AFringe comedy show rooted in Brexit might, in theory, look like something you’d happily jaywalk the runway at Edinburgh Airport to avoid: an hour of breathless agitprop, presumably, either for or (more likely) against Britain’s imminent departure from the EU.
But Kieran Hodgson is far too smart and inventive a comedian for that. And, although he makes it very clear that, like 48 per cent of the country, he was deeply saddened by the result of the 2016 referendum, that is not so much what his new solo show ’75 is about.
Its springboard is a very heated, hilariously conveyed exchange that he had with his (Leave-voting) mother, which left him exasperated that such an ideological chasm seemed suddenly to have opened between them, and wondering where Brexit (as he puts it) “came from”. And so, with the help of a handful of hefty books, and the neat framing device of a fictional (and, it turns out, particularly relevant) German librarian, he looks back over the past few decades in an attempt to put the whole thing in some sort of context.
If all this still has a worrying ring of earnestness about it, don’t be fooled: Hodgson is an expert at wringing comedy from the unlikeliest of subjects (he’s previously tackled Lance Armstrong and classical music), and he packs all manner of comic goodies into this painstakingly researched whistlestop tour through our fraught relationship with Europe.
He’s never better than when impersonating the major historical players. He perfectly captures the verbal and physical tics of David Dimbleby on election night in 1970, and the old-fashioned bumptiousness of his hero, Ted Heath (who took us into Europe) in 1963. There’s also a lovely section in which the latter wins over the doubting Georges Pompidou – portrayed here as a squeakily petrified little Gallic child – by sitting down with him and bashing out some Bach.
What’s also disarmingly welcome, as ever with Hodgson, is how willing he is to mock himself. He says that when the accusations of historical sex-abuse surrounding the late Heath surfaced last year, he realised both the perils of over-identifying with a historical figure, and that he - a keen musician himself - was precisely the sort of elitist, Remainer, ivory-tickling twit that his mother had accused him of being.
He reaches the conclusion that, when it comes to the Europe debate, nothing (from the divisive factionalism, to the quibbling over terms, to the interwoven complications of social class) is new, and that Europe is always there, “like a geopolitical Tinky-Winky, going ‘Again! Again!’ ”. And, having had a field day with Dimbleby and Harold Wilson in 1975 (when Britain voted to remain in the Common Market), he finally arrives at Christmas 2016, his reconciliation with his ma, and a neat and typically mischievous twist.
Although Hodgson’s last two solo shows – both deservedly nominated for an Edinburgh Comedy Award – were fractionally higher on huge, helpless laughs, that’s the only, very mild criticism to be levelled at ’75. There’s a delicious perfectionism here to the writing, structure and delivery that puts most other shows to shame.
And if ’75’s “message” (such as it is) – that the great thing is to respect differences of opinion, rather than let them divide us – is hardly new, it’s also, in the context of the ongoing Brexit farrago, surprisingly refreshing.
Until Aug 26. Tickets: 0131 556 6550; edfringe.com