Jack Rooke review – eyebrow-raising stories about love, sex and friendship

Assembly George Square Gardens, Edinburgh
In this intimate show backed by a live harp, the effortlessly charming comedian expounds on platonic, brotherly and romantic love

At one end of St Pancras train station is a neon pink sign by Tracey Emin that reads: “I want my time with you.” Jack Rooke mentions the artwork when he tells us about his brother’s engagement, and its message lingers throughout his new show. Set to a live harp, Love Letters places platonic love up high alongside the romantic kind. Rooke is an epically intimate storyteller; even if we don’t have long, it is a pleasure to spend our time with him.

Though tinged with sadness and shame, Love Letters is a buoyant comedy about pleasure. The comedian and self-confessed “recovering spoken-word artist” is best known for Happy Man, his documentary and subsequent play about male depression and suicide. When he realised he was being paid to be sad, his friend suggested he “make a show about cock”. Plenty of that pops up here – and one of his blowjob stories is enough to put you off Lush for life – but the focus is on friendship.

With dangling fairy lights and falling roses, Love Letters gives friendships and sibling relationships the romantic treatment that is usually reserved for sexual ones. In matching ombre rainbow jacket and sequinned trousers, Alexander Thomas sits beside Rooke with his harp, delicately underscoring the stories with mixes of Ariana Grande and Debussy, and raising the occasional cynical eyebrow at Rooke’s jokes. The harp makes the casual chat feel like a grand gesture, though the music itself doesn’t always feel necessary. Rooke is so shambolically, crudely charming, he needs no accompaniment.

Delicately underscored … Jack Rooke with Alexander Thomas on harp.
Delicately underscored … Jack Rooke with Alexander Thomas on harp. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

Having grown up with his brothers making the occasional homophobic slur, talking openly with them about his sexuality is fresh ground. So this is how he frames it, by imagining we are his brother, and we have sat down to talk about relationships. With his rollicking tales, Rooke kneads the knots of gay shame, with one particularly affecting hook-up tale filled with regret about trading kindness for thinness in the search for validation.

Rooke has the warmest personality and a laugh like tumbling up stairs. When the show is over I want the conversation to continue. Love Letters makes me want more time with him.

• At Assembly George Square Gardens, Edinburgh, until 24 August.

Read all our Edinburgh festival reviews.


Kate Wyver

The GuardianTramp

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