The Pin 

Having seen Alex Owen carry the Cambridge Footlights a couple of years ago, I was quite excited to see him given control of his own double act – in tandem with Ben Ashenden. These two have already had breaks on BBC3 and ITV, and it is easy to see why; with Owen as the taking-himself-too-seriously straight man, and Ashenden as the nerdy, awkward foil, these two have a natural comedic chemistry that allows them to get the audience roaring with belly-laughs with only a minimum of traditional “sketch material”. The bits, genuinely amusing in their own right (Frank Lampard the thespian, over-politically correct exam questions); but it is the in-character fillers, with Owen venting his frustration at his partner’s Mr Bean-like incompetence, that really drive the laughs. A very funny show, and worth seeing.

 The Pin will be performing at Pleasance Courtyard until 26th August. Tickets cost £10. 

BEASTS

I was only able to catch this group for a 20 minute slot at a late night revue, but it is one of my regrets of the 2013 Fringe that I wasn’t able to see their full 60 minutes. These three had a very successful debut run in 2012, and return this year with plenty of buzz about their new material. The trio have a strong chemistry, with each of the rotating the high and low status roles, in what is perhaps a more traditional style of sketch comedy that The Pin. A lot of the material relies on slightly warped reproductions of childhood classics – an oikish pig geezer explaining his building nous to a big bad wolf, sullen Teenage Mutant Ninja turtles – sandwiched between quick one-line bits. The formula is not ground-breaking, but it is highly entertaining.

 BEASTS will be performing at Pleasance Courtyard until 26th August. Tickets cost £9.

Lead Pencil

Lead Pencil generated fantastic reviews for their debut show in 2012, and equally promising feedback from this year’s piece; I was understandably a bit surprised to find a few spare seats at the back of their Underbelly venue. The only possible reason I can conceive for this is that their show runs during the 1-2pm death slot, in which most of their target audience (i.e. anyone familiar with late 1990s mass culture) will still be conked out from a late night before. If you are feeling a bit muggy of an early afternoon, go and watch Lead Pencil; the sketches, which focus mainly on the fruits of our youth (Art Attack, crappy Nokias and the Fresh Prince), will tickle your nostalgic nerve as well as your sense of humour, and the whole show is performed with such incredible energy that you will leave the room feeling buoyed ahead of the rest of your day.

Lead Pencil will be performing at Underbelly, Bristo Square until 26th August. Tickets cost £9.50.

Cambridge Footlights

The Footlights have had a long and and happy relationship with the Fringe, and have become one of the best-known acts at the Festival. This year has seen them return once again to Pleasance’s Ace Dome, though I can safely say that their sell-out audiences are thanks to the strength of the 2013 material, and not trading on the Footlights history. This was probably the strongest sketch show that I saw at this year’s Fringe, with a fantastic mix of experimental sketches (“Press this button when the sketch should end”, “Here is a sketch menu” etc) and amusing running jokes; Matilda Wnek’s death machine saga carried the show. Wnek was just one of a core trio of brilliant actresses (alongside Rosa Robson and Emma Sidi) who, alongside the lovable Matty Bradley, provided a whole host of meomrable characters and scenarios.

 Cambridge Footlights will be performing at Pleasance Dome until 26th August. Tickets cost £9.50.

Oxford Revue

This year’s Revue was right at the other end of the spectrum from The Pin and the Footlights in terms of its presentation; no white back drop and plain uniforms, but a wonderfully cluttered set and eccentric outfits. The skits were equally quirky, and managed to extract the maximum laughter from a given scenario without ever taking it too far: a World War I soldier with cramp, a rather difficult birds and bees slideshow, a brilliantly honest primary school teacher. Perhaps the finest thing about this show is the quality of the transitions, with sketches fading into one another with a smoothness and precision that indicates an enormous amount of thought and hard-work in rehearsal. Watch out also for the running jokes, one of which concludes with a rather spectacular bang. Also, check out The Oxford Revue Presents: Toby Mather, for the best comic poetry this side of Tim Key.

The Pin will be performing at Underbelly, Cowgate until 25th August. Tickets cost £9.