Many comedians dress not to impress (in contrast to their audiences - particularly on a Friday or Saturday night). Tom Allen, however, sports an elegant look, immediately suggesting that he's made an effort for us. Everything is immaculately tailored, the shoes are shined, and a pocket handkerchief is our first nod to a bygone era. I instantly warm to him as I enter the venue, and am offered a chocolate hob-nob by the man himself; as the audience builds, he dashes about to catch everyone, ensuring we all receive a complimentary biccie and a friendly 'thank you for coming'.
Once we're all seated, Allen makes his official entrance with a flourish, and for the next hour provides us with a consistent stream of uproarious laughter. His razor wit and style reminds me of a character from a Wilde or Coward play - there is something delightfully old-fashioned about him, yet he intelligently satirises current issues such as the use of social media and daytime TV.
Allen tells us that he always knew he was different as he was growing up, that as an adult he is somewhat of a loner, and that he often worries whether he is wasting his life. Although he is expressing these thoughts and feelings through his own life experiences (he talks about being gay and single, his unconventional lifestyle as a comedian, and still living with his mother), the themes he touches on are wide-reaching and very relatable.
On the surface this is a jolly show, containing glorious sarcasm and plenty of comic frustration with people and things. Yet there is another layer here, in which the comedian is offering up his own vulnerabilities and some very pertinent and deeper commentary on society's issues. It's subtle, mind you; there's never the sense that he's 'doing a serious bit', because the messages are all well-camouflaged with laughs.
It would be easy to pigeonhole this comic into the 'posh and camp' stereotype - and in many ways he does fit it - yet those further depths prevent Allen becoming a cliche. At one point he refers to himself as being bitchy, but I would disagree; he's satirical and clever, his shots are not cheap ones, and there is a sense of warmth throughout. A few moments felt ever so slightly fumbly and perhaps need to be tightened a little, but the vast majority of the piece is finely tuned.
When Allen announced he would 'have to go now' I felt genuinely sad that it was over. Both Worlds is easily in my top few shows of the Fringe this year – for while some of the subject matter is very worn ground in the comedy world, the delivery is excellent enough to compensate. Tom Allen is a fine comic, and this is an equally fine show; not only will you be fully entertained, you'll get a chocolate hob-nob too.