Review: Umbrella Man, Red Lecture Theatre, Summerhall, Edinburgh Fringe

We meet Colin Bramwell at a bar in Cambodia. The audience sit with him as he, alone and far away, regales us with anecdotes from Scotland and, latterly, attempts to convince us that the Earth is flat. Bramwell is a charming, affable presence and, it should be said, a talented entertainer. He is a proficient poet, pianist and actor but, more impressively, he wears these talents lightly. His real likeability is in his flippant style and self-deprecating manner, which puts the audience at ease. He is definitely someone we wouldn’t might meeting in a bar, far from home. 

Umbrella Man is a veritable bag of tricks. Bramwell recites poetry, tells jokes, sings songs and reminiscences about his childhood, his job at Subway and, more poignantly, his friend and perhaps one time potential partner, Natalie. There are many funny moments. His comparisons between Scotland and Cambodia, his Love Island jokes, his bizarre song about sandwiches and his hilarious new name for Edinburgh inspired by Cambodia’s Siem Reap, which translates literally as ‘Siam defeated.’ (If you want to know his name for Edinburgh, you’ll have to go and see the show.) 

There are times when Umbrella Man seems to meander, resulting in a kind of patchwork feel. Some segments feel a little superfluous, with ideas and memories introduced quickly and then dropped just as fast. Other parts feel slightly underdeveloped. Although memories of Natalie are sensitively portrayed, I long to know more. While there is humour and heart in his nostalgic wonderings, perhaps more rigorous attention to structure might serve this show better. Then again, perhaps there is enough material here for two, or even three shows, if we dug a little deeper and developed each element to its full potential.

That said, this show must not be written off, as there is gold in the water. Bramwell possesses a rich, melodious voice and is genuinely gifted with language. His beautiful words wash over his audience. Credit must also be given to the performer for successfully ad libbing with the front row, which is no mean feat at ten in the morning. 

Towards the end the action unexpectedly takes off, as Bramwell describes an incident in Cambodia where he is scammed and robbed at gunpoint. It is in moments like this that the potential of this show becomes obvious, and leaves one eager to see it develop as its run continues in Edinburgh and further afield. (It has already played Prague and Adelaide Fringes). At the very end, Bramwell leaves us with a beautiful rendition of Steve Winwood’s Higher Love. We are left wanting more and, perhaps, a little sad to leave him alone and lonely at the bar. Sweet and charming, Umbrella Man is a lovely way to start your day at Fringe.

Umbrella Man is playing at the Red Lecture Theatre, Summerhall until August 25. For more information and tickets, visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.