Edinburgh Fringe 2014
"Featuring feuding tailors, a Jewess who joins a 1950s Christian cult, a cocaine-addicted rabbi and many more, this award-winning and ever-evolving Fringe favourite is a joyous and hilarious collection of stories-in-song, written and performed by a master songwriter. A rich tapestry of family legend and musical folklore to make you both laugh and cry in a heartbeat."
“This will be the sixth time I’ve seen this show.” The elegant lady in the next seat but one can’t get enough of Daniel Cainer. She enthuses about his style, timing, oh and something else. What is it? “You’ll find out.” High praise indeed given that my neighbour is that superlative storyteller, Debra Ehrhardt of New York’s SoHo Playhouse.
Given all the recent unpleasantness (by recent I mean everything from 70 CE on) it’s good to find yourself cocooned among good people. There are friendly, familiar faces aplenty. But why do all the aulder ladies look so excited? They keep fidgeting around in their seats. As one liberates a rustley packet of boiled sweets from the depths of a ginormous handbag, her companion chides, “not today, I want to hear every word.”
Daniel Cainer is on, a big, big-hearted fella behind an even bigger keyboard. His cherubic, innocent features suggest that kneydl wouldn’t melt in his mouth. There’s a quiet confidence about him. It’s not unlike watching a local pilot steering a foreign supertanker through a well known isthmus. He’s plied this route more times than you’ve had salmon bagels and it’s made him a steady navigator, adjusting the course of his material expertly to guide this particular audience at this particular show. It takes much practise to look this natural.
His stories are solid morality tales accompanied by a plentiful side order of human interest tzimmes. Each has a solid big picture base. Jewish migration in the last but one century. The soap-opera of family life. The good man inside the bad rabbi. In the last he talks through an old theological chestnut (mixed with challah and made into a stuffing). It’s the one about how people can be good on the outside while being bad within. Or the opposite (good inside bad outside), the inverse (good in and out) and the reverse (rotten to the core).
Only with the metaphor can I comprehend the secret of Cainer’s mesmeric appeal to Edinburgh’s aulder, demure, matronly ladies. His material is very, very naughty. Very nice, very clean, on the outside, but within it’s as naughty as King David on a bad day. My friend in the next seat but one, the delightful young children’s entertainer between us, BBC newsman Nicholas Owen in the middle row, the lady with the sweets and the one who told her off, everyone in fact, is shaking with uncontrolled giggly mirth. So am I, come to mention it.
Cainer is blunt without being edgeless. Edgy without being egotistical. Self-deprecation without self-reverence. He’s telling the stories he’d tell down the Tzfon Abraxas on Lilinblum. It takes a big man to give away the biggest laugh to someone who isn’t even in the room. His father’s hysterical video cameo in the finale is the generous dollop of smetana on the borscht.
This is my first time seeing Cainer in action and it won’t be my last. He’s a long-term Fringe favourite for a reason and I’m glad I didn’t wait any longer to find out why that is.