Friday, August 27, 2010

Debauchery and dissipation at the Fringe

Just got back from the Edinburgh Fringe and have already broken my promise to review everything I saw. I managed to review Pappy’s, largely because the spiteful little comments I scribbled in my notebook seemed to sum it up well enough but also because it’s so much more fun to slag something off, isn’t it? Journalism must be in my blood.

Smoke & Mirrors

I saw a good mix of genres and quality, from the sublime Smoke & Mirrors to the lamentable but perfectly named Sad Bitch In The Corner. A lot of my personal highlights came from the shenanigans of the people I went with and don’t bear repeating here. In the spirit of journalistic discretion, I can only offer highlights of the conversations without naming the guilty parties:

“Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone it was you that unplugged the fridge.”
“I’m not wearing anything under this towel.”
“I’ve had some very disappointing wanks.”
“Why have you taken your shirt off?”
“True, but they said the same thing about anal sex.”
“I was so disappointed when he took the sock out of his pants.”
“Honestly, I don’t always have whisky for breakfast.”
“Someone was wanking at me on the internet!”
“Weren’t they were supposed to kill us all?”
“Our friend is drunk – and married. We’d better get her home.”

Context, of course, is everything. That’s why I’m not going to provide any, except to admit that I was the disappointed target of that last comment.

Very occasionally the clouds cleared, and the city was rent with the wailing of fearful Scots, crying: “The yellow ball of doom has returned to destroy us all!” Most of the time, the climate of Edinburgh successfully probed the weaknesses of our footwear, revealing leaks that had gone un-noticed in London for months. It was the same last year. Edinburgh is where my shoes go to die. The rest of my footwear huddles in the corner, knowing they will never see their departed friends again and wondering whose turn it will be next year to take the long walk to the Lothian Footwear Abattoir. But I won’t go on about shoes, because I can’t be as funny on that subject as Reggie Hunter was. So, on to the culture.

Itch (at the Pleasance) was a great way to kick the week off. Unusually, it consisted of half-finished sketches performed by actors who were mostly still holding their scripts (“Itch”: scratch theatre, geddit?). The highlight was Mike Haley – a Geordie actor who I can’t seem to find on the web – performing as a pompous, fake, upper-class English mystic whose reading of the supposed log of the ship that brought Dracula to England was pure genius. 5/5

After an Itch, you need Soap (Assembly): a show with dancers, singers and jugglers in baths. It sounds crazy, and it was, but for the most part it was also breathtakingly brilliant, although they need to come up with a better way of linking scenes than singing Splish Splash to various classical music tunes: Rimsky-Korsakov was amusing, but the joke wore very thin after that. The girl juggling with her feet was astonishing, as was the guy who juggled seven balls at once, bouncing them on an upturned bath while standing on it. But the Assembly venue deserves special mention for having no bloody idea how to run a show. The seats weren’t allocated, which means that the best were the same price (£17 – phew!) as the worst, where pillars meant that some of my friends saw very little of what was happening. 4/5

Having failed to endear me with Soap, the Assembly added to my disdain with its Late Late Show, which started after midnight and went on for two hours. With a low stage and a highly visual show, the organisers should have offset the seating so that everyone could see. They didn’t, so, after 6’5” of Fringe-fast-food-fuelled corpulence spread itself out in front of me, I might just as well have been listening to the radio. Great acrobats, apparently. Co-host Mikelangelo looked like an outsize Mark Kermode and, with a Nick Cave-like darkness of delivery, was a compelling compère whose musical excursions were cheerfully Gothic. But there’s no excuse for doing Two Little Boys. Ever. 3/5

Killed off in the first 3%
The same venue had earlier shown Your Days Are Numbered: The Maths of Death, in which “stand-up mathematician” Matt Parker was held in check by Timandra Harkness as they took us through the chances of dying from different activities, bumping the audience off one by one. My comment from the audience earned a sharp rebuke about Venn diagrams and an early award of a ‘Dead’ sticker slapped on my forehead. 4/5

Tom and Laura Quiz In Their Pants
We also found time for the delightfully silly Quiz In My Pants over at the Dragonfly, which had Tom Livingstone and Matt Grant (of Noise Next Door) as guests when we saw it. With regulars Nicola Bolsover, Laura Lexx and Dan Carter-Hope, it was a friendly, charming and bizarre afternoon, with the added bonus of being free. On that performance, Tom and Matt might actually convert me to improvised comedy. 4/5 

Rhod Gilbert is one of the country’s top stand-ups, which is why he got a proper theatre at the EICC for his sold-out show of increasingly surreal rants about how bloody annoying life is. It’s a hilarious half-hour show; unfortunately it went on for 60 minutes. There’s nothing wrong with any of it: Gilbert is a brilliant comic who takes the logic of irritation to gloriously ridiculous extremes, stretching the thread of logic as thin as he can without breaking it, but his dyspeptic tirades are all a bit too similar to sustain a full hour. (There’s also his mildly irritating habit of facing the stage-right wings for much of the show, such that some of the audience at the front mostly saw the back of his head). 4/5 

Reggie Hunter, on the other hand, was even better than last year. With his slow, drawling American delivery, alternately challenging and chummy, it’s always a pleasure to spend an hour in his company. This year he even told some memorable jokes as well. 5/5

I hope I’ll get to review everything I did. Let’s face it, I’ve got 11 months in London to recover.

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