Edinburgh Festival 2012: Gráinne Maguire, “Where are all the fun places and are lots of people there having better fun?” ***

Underbelly Bristo Square: Daisy, 4.20pm

Gráinne opens her show with a question: “How do you do it? How do you stay in character for a whole hour?”

For the avoidance of doubt, she’s not grilling the audience; this is a query commonly directed at her and she seems a little put out by it. “This is the real me,” she explains, “I’m not a crazy character invented for comedy. I actually live this way.”

Well, dear reader, that’s fine – because an hour in Gráinne’s company is more rewarding than one spent with many of the ‘hilarious’ caricatures which populate the smaller venues of the Edinburgh Festival.

Ms Maguire’s material starts out a little shaky, but perhaps that’s a function of playing in Daisy, one of the most intimidating rooms on the fringe.

There is, if my experience playing music is anything to go by, a kind of inverse relationship between the size of crowd one has to perform for and the difficulty of doing so. In a huge, packed venue, the faces of the audience become a blur and simply their presence in numbers becomes a reassuring endorsement of what you’re doing on stage; in a tiny venue, each individual is terribly close and distinct, their facial expressions communicating in real time how well (or otherwise) you’re doing.

In this kind of venue, a performer has to work hard to get the laugh engine kick-started, to build some atmosphere, or that tiny audience will start to feel as if someone has barged into their living room asserting loudly that they’re great and everyone should watch them. That’s not a comfortable spot to be in.

That being the case, Gráinne must have been pretty pleased at the escalating level of response she extracted from an initially slow crowd. After introducing herself to the subdued group packed into this claustrophobic room, she pushed gamely through the undergrowth of their scepticism to establish her theme. Then, with a flourish, she flipped the balance of their mood with a quirkily-delivered pastiche of Coyote Ugly; hammering home her advantage, she pulled out a perfectly-pitched character assassination of the nation’s sweethearts before ending on some superb material about her visit to the Labour Party conference (no, honestly. The actual Labour conference. And it was excellent).

A show founded on the idea that we spend life worrying about missing out on experiences, whilst failing to appreciate those we’re already living, could not have unfolded more poetically. While this crowd might have spent the first 10 minutes asking themselves if better shows were playing in parallel at other venues, they warmed up, as Gráinne has, to the idea of living in the moment.

There are other places, yes, but perhaps the people there are faking those smiles and secretly regretting their attendance. In Gráinne’s show, we discover the ‘girl next door’ cliche in comedy form: what we were watching was great fun all along.