John Tothill: The Last Living Libertine at Edinburgh Fringe ★★★★★
John Tothill delivers an absolute masterclass in audience control, with this inspired, wine-fuelled cabaret-cum-seminar on post-reformation pleasure.
A new measure of comedic talent should be to surprise a stand-up with an audience half-filled with teenage students from their old secondary school. Such a fate befalls John Tothill (now a teacher) on our encounter with The Last Living Libertine, and the ensuing hour must go down as one of the most brilliantly funny nights of this years fringe.
As luck would have it, Tothill’s act – unbelievably, his debut hour – takes the form of a much interrupted lecture on pre- and post-reformation pleasure. An front row audience member is advised to take notes, and there are plenty of opportunities for the
class audience to raise a hand and contribute to the lesson.
Tothill charmed us with a three-minute set at Chortle’s Fast Fringe preview in London, and it’s so rewarding to see him stretch his wings over 60 minutes. He handles his surprise audience – including familiar teachers – with such ease, turning his anxiety about the risqué nature of his show (“the next hour is mostly me flirting outrageously with the audience, and you’re all children”) into a repeat joke which snowballs rather than petering out. There are deep dives into Catholic prayer, techno music, the Berlin club scene and more – and it’s all delivered with such charm combined with a turn of phrase worthy of the great (and sadly departed) Anna Mann.
If this is Tothill’s debut hour, the mind really boggles as to how stratospheric he could go – he’s potentially the best newcomer we’ve seen in recent times, and deserves every plaudit he gets (before he has to head back to teach the Autumn term!).
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