Mon 31 Aug (Fringe day 25)
And so, alas, here ends Fringe 2015. Some final reviews to publish and a final Death on the Fringe lecture to host (it’s an excellent one by Richard “brother of Arthur” Smith who draws philosophy, art, science and medicine together to show The Upside of Death). There’s a brief moment over a solitary post-Fringe pint at The Abbotsford when I wonder whether to head back out and pick off a few remaining shows, but a check of the Fringe app shows there’s nothing doing in the area, so I take it as a sign and head home.
I’ll be writing up some final thoughts on this year’s Fringe in a day or two. But before that, a brief post-script to my Picks of the Fringe from the other day. I completely forgot The Kagools, since it wasn’t one I reviewed myself. A shocking omission. They were brilliant. It means my six Picks of the Fringe were:
Kieran Hodgson: Lance
Spencer Jones Presents: The Herbert in Proper Job
George Egg: Anarchist Cook
President Obonjo Stole My Identity
Next year, maybe, we’ll get round to doing a proper The Wee Review award.
But that’s me signing off from the Fringe Diary. An incredible few weeks, as ever, and the biggest Fringe yet for The Wee Review with over 300 reviews done. We’re here year-round though, so keep in touch, eh? Don’t leave it ’til 2016 to drop by again.
Sun 30 Aug (Fringe day 24)
After I gave Mark Silcox zero stars for his “show” at the start of the Fringe, he got in touch to ask if I would come and see him again. So today, thinking it would be a fitting way to round off the Fringe, I did. I can confirm he does have a show. I laugh, I enjoy a cup of coffee he makes us, I sign his visitor book, and I have my photo taken with the man himself (see above). It is still… how shall I put this?… not perhaps everyone’s idea of a comedy show. But I stick to the conclusion in my first review that he’s a thoroughly nice fella, and if he’s back here next Fringe, I will happily see him again. A full review to follow.
Then, to round off my viewing for this Fringe, it’s once more to Sweet to see The Wee Review writer Laura Ingram‘s Nell Gwyn: An Epilogue. Obviously for me to review it here would be supreme nepotism, but, before I knew Laura, or wrote for The Wee Review, I reviewed it here for Remote Goat. It’s now saucier (and it was already pretty saucy!) and script changes make it easier to follow the period language. Actress Lucy Formby has really taken to the role, and it’s a fabulously fun way to end the Fringe. A lot of hard work has paid off. For an impartial opinion see Fringe Guru and Fringe Review.
One more day of the Fringe to go, a little round up to do and then back, alas, to civilian life…
Sat 29 Aug (Fringe day 23)
I always approach reviewing with an open mind, but some things you’re naturally more inclined to than others. For me, cabaret’s not one of them. Catriona MacLeod messaged The Wee Review about her cabaret show Cat Loud’s Big Night In, and I said that if none of our other writers took it during the week, I would call in to Moriarty’s today as I had an hour to kill in that part of town. But I wasn’t hopeful.
Turns out, it’s brilliant. It’s an autobiographical show about the battle between her outer diva and inner quiet Hebridean, with wonderful songs, beautiful singing, and backing from Finn Anderson, whose Alba: The Musical was a huge success at last year’s Fringe. There’s a Rihanna song in there, which I don’t recognise, for the good reason that I have completely ignored pop music for years. Anyone who can make me like both cabaret and Rihanna must be doing something right. Full review to follow.
At the King’s Theatre afterwards, Murmel Murmel, which is nigh on unreviewable, so strange is it, but I will try once I clear the backlog. It’ll be a good one though.
Then I pay my last visit to The Counting House for this year. I’m there for Dave Chawner’s Shit of the Fringe. Dave’s a good guy and a top MC. A shame I haven’t been able to catch his solo show, Normally Abnormal, this year, but good to catch this line-up show in which comedians who’ve had bad reviews let it all out and prove they’re not as bad as people of my ilk have portrayed them.
I also catch Chris Davis’ Bortle 8. Chris does trippy one-man pieces (his Drunk Lion was one of my highlights of last Fringe). I enjoy this slightly less. While the psychadelic elements are all still there and the concept (about finding true darkness) is an excellent one, it takes longer to get into the swing, and by the time it does, it’s done. I was just starting to get into it. Full review to follow.
Fri 28 Aug (Fringe day 22)
Keep my powder dry during the day, planning a full evening at the Counting House ahead of the Increasingly Prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards. In the end, non-Fringe work means I don’t get anywhere til late in the evening (don’t want the post-Fringe comedown to be compounded by having a huge to-do list) so only regular show I get to see is Conor Drum‘s Adult. Poor fella’s voice is on the way out, and there are countless interruptions and people holding conversations. There’s a definite end-of-Fringe, couldn’t-give-a-proverbial vibe. His stories of stag dos are very entertaining, but it does begin to feel like listening to a mate in the pub rather than a stand-up routine.
Malcolm Hardee Awards (in memory of the late comedian, pictured above) are raucous, chaotic fun as expected. It opens with a skit about the Cowgateheadgate scandal – PBH‘s original post telling Freestival acts to bow down or sling their hook from Cowgatehead is read out while Kate Copstick holds up placards to explain. In short, PBH may have been epically stubborn but he’s not in the wrong, unfortunately for some. Malcolm Hardee’s sister and the Can’t Can’t Girls give it some saucy high-kicking dancing, there’s Lance from Late with Lance, Sticky Biscuits, and a great magic guy whose name I don’t catch.
There’s an international flavour to proceedings. We get trilingual readings of Malcolm Hardee jokes. Louise Reay providing a Chinese version, Fringe comedy’s Italian contingent including So You Think You’re Funny? Winner Luca Cupani do the Italian, before Copstick provides the original vernacular. Classic sample: “They say you play the Counting House twice in your career. Once on your way up, once on your way down… It’s good to be back.”
Next, the yoke is on George Egg. Not a pun, an observation. One of the set-pieces of the night is the Scottish Russian Egg Roulette Championships. You have half-a-dozen eggs. All hard-boiled, except one. Take it in turns to slap an egg against your forehead. If it smashes, you’re out. Egg is the first to crack. Audience member A Bloke Called Ian gets all the way to the final, only to be defeated by Mr Twonkey.
MC Janey Godley skives off for a paying gig, Miss Behave arrives from her show and fills time with fire eating and scissors swallowing before the Awards are announced. Winners here. Then we top the night off unbeatably with another classic Hardee-related routine – Chris Lynam’s Firework-Up-The-Bum. Youtube it. But that’s not before Lynam’s given the organisers, not to mention the photographer, a heart attack by flinging a very expensive looking camera up in the air and then taking a picture of his nob with it. Post-firework, we leave to the sound of fire alarms going off.
I’d half planned to instigate a The Wee Review Award this year, but couldn’t think of something suitable in time. But with all these awards being announced, I am now kind of jealous. So, here, as a token, are the shows I reckon are worthy of recognition. They’re not necessarily the outright best shows I’ve seen, though some are. Think of them as shows that let you know you’ve had a Fringe. Those unusual things you want to see again or make a good story. The ‘stick-in-the-mind’ kind of Fringe shows. In no particular order, these are Peaky’s Picks of Fringe 2015:
Yes, they’re all blokes. It’s not sexist. It just happens that way sometimes.
With that, I won’t quite sign off from the Fringe, I still have some reviews to do. But I’m planning my Fringe to end with a whimper not a bang.
Thu 27 Aug (Fringe day 21)
It’s getting to those frantic last days – last chance to see things, last chance for shows to get reviewers in. I’ve had a lot of “I know it’s late but….” requests for review, and I’d love to be able to do them all, but I can’t, and although I add them to the “suggestions” list for the rest of the team, there’s simply too much to cover.
But I’m out early for a morning show – The Christians at The Traverse. It’s kind of subversive now to be looking at Christianity without a sneering “who believes all this crap?” attitude, especially on a Fringe with plenty of fundamentalist atheist comedians. This play, set in an evangelical church in the States, revolves around a theological dispute which causes a rift in the church. I have a few quibbles with how it was presented, but not with the content, which I thought was an excellent, empathetic approach to the subject. Full review to follow.
