Review: Jon Pointing 'Act Natural' at Soho Theatre

Maybe Jon Pointing just has one of those faces. The kind of face that makes you stare for that moment too long while you try to figure out where you’ve seen them before, hoping all the while they’re not someone from school you’ll be obligated to talk to if you accidentally catch their eye. I don’t know Jon Pointing from school, it turns out. I know him from the genuinely funny Virgin Games TV ads in which he plays a friendly vampire trying to fit in, and from the BBC3 show Pls Like, in which he plays an insufferably peppy YouTuber. Nonetheless, when he walks into the room at the Soho Theatre, I feel a little bit like I’m in the presence of a pal, and I’m willing him to do well. 

It turns out Pointing doesn’t need any such patronising good will. The show is extremely well-crafted, his performance is pitch-perfect, and he has the audience in stitches from the first minute. When he first enters, it’s not clear whether he’s in character or not; he plugs his phone in, pulls back the curtains and starts, fairly ostentatiously, to stretch. We’re not with Pointing anymore, we’re with Cayden Hunter, an actor giving a lecture on acting. The audience implicitly takes on the role of his rapt students. We’re a bunch of common dandelions, Hunter tells us, and he’s here to pluck us and blow our seeds to the wind, setting us free. 

If that makes your toes curl, you ain’t seen nothing yet. At once point, to illustrate his talent, Hunter performs his first devised piece. He begins reaching, arm raised skywards like Michelangelo’s Adam, before collapsing into an orgasming heap, from which he gives birth to himself. It’s ridiculous and hilarious, but its also - as a piece - actually pretty good. He’s a parody of an actor, sure, but Pointing keeps it just close enough to the bone that Hunter, though hilarious, is basically pretty believable in his arrogance and self-delusion. 

There would be a danger of the show becoming a a little one-note - cringe-worthy actor gives cringe-worthy advice - were it not for a well-judged sub-narrative threaded throughout. Early on Hunter tells his audience that it was a beautiful actress that set him on his actorly path. He mentions her fleetingly throughout; she’s taking a show she wrote to the Fringe without him, he can’t pay his electricity bill because she moved out without paying her half, she dropped off his things while he was giving an acting seminar in Basingstoke. All of this is revealed through clever little devised sketches performed as lessons for his students.

Pointing uses the sub-narrative to bring his alter-ego down a peg or five, and to offer us, instead of pure parody, a genuinely complex character. When Hunter invites his audience to have take a contemplative break, and whacks on Roy Orbison’s ‘The Actress’, the lyrics of which ironically align with his abandonment by his beloved, we all laugh. But then Hunter’s mask cracks, and he begins to cry. He continues to do so for nearly three whole minutes. Laughter persists throughout, mostly due to the sheer length of time we’re made to watch a man sob, but as a person who fully cannot see someone else cry without crying themselves I found it really poignant to watch Hunter let the facade fall. ‘What was that?’ he asks afterwards, ‘acting?’ He shuffles to reattach the mask, but never fully manages it. He’s exposed.

The complexity of the show is testament to Pointing’s keenly-observed writing, and his performance, which is both expertly timed and full of generosity, both for his audience and, somewhat counterintuitively, for his own character. If you’re heading to the Fringe this year, get this show on your list of must-sees. 

Find Anna on Twitter at @annaerichmond

Catch Jon Pointing: Act Natural at Edinburgh Festival Fringe, 2nd-27th August 2017 at 7.15pm, Pleasance Theatre