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Comedy Fringe

Fringe 2022: Jack Docherty, ‘Nothing But’ Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A moving homage to the Fringe

Jack Docherty begins this excellent one-man show sitting cross-legged, playing himself as a child in the late 1960s. Full of innocent wonder, he is eagerly awaiting the arrival of a clown at a friend’s birthday party. The young Docherty is so excited, in fact, that he shits himself. This embarrassment is compounded by the deflating discovery that the lauded clown is just his friend’s father, poorly dressed and incapable of performing the most basic magic tricks. Docherty marks this point in time as the moment where he begins to wonder – ‘is this what life is? Excitement and anticipation, followed by humiliation or disappointment. Often both.’

Next, we are catapulted to 2018, where Docherty has just experienced a catastrophic falling out with his daughter. Sitting under an old tree he has known all his life – ‘thousands of cluttered versions of myself vying for my attention’ – we learn his marriage has also recently collapsed. Docherty wants to text his daughter a quote from a film or television show they both like, a habit that has formed between them to help begin the repair when they have had a falling out. He wonders, though, if this time things went too far.

We travel again to 1989, where Docherty is performing at the Fringe. He spots a beautiful woman laughing in the audience. After the show they meet and connect instantly, beginning a night of romantic and sexual exploration which, by Docherty’s own estimation, might even have provoked Richard Curtis to say ‘hold on, this is getting too much’.  Stumbling through the city towards Arthur’s Seat and ‘the great carnal unknown’, Docherty falls in love with the woman and thinks she does as well. It later transpires, however, that she is returning to America the following day. It also emerges that Docherty is already in a relationship, with the woman who will become his wife and the mother of his child. He declines to mention to her what has occurred.

The rest of the show thereafter sees Docherty thread these moments in time together and tell a moving and riveting story. There are incredible twists all of which we are assured are true, despite occasionally stretching credulity and garnering genuine gasps of astonishment from the audience. Indeed, half-way through the performance we learn Docherty actually sent a version of the story to be optioned for a TV show, only to receive a reply from the station that, though they enjoyed the dialogue and plot, the central character (Jack) ‘strained credibility’ and was not a believable fictional character.

Considering the form and content of the show, Docherty does well never to veer into self-indulgence, or what his daughter terms ‘whiney white-man patriarchal bullshit.’ Where Docherty has caused harm or made a mistake, of which there are many, he is quick to identify it. This emotional vulnerability creates a space for a truly moving ending – and the first standing ovation I have seen at the Fringe this year. It is a story both about youthful love as well as mortality and ageing. Docherty’s first Fringe was in 1980 and I am the youngest person in the audience by quite some years. But most of all it is homage to Edinburgh and to the Fringe, and will stay with anyone who is lucky enough to see it. 

Jack Docherty: Nothing But – Gilded Balloon at the Museum- Auditorium, Aug 14-19, 20:00

Image courtesy of Ben Mankin, supplied by the production company as a press photo