One of the requests for review I’ve had was from 2014 UK Slam Champion Sara Hirsch. She has asked repeatedly and very politely, and phoned me as well, so I scrapped what I was going to see (a free show that hadn’t made such requests) and headed down to Clerk’s Bar. Every spoken word performer on the Fringe this year seems to have been a Slam Champion of some description. Has the scene fragmented like boxing, multiple organisations recognised as the “official” body? When are we going to have a unified Slam heavyweight bout?
I believe Hirsch’s claim to the title though. In this autobiographical love tale, she’s good, and she’s filming today. Didn’t catch what for. Maybe you’ll find it on her website. I’m of an age where the young, uncertain love of which she speaks have given way to old, jaded “seen it all” cynicism. So much so that when she introduces the object of her desire, the arrogant Mr X, my first thought is, “obviously a w*nker, what are you doing?” But there wouldn’t have been much of a show if she had thought that and told him where to shove it. So, she reveals her inner torment to the packed basement bar, who love it. Critically speaking, I think it’s possibly too specific and personal for a wider audience (her fling is an Edinburgh one) but I don’t regret changing my original reviewing plans at all. Full review to follow.
Tryvge Wakenshaw (reviewed yesterday) shares a PR with Yve Blake, appearing at Pleasance Dome. Having been accommodated with a Wakenshaw ticket, I’m happy to take a punt on Blake, who makes songs collected from strangers’ confessions. I’m not the audience for this, that much is clear. But that aside, I’m still not sure this show works for her. I can see the standalone appeal of her music videos. This may just be one of those cases of internet success stretched out unsuccessfully into stage show. Review to follow.
This evening is the So You Think You’re Funny? Final. Ten performers slugging it out for the title in the Gilded Balloon Debating Hall. My super quick reviews:
Ben Pope: Makes a big deal of being posh, doesn’t seem that posh, yet does come across like a scruffy Jack Whitehall (not a compliment in my book). Cambridge Footlights confidence.
Yumna Mohamed: South African who is dry, very dry. Tales of being unmarried 28 year-old in Indian family: arranged marriages, curfews etc. Funny, but seems dwarfed by proceedings.
Neil O’Rourke: Irish lad, looks “muggable”. Gets mugged in London. Admits to not feeling very Irish. Amiable and with clear potential. Quiet and doesn’t pause enough tonight though.
Matilda Wnek: Cambridge confidence writ large again. Vibe of Sarah Alexander about her. Material about rape alarms. Does that “reading suggestions from a book” thing to good effect.
Red Richardson: Deadpan, sick, shuffly on stage with no eye contact (his style, not his nerves). “Loser” material about picking up STDs in clubs. Best of first half.
Yuriko Kotani: Japanese, with quizzical attitude to British life. Uses ingenue/foreigner vibe to surprise with astuteness and sweariness. Funny on merit, not just “for a Japanese person”.
Ste Lawson: Boyish St Helens 20 year old has some great gags. Delivery of a natural. As he grows in comical and physical stature, will be very good indeed.
AJ Roberts: Londoner reels off some excellent high-speed streams of comedy, including a horse-racing commentary, but let down by so-so linking material
Luca Cupani: Italian, recently moved to London, comedy about sex life. His penis looks like him apparently. Doesn’t show us. Slightly lost look has audience on side.
So, my personal winner would have been Ed Day (eventual third), but no quibble with the judges’ choice of Luca Cupani (pictured above), who has been making waves with his set on Bob’s Blundabus.
A quibble with compere Zoe Lyons though. I realise it’s not easy compering, especially for two and a half hours. There’s only so much audience interaction you can do, and you need to keep the chat simple and breezy. She’s great at rousing “turned up to 10” applause. But Scottish weather material… really? Twice? Three times? There’s tourists who haven’t been to Edinburgh for twenty years, thinking, “Didn’t they do that one last time?” And wait… she’s not… tell me she’s not… oh, here it comes… “Scots deep fry everything!” Good grief. When will they stop? Have you heard about those crazy Frenchies? They eat frogs’ legs! FROGS LEGS! Indians? Stick spices in everything and call it curry! And don’t get me started on Italians. They have pizza for breakfast over there!
Isn’t it time we left that kind of stuff in the 80s?
Wed 26 Aug (Fringe day 20)
The Comedy Award nominations have been announced. Not surprising to see Nish Kumar on there. He is performing with a swagger as if he’s already won the thing. More surprising, but pleasantly so, to see Kieran Hodgson make it. He had a five star show last year, five stars this, and it’s fully deserved. It’s just a surprise that it registered with the judges, given it’s down-home appeal and conceptual unsexiness. Plus it’s over at the Voodoo Rooms. A triumph for craft and for the Free Fringe, I say.
Back at the coalface, it’ll have been a long old Fringe for Elaine Malcolmson if all her audiences have been as small as today. This is the lowest attendance (four) I’ve seen this year, paid or free (not taking into account walkouts, of which I’m pleased to say there are none here). I can see her rather morbid show is niche, but I like what she’s doing, and all it needs is a few more people to cotton on to her style. Review here.
I’ve interviewed Rodney Bewes twice over the course of a decade, most recently for this piece. He looks his age now, but being on stage visibly puts a spring in his step. He’s a good old sort, a charming fella and I’m pleased to be able to give him four stars.
Quick drink and chat with one of our regular writers, Ken Wilson, then to Dance Base. At one point, I had a whole day at Dance Base mapped out, but such is the Fringe, plans got scrapped. Caitlin might now be the only dance I get to this Fringe, unfortunately. It makes a good choice. It’s the story of Dylan Thomas’ wife, which is the obvious, but wrong, way to describe it, since the focus is on her as an artist herself, not just as an adjunct to his life. It’s powerful stuff which conveys the fire and turmoil of their relationship very well. Review to follow.
In the rush for tickets for Comedy Award nominees, I somehow managed to get in to see Trygve Wakenshaw‘s very modern mime show at The Pleasance. It’s a strange experience being in a nominated show the night after it’s been nominated. The anticipation in the air is immense, and the laughter fuller than it otherwise ought to be, as if people feel the nomination has conveyed permission on them to find it very funny. He is very good, with his twisted animal mimes and occasional human interludes. I really enjoy his Aretha Franklin lip-synch. Wouldn’t have been one of my personal picks, but I can’t quibble with the nomination. Review to follow.
And lastly, Mark Silcox has been in touch, he of the unreviewable, no stars “show” I saw in the first week. He confirms he does have a show, I just didn’t get to see it that day, and he would like me to return to give a second opinion, which, since he seems a thoroughly nice guy, and I was planning to return anyway, I’m more than happy to do. It might overwrite one of the strangest Fringe experiences I’ve had, or it might write a second chapter to it. We shall find out…
Tue 25 Aug (Fringe day 19)
Today I kissed a middle-aged Jewish man.
But the day started much better than that, with George Egg. If ever there’s a justification for using half stars (which we don’t do on The Wee Review) George Egg is it. His show, in which he prepares food using hotel room equipment, is such a great idea, and so well done, it seems churlish to deny him five stars, and yet, almost by design, this can never be a five star show. There’s so much being juggled that one bit of the act or another is always going to suffer, whether it’s a bit of recipe being missed, or a joke weakly delivered. Four and a half would solve the issue. But I had to go one way or the other, and knowing the two comedy hours I’ve given five stars to so far (Kieran Hodgson and Spencer Jones) it possibly just fell short. Plus, while I hate my inner pedant, his final course was spelt “desert”, which may have been the straw which broke the camel’s/fifth star’s back. If the man himself ever reads this and wants to claim an extra half star on publicity I’ll happily endorse it. Full review here.
