Niall Ashdown, Hungarian Bird Festival

Review in Issue 14-1 | Spring 2002

This is a crafty and exceptionally well-crafted hour and a half. The craft is rooted in Ashdown’s pragmatism. His almost desultory opening sets the norm from which subtle variations have an incrementally exaggerated effect.

Ashdown, Comedy Store regular and member of Improbable Theatre, plays the same game with his physicality. Rejoicing in his flabby belly and recruiting his breathlessness after a bit of bird-imitation for an Attenborough-like piece of wildlife commentary, he first denies any physical craft – so his subsequent well-controlled and precise impersonations of various ‘birders’ and birds have all the more impact.

The craftiness is in the show’s transition from its mildly deprecating opening remarks to a gradual revealing of affection for the objects of the birders’ expedition (the ornithological holiday to Hungary of the title).

All this is mediated through Ashdown’s relationship with his dad on this holiday. His dad is bossy, pedantic, a bit of a show-off to the ladies, and he snores for England – all grist to Ashdown’s gentle comic mill. But, like the birds, when Ashdown wants to access his root affection for his father there is a problem: he has done so much undermining that his warmth is erected on an uncertain structure. Affection for Dad and birds are united in a single, affecting fantasy image – the two men stroking the plumage of a trusting dotterel. This is the climax of the piece, but as if acknowledging he hasn’t quite done enough, Ashdown adds a crowd-pleasing Bird of the Week TV send-up and an exultant listing of all 129 species of bird spotted on his Hungarian adventure.

An always engaging show, perhaps slightly disappointing for its lack of ambition.

Presenting Artists
Presenting Venue
Date Seen
  1. Jan 2002

This article in the magazine

Issue 14-1
p. 26