"I don't think I'm made of that stuff," laments the singer-songwriter styled only as the Captain. The doubt's right there, in the lyrics of one of his beautifully heartfelt songs – yet if "that stuff" is talent, then the man we see in front of us clearly exudes it from every pore. That fact alone, however, doesn't fully explain what's so delightful about this tender lunchtime show: there's also the warmth of his personality, his generosity with the audience, and the feeling of simple fellowship he builds with his crowd.
Let's be clear about one thing first: The Captain really can sing. I don't just mean he can sing in Fringe terms – I mean he has a voice you might hear on a West End stage, or here in Edinburgh at a recital in the Usher Hall. His party trick is an ethereal, exaggerated vibrato, which he uses sparingly but effectively throughout his act; for the rest of the time he's sensitive and soulful, occasionally operatic, always warm. It's the kind of performance you feel privileged to hear in such an intimate space, and it's made all the more special by his evident delight at performing for an appreciative crowd.
The songs cover a varied range of topics – perhaps even eccentrically so – but they each deliver a powerful emotional heft. Lyrics which begin by talking about Roger Hargreaves' Mr Men end up making a genuinely profound point about the nature of human existence; another surprisingly upbeat song contemplates what it might be like to sleep the big sleep. A truly beautiful serenade, supposedly inspired by Piaf, is accompanied by a personal air-accordion lesson from the Captain's real-life son (appearing in character as the very cutest of clowns). And there are gently funny numbers too – most memorably the one which takes an ironic, self-referential swipe at the indulgences of singer-songwriters.
It's all so warm-hearted, so lovable, and so utterly downright charming, that it's desperately tempting to leave it there and skip the critique. But the final song exhorts us all to "say what you mean and mean what you say"; and so, here goes. While our host's songwriting and musical skills are beyond reproach, the on-stage persona he's adopted isn't quite so successful. He's just too sweet and diffident to be convincing as a captain – even a space-faring time-travelling one – and the "theatre" promised by the programme blurb is almost completely absent.
But in the end, that doesn't really matter: when the Captain's songs are already so replete with meaning, there's no need for a back-story to support them. This is, in short, the loveliest and tenderest of Fringe experiences – utterly without saccharine, but holding charm enough to burst your heart. You're invited to sing along at times, and I promise that you'll be delighted to, for there are moments here that are plainly meant to be shared. It's such a joy to discover that – even at the madcap modern Fringe – shows like this one haven't sunk beneath the waves.