I always worry when reviewing shows involving Yorkshire that my home bias may interfere with my judgement. But I’m also quite negatively pre-disposed to mainstream observational comedy, so in Scott Bennett’s case, the two possible biases cancel out. And here at The Mash House, he is very good at what he does. He’s quick and friendly with the audience, and has found some more mileage in “this is what my family’s like” material. Full review here.
A different star-rating dilemma arises with Lewis Schaffer. By his own admission, his isn’t a five star show (see his trauma at a five star Scotsman review). Four stars sounds too much like a recommendation, and I wouldn’t want to recommend this show to the casual reader unless they knew what they were letting themselves in for (see opening line of this post). So, though highly enjoyable, three stars it is.
A lovely evening is then spent at Sweet Venues on Grassmarket for A Wild Night And A New Road: A Celebration of Dying, featuring a cast of poets and musicians assembled by composer and academic Mark Sheridan for Death on the Fringe. There are some wonderful, thoughtful readings of poems and snippets from books, before Scots Singer of the Year winner Mairi Campbell reduces many to tears with a lament to her grandfather.
After regathering my composure with something strong in a Grassmarket pub, African dictator President Obonjo (aka Benjamin Bello) spots me on Cowgate and I congratulate him on one of my favourite shows on the Fringe so far. His sidekick Tom Mayhew actually tweeted me the other day to say he had dropped my review quote about him being an “undernourished boy” into one of the performances.
But I can’t linger long to chat, I’m off to see Stuart Black’s Lemsip and Cigarettes at the Free Sisters. There’s a niche for his kind of nihilistic verbal self-harming – I’m sure goths will love it – but it’s not for me.
Rapidly running out of time to see all the things I have left to see though…
Mon 24 Aug (Fringe day 18)
Last time I saw Sparks was in Sainsbury’s in Old Street, London, about two months ago. ‘That poor old guy there looks like Moustache Man from Sparks,’ I thought to myself as I spotted an eccentric looking bloke taking ages deciding which orange juice to buy, and looking pained about it, as if the weight of the decision was getting to him. (I didn’t actually think that, I thought ‘Hitler from Sparks’, though that’s maybe not a thing to reveal, even if the man concerned spent most of the 70s wearing a Hitler ‘tache.) ‘Maybe he hasn’t got much money, and he’s looking after the pennies’. When he joined a guy in the till queue (manned tills, none of this self-serve malarkey) who looked exactly like The Other Guy From Sparks, the penny dropped.
This time they’re on stage with Franz Ferdinand. (Last time I saw Franz Ferdinand they were buying digestives in Scotmid….) It’s a gig that goes down a storm. I’m not sure it’s one to mourn having missed if you weren’t there though. It’s an interesting collaboration for sure, but I don’t think it’s better than either band in isolation, as grumpy and uncharitable as that may sound. Full review here.
Also had the third Death on the Fringe lecture today. Again, another really lovely session, with some wonderful stories from Jeremy Keen, a Consultant Physician at Highland Hospice. It’s very reassuring, no matter where we are on the journey from cradle to grave, to know such kind, thoughtful people are leading the way at such organisations. The final Death on the Fringe lecture, with Richard (brother of Arthur) Smith is on Monday 31, 4pm at St. John’s Church Hall. Before that, there’s A Wild Night and A New Road, a free event at Sweet Venues on Tues 25 at 7.45pm for anyone who’d like to join us for an evening of reflective songs and poetry, a break from Fringe chaos.
Sun 23 Aug (Fringe day 17)
I’ve spent so much time seeing and reviewing comedy and theatre in the past few years that sometimes I forget my first love – music. Not this evening. I’m in the exclusive feeling Caley Bar in the Caledonian Hotel (table service? at a gig?) enjoying a rather old-fashioned house band affair. Terry Edwards (PJ Harvey, Madness) and Neil Fraser (Tindersticks) have taken up residence (Edwards is also in the band for the blues and burlesque shows also taking place there). Their set, named Beyond Harlem Nocturne, in reference to the jazz standard with which they open, is a mix of covers, back catalogue and newly minted material, which skips through genres from jazz to surf rock. It’s a relaxed, intimate show, which many of the great and good of music seem to be dropping into. Tonight, Mike Heron of the Incredible String Band and Pete Wylie are in the house. Noddy Holder was apparently in previously. Set lists change each night. Come back for more! (Full review to follow)
Up at the Voodoo Rooms this afternoon, I caught David Alnwick’s Totally Ninja Magic Show, a recommendation from a friend who’s seen him several times before. It’s a worthy recommendation – he’s a buzzy, confident performer, and even several times when things seem to go wrong… well, go along and see what happens… Alnwick might look like young Ron Weasley, but he knows what he’s doing. He could have stolen the show at this year’s MagicFest.
There was also a trip to a line-up show at Bannerman’s. Apart from Ro Campbell, who does a sound job MC’ing, all the comics either completely misjudge or just don’t have the material for a small, sleepy Sunday audience of older couples and random tourists at their first Fringe gig, although Yianni has just picked up four stars from our man Kevin Wight, so maybe he’s better with a full set in a different crowd.
Sat 22 Aug (Fringe day 16)
Paul Foot has been stalking me on the internet. For about six months, every website I visited had an advert for his show Hovercraft Symphony in Gammon Sharp Minor (pictured above). I don’t know exactly how the algorithms that produce these ads work, but they were clearly flawed. None of his gigs were anywhere near here, and even if they had been, I grew so irritated with the ads, I wouldn’t have bought a ticket anyway. It was advertising down the drain. (The same is now happening with Katherine Ryan’s “sold out” show Kathbum).
Anyway, at 7pm I find myself on Cowgate without a show to see, so I wander into Underbelly Press Office, happy to see anything they’ve got on and got a spare ticket for. Just so happens that Paul Foot is next up, and they have one ticket left. So half an hour later, I find myself at the end of a row, with Paul Foot, my tormentor of six months’ standing, shouting in my face.
He’s an acquired taste, Foot. A creepy looking guy gibbering surreally in a funny voice does not float everybody’s boat. Tonight he spends most of the first half of the set introducing himself and explaining how he’d like us to welcome him when he finally does get on stage. I kind of like what he’s doing. It just doesn’t merit six months of internet advertising.
Fri 21 Aug (Fringe day 15)
After a mammoth day yesterday, I had to spend most of today writing up reviews, but I did get out in the evening for a couple of shows. One was exceptional.
I had briefly met Spencer Jones at Bob’s Blundabus launch (see Wed 5 Aug) and Bob had talked him up, embarrassing the hell out of him. So, I was expecting him to be good, but not this good. His character The Herbert has endless possibilities, and Jones’ brain seems full of child-like but not childish humour. Publicity comparisons with Mr Bean nearly put me off, as did the weird pantless-looking flyer. Don’t be similarly fooled. He is way funnier and more sophisticated than Bean and it was obvious that people in the audience were back for second helpings. Go, but book your ticket in advance, so you can be down the front. Us in the cheap seats were left craning our necks, and even then it was incredible. Full review here.
We were flyered for Anil Desai’s Impressions Of A Hindude at Sin Nightclub. It was always going to be hard to follow Jones, but this was a bad choice. It’s not that Desai is not a decent performer, or a decent impressionist. (On the way out, people were heard saying they’d seen him in previous years and come back for more.) It’s just that some of his choices were either dated – Robert de Niro, Al Pacino, Bill Cosby (OK, maybe that one’s come round again!) – or downright obscure – Optimus Prime off of Transformers? He also just had a guy in the audience shouting out names to him rather than working them into a proper set.
That’s the Fringe though – you win some, you lose some.
Thu 20 Aug (Fringe day 14)
My favourite day of the Fringe so far. I have just drifted round free shows, picking off things that I’ve been meaning to see, and things I just happened to be in the right place for. It’s the best way to spend a Fringe day.
