Monday, August 30, 2010

Parting the Fringe

A healthy breakfast in Lauriston Place
Edinburgh was a fabulous experience again; plus I didn't have any black dogs this year. This didn't stop me drinking whisky, mind you, but that's more a form of cultural tourism, don't you think? As a breakfast, it can't be any less healthy than Coco Pops, and it's not like I had it every single morning. Not with so much leftover red wine to get through.

OK, that was a joke. We never left any red wine. I always had to open a fresh bottle.

I've blogged already about some of the shows I saw, but there were 23 in all so the rest deserve a mention.

After the disappointment of Pappy's we hooked up with the rest of the party who'd gone to see Noise Next Door and had a much better time of it than I did. The best way to finish the night seemed to be the late Storytellers show (Pleasance), in which performers got up and told stories. Sometimes the names of Fringe shows are refreshingly clear about what you're going to get. In the style of The Now Show, we had to fill in a sheet of paper saying the worst thing we did at school in five words or fewer. There were some pretty lurid tales, but mine ("I gave kids live ammunition") came second on the public vote. So I didn't win the prize, but it did intensify my enthusiasm for getting involved in the show – something that was to get us into trouble later in the week. 4/5

These crazy Aussies were bizarrely wonderful
Aside from some fabulous comics, Storytellers introduced us to the quirky yet wonderful Australian three-piece band Suitcase Royale, whose shit-kicking country folk seduced us into watching their full show The Ballad of Backbone Joe on Sunday. It was a bizarre story of love and death in a small Australian outback town, played around an imaginatively constructed set of toy buildings and half-made rooms, with shadow play and asides to the audience that made us love them all the more. Turning a suitcase into a car was a stroke of genius. But for all the shambolic humour of the show, they were great musicians too. 5/5.

The sun was bright enough on Friday to send me scurrying back to the flat to get my sunglasses, but I somehow got diverted into the Dragonfly bar, where we'd seen a cracking Quiz In My Pants two days before. Sad Bitch In The Corner was just about to start her free show, so I thought I'd look in. The eponymous heroine is 24-year old Rowena Haley from Bolton with her equally sad acoustic guitar. She regaled us with songs played badly and sung worse, all about her semi-psychotic and desperate life. The lyrics were rushed and didn't scan, while the rhymes were crude and obvious. It all contributed to a sense of amateurish crapness, which I'm sure was deliberate but was no less crap for all that. I don't care if your life is full of boredom and frustration, unless it's funny. Lines like "You're more annoying than period pains" will give you enough of a flavour. A particular low point was the story of the death of her pet hamster Maureen ("the only way I could get over it was to write a song about it"), with the immortal lyrics, "We used to have fun / But now we can't because you're gone / We can't any more because you're buried in the back gar-dun." The comedic high point was a pause: "A moment's silence because I haven't got enough material for 45 minutes." At least she saved the best for the last five minutes: Guilt Trip and her story about how the show was funded were genuinely funny. 1/5

David Mulholland counts his takings
By then the rain had returned and the red wine was becoming rather moreish, so I stayed for American ex-journalist David Mulholland's You Are Being Lied To, a show that aimed to uncover the truth about the lies you read in the press. Having been a journalist myself, I found it interesting and occasionally funny, but my companion was less impressed. Still, I loved the story about how an EU map of lifesaving stations in England, France and Belgium, whose only crime was to refer the English Channel as "La Manche / The Channel", became the tabloid headline "EU abolishes Britain". 3/5

iOTA and the band from Smoke & Mirrors
None of this prepared me for the amazing spectacle of Smoke & Mirrors, in which an almost Rocky Horror cabaret show from Australia (again) with a heavy dose of burlesque sent a packed late-night audience away from the Spiegeltent in raptures. There were magicians, acrobats, tap dancers, a dynamite band, a bearded lady and a leading man called iOTA who is surely going places. The whole 100 minutes was dripping with decadence and a sense of fin-de-siècle ennui that was compelling from start to finish, and a wonderful way to wrap up Friday night. While my companions were talking to the magician from the show, I was distracted by a charming American lady who was cadging cigarettes. She was almost as drunk as I was, but her friends dragged her away just as the possibility of moral hazard seemed about to emerge. Bugger.5/5

Tarot time with the Devil's Advocates
Early Saturday afternoon offered another free event: this time from the Sceptics On The Fringe organisation, whose panel game Devil's Advocate focused on science versus science fiction. It also provided another accidental encounter with guest panellist Laura Lexx, who probably now thinks I'm stalking her. Ash Pryce presided over events as Tarot readings, Zener cards and Star Trek all got an amusing going-over. 4/5

The same people (not Laura this time) also showed us How To Be A Psychic Con-Man on Monday, so I now know how to bend spoons, read minds and cure cancer (or perhaps not). A few more explanations would have been good, but it was a fun and free diversion. 4/5

Death of a Samurai
Possibly the oddest thing I saw was Death Of A Samurai, a crazy and highly stylised Japanese dance show backed by electronic beat music. It was a strange concept, brilliantly performed but with too much use of English, which occasionally robbed it of its magic. If you can't say "I love you" wordlessly, there's something wrong with your performance. The use of red confetti to symbolise blood was highly effective