EdFringe 2012- All My Reviews

For full disclosure, here are all the reviews I am aware of for my Edinburgh Fringe show Gemma Arrowsmith: Defender of Earth which ran on the Free Fringe at Le MondeShanghai 4-25 August at 3pm.


Three Weeks

With boundless, bouncing energy and a flair for vocal impressions, Arrowsmith takes you on an epically geeky journey of parodies and hilarity. Faced with having to save mankind from total annihilation, more average than average Lucy Raven is faced to come up with a compelling argument as to why we should all be saved. Covering a vast array of material, Arrowsmith astounds with an ability to capture a diverse range of characters with their mannerisms, voices and actions nailed, and if that isn’t enough, the script furnishes these many characters with sharply written and memorable one-liners. The massive range of material leads to some impressions being flatter than others, but this negative is more than overcome by Arrowsmith’s compelling magnetism and hilarious script.


Khristine Gallagher

See original review here



Featuring somewhere in the region of 50 exquisitely drawn characters, Defender of Earth is an impressive calling card for Gemma Arrowsmith’s acting prowess. As half of sketch duo Mould & Arrowsmith, she’s delivered a series of geeky, intellectually flattering Fringe shows. But this compelling and intricate one-woman narrative engages the heart as well as the brain.

After a none-too-original, but well-executed, spoof of Hollywood trailers, featuring a defiant Florence Nightingale battling war, disease and sexism, Arrowsmith, with an affectionate nod towards Star Trek, establishes her ‘humanity on trial’ storyline.

A call centre drone with no opinions, a useless degree and an unused gym membership, Lucy Raven is completely unremarkable, a self-deprecating slight on her creator but otherwise so average as to make no impression on the world whatsoever.

Yet it’s precisely this averageness that makes her of interest to a superior alien life form, The Jury, who as judge and booming prosecution too, suddenly demands that this mediocre Everywoman defends humanity against charges of barbarism. Drawing upon a fair amount of exposition to get to this point, Arrowsmith nevertheless keeps her tale pacey and the plot’s pot boiling.

Her failure would result in annihilation of the species, so the scene is set for argument and counter-argument, Arrowsmith bringing to life a rich gallery of the exemplary and the less so. Fleetingly, these include the likes of Jeremy Clarkson, Steve Jobs and Cheryl Cole, the latter re-imagined as rigorously challenging the pseudo-science behind her hair product commercials.

In a similar vein, there’s the beauty contestant who resists the bimbo stereotype with a dense, existential argument for why she’s participating in the competition. Generally though, this is about as broad a spectrum of civilisation as you could conceive, including an aggressive, spoilt child, a self-help guru con-artist, a monstrous career woman and a braying pack of desperate publishing executives. One of the more memorable portraits is a touchingly wide-eyed depiction of Laika, the first dog the Soviet Union blasted into space.

Elsewhere, the snapshot of a troubled child packed off to boarding school and a succession of Raven’s brutally critical teachers suggests an intriguing glimpse behind Arrowsmith’s own adolescence. Capable of calling on a dizzying array of accents and leaping between characters with smooth, subtle shifts in mannerism, this is something of a masterclass from a likeable performer who’s never so actorly that she can’t break the fourth wall every now and then to grumble about the difficulty of crafting a particular scene.

Her script would benefit from considerably more gags and you watch rapt for long sequences without laughing. But The Jury’s intimidating starchiness is gradually and amusingly undermined and there’s a deft satirical swipe at recent television output in the UK. Best of all are some lovely, nerdy in-jokes about consumer technology, in particular a running jest about e-publishing developments that Arrowsmith sustains with ingenious wit and admirable commitment to her conceit. When posterity comes to judge her, she’ll be able to look back on this promising solo debut with pride.


Jay Richardson

See original review here


The Skinny

Using an ever increasing smorgasbord of prop-free character performances Arrowsmith attempts to convey everything that is worth (and not so worth) saving about the human race. Many of her scenes are well introduced and blend seamlessly into the basic narrative she’s created, although others appear a little randomly – leaving the audience, at times, slightly bemused.

A high point is an impersonation of the Soviet space dog, Laika, who is one of the most sympathetic personas Arrowsmith adopts. Channelling the magnitude of the historical moment through the naivety of a Moscovian stray is a near perfect idea.

The show definitely processes a certain charm. A reoccurring character is used to question and critically discuss beauty pageants, make-up advertising and the assumption that women can’t understand science – all without losing an inch of the humour.

If you like female comedians (there are still people who don’t like watching women be funny after all), you like science fiction and you don’t mind getting the story getting a bit lost sometimes then let Arrowsmith tell you how an ordinary, average person might go about saving the world.


Ana Hine

See original review here


Some members of my audience were kind enough to write me reviews.


