Last year, Pierre Novellie's debut at the Edinburgh Fringe resulted in award nominations from both Chortle and Skinny. This time round the amiable comic regales us with tales of life in Johannesburg, the Isle of Man and, more recently, as a stand-up comedian in London. The narrative alternates between his own experiences, some observations, and fantasy character-based scenarios. The experience of watching Novellie is much like hearing a likeable guy telling us his stories over a pint in the pub; his delivery is fresh and he engages with his audience, often laughing along with us.
Where I think Novellie (previously a member of the Cambridge Footlights) really excels, is in his talent for portraying funny characters and creating fantasy scenes. His ability to mimic and maintain very tricky accents is skilful, and is likely a result of having been exposed to so many different dialects and languages during his formative years (a point he alludes to early on). Imaginary Viking interactions, which call on his specialist knowledge of Norse history, were well-portrayed and innovatively-written.
But this originality stood in contrast to some of the experiential storytelling, in particular a segment about internet dating and Tinder. There are no cheap laughs, but these are overused themes – well-worn now on the comedy circuit - and the observations inevitably lacked novelty.
The beginning and ending of the show also fell a little flat for me, and I struggled to get involved in many of his stories. This could be partly because I was seated on the far end of a right-angled row; much of my experience of the performance was in profile, and so I lost the facial expressions which could have helped engage me. This is a technical point, albeit a challenging one for any stand-up in this type of venue. Ensuring all areas of the audience are receiving visual contact would improve the overall experience of the show.
I found Novellie's strongest material to be around the middle, and I enjoyed his observations and rumination on the subject of decadent late night take-aways, largely because of his own evident delight in the topic. So while some of the themes may have missed the mark for me, Pierre Novellie has an appeal and ease with his audience, alongside some interesting ideas. And he makes a fabulous Viking.