Early to the Counting House for one of those “things I’ve been meaning to see” – Mel Moon: Sick Girl. And she is very sick. (Read her Independent interview to find out the full story.) So sick in fact that she considered euthanasia, only to change her mind. Off the back of that she almost did a show with Dr Death (shortly to be reviewed elsewhere on the site), but pulled out in favour of telling her own story her own way.
So there’s quite some back story to her show, Sick Girl. It starts like a trad comedy gig, with funny stuff about her family, then turns too horrific to laugh at (although she’s fine if you do), before ending very smartly so it’s not all about her (pic of attendees above). It might not be your straight-up, laugh-your-socks-off, regular comedy hour, but it is definitely worth your time. She was off to catch a flight to appear on Katie Hopkins’ show about it, flying back in the morning. This really matters to her. Go see it.
Not enough time to go into all the other free shows I have seen today. Reviews will be written up in due course. A nod to Rosie Dot Francis though, who responded to a tweet I sent out saying I’d be doing the free fringe shows by inviting me along to hers. In only her tenth gig, she’s playing Cowgatehead. She’s doing three nights (this is her second) and seems delighted to be giving comedy a shot in a break from her day job as a teacher. Although clearly still developing her material – some of it is gross personal confession that isn’t built upon – she already has the right delivery, and looks pretty relaxed about everything. And if you think doing the Fringe on your tenth gig is in at the deep end, she did Leicester Comedy Festival on her second.
First trips to The White Horse and Canon’s Gait this evening – the free venues of choice for the real comedy fans if you ask me. Fewer over-refreshed “revellers”, more reasonably-priced drinks, better atmosphere (although I’m not keen on the Canon’s Gait’s recent makeover). Eleanor Tiernan and Nick Doody both put in accomplished sets that are readily appreciated by the moderate crowds. Reviews to follow.
Wed 19 Aug (Fringe day 13)
Today makes a good example of the importance of time and place at the Fringe.
Stand 6 at lunchtime is a hard gig. You’re in the bowels of a New Town hotel, very few people milling around, no-one yet loosened by alcohol. Even to see a big name, an audience’d be making an effort to be there. And there’s something like 100 seats to fill. Tobias Persson (pictured above) fills ten, and does pretty well considering. I like him, but I can’t help feeling for someone faced with this thankless looking task every day. (Review here)
There’s worse rooms to play though. On Tuesday, I was given a flyer for Jamie Griffin’s Life Gives You Lemons (10:15 at the Free Sisters). Someone’s certainly given him a lemon. 10:15am is no time for a comedy gig. Who’s there? Drunks still out from the night before? Competitive Fringers trying to break David Chapple’s Guinness World Record? Hungover and miserable industry folks? It’s not a recipe for a successful gig. Of course people need to earn their stripes, but the Fringe eco-system has brought timeslots and rooms into play that were not meant to be. And I’d expect it to continue, with 24 hour programmes, and students trying to get a big break playing a Leith supermarket storeroom at 7:30 in the morning to a cleaner and a tramp.
This train of thought continues at the Pleasance. I’m there from 5pm to midnight. I love watching the ebb and flow of a big venue over the course of an evening. You see the audiences swell, and gradually change in make-up. The older crowd slip away after peak-time, the drinking begins to take hold, the crowd begins to thin down. You see the runaway successes, queues snaking round the Courtyard, and also the shows struggling in peripheral rooms.
Nish Kumar seems to have this nailed. He’s in Pleasance Upstairs at 7:15. It’s a perfect match – right size, right time, right atmosphere. He says (possibly just for effect, but believably) that this is his favourite room. He’s discussed it with Mark Watson. There you go – industry experience showing.
Felicity Ward‘s set-up is a similar success. As an Australian, she might be less part of the British comedy furniture, but she has a very of-the-moment show which was always going to play well with Pleasance-going Guardianistas / Guardian-reading Pleasancistas, even if she does express shock that she’s selling out. Pleasance Above (150 seats) seems to be working well. Whoever placed her here and now did their job.
But then there’s Loren O’Brien (10:45 Pleasance That). We’re in one of those peripheral rooms I spoke of. I know little of her. She’s Irish American. It’s her Fringe debut. Maybe she hasn’t been to the Fringe before. She’s got something, but her sketch set is kind of odd and rough around the edges for a Pleasance crowd. This has free fringe written all over it (and that’s not meant as a mark of quality). Voodoo Rooms would have been perfect for this, possibly Banshee Labyrinth. They’re wilder, weirder places, full of people just taking a punt and going along with the ride. Here she’s battling on with an audience of a dozen, half of which clearly just want something middle-of-the-road to tell their friends about back home. I hope it’s not a costly mistake for her.
Regardless of the economics, it has a knock-on effect for reviews. I review what I see, not what I could have seen, and it’s inevitable that people aren’t seen at their best in the wrong room. Reviews of the Pleasance shows are to follow, but perhaps it’s no coincidence that Kumar and Ward are getting four stars (and are the upper end of that bracket), Persson and O’Brien three stars. On this small sample, playing the wrong room might be a one to one-and-a-half star mistake.
Tue 18 Aug (Fringe day 12)
For two years, Shaun Keaveny was my best mate. I lived in a retirement village on the Northumberland coast and he, and his counterpart 6Music DJ at the other end of the day, Gideon Coe, were the only familiar voices I heard outside work hours, sometimes for weeks on end. But enough of my woeful existence…
We are gathered in Pleasance Cabaret Bar for Keaveny’s Live & Languorous, a podcast for the BBC featuring guests Tom Stade and Mark Thomas. Keaveny is a half decent stand-up, in the same way he’s a half decent breakfast DJ, and he plays his own warm-up act, getting hearty laughs for a comedy slideshow that includes a deconstruction of a watch ad. Don’t remember the brand, I don’t move in those circles. But that’s the point. Keaveny imagines the smarmy looking family in the photo fantasising about flogging plebs with their gold-encrusted instruments of torture. Stade and Thomas are both class guests and Keaveny gets the best out of them by knowing his stuff. Hope to get round to reviewing both.
Then back down to George Square. I love to see the old greats of comedy and music whenever I can. We underappreciate them to our loss. I remember a brilliant evening seeing an 80-something Humphrey Lyttleton doing jazz at The Bull in Barnes. Now I’m in The Park Room of Teviot (Gilded Balloon Nightclub) to see his erstwhile colleague Barry Cryer, with his musical sidekick Ronnie Golden, back for an umpteenth Fringe. Standing room only. Sightline minimal. I have pensioners shifting bags so I can sit in vague comfort I can’t do an hour on my feet anymore.
Some of the gags have a musty quality – there’s a couple of Monkhouse‘s in there – but equally there’s others that are very good. No doubting the quality of performance or craft from either man. It’s just a question of how you like your comedy. It’s all mild and Radio 4 round here, obviously. Full review here.
I get a lot of my comedy news and gossip from John Fleming’s excellent So It Goes blog. Yesterday, he spoke of comedian Benjamin Bello, who because of location, profile and lack of big PR is “unlikely to get reviewed”. To me that just read as “exactly the kind of thing we should review”. No obscure, but potentially good, Fringe show will get passed over while I have time and strength. I’m glad I didn’t pass this over. It’s hilarious, and you’re not sure whether you’re laughing in fear, mockery or recognition. Go see. Full review here.
I was also there in time to see A Ward Winning Storey – Tom Ward and Andy Storey, two very good stand-ups with great command of the audience. Brief reviews of them to follow. But Bello was something else.
Mon 17 Aug (Fringe day 11)
I’m in a poky wee studio up above Leith Dockers’ Club this morning, doing Edinburgh’s answer to the Johnny Carson Show. Ewan Spence (“Scotland’s first podcaster”) has been broadcasting the chat from many a Fringe, on Shore Radio (in whose premises we are) and on his website and syndicated all over the place. I’m here in the “Ed McMahon” role, a reference I shamefacedly don’t get and struggle to fulfil. It’s all good fun though, as a parade of Fringe faces comes in to plug shows – Beta Male Richard Soames, Shelly Mitchell (Talking With Angels: Budapest, 1943), boom-voiced future Brian Blessed Will Seaward and the cast of Ushers: The Front Of House Musical (reviewed here, four stars, by Laura Ingram). Hear the whole podcast here.