Nina Cranmer
We came to see the show on a whim and I am so glad we did as it was brilliant. Exceptionally well written and acted and the best show we’ve seen so far in our week here.
Bridget Pitchers

Fast. Funny. Geek-tastic. An absolute treat and a real feat of skill and energy to provide a fabulous one woman show! Brilliantly written with characters you can really form attachments to. Please see this show!


Madelaine Kirke
We know Gemma as the fringe’s resident geek but this year she shows herself to be a brilliant character actress, moving from accent to accent and character to character with real skill. The material is funny & Gemma performs it brilliantly. Go see it!


Martin Davies
I have been meaning to see one of Gemma Arrowsmith’s shows since seeing a video of hers several years ago on the now defunct constantcomedy.com. I was a little concerned when I saw that this show was part of the Free Fringe, as previous experience has taught me that there’s often a very good reason that these performers decide not charge for their shows… However, in this case I was completely wrong. It was fantastic! The show uses the sci-fi trope of a person having to defend humanity’s existence a to superior being capable of destroying earth. But, this is really just a means of tying together lots of great sketches which illustrate the absurdity of mankind. The sketches are fast paced, intelligent and well acted. Her characterisation is brilliant and she has a real talent for accents and impersonation. I laughed throughout, and being a kindred geek noticed quite a few subtle sci-fi references (I suspect that there were still a few I missed). The show felt short, and nowhere near the hour that it actually was, which to me is a sign of real quality. This was my first of 11 shows that I saw at this years fringe, and it sticks in memory as one warmest, funniest and most inventive.


Lisa Simpson
Gemma was our random pick for the Fringe after finding her flyer in a sandwhich shop and we were in for a true treat. She is fast of wit and also fast of tongue when she gets going and we laughed at her endless mini sketches in her story of saving the world from total destruction by an alien being. A true treat and we were more than happy to donate some money for the hour of giggles we had. She is a little bit geeky, a little bit quirky but so so talented with a sackload of excellent accents! Her Gok Wan was hilarious! Geeks and non geeks alike will enjoy this show! Hope to see her again next year!


Michael Josephson
This one-person show was the surprise treat of our last day at the 2012 Fringe. The show is clever, well acted and by the end you really feel an attachment to all the different characters played by Gemma. Anyone who is a bit geeky will especially enjoy some of the references but there’s plenty here for non-geeks too.


Blair Hanlon
In brief, do go and see this show. It’s very funny and totally free. Like a number of free shows, there is the option to make a donation at the end. I actually felt happy to give Gemma Arrowsmith some money on the way out. Really. I was happy to hand over money which I was not otherwise obliged to part with. That was mainly because the show made me laugh a lot, but the quality of the laughs was influential too. The writing and performance have a warmth that mean you care, just a little, about some characters by the end of the hour. So, when you laugh, you don’t have to smother your conscience to do so. There’s also an intelligence to the material that elevates it above lazy or safe laughs. Go see it.


Ian Stevenson

The only Free Fringe event we went to was excellent. Gemma Arrowsmith has a very gentle style of humerous sketches, with the occasional sci-fi reference! It’s clever, witty humour and charmingly presented. Highly recommended!


See original reviews here and here


Very pleased with how the show was received, all round.


Am slightly disappointed that Ana Hine, the reviewer from The Skinny, felt the need to include the sentence “if you like female comedians (there are still people who don’t like watching women be funny after all)…”.

The review, after all, was for a woman in the comedy section.  There is a photo of me.  I have a female name.  I don’t think it really needed stating again within the review that this show features a female comedian.  It’s not as if any misogynists would have read that far before making up their minds not to see the show.  “Oh, well, I was going to see this Gemma Arrowsmith do her comedy show but now the reviewer has warned me there’s a female comedian in it, I’ll definitely give it a miss.  Phew, that was close.  Thank God that reviewer pointed out this comedy is being performed be a woman.  Dodged a bullet, there.”  Seriously, just an entirely redundant sentence.

Imagine, also, if the review had read “there are still those who don’t like watching black people be funny after all”  or “gay people” or “Jewish people”.  Would the review have been printed?  Is that considered acceptable?  Of course not.

It’s also just shame that this tired argument is still being dragged out.  She was only reporting the fact that a prejudice exists among punters (male and female alike) but we’re not going to move past this until all reviewers, male and female, stop reporting the prejudice and just review the material.



Comedy & Context

I first posted this on Twitter via TwitLonger on 23rd August 2012.  It refers to this sketch.


Have you heard of The Secret? It’s this book that says you can attract good things by asking the universe for them. It’s bollocks, obviously. If you think differently, this blog is definitely not for you. I’m not going to go into all the reasons it is bullshit as they can easily be found elsewhere on the internet. If you like The Secret, good for you, but please stop reading.

