How to Flirt: The TED XXX Talk, Assembly Roxy (Venue 139) ****
until 26 August
Pack your bum bags and spray on the Lynx Africa, ‘cause Steve Porters is in town, baby. The drag king persona of Daisy Doris May (of HÄUS OF DONS fame), Steve is your classic ladies’ man, iPod DJ, and self-taught feminist. Your typical multi-hyphenated, high-value male. Or is there something more lurking beneath the fake goatee?
Having decamped from his mum’s house in Guildford, Steve has arrived in “Edders” to deliver a one-man seminar on the art of listening, learning and loving. His syllabus might be rudimentary, and his educational materials – blow-up dolls and dodgy pie charts – slightly suspect, but Steve more than makes up for it with his earnest commitment to helping his ‘single Pringles’ find love. Lessons in self-confidence and handling rejection sit alongside demonstrations of a more practical nature, like “being interesting” and tearing it up on the dance floor. Moreover, discussions around consent and mutual pleasure, while funny, are underscored as absolutely non-negotiable – so, yes, you may seductively place this Listerine strip on my tongue. After much back-and-forth, Steve and an audience member touch fingers on a third date, and the chemistry in the room is absolutely electric.
Drag has always been about the spectacle of gender: of pushing gender expression to its extremes, so as to laugh at it, have fun with it, liberate ourselves from its social control. Drag, therefore, can help us imagine new ways of being. For a show ostensibly about impressing the best version of yourself onto others, Steve Porters is also a tender character study of a more positive, progressive masculinity, in which men are allowed to be flawed works-in-progress. Steve may be a capital-L lad, but it’s also clear that underneath the gold chains and hair gel, there lies real vulnerability. Which – for all his chat about vibes and auras – How to Flirt proves is the real key to any successful connection, romantic or otherwise. Deborah Chu
Philipp Kostelecky: Daddy's Home, The Stand Comedy Club 2 (Venue 5) ****
until 27 August
Forever treading a knowing tightrope between relatable and creepy, Philipp Kostelecky is a 25-year-old of Austrian, American and Slovenian descent who grew up the youngest of four siblings, and whose deceased, abusive father left the family when the comic was nine-years-old. Now based in London, to say Kostelecky retains some daddy issues doesn't begin to describe the psychology of an act who hesitates before removing the teddy bear from his bed before sex. Aware of the emotional armour his upbringing has fortified him with, helping set him apart as a frustrated creative thinker in his office drone job, he speculates on the ways he'll deliberately mess up his own (unborn) children, the better to cultivate their personalties.
Tall, angular and with an appearance that somehow screams both all-American, Ivy League banker and Nazi concentration camp guard, there are varying degrees of truth to those characterisations. Yet as Kostelecky alternately looms over and hunches himself into the confines of his small stage, his expressive face and physicality are a wonderful conduit to a singular mind. Never boorish, he has a very un-British and modern, pragmatic approach to sex and dating, but invariably self-sabotages with his anxiety-stricken thoughts. Although successive women have suggested that he has a mental health condition, no-one, least of all Kostelecky, seems to know exactly what combination of issues he has. Genial and rarely seeking sympathy, he's not into touchy-feely reassurance about his problems, but rather probes and prods at them as an intellectual exercise, musing on what makes himself tick.
His material on his dead-end jobs and marijuana consumption are less compelling than the messy psychodramas of his familial and romantic relationships. Yet the fact that he's manifestly better than them and thwarted by them adds an underlying charge of desperation that only intensifies this oddball, attractively unhinged stand-up. Jay Richardson
Fiona Allen: On The Run, Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33) ***
until 20 August
In a striking reversal of the traditional direction of travel, Fiona Allen has graduated from being a celebrated comedic and dramatic actor, a celebrity too essentially, to a motorway-hammering club comic, with most of the attributes and some of the drawbacks that come with that. With her three children grown up a bit now, in her 50s she's on the run from her family, and in the last few years has been traversing the UK performing gigs. That lifestyle has preoccupied her with parking in strange towns. And she's not exactly pushing the envelope with her incredulity at people in their pyjamas in the supermarket. Or dismissing preening, pretentious gym buffs.
Yet while Allen's command of a room is unsurprising, witness the quality of the writing. Never mind that she shares plenty that's relatable in being a harassed, taken-for-granted parent, with little in common with the other passive-aggressive mums at the school gates. Her setups are invariably lean and the punchlines delivered with a wicked, cutting execution. At her best when teasing out the aspects that set her apart, such as her Spanish mother's Iberian-Lancastrian vocabulary or her unlikely bond with Rolf Harris, it seems mad, yet accurate, to call her a highly promising newcomer. Jay Richardson
Laura Davis: Well Don’t Just Stand There Dancing, Monkey Barrel Two (Venue 515) ***
until 27 August
On her poster Laura Davis is trudging through the woods in the rain. She doesn’t like it, she’s not crazy about the comedy industry and she sometimes wonders what she’s doing on stage. She’s a bit of an oddball – and she camps it up – coming on stage in a straw hat and a lumpy blue outfit.
There are some lovely elements in this show. It’s in part a eulogy for a friend, called Paul, who died. In fact, this is comedy producer Paul Byrne, who was such a wonderful mentor that there have been at least five shows created in his memory. Davis remembers him sweetly, as the person who joined her to watch dreadful tv programmes and encouraged her flights of fancy.
In her imagination Davis is a spider expert and potential political demagogue. She has strong views about zoos, tigers and the impending environmental disaster. Her ideas – about conspiracy theories, space travel and AI are really funny – but the delivery doesn’t quite match the material. There’s a lack of confidence in her stage presence. But there is lots to love. Insightful and quirky, odd but relatable, Davis is a voice worth listening to. Claire Smith