It’s then on to the second Death on The Fringe lecture at Just Festival. A pleasingly full church hall greets us, gathered on the sunniest day of the Fringe to talk death. Jo Hockley’s talk is lovely and compassionate. She worked with Dame Cicely Saunders, founder of the hospice movement, and has very moving stories to tell. Humans, like animals, instinctively know when the time is nigh, yet medicine sometimes denies that. There’s one particularly touching story about a hospice cat who knows people’s end is near and curls up with them until they pass away. If you hear it, you’ll think, “that’s the way to go”.
I meet the guys from IamI there, come here from California to perform a show about suicide, immortality and life after death, which obviously means a lot to them. Had I seen them sooner, we could have had them in the DotF brochure, but such are the troubles of having 3300 shows and only so much time.
Grabbed two comedy shows in the evening. It was back to the 90s with Kevin Day, and not necessarily in a bad way. This slower, unfussier set about ageing now feels like a refreshing change to the “look at me”, tech-ed up, app happy millenials. Some of it is ill-judged and risks antagonising an audience for inadequate recompense, and there’s also a lot of build-up material, but I enjoy it, and it’s added a different flavour to my Fringe.
I’ve seen Janey Godley do slots at The Stand, but never a full hour. The formidable Glaswegian’s funnier than when I’ve seen her in small doses, and there is a lot of love in the room for her – clapping greets every story. Those who spend the Fringe in the London/Oxbridge bubble ought to be frogmarched to see her. Reviews of both her and Day to follow.
Sun 16 Aug (Fringe day 10)
Just the one show today. And it’s a goodie. Now, full disclosure: this show is part of Death on the Fringe, an initiative I’m involved with (see previous diary entries). However, I’ve no personal connection with anyone in the show, so it bypasses the The Wee Review moritorium on “reviewing your mates and giving them five stars”. Besides, purely as an editor, I wasn’t going to have anyone else review this one. A Gambler’s Guide To Dying – with twenty years gambling experience (both sides of the counter, see previous post) and connections in palliative care, who else was better equipped to review it? I nearly missed it (Sunday buses) but very glad I got there in time…
I silenced the gambling geek in me – the wait for a hard-hitting drama about an incorrectly staked each-way Lucky 63 goes on – because this excellent one-man play is about hope and fear and a boy learning the lessons of life. Read my first five star theatre review since last year’s Fringe here.
Sat 15 Aug (Fringe day 9)
The Fringe doesn’t half interfere with my gambling. Normally Saturdays are devoted to horse-racing; it’s a struggle to manage that in August. I can say with confidence I’m the only person in the queue for Lisa Gornick wrestling with intermittent phone reception to place a bet on the 3:45 at Newbury.
Gornick’s Live Drawing is an unusual sort of show. I’ve referred to Tony Hart in my review, but my first thought watching her style of doodling was R**f H****s, whose “can you tell what it is, yet?” schtick always entertained, even if subsequent events mean we now see the man himself in a very different light. I refer to him here only to try and capture the style of presentation, since the interesting story she tells (of a grandmother and family secrets) sits oddly with that kids TV-esque method of telling, and I’m not sure what the family in the front row make of it all.
Talking of kids’ TV, it may seem like damning The Kagools with faint praise to call them a modern Chuckle Brothers, but in its day the silent silliness of the Chucklehounds was actually very good. The Kagools are much faster, and more frantic, as is the 21st century way, and make brilliant use of technology, but with all the hallmarks of classic slapstick. Virtually all of the audience get accosted in some way, us adults are laughing more than the kids, and I can wholeheartedly second the emotion of Kevin Wight’s review here.
At the same time as I’m re-endorsing The Kagools, spoken word editor Steven Fraser tweets to underline Robert Dow‘s five stars for Jess Green’s Burning Books, whose run has now sadly ended, but she’s touring.
I take Crash at the Traverse for another reviewer who can’t make it. It’s a piece that’s emerged from the Play, A Pie and A Pint series, which I’ve seen a lot of, but I missed this one first time round. Set against the backdrop of the financial crisis, it follows the personal crises of an on-edge banker. It’s absorbing to watch, but I’m not sure it has that much new to say about the breed. Review to follow.
Then, since I was at New Waverley Arches yesterday, I thought I’d pay a first visit this year to the venue that caused all the trouble, Cowgatehead. It’s boozier, barer, more raucous than normal (or maybe I’m more sober) and have they changed the layout? I don’t remember feeling quite so trapped in a six storey box (see sobriety again). We see Alison Thea-Skot, whose character cabaret goes well down with the pint-swilling public, and catch some of the band.
Wandering down Cowgate, we can’t even get across the threshold of Banshee Labyrinth for Simon Slack’s The Fantasist, so it’s on to Bar 50 for Love Hate Relationship. It’s slightly sick-making seeing a couple do comedy together, especially when it gets unnecessarily and very specifically sexual, but you’re tempted to give Carmen Ali and Jake Pickford (pictured above) the benefit of the doubt. They constantly seem unsure of themselves, but they have some good material. You’ll have to catch them another year though. That was it for them this Fringe.
Fri 14 Aug (Fringe day 8)
A day of catch-up. Backlogs are cleared ready for the weekend.
Then serendipity comes into play again. My girlfriend and visiting friends are at Summerhall and have picked out a couple of dance things they want to see. Idiot Syncrasy was not so favourably reviewed here by long-standing The Wee Review-er and my predecessor as editor Callum Madge, who’s a good judge of these things, so we plumped for Poker Night Blues. I may have seen A Streetcar Named Desire at some point, but it was only names and setting that were coming back to me in this, Beijing Tin House’s fractured, surtitled recreation of it. Review, possibly quite a vague review, to follow.
There’s actually a fire alarm as we’re drinking in the courtyard afterwards, which all the staff deal with very calmly, very professionally. Goodness knows what this means for the performers and audiences who were interrupted though. With Fringe timetables, you can’t just go back in twenty minutes later and continue where you left off. Then there’s all those refunds and lost income to think of…
I had an e-mail from La Favorita Free Festival people announcing a “launch party” at their new venue New Waverley Arches this evening at 9pm. There’s something of a phoenix from the flames about this venue, following the Cowgateheadgate affair. It’s been hurriedly put together in the arches round the back of the station, currently something of a building site with the Caltongate development going on around it. Understandably, there’s a makeshift air about the place – portaloos, boxes of flyers stacked in the entrance, rapidly painted signage – but it’s all the better for that, with a pleasing subcultural vibe about it (if you ignore the “corporate” pizza sponsorship, so derided by other incarnations of the “free” fringe). No sign of the “launch” we were promised, unless it’s going on in one of the other Arches, but we do catch Newcastle Brown Male Rahul Kohli (pictured above, not at the Arches, nothing so fancy as wallpaper there). Definitely worth popping in to the Arches at some point during the Fringe, if only to see them in their raw, timeworn state before they get turned into delis for rich people.
Thu 13 Aug (Fringe day 7)
It’s with some relief I get to see a show I’m not reviewing today (I’ve a backlog of six to write up). Had I been, Stewart Lee would be a straight up five stars. He continues to develop his act in interesting ways, finding new comedy nooks to explore. This afternoon, working through material for his new series, he gives us two pieces – one involving Graham Norton and Baftas, one on urine and memory. He’s much warmer and more expressive playing a big house like the Assembly Rooms than he is on TV. There’s also as much that’s pure comical as there is that’s cerebral. Someone else’s review to follow shortly.
Our writer Laura Ingram pointed me in the direction of A Life With The Beatles, which shares a venue with her show Nell Gwyn: An Epilogue (go see!) I was somewhat sceptical; we all know The Beatles story. But this never felt tired, and allowed the music to take flight. Another Sweet performer, Dean Friedman, had come along for a gander too. Review here.