Okay, they’ve gone. Here we go…

One of the aspects of The Secret I find most offensive is the notion that if bad things happen to you, it’s somehow your fault for thinking negatively. That has very unsavoury implications. Anyway, I have a character in my show who is an exponent of “The Gift”; a thinly veiled version of The Secret and at one point she says that Holocaust victims have brought it on themselves. It is one of the most offensive things I could think of and so I put it in the mouth of this vile character.  You can see the sketch here.

Today I had a lady (who was asleep on the front row for most of my show) come up to me after the performance and say that the Holocaust joke was “not on”. I asked what specifically was not on about it. She said “well, that’s just my opinion”. I asked if she realised I was playing an awful character and my point as an actor and writer was the exact opposite of what the character was saying. As is often the case, I might add. She didn’t say anything to that. I also pointed out that context is everything in comedy and maybe some of the subtleties were lost on her as she had been asleep for much of the show and checking through her train tickets for the rest. She mumbled that that had nothing to do with me and then hurried off.

But honestly, did she really think I was standing on stage and saying “holocaust victims brought it on themselves” with no layers of irony whatsoever? Why did she think the rest of the audience laughed? How can she possibly have not realised I was satirising people who think that way?

There was some debate recently about whether rape can ever be mentioned in comedy. I say of course it can, anything can, but it is context that makes it either acceptable or not. I tend to ask myself who is the butt of the joke. In this case, if the butt of the joke had been the victims of the Holocaust, that would have been unacceptable but in reality, it was the character I was playing. That is who the audience is laughing at. It’s a very important distinction and one which I take very seriously. I have seen sketches that boil down to “isn’t rape funny” and they’ve been universally shit. If used intelligently and with flair, however, I do believe there is no subject that can’t be tackled with humour. It can even be a powerful and sneaky way of getting a strong point across.

Also, a small disclaimer, I had about fifty people in today and she was the only one who was asleep. The rest of them were totally loving it, obviously. It’s ace. Come. Only two performances left.

Gemma Arrowsmith: Defender of Earth
Le Monde | Venue 47 | 16 George St, EH2 2PF.



How I fell in love with Sherlock Holmes

If the name “Gemma Arrowsmith” had already been taken in actors’ Equity, I might have been called Gemma Adler or Gemma Brett.  Those were the alternate names I gave on the form.  I chose them because of Irene Adler, “The Woman” in the Sherlock Holmes stories and Jeremy Brett, one of the most marvellous Holmes actors of all time.  That was how deep my Sherlock Holmes obsession ran.   As it was, no-one else was called Gemma Arrowsmith and I kept my own name.  But this story isn’t about my choice of acting name.  It’s about how I came to love a series of stories about a Victorian consulting detective and how recently everyone else seems to have realised how great he is also.  It starts half my lifetime ago, so here we go.

My mom is an avid reader.  Her particular favourites are science fiction and crime novels so I was brought up in a house heaving with paperbacks.  One school break- I think it was Easter and I think I was 15- I had nothing to read so I went into our front room where there were (and still are) two tall bookcases and for whatever reason I picked up a tattered copy of The Complete Sherlock Holmes Stories by Arthur Conan Doyle I took it into the living room, sat by the fire and opened the book on the first page of the first Sherlock Holmes story A Study in Scarlet.  Over the next few weeks I read all the way through to the final story of the final collection The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes.  I carried the huge tome with me wherever I went on the off-chance I might be able to grab a few minutes and a few sentences in the great detective’s presence. I had always been a reader and I had read many books that I had enjoyed very much but all were eclipsed by the Sherlock Holmes stories.  When I finished that final word and closed the cover I felt a sense of loss I had never experienced upon finishing a book before- and very rarely since.  I will never read those stories for the first time ever again.  That still stings.  I genuinely missed Watson’s voice telling me about his friend’s adventures.  I tried to read other things for the next month or so but all seemed a bit dull by comparison.  It was the start of a major obsession.

I’ve always been obsessed by things.  It started with comedy, an obsession that survives to this day, then it was The Marx Brothers, Gene Kelly films, Noel Coward, Star Trek… the list goes on but pretty much everything was swept from the table when I discovered Holmes.  The collecting began in earnest.  It wasn’t enough to have just read the stories, I now had to know everything there was to know on the subject so I bought books of Sherlockian scholarship, annotated copies of the stories, pastiches, DVDs of film and TV versions, posters of the original Sidney Paget drawings and even a beautiful deerstalker and calabash pipe.  My collection was vast.   It still is and resides in my old room at my parents’ house as I can’t bear to part with it despite the constraints of living in a small flat.  Luckily my parents are understanding.   It’s an odd obsession but I am someone who wore a Klingon jumper for most of my early teens so I gave up caring what people think of me a long time ago.

