Phil Ellis Has Been On Ice

Thu 3rd – Sun 27th August 2017

reviews

Neil Suchak

at 10:09 on 10th Aug 2017

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Phil Ellis Has Been On Ice offers up the epitome of the absurd and the farcical: so absurd and farcical that it lacks any other substance of which to speak. The premise of Ellis’ show is that he was cryogenically frozen in 2014 upon winning the Edinburgh Panel Prize in 2014 for his show Funz and Gamez and now, with his robotic sidekick - ‘TK Maxx' - he must re-ingratiate himself into the modern world after having been unfrozen. However, if this premise evokes low expectations then the execution manages to miss the mark spectacularly: with Ellis simply seeming to have crafted a portrayal of a sadistic class clown. His humour is crass and blunt if not completely inappropriate at times. The subject matter of the jokes are centred around Ellis’ own farcical behaviour and his shambolic inability to demonstrate his fitness to re-enter the world following his cryogenic suspension: along with responding to the goings on of the past three years. This culminates with Ellis tastelessly dancing half naked to Status Quo, in front of a video of Brexit, Trump and airstrikes in the Middle East. This was accompanied by sporadic and abrupt audience interaction that at times bordered on humour but mostly descended into sheer awkwardness: with one audience member point blank refusing to participate. This participation occasionally hit a high note where Ellis and the audiences’ humour chimed together in their interaction - however, this was wholly mired by his frequent berating and abusing the audience for not applauding or laughing: a feat made even worse by Ellis laughing at his own routine.

Of course humour is subjective and such humour was indeed to the tastes of certain members of the audience who were clearly fond of this shambolic display. This was, however, in spite of Ellis’ seeming reluctance to act, as well as a seeming absence of prior rehearsal that saw him miss cues, scrambling around to find his props and almost falling off the stage. Even with a marmite performance such as Ellis’, there are base standards that surely must be fulfilled - and this performance fell far short of these. At the Fringe a low budget production is to be expected and even applauded, however, in Ellis’ case it was not the lack of budget but the absence of effort which was of note: for instance TK Maxx was played by a glamorised, miniature wheelie bin which was sloppily animated.

At the end of the show, Ellis raised his head and claims in jest that ‘its not for everyone, I guess.’ And this is obviously true - some clearly were able to find some redeeming features to this performance. If you are unable to suspend your disbelief beyond all reality and buy into the sheer ludicrousness of the performance then there may be something here for you. If not then you will walk away thinking that this performance is the comedic equivalent of the contents of your junk email folder: inappropriate and unnecessary.

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Sian Bayley

at 11:19 on 10th Aug 2017

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Having seen that Phil Ellis had won the 2014 Fosters Edinburgh Comedy Award’s Panel Prize, I had fairly high hopes going into this show. However, the amateur style and confused nature of this performance, along with Phil’s excessive dancing and prancing, were not at all up my street. After all, having to tell your audience that ‘you’re having fun’ is not exactly indicative of their enjoyment.

Running with the idea that Phil hasn’t really been seen since his success at the Fringe in 2014, the performance begins with Phil defrosting his body after having been frozen by scientists until they could find a cure for his ‘PBJ’, or ‘Poor Business Judgement.’ Clad only in cut-off denim shorts and a baseball cap further contributes to this self-aware examination of his recent career choices. Aided by his ‘personal rehabilitation care bot’, TK MAXX, Phil proceeds to undertake a number of ‘tasks’ to prove he is able to rejoin society. Forming the central part of his show, these tasks are designed to allow for physical comedy, often relying on audience interaction and Phil’s own improvisation.

Many of these tasks fell flat, however, relying on cheap penis jokes to elicit a snigger. Others involved various degrees of falling over, whilst some simply resorted to questionable jokes about women. Audience members were occasionally reluctant to interact, and this made many of the tasks particularly awkward to watch, but when people were willing, there were glimmers of Phil’s comedic talent. In the pretend wedding scene, for instance, a particularly sassy audience member provided Phil with some good material to draw on, but this was disappointingly few and far between. In fact, I found the background montage footage of Theresa May pulling faces the funniest part of the entire show, as Phil quickly caught up with the bizarre list of events from the last three years.

Comedy is famous for being one of the most subjective forms, and the loud laughter emanating from a corner of the room proved that Phil’s surreal and anarchic style did appeal to some members of the audience. His set is deliberately basic, mainly comprising of bits of cardboard, to create a playful ‘amateurish’ feel that did appeal to some, but which I found to be lacking in the right amount of self-awareness to make this genuinely funny. The repetitive nature of the tasks often felt laboured, and I found myself getting bored of the routine and ‘celebrations’ dance after just fifteen minutes. The ending is likewise over-lengthy, with no clear conclusion, as the lines between performer and persona blurred into an extended moan that made it difficult to distinguish if, and when, Phil was joking. Phil’s off-the-wall show may appeal to some, but it definitely wasn’t for me.

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