City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Anil Desai - Stand Up Chameleon Review

By Dylan Matthew - Posted on 24 August 2009

Fringe 2009: Anil Desai
Show details
Chameleon Productions
Running time: 
Anil Desai

I was sitting in a late night bar, as one does on the Fringe, supping a few cold ones down with a fellow critic when Anil Desai arrived at our table.

By "arrive" I mean he lurched suddenly into view of my peripheral vision as an initially out of focus humanoid blur and then suddenly in focus a few inches from my face. But he had to arrive like this for he was inhabiting the persona of Johnny Depp in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Cigarette holder askew out the corner of his mouth, his face and eyes popping and twitching in Hunter S Thompson mode with drug addled mumbles and non-sequiturs.

Thank god I knew the character he was emulating, can you imagine what I'd have thought otherwise - "a drunk madman is about to throw up on me. Or even worse, into my pint."

Knowing nothing of his Fringe show, nor reputation on the circuit, I had no idea what had hit me. It was uncanny and funny as hell and he just as quickly switched back to his real self as he plonked himself down and joined us.

How much of Anil's real self, however, was actually present I can't be sure for he seems inseparably entwined with his multiple personas, having spent a lifetime emulating all our celluloid heroes and cartoon characters. What followed was an impromptu show at our table, a tour de force of impressions in ridiculous situations that had us either doubled up or slightly dumbfounded as to their frightening accuracy. As flyering goes, it's a pretty good way of advertising a show although luckily for us his visit to our table was more social than business.

Eager for more, I duly trotted off to see his show the next evening. In the promotional literature he promises 52 impressions in 52 minutes, something in advance I thought was a bit of a tall order, something bordering on a wildly ambitious endeavour - even for three people. But if that wasn't difficult enough he performs rapidfire interactions between multiple impressions within improvised scenarios in a whose line is it anyway style set up.

A volunteer is given a deck of cards, each with a different name on it. A series of situations and locations are then drawn from the audience. For instance, at one stage someone suggested "movie premiere" so he asked which film. I shouted out Antichrist hoping that would make him place his hands in his head with regret but he didn't bat an eyelid, at least not on the outside.

He asked for three cards and got Johnny Depp again, but this time as Captain Jack Sparrow. Depp's character would now be interviewing the other cards on the red carpet: Deputy Dawg and Jim Carrey. The resulting sketch ended in Sparrow barring Deputy Dawg from the premiere as no dogs are allowed. Deputy Dawg broke down, devastated as he wanted to see the film to find out if God really existed. The scenario was funny, but the voices and facial movements were frighteningly accurate. In another sketch we had Homer Simpson, Nic Cage and Jimmy Stewart working in a pet store in Dubai.

Sometimes the exchanges are hilarious but it doesn't always catch fire. Improv is a risky mixed bag of a business at the best of times but the accuracy of the impressions often amazed me even if the scene didn't always take off. My favourite impressions of the night were Al Pacino (‘She's got a GREAT ASS!!!'), Christopher Walken, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert De Niro (who I discovered is now a member of Coldplay, in case you didn't know).

For me the highlights of the show were when Desai interrupts the format of the evening to talk animatedly about the characters, the trajectory of their careers and explain how he develops the impression. That's when you sense the real passion and the necessarily trainspotting level of fascination he's engaged himself with to make it all work.

Personally, I think the show's a little overambitious and packs too much into a short space of time. Although his range of characters and the quality of the impressions are undeniably astonishing, a few were weaker than others and occasionally one of the characters in a three way sketch could get sidelined or lost in the mix.

I wondered if he should perhaps concentrate on fewer impressions within more pre-controlled yet equally silly scenarios which he himself has developed. But then again, I'm a critic, not an impressionist and when it did work on the night it was side-splittingly funny and the show was always entertaining.

Perhaps the structure of the evening could be tidied up a little but this is a small quibble for Desai is a ridiculously talented young man and I have no doubt whatsoever he's on his way to greater things and that the hell that is stardom is beckoning.

Times: til 30 August, 8.45pm