Edinburgh Review: Before Us, Underbelly Cowgate

before usWhen Stuart Bowden peered out from behind the curtain, barefoot, with his bespectacled face, angular beard and pale, skinny legs protruding from a lumpy green sleeping bag, I really wanted to hate him. I had clocked the Casio keyboards that littered the stage and I wasn’t having any of this hipster rubbish.

There are so many shows at the Fringe that have latched onto absurdist comedy like leeches, refusing to let it go, and sometimes it feels like a case of “here we go again”. But Bowden is funny. I mean really funny. He has funny bones. If his ridiculous appearance alone wasn’t enough to tickle you, his ability to run with anything and leave you crying with laughter at the end should be.

Before Us proves that if you really want to succeed with whimsy these days, you might as well go the whole hog. It’s whimsy to the power of whimsy. Bowden is whimsy personified. His bizarre antics and razor-sharp wit combine to tell the story of a small green creature who is the last of her kind. Yes, her, though Bowden makes no attempt to present as feminine, save perhaps for his prancing around the floor at regular intervals, sometimes for no reason at all. Between narrative interludes Bowden creates delicate little songs by electronically looping keyboards, ukulele and vocals that tug insistently at the heartstrings.

Even when he sabotages his own loop petal system three minutes in and has to start again, or when a loud, funky electric guitar solo bleeds in from the venue next door during a particularly tender love scene, Boden is hilarious. He works everything to his advantage and has the audience in stitches from start to finish. But the story is also incredibly touching. It will make you consider the brevity of existence, how life is fragile, that death is inevitable but, ultimately, that this is okay.

If you’re a fan of audience participation, well, even if you aren’t, Bowden’s unique brand of comedy and talent for creating tender melodies will have you on your feet, on the floor, singing, laughing and crying all at the same time.

Before Us plays at Underbelly Cowgate until 24 August 2014 as part of the Edinburgh Fringe. For more information and tickets, visit the EdFringe website.