I few years later I went away to drama school and that’s when Sherlock became even more important.  If you’ve ever been to drama school, or done any course with a large number of contact hours, you’ll know that it can force you to live in a bit of a bubble.  You can forget there is an outside world, so consumed are you with this one enormous aspect of your life.  That was certainly the case with me and many of my fellow students at the Guildford School of Acting.  Our days in the second and third years were 9am-9pm with all your dissertation writing to be done in your spare time. I also taught at weekends to earn money so free time was scarce.  However, I deemed it important to get away from everything every now and then.  It wasn’t always possible to do this literally so it had to be done in the mind.  I lose track of the number of evenings I completed my work for the night and then slipped away to spend a few hours at 221b Baker Street as the world’s first consulting detective wrestled with a three pipe problem.

My weekends ran like this: teach then catch a train into London before the bookshops closed; quickly pop around Murder One and Crime On Store -(two marvellous bookshops with extensive Sherlock Holmes sections- now sadly no more) and pick up any new pastiches or bits of scholarship then visit the Sherlock Holmes museum on Baker Street or the Jeremy Brett exhibition over the road (also no longer there, sadly) for any little curios.  Sunday morning would be spent in a cafe upstairs in a bookshop in Guildford reading my new books and looking through the Sunday papers feeling oh so Victorian before returning to my work Sunday afternoon.  Those few hours each week kept me sane.

A short aside:  while at drama school the flat I shared with my friend Pam was burgled.  They got my computer and a minidisc player (remember those?).  They left my vast Holmes collection untouched (fools! Some of those early editions and signed photos are worth a great deal but apparently modern criminals are not interested in literature.)  Actually, that’s not entirely true.  They took my calabash pipe.  I don’t smoke and don’t intend to but even I couldn’t deny it was a beautiful looking thing so it had pride of place on my bookshelves.  The police said it would probably be used to take drugs and was the item that, if discovered, would definitively link the perpetrators to the crime.  I imagined the headline in the Surrey Advertiser: Holmes solves another case.  Sadly it never came to pass but, man, wouldn’t that have been cool?  I got the pipe replaced and anyway, it seemed fitting end for the original pipe as Holmes himself was no stranger to a seven per cent solution injected directly into the vein.

A couple of years ago something strange happened.  Suddenly new Holmes adaptations sprung up all over the place and the world began to wake up to the stories once again.  Both the new BBC and big screen versions are fantastic at bringing the great detective to life for a new generation.  Oddly the BBC version feels far more faithful to the original canon than the Downey Jr vehicle despite being set in contemporary London.  But I’m not a purist.  I think there’s definitely room for a steampunk graphic novel influenced Sherlock Holmes.  All it does is prove how exciting and enduring the character is.  I am delighted that people are reading the stories and are finally seeing what I was going on about for all those years.  I would be lying if I said I don’t experience a slight twinge when I hear people walk into a bookshop and ask for the “book of the TV series” but I guess that’s to be expected.  It’s impossible not to feel a pang of dismay that now everyone is in on how fantastic the world’s first consulting detective is.  I felt the same when Doctor Who was rebooted in 2005.  “Where were all you guys in the ’90s, man?   ‘Cos I was there.  Keeping the Whovian flame alive.”  But who hasn’t felt that at some point in their lives?  That their secret passion has been stolen from them.  Now there are message boards online discussing what the deal is between Holmes and Irene Adler.   How did that happen?  Anyhow, my slight twinge of regret is wiped out by how excited I am about the new adaptations.  I love Holmes in all his different flavours but for a few years it felt like I had him all to myself.  He was my secret and those years were awesome.

Nowadays the obsession might have mellowed but I still always wear a Sherlock pin on my lapel and I carry all the stories with me on my Kindle.  How useful that would have been when I was reading them for the first time all those years ago.  It was the first thing I downloaded.  If you have a kindle or similar ereader, I would advise you to do the same.  I believe the complete stories are 79p or you can download the first and arguably best set of short stories The Adventures for free.  Seriously, what are you waiting for?

So if you have enjoyed Steve Moffatt and Mark Gatiss’ beautiful, intricate TV interpretation or Guy Ritchie’s huge mad romp, I would urge you to read the stories.  I truly believe there is something for everyone in them.  Rollicking adventures of life, love, money and death, a dashing aloof hero, strong independent female characters (ignore recent flim flam in the press) and the delicate humour of two very different people forced to share a flat- at first through lack of funds and eventually because of a deep friendship (the real heart of the stories).  Read them.  And feel my envy as you open the books for the first time.  You have an amazing adventure ahead of you.