The upstairs of the Craft Beer Co. is full, and the huddled punters are clearly ready for another great show as the Fringe nears its conclusion. Athena Kugblenu, BBC New Comedy Award 2015 finalist, steps up to the mic to deliver her work-in-progress show 'Reality Check' for the third time at the Fringe, fine-tuning it before Edinburgh later in the summer, and it's hilarious.
She has crafted this show to be a reality check on herself and society, largely using material about her own identity, and she has found a lot to work with. She talks about her mixed-race heritage, growing up in East Finchley, and the state of society generally. She's politically and socially aware, and this means that there is real bite to some of her jokes, but she delivers them so calmly and playfully that it's never intimidating.
The confidence with which she delivers her jokes is well-placed. Her delivery is perfectly timed and the set feels solidly structured despite a large topic base. Her calm style makes her instantly likeable, and the crowd laughs throughout. Her routine about a potential black James Bond is received particularly well, and epitomises the relationship between politics and playfulness in her act.
She fosters a familiar, jovial atmosphere with the audience, which can be helpful when taking on political topics, but this does mean that sometimes it feels like she's slightly pulling her punches. Comedy audiences are pretty robust, and her calmness sometimes blunts her more subversive jokes. The balance between accessibility, edge and her personal preference of style is going to be important to find over the coming weeks.
As with any work-in-progress show, there are several bits that fall slightly short of the laughs they'll be getting by the time the show reaches Edinburgh, but with every outing it's going to get better. If Athena carries on like this, the show is going to be a must-see.
This was Athena's last show at the Fringe, but she is taking Reality Check to The Lounge in the Leicester Square Theatre on 12th July, and Brew Haha in Colchester on 13th July.
For more information, head here.