Down-Up is one of those quirky, low-key, charming shows, which for me define all that’s best about the Fringe. It’s performed in a North Laine shop, with fold-up chairs for the audience and a shower curtain as a projector screen. It’s a tale of an obsession, lovingly told by a loveable man, in self-consciously geeky spectacles. It’s fun and it’s surprising. And best of all, it’s all about yo-yos.
A few years back, Arron Sparks claims, he was one of the best at the yo-yo game; so naturally, his dextrous skills form a big part of his 30-minute routine. He yo-yos in the air; he yo-yos to the side; he yo-yos between his legs, and inches from the faces of his audience. He yo-yos with both hands at once and, needless to say, he walks the dog, all the time radiating contagiously nerdy delight at the technical innovations which made these tricks possible. In fact, I’d have liked to see a bit more of the actual yo-yoing – it’s fast-paced stuff, and it’s difficult to fully appreciate the skill involved the first time you see each trick done.
But even such a virtuoso display wouldn’t make a satisfying show on its own, so Sparks rightly augments it with some interesting historical videos and a gallop through his own life story. Unfortunately though, Down-Up has a problem: it’s not quite sure what it wants to be. In the main it’s a stand-up routine – complete with occasional diversions onto topics that have nothing to do with yo-yos – but there are also moments which are far more theatrical. Either of these approaches could work well in its own right but, put together, they each make the other seem a little odd.
The more emotional passages suit Sparks well; one scene, about yo-yos being banned in school, is genuinely moving despite being deliberately over-blown. But the stand-up sections, in contrast, feel stiff and over-rehearsed. And that’s a big shame, because when Sparks is chatting to the audience before the show, he comes across as likeable and thoroughly engaging. It’s a lot easier to say this than to do it – but if only he could loosen up and wing it just a little, it would be much more fun for everyone.
Despite these reservations, though, I recommend seeing Down-Up at some point during its long run here at the Fringe. You’ll immediately warm to Arron Sparks and by the end, you’ll have warmed to yo-yos too. It’s piqued my interest in a craze which had previously passed me by – and overall, this is a show with far more ups than downs.