James Cairns’ solo performance in Nick Warren’s Dirt is a Brighton Fringe must see, with Cairns asserting his talent for physical comedy, characterisation, accents and dynamic facial expressions to tickle every member of the audience. Set in South Africa, Warren’s play Dirt is a black comedy in which three estranged friends meet to travel to the funeral of a fourth, never missing an opportunity to dig up dirt on one another along the way.

Opening with a scene setter of the dead friend Jerry driving to his fateful crash, Cairns has us laughing within minutes as he mimes sitting back and lighting a cigarette before dropping it down his trouser leg. We’re then introduced to Wayne, the child-like friend who is in a pen pal relationship with a woman who thinks she’s writing to someone else, and who has been left to look after Jerry’s dog, Tom. Next we meet Grant, the sensible one of the group whose wife has just had a baby and is suffering from postnatal depression. Then Sam, the sleazy ladies’ man who looks down on Wayne and cannot help but wind Grant up. Cairns creates three distinct and comical personalities for each, from Wayne’s skittish, high-pitched gabble, and Grant’s deadpan expressions and drab lower tones, to Sam’s posh British drawl. Also key to the mix are Cairns’ top-notch impressions of Tom the dog, who becomes a fixture of almost every scene.


Bar some slightly unclear diction in the part of Wayne, Cairns switches effortlessly between the three friends in the car (along with other minor characters they come across on their journey), never losing us along the way in what is also a grippingly funny plot told through a well-written script.

The staging of Dirt is simply two step ladders: one is Cairns’ main prop – the car – and the other is used as a stand onto which a new signifying prop – a model car, babies bottle, postcard and dog collar (to name a few) – is added at the beginning of each new scene; this allows us to focus our attention undistractedly on Cairns’ performance. 

The audience giggle collectively at the series of ridiculous scenarios that unfold: the pre-funeral fight, the disposal of the dog and Sam’s hopeful attempts to sleep with Jerry’s bereaved wife after the funeral. However all hard feelings and the remnants of tomfoolery are buried alongside Jerry by the end of this humour-fuelled hour-long play.

Dirt is playing the Brighton Fringe until 14 May 2016. For more information and tickets, see the Brighton Fringe website.