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Odds, by Alex Horne

Monday, 27 September, 2010

Edinburgh 2010 – Pleasance Courtyard – 5-30 August – 20.30 (1:00)

It’s not often that a standup comedy show includes a basic introduction to quantum mechanics, but Alex Horne is no ordinary comedian.

‘Odds’ is a Herculean comedy experience which relies on far more than just some tightly-written material and some decent comic timing. A full two years in the making, the show jumps from subject to subject at a dizzying place and, ultimately, never opts for easy laughs over scientific nuance.  This is breathtakingly intelligent stuff which takes in everything from Carl Sagan to the very meaning of life itself.

Ostensibly the performance is about odds and gambling, in particular a bet placed at a William Hill bookmakers in 2008 that non-golfer Horne could get a hole in one by his 32nd birthday (getting particularly ungenerous, if nicely-relevant odds of 32-1).  This is used as a jumping-off point for a range of material about growing up, fatherhood, science and finding our place in the world.  It’s a clever and perfectly paced routine which pulls off the rare trick of being both hilarious and interesting – with the hirsute Alex Horne coming across as the coolest teacher ever to enter a lecture hall.

Audience members are given lottery tickets on their way in and are asked to take part in a series of bets – all of which are updated versions of the performers favourite “off-beat” bets from history.  These are proposition bets, namely wagers which posit challenges to be achieved in order for the money to be paid out.  There’s bets on racing raindrops, feats of speed, battles of the sexes and an intriguing search for people who share the same birthday.  It’s all terrific fun, is a nice way to hold the show together, and also provides plenty of twists in a search for a winner who is suitably rewarded at the conclusion.  Most importantly, these passages of audience interaction segue seamlessly into the prepared material in an unforced way and never feel like mere novelties or time-fillers.

Regular updates on the golfing bet also surface throughout the show using powerpoint presentation and video of the increasingly capable golfer – from early footage of him barely able to connect with the ball, to the final film which show an enviable swing and an increasingly competitive nature.  It’s a recipe guaranteed to breed empathy with the performer as he is seen struggling with an obsession which threatens increasingly to take over his life.

The very nature of a show such as this means that the question of whether the performer will succeed in his challenge hangs over proceedings.  This question never threatens to take over proceedings, however, and it is testament to Alex Horne’s expertise and intellect that the conclusion of his endeavours comes as a simple footnote.  He makes it clear that the bet is just an excuse to look at some of life’s big questions and it proves an effective metaphor for the day-to-day struggle of existence.

Partly because of this, and like life itself, there is no big finish to enjoy – a fact acknowledged by the comedian – but with a show this wide-ranging and enjoyable there’s no need for bells and whistles at the conclusion.

Cast Credits: Alex Horne.

Company Credits: Writer – Alex Horne.

(c) David Hepburn 2010

Reviewed Thursday 12 August

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