Satirist and character comic Will Franken returns to The Stand this year with Little Joe, his most daring and strangest show yet. The title refers to a half-rabbit, half-pig created in the mind of a mad Yorkshireman who is haunted by a zombie Beatrix Potter. This recurring, nightmarish creature flits through time, space and sketch, somehow knitting together this Monty Python meets Sgt Pepper swirl of searing, surreal satire.
Franken combines the profound with the profoundly ridiculous: NHS patients debate which Z-lister will play them in a movie of their life; Elton John, on a plane about to crash, struggles to write his own Candle in the Wind-esque tribute; and banks send out suicide notes to customers who miss repayments. But even as Franken tumbles further down the rabbit hole, he maintains his grip on the here and now.
Sketches pile on top of one another, overlapping and intersecting as he sets up striking parallels between the PC intolerance of the West and radical Islam. At one point he’s put on trial, grilled by a brassy New Yoik lawyer, for offending the prophet (‘peace be upon him’), while a Sharia court, as if next door, sentences another blasphemer to death-by-stoning. It’s forthright and daring, yet refuses to subordinate the art to the message, flitting to the next sketch before you’ve had a chance to catch your breath.
Franken is at the height of his powers here. As is his stalwart tech, who keeps up with the nonstop sound clips, musical interludes and mic effects as Franken flings more colours on to the canvas. Little Joe is startling, hilarious and irresistible; comedy that is both of this world and completely, mind-bendingly beyond it. You’d be hard-pressed to find anything that will make you laugh – or think – more at the Fringe this year.
Tom Slater is deputy editor at spiked. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Slater_