Blind Eye Spy / Of Christmas Past – a blind comedy double bill…

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Produced by Extant in association with the Small Beer Brew Co. Tom Skelton and Douglas Walker previewed their two respective shows Blind Eye Spy and Of Christmas Past at the South London brewery on 17th July prior to taking on the Edinburgh Fringe. Review by Stephen Portlock

Douglas Walker in snowy expedition gear

Douglas Walker Of Christmas Past

Two very different takes on what it is to be a visually impaired comedian were premiered by friends Tom Skelton and Douglas Walker – claiming to be Britain’s only visually impaired comedy double act (“We haven’t done any research to see if that’s true”).

This was their follow-up to last year’s Blind Man’s Bluff / Zuschauer. As with last year, they don’t perform in one another’s pieces, but rather perform on their own. It was business as usual for Tom but whereas last year Douglas produced a series of comic and sometimes surprisingly poignant monologues, this time around he produced a proper play – and then some!

As with last year, this Edinburgh preview was shown to an admittedly partisan audience of largely visually impaired people. In that sense the question to be asked is how well they are likely to fare with an audience who don’t care a flying fig about disability?

In the case of Douglas Walker, the answer is very well indeed. Even without the remarkable accomplishment of him playing all the roles, Of Christmas Past is still truly stunning. Faintly reminiscent of the novels of Jonas Jonasson, this staggeringly inventive alternative history lesson reveals how at different times Santa duties were taken up by among others Rasputin, Edward VIII, Rommel, Elvis Presley and Osama Bin Laden.

Often hysterically funny, the narrative is nevertheless logically consistent, without any lazy leaps, so that we can almost believe the truth of Walker’s mind-bending premise. There is none of the pathos of Zuschauer, and occasionally the sheer inventiveness proves exhausting with one almost yearning for a moment to breathe, but if there is any justice in this world then Of Christmas Past will be recognised as one of the comedy highlights of Edinburgh Fringe 2018.

A man in trilby hat and raincoat cocks a pair of black glasses

Tom Skelton performs in Blind Eye Spy

After attaining such giddying heights of quality there was a mild risk that the second half of the double-bill, Blind Eye Spy might be a slight let-down and sad to say, it is. Tom Skelton is a very funny, gifted and talented man and a likeable comic presence but it felt just a little bit lazy. That surprised me because I had expected the precise opposite after reading the Extant publicity material. Blind stand-up comic Chris McCausland in a talk which I heard in March spoke, almost certainly truthfully, about applying to be a spy. What could Tom offer that was funnier than reality? I was keen to find out.

The answer is not much. Set in 2025 when the European dream has proven a roaring success, it tells of Skelton being drafted to Berlin to salvage something for a post-Brexit Britain. The humour is very scattershot, although it hits the target for much of the time. However I couldn’t help noticing how a couple of jokes were repeated, and I recognised two other jokes, too (from respectively a Sun headline and from Russell Brand).

Something of the charm and inventiveness of Blind Man’s Bluff was lost and there seemed to be a disproportionate amount of reliance on audience participation. In fairness I should point out that while everyone seemed to love Walker’s piece, a large part of the audience enjoyed Skelton’s piece much more than I did. As an evening’s entertainment then, this was a bit of a curate’s egg, but even a lesser Tom Skelton offers much to appreciate and I’m keen to hear more from this gifted duo.

Good luck Douglas and Tom and here’s to 2019.

Tom Skelton presents: Blind Eye Spy in the Edinburgh Fringe
Comedy (solo show, sketch show)
Venue 302 Underbelly, Bristo Square – Daisy
Aug 3-14, 16-27 from 19:10pm
1 hour
Suitability: 14+ (Guideline)
Please click on this link for tickets

Douglas Walker presents: Of Christmas Past in the Edinburgh Fringe
Venue 302 Underbelly, Bristo Square – Clover
Aug 1-13, 15-26 from 22:50pm
1 hour
Suitability: 12+ (Guideline)
Please click on this link for tickets