Later at Sweet, I hosted a Death on the Fringe night of storytelling and poetry. Recitals by poets Rob A. Mackenzie, Andrew Philip, Tessa Berring and Lindsay Macgregor, were complemented by a beautiful short set of harp music from Sarah Nichols (of the show Fiesta de los Muertos) and two monologues, written by Edinburgh director and writer Jen McGregor and delivered by Angela Milton and Hazel du Bourdieu. Many of the performers spoke movingly about losses in their own lives, and it was a wonderfully reflective evening amid the chaos of the Fringe. There’ll be another Death on the Fringe evening at Sweet on 25 Aug with Scots and Gaelic music and poetry, and a chance to catch some of the poets at Fruitmarket Gallery on 19 Aug.
One too many beers was had afterwards, leaving the backlog of reviews stubbornly at six.
The combination of Beatles and contemplation has led me to listen to Within You, Without You while writing this. Y’all crazy Fringers need to get your meditation on. ‘See you’re really only very small / And life flows on within you and without you.’
Wed 12 Aug (Fringe day 6)
In my first trip to Pleasance Courtyard this year, I have an appointment with dear old Tony Benn. Depends on your politics of course, but I found the Beckett-referencing biography of the man, Tony’s Last Tape, affectionate and stirring. Part of me expected to see dozens of enthusiastic young Corbynites flocking to pay tribute, but no, no, this was very much one for the grey-haired amongst us – old reds remembering an old friend, or maybe Thatcherites (or older) there to scoff. Review here.
Later, I would wager I’m in the minority in not enjoying sketch trio Daphne, judging by the laughter ringing round the box of Pleasance That, and the reports I’ve heard elsewhere. I found it smug and excruciating in places, and I suspect that each of them have careerist eyes in other directions. Watch them go and win an award and force these words back down my throat. Review here.
Had time for a pint with our writer Kevin Wight, who has been our man in the field at some of the smaller comedy gig venues. I’m now dead set on seeing The Kagools, physical comedians he took a punt on, and was pleasantly surprised by. His review here.
Sick as it may make me sound, I leapt at the chance to review An Audience With Jimmy Savile. I remember him jogging round Yorkshire as a kid, and, at that age, I never picked up on the creepiness. To my now shame, I even once dressed at him at a fancy dress party, way before he was exposed (if photos surface, I wasn’t having a Prince Harry moment). Tonight, I expected to see Alistair McGowan (in character) slammed down in a chair and made to answer for Savile’s actions in a meaningful way. I was to be very disappointed…
“I’m Mr Childrenman, the man behind the child.” For a second, it was as if I was still watching Savile. In a hideous accident of timing, I had arrived at the Counting House for the free comedy just as Adam Blampied was introducing his comedy character (he’s nothing like Savile, by the way). A children’s author with issues (not Savile issues, let me again make that clear), Mr Childrenman was OK, but I think some of his traits could usefully be exaggerated for a stronger effect. Review to follow.
Tue 11 Aug (Fringe day 5)
Thank goodness the day ends funnier than it started, because it starts very movingly indeed.
As a Bradfordian, the Bradford City fire disaster has been sealed in my consciousness. I knew no-one involved, thankfully, but as a primary school kid seeing his hometown suddenly front page news for such a horrific reason, it’s not something I’ll forget, and nor has the city itself. Hearing young actors recounting memories of the day in my own accent (not often heard around Edinburgh) brought me to tears, and made The 56 difficult to review objectively. I tried my best here.
The public events organised by Fringe Central are always worth a shot if you’re into this stuff enough to want to delve behind the scenes. Today’s In Conversation With… saw Jo Caulfield, Jody Kamali and Sam Wills (The Boy With Tape On His Face) chatting about inspirations, aspirations, ups and downs. We learnt that Wills wants to not need to perform any more, so he can open a bookshop (he has five, and twenty year plans to make this happen). Caulfield wants to still be at it in the old people’s home, and reveals she was drafted in as Graham Norton’s writer so that he didn’t have to choose between the “oooh, have a nice day” John Inman stuff and the “…and then I shagged him up the arse” stories his straight male writers were providing.
The audience at Assembly Studio 3 nearly take the shine off RAZ, an otherwise very fine piece of one man theatre, with self-conscious snorts of laughter as if they’ve never seen a standard British male out on the lash before. There’s comedy lines, and there’s regular “bantz”, but the crowd can’t tell the difference between the two. Review here.
During a few hours editing at Potterrow Dome I bump into Mr Fringe Guru himself, Richard Stamp. We compare notes on trying to cover as many shows as possible, while giving ourselves a feasible schedule in which to do it. If you’re a show that has contacted either of us, we’re honestly trying our hardest.
Adrienne Truscott was perhaps the talking point of Fringe 2013. Having not seen that show, I wish I had, as this back referencing sequel, One Trick Pony, might have held more interest. Review to follow.
Night ended in hilarity with a very good set in the Counting House loft by Don Biswas. Dyspraxia and Politics turns out to be an enjoyable comedy cocktail.
Tomorrow it might be back to the grimness. I have An Audience With Jimmy Savile.
Mon 10 Aug (Fringe day 4)
I always leave some of my Fringe to be governed by serendipity. Like being e-mailed a list full of lunchtime shows by a PR, just as you’re heading out for a lunchtime show, any lunchtime show. I plucked Jennie Benton Wordsmith off the list, and headed to Underbelly. I liked the concept of Susan Harrison’s character – an aspiring teenage spoken word artiste – but found her rhymes weren’t as strong as the lovely relationship story between her and her sidekick. Review here.
Hosting the first Death on the Fringe lecture took a chunk out of reviewing time, but it was worth it to hear Professor Scott Murray, the University’s Chair of Palliative Care, give us an illuminating comparison between dying in Africa and dying in Scotland. If you want physical pain relief – die in Scotland. But if psychological, social or spiritual concerns are important – Africa has a lot to teach us. Next lecture next Monday.
For the evening, I headed off to the east end of Princes St to meet some friends and take in some free fringe shows. The Newsroom was where I saw one of my two top shows of last year – Chris Davis’ Drunk Lion. Nothing quite so good tonight, but Wild Card Kitty has some strong characters, if she can structure the material more. Again, there were walkouts that were completely undeserved – she joked afterwards that maybe two of them were expecting a stripper. She’s very good with her audience, and if there were more of one, she’d be able to shine more. Review to follow. (Photo above is her as Russian man-eater Katya, with willing victim, Gus)
Joby Mageean has an illness you can’t pronounce, but that sounds horrific. He doesn’t seem too down about it though, offering a set of daft ukelele tunes, and, when the tech’s working, singing gnomes. Review also to follow.
Then to the Voodoo Rooms to see what the performer of my other favourite show last year, Kieran Hodgson, has come back with. Very pleased to say he hasn’t lost his touch. Lance, the tale of his now disgraced teenage idol, is another storytelling performance of the highest order. I’ll save the details til my review, but don’t hesitate to go see it. It’s free for goodness sake!
Sun 9 Aug (Fringe day 3)
Brady plays up to the Scottish headcase stereotype, but only so far. She’s actually very sophisticated at confounding expectations and even early in the day, she has a sell-out, receptive audience. Review here.
Zehra would go down a treat as a Fringe event at a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour conference. Unlikely she’ll get the same response here, as there’ll always be some who can’t get to grips with some middle-pages-of-the-Guardian world affairs stuff. Today’s reaction is middling. Review here.
Break from shows, but not from editing which eats up hours, then back again for Sarah (nee Will) Franken. I’ve never seen him before, so it’s the first time I’ve seen her. I’d planned this in my schedule after reading a enjoyably snotty interview she gave before coming out. It’s now a shame the transgender issue will now overshadow everything, because male, female, either, neither, both, it’s simply good comedy. Review here.
