Edinburgh Festival 2011: Bring me the head of Adam Riches

Bring me the head of Adam Riches *****

Pleasance Courtyard, Upstairs. 4.45pm

I first encountered the force of nature that is Adam Riches 12 months ago, when I discovered, to my horror, that the show I had agreed to book for my first corporate day of the season didn’t start its run until later in August.

“Right!” I exclaimed, entering crisis-management mode. “I need another show at Pleasance Courtyard, around 4pm. Anything. What have you got?” At that moment, I would have taken shadow-puppetry performed by schoolchildren; what I got instead was character-based sketch comedy that didn’t simply involve the audience, but positively wove them into its fabric.

12 months on, Adam has delivered another superb piece of interactive comic theatre. From his opening gambit, a talent manager on steroids, the tone is set: this show is going to be over the top and we, the audience, had better get used to the idea.

We’d also better adjust to the notion that any one of us could be wrenched from our seat to become a supporting character, a human prop, or anything in-between. Riches doesn’t ask us where we come from, or how long we’ve been in our relationship… he forces us to play ‘extreme swingball’ in the dark with a maniacal caricature of Rafa Nadal, or to bodily hurl Daniel Day-Lewis into the front row of the audience.

This trope is fundamental to Riches’ shows. Creating a chain of idiosyncratic personas is something that, in fairness, a number of talented performers could manage. But to oblige us, without warning, to interact with these characters on stage is what makes the experience so involving and hilarious. Riches doesn’t ask permission. He simply drags the terrified denizens of the front row into the glare of the lights, or casually soaks us with a water rifle. We are never in any doubt that, where other performances are confined to the stage, this one is capable, nay likely, to walk up and sit in our lap with a terrifying grin on its face.

Perhaps I’ve made this experience sound somewhat invasive… but if so, I must emphasise this performer is able to get away with a little invasion, simply because the show is such incredibly good fun. The characters are extreme, but delightfully, Riches doesn’t get lost in them; he frequently breaks the fourth wall to criticise his extras, or the sound technician, or to gripe about how much a prop cost him. As a result, we feel that the experience is a one-off, that tomorrow’s show won’t be quite the same as this even if the set pieces are similar. It’s joyous.

If you can get yourself to Pleasance Courtyard this August, try to do so in the late afternoon and squeeze in this superb show. My only advice: if you don’t want to be the one riding a lizard, queue up early and get a seat near the back.

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