Scotsman review of What Is Love, Anyway

omedy review: Richard Herring: What is Love anyway?

By Jay Richardson
Published: 15/8/2011

Poets and sages have pondered love down the ages, but few with the penetrating self-mockery, insightful social commentary and dreadful teenage verse of Richard Herring.

Visiting and performing at virtually every Fringe since time immemorial has afforded the 44-year-old Herring an instinct for constructing a Fringe show like a perfect pyramid of Ferrero Rocher. Frequently as important has been the journal he's maintained since adolescence.

Despite his conceited, 18-year-old self admonishing his tomcat acquaintance Tom in the poetry, Herring wrenches from his virgin diaries the fact that he has only lately reconciled love and lust, and the irony is not lost upon him. His three-year, longest-ever relationship with his girlfriend is at the heart of this by turns warm, bleak and hilarious hour.

He starts by questioning the devaluing ways in which we evoke love, in such unromantic instances as dry cleaning transactions. Emboldened by his rationality, he pursues a typically contrary, wonderfully cold-eyed assessment of mother love, the one supposedly inviolable force in the universe.

His parents' courtship sets him musing on fate, which establishes a delightful defence of stalking, the statistical improbability of soulmates and the tale of his relationship with Julia Sawalha, for which the stars obediently aligned.

Fans of Herring's mid-90s television show with Stewart Lee, Fist of Fun, will revel in the embarrassing account of how Herring, who worshipped a Sawalha shrine in the show, subsequently dated the actress, to whom he was compelled to reveal the broadcast evidence of his adoration.

In most Fringe shows, this humiliation would form a centrepiece. But Herring returns to the present to share the romantic folly that sees him gifting escalating quantities of confectionery to his beloved, a tour-de-force portrayal of a lovestruck fool blinded by affection to basic maths.

Even then, he still has the time and emotional room to introduce his centenarian grandmother, whose Alzheimer's-induced bewilderment at her family's slapstick efforts to engage with her effectively banished dry eyes from the theatre.