I wanted to get another gig in and was halfway into sketch show Legion Of Doom at the Voodoo Rooms, when the fact I hadn’t eaten caught up with me. Nowhere within a few hundred metre radius had a queue short enough for me to get back in time, so I gave it up as a bad job and headed home. Pace myself. It’s still only Sunday, Week 0. Another night maybe.
Sat 8 Aug (Fringe day 2)
With venue launches over, reviewing began in earnest today, starting with Impossible – Alan Cox and Phill Jupitus’s portrayal of the relationship between Harry Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle. I’m yet to publish the review, but the gist is – it felt slight, although I enjoyed the concept and being transported back to that era.
Assembly and Gilded Balloon press offices seemed like oases of calm as I ran around them like a headless chicken, collecting tickets for the next week. I just made it in time for a sweaty hour (audience and performer, but especially performer) in the George Square Theatre Box. Goose: Kablamo is a battery of brilliant comic ideas and bordering on phenomenal. Review here.
A slight detour for food with friends and a trip to Just Starting – the launch of Just Festival, where the brilliance of the performers, especially those from Afropella Night and After Freedom, were overshadowed by a few too many worthy speeches for a lively Saturday night.
After, there was still time for my first foray into the free Fringe this year – Jokes About Things at Moriarty’s, chosen simply because it was the nearest free gig to hand (info courtesy of the Fringe app). Half the audience walked, and I could see why, but it was a cruel fate for a young performer, who may, eventually, find something. He didn’t help himself though. Review here.
I also had an accidental diva moment today in one of the Big Four’s bars. I ordered a pint of lime cordial (that’s not the diva moment). It was evidently not on the regular menu as the bar staff had to discuss what to charge me. As they talked, they appeared to clock the lanyard round my neck. Thinking this obviously had some implication for the price, I said, “I’m press”. Now, as soon as it left my lips, I realised this had translated as, “don’t you know who I am?” I inwardly cringed at this apparent breach of my normal humility. My drink was handed to me with a ‘well here you are then, “press”‘
Fri 7 Aug (Fringe Day 1)
C Venues is the location for this morning’s launch merry-go-round (that’s Adam House to those Edinburgh graduates among us for whom it means “finals”). Endless canapés, glass of bubbly, all very nice. Hand on heart, launches aren’t about the food and drink for me, but it does give proceedings a certain air of quality. Into the -1 theatre in the basement. Don’t remember this place. The only time I was down in the basement of this place was bricking it in the gents before an exam.
Some high quality performances here but nothing that’s really my bag. Drum troupes and a capella boy bands are nails down a blackboard to me, for all that I can see that the Tenrindaiko drummers and All The King’s Men are supremely talented. Elsewhere in the showcase there’s ballet, opera, mime – again stuff for lovers of the genre. I can lend support to Kevin Wight’s review of Revan & Fennell; they do a nice little sketch, subverting stereotypes about football fans. There’s a snippet from The Frida Kahlo of Penge West about the London theatre scene, by actors presumably from the London theatre scene, with in-jokes about the London theatre scene. Inevitably some of the gathered press find it uncontrollably hilarious, but to someone who’s in Edinburgh year-round, it seems arrogant and not half so clever. Can’t we keep the cliquey stuff down there? My favourite is the fella from The School of Night improvising Shakespearean sonnets.
On the way back, I call in at Just The Tonic @ The Mash House for what turns out to be one of the strangest Fringe experiences I have ever had. I thought I was in for character comedy, I ended up giving life coaching. All I can offer is this review.
The evening brought the launch of Death on the Fringe, which I was hosting. Death on the Fringe is a programme pulled together from all the shows at the Fringe involving death, dying and bereavement. It’s part of the Good Life Good Death Good Grief campaign, the essence of which is that we should think and talk more about the subject. Read my interview with Amy Taylor for more. Tonight, we have a showcase of different acts from the programme. The musicians of Fiesta de los Muertos bring the house down to kick proceedings off. We get laughs from Mrs Leech and Derek Ryan (a Cowgateheadgate victim), drama from Holly and Ivy, stories from Lynn Ruth Miller and Jack Rooke (both remarkable) and an illuminating snippet of the lecture Professor Scott Murray of the university will be delivering at Just Festival.
Afterwards, I grab a glass of wine and a chance to talk to Derek Ryan, London-based Irish comedian, about the “clusterf**k” that was Cowgateheadgate and how all comedy has death at its core. Then I come home and listen to Rod Stewart for two hours. Thoughts of death do strange things to a man.
Thu 6 Aug (Fringe minus 1)
Today saw a trip down to the beautiful St John’s Kirk, which in any other cities would be one of the sights to see, but is so easily overlooked in Edinburgh. It’s home to Just Festival, for which The Wee Review is pleased to be media partner.
It was interview day, recording performers for video, results of which will be available on site shortly. I had a chat with guitarist Einstein, who is appearing in global music show, Be United And Discover, and he taught me a new genre – Afrocentric Con-fusion. We also got some pieces to camera from the actors of Letter To Aberlour and Red Card Theatre’s Descent / Denial / Dark Lantern trilogy, both moving personal accounts from the two great conflicts of last century. This was followed by impressive acrobatics from Voice Box Theatre.
In the midst of this I had to sneak out for the Sweet Venues launch, which lived up to the venue’s name with lovely, heartfelt speeches from the management team of JD Henshaw & Annie Marrs, two folks who seem totally dedicated to their venue and their acts, an impression of solidarity backed up by the hearty applause from performer Cameryn Moore, who is at a typewriter at the back of the courtyard writing bespoke smut on demand. Check out the shows she’s in and it’ll make more sense.
I’m there with two hats on – my The Wee Review one, and as promoter of Death on the Fringe. Sweet are hosting two charity storytelling/music/poetry cabaret events for us. Come along! They’re free (with optional bucket collection towards the Scottish Partnership for Palliative Care).
After all these launches, it’s a relief to stay in the same place for a whole hour to see a show. Even stranger when the show concerned is a taxidermy puppet cabaret. The twitter account of Sing For Your Life won our “pitch to be first review” contest, so I promised I’d be there when the show opened. I’m pleased, in case they’re into human taxidermy too, that I could give it a good review. I am now eyeing up my pet cat, and considering donating him for their next show if he doesn’t stop peeing on the floor.
Wed 5 Aug (Fringe minus 2) Part Two
As a student twenty years ago, Bedlam was the first theatrical space I set foot in in Edinburgh, so a fitting place to start this year’s reviewing. Pleasing to note it hasn’t been redecorated since then. Fading Fringe ’80 posters still adorn the walls of the cafe bar.
I’m here for The Glorious Damnation of Eddie Small, the tale of a wannabe bluegrass star. Producer Celia Dugua grabs me afterwards and kindly shouts me a cup of tea (NB: The Wee Review cannot be bought, in case any other shows out there are tempted to bribe!). She explains it’s a work-in-progress, which chimes with what I saw. Given time, there’s the makings of a good piece and I hope they get that time.
Forget Assembly, forget Assembly Rooms, the connoisseur’s choice of venue launch tonight was Bob’s Blundabus. Who needs showbiz glitz and glamour when you’ve got Bob Slayer impersonating a piglet being violated on the Grassmarket? For those not acquainted with Bob and his bus read our man Phil Bolger’s interview with him. The law-unto-himself promoter has pitched up a double decker outside Potterrow underpass (gets the old “what the…?” reaction from the crowds leaving George Square) and will be hosting comedy every night, including the likes of Phil Kay.
Comedians Eleanor Morton and Joz Norris are here for the grand opening, i.e. sheltering from the rain on a wooden bench on the top deck while folks try to get the generator started. The latter praises our interview with the former (“the best questions with the best answers”). I can say that in all modesty, as I had nothing to do with it. Norris is here to plaster the inside of the bus with his posters, the only one of Bob’s comedians to obey this instruction. But both have big Fringes ahead, so Morton heads home for a bath, Norris to fix some tedious admin.
Once up and running, Bob does a set, then introduces Luca Cumani (eh, the horse racing trainer?! Is this something to do with Bob being a Fat Jockey?) Close, but my gambling-addled brain has misheard. It’s Luca Cupani, a London-based Italian, who’ll be on the bus at 5:45 every day.
Times are very hard in old broken Britain, so I’m not entirely surprised to see child labour being employed during the Fringe. I’m more surprised to find that 12-year-old Grace the Child is actually flyering for her own show, Playground Politics, on Bob’s bus for four days only at 4:30. She apparently does “one liners” and is a bit “ranty”. Sounds great. I have a wee chat with Spencer Jones too, who Bob talks up effusively, to Jones’ embarrassment.
It’s glorious chaos. Very Fringe. Very good way to get into the swing of things. Hope to be propping the Blundabus bar up a lot.
Wed 5 Aug (Fringe minus 2) Part One
Woke up this morning wondering if TV football pundit Bob Wilson is still alive. (He is.) Clearly I’m not working the Fringe hard enough, or I’d be dreaming of drag clowns doing improv ballet about the Russian Revolution.
To my shame, I’ve never been to the Caves, a surprise since it’s my kind of venue – cramped, damp, scruffy, and, to quote launch host Matt Reed, ‘three times winner of the room most likely to give you emphysema.’
Been intrigued to see how Louise Reay’s show It’s Only Words, done entirely in Chinese, will work. After her snippet here, I’m still none the wiser, but tempted to see it to find out. “Brown person” Omid Singh doesn’t do what I expected from his show title My Favourite Words In The English Language. But he is funny, even after you see his terrorist gag coming. Pappy’s Matthew Crosby proves funnier with his ad-libs than with his prepared material; in fact, a natural at going off-piste. I laugh hardest though, at Dr Professor Neal Portenza, a cross between Bill Bailey and Frank Spencer, clearly winging most of his set and provoking belly-laughs of unease. Loose cannon is probably the phrase.
My assistant editor moots the idea of doing a drunken day of Shit-Faced Kids’ Shows, such are the good vibes coming out of tech-whizzy animated elephant show Annabelle’s Skirting Board Adventure and rock ‘n’ rollers Johnny and the Raindrops.
Cheeky fifties-styled cabaret Book of Love missed a few beats today but also looks worth a peek once things have warmed up.
At Greenside‘s launch, we’re accosted in the courtyard by Myrtle Throgmorton, Ancient Heckler, a chatty old biddy in a tartan skirt. She is returning to the Fringe after forty years and assures me she loves a good heckle, even though she’s a little hard of hearing these days. She’s just slipped out of her alter-ego and is telling me about her past life as a BBC producer seeing Alan Cumming in a church hall in Fringe ’82 when we’re rudely interrupted by performers doing an actual performance. A reverse heckle if you like.
Inside the main hall, we’re treated to a slick selection of theatre snippets. At least half leave us none the wiser as to what they’re about. Why do the two silent chess players of The Gambit chink a glass of vodka with a sinister ‘thanks for coming’? Why are the business-suited Yangalang competitive eating marshmallows for their show The Temp? I need to know more.
Entita Theatre’s snippet of Method In Madness does brooding and tragic to a Laura Marling soundtrack. It’s in the notebook. Noel Coward sings with Ivor Novello and I realise I know too little about either of the two. Frankenstein‘s Monster rises to challenge his maker. But it’s drag rock star Hedwig that perhaps gets the best audience response. Not my cup of tea, but it takes all sorts to make a Fringe.
A friendly bunch down at Greenside. We’ve been dished out with party hats, cake and sweets to celebrate their tenth anniversary (see pic above – assitant editors Robert and Tabatha) and there’s good vibes all around the place. And it all seems high on quality, low on commercialism. Spend some hours there if you can.
Tue 4 Aug (Fringe minus 3)
Still relatively in calm before the storm mode. Plenty to prepare, but nowhere to be in a hurry.
Last week, I got to talk to the delightful Rodney Bewes about his “Audience with…” style show, for a piece on veteran Fringe performers. Second time I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing this real gent, but this time he had his clothes on (long story). Today, I finally had chance to finish the article, with thanks to Lynn Ruth Miller and the relatively youthful Dean Friedman for their contributions.
The evening brought a clash of press launches, but I’d RSVP’d to the Playhouse first, so there I went. A pleasant evening it was too. A chance to compare Fringe notes with fellow reviewers Irene Brown of Edinburgh Guide, and Thom Dibdin, Scottish correspondent for The Stage and the man behind All Edinburgh Theatre. Both, like us, year-round, so good to follow for that Edinburgh insiders’ view during August. The Playhouse support CHAS (Children’s Hospice Association Scotland) and it was good to chat to Gill and Laura from the charity, particularly as in another capacity I work with the Good Life Good Death Good Grief campaign, who in turn work with CHAS. A small world.
Not much in the way of performance (Canadian comedian Winston Spear can’t make it) but the cabaret space in the Boards bar is christened by Robert Hofmann (pictured), whose camp, green-haired, be-lederhosened German sings an operatic song of relationship woe, a taster of his Desperately Young at Heart show. We get the lowdown on the big gala comedy shows in the main house, and a courtesy glass or two from Edinburgh Gin, who’ll be hosting events at the Playhouse on Tuesdays throughout the Fringe.
There’s also a possible explanation of why there were so many Chinese milling around Fringe Central yesterday. The Playhouse is hosting a fantasy ballet / orchestral extravaganza, Wild Zebra, featuring 150 Beijing schoolchildren.
Mon 3 Aug (Fringe minus 4)
First things first. Pick up Fringe Media Pass from Fringe Central (that’s Appleton Tower to us old students). Waited a long time for one of these. When I managed the Yorkshire arts site, digyorkshire (now gone to the great web server in the sky), I used to wonder if I could fabricate a Yorkshire angle to justify a trip north. Never managed it. And last year, newly back in Edinburgh, the swines didn’t accredit me. (NB: The Fringe Office are not really swines. Please don’t revoke my pass!).
Fringe Central staff are still in gearing up mode, but there’s a large delegation of young Chinese already milling about and a couple of keen, presumably newly-arrived, Aussies wanting their photos taken by a Fringe sign. Scaffolding appears to be holding the exterior of Fringe Central in place
Gilded Balloon Teviot look to be handling the out-of-action Bristo Square OK, with a parade of food and drink stalls backing on to the building works, and two massive show schedules flanking the entrance. And there’s purpleness emerging in George Square marking out Underbelly among the assemblage of Assembly. All looking good.
A muffuletta from Rudi’s on Bristo Place, for old time’s sake. (It’s a sandwich before you ask, used to get them there in my student days.) Then to the Fringe Office on the Royal Mile. My first week press requests went in by e-mail yesterday, but I’m here to book some free tickets for the likes of Shaun Keaveny’s Live and Languorous. Good bloke, Keaveny. Does a passable breakfast show on 6Music, if there’s nothing better on. The box office is already doing swift business, and staff are cheerful, polite and efficient. I’d get in there now, before the queue’s half way to the Tron Kirk and they’re tearing their hair out.
Pick up a monthly bus pass since I’m going to be uptown so much. Quick half of Innis & Gunn in St Andrews Square, finishing off some previews, while Stand/Assembly Rooms staff set up the free stage to a soundtrack of Some Velvet Morning and mid-period King Creosote. There’s a call from the Hub to sort tickets for the The Wee Review delegation for Edinburgh International Festival (reviews to follow throughout August.) Twice I spot the same white-wigged, furry trousered performers parading around New Town promoting… goodness knows what, they don’t even flyer me. Amateurs.
Back home, interviews to publish (Martin Travers), previews to publish (Underbelly). Take a call from the team at Just Festival. The Wee Review are the Festival’s media partners and we’re going to be down there on Thursday interviewing performers. We’re discussing who that will be, what we should ask them and how long the grilling should last.
Into the late evening, and the Fringe planning continues to the Gideon Coe show on 6Music. All is well in The Wee Reviewworld.