

She checks her watch and says, ‘We’d better get you back to the home. Nurse Jane will be waiting.’

I don’t want to ask who Emily is, even though I need to. She sounds familiar. She sounds close to home. We head for the checkout and I can’t stop myself from hoping that she’s missing a diamond or a husband.


By J. M. Miller

Published in Empire Times, 2014