The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is home to thousands of no-holds-barred acts that consistently push the boundary of what we might consider to be performance. From musicals about Brexit to a flight crash simulator show there’s no end to the weird and wacky at this year’s Fringe. Then there’s Roman Fraden’s show ‘Roman Fraden: Back in the Closet’ which seems to redefine the whole genre of comedy: bizarre isn’t a strong enough word for this one-man show filled with drugs, figure skating, Nutella, Tonya Harding, sequins and penises.
Former figure skater Roman Fraden has always been an overachiever, with a childhood filled with figure skating training, dieting and missing out on normal teenage life shaping the man we engage with in his one-hour show. His set is a mixture of stand-up comedy, figure skating re-enactment, songs on the piano, dancing to psychedelic music and a fully functioning phallic puppet. This variation takes some time to adjust to: but the way that Fraden throws himself into every personal anecdote just about saves the show’s jagged structure. This is perhaps where the show occasionally falls down: there’s no clear narrative voice or extended look into any area of Fraden’s life – the spontaneity of the piece is fun but also perhaps limiting. As a result we have a clear idea of who Fraden is now but not a strong idea of how he got there, meaning we enjoy a very entertaining hour of performance that does not necessarily offer much.
Having said this, it is undeniable that Fraden is a magnetic performer, delivering his set as if he were spontaneously talking to a group of friends: anything from stating that the English word ‘gay’ in Russia will merely order you more sauce to casually telling us that Tonya Harding taught him how to hotwire a car is done with casual humour and effortless delivery. This is the show’s greatest strength: it’s engaging and funny but earnest and at times moving, with the show ending on a positive note that leaves us as an audience feeling as if we’ve spent an hour amongst a group of friends. Jokes made at the audience’s expense are sharp and clever but never cruel – a difficult balance to strike that Fraden achieves effortlessly, using them to bring the audience together as we laugh at ourselves. Though disconnected, Fraden’s show is a madly fun and occasionally moving look into an unusual life delivered with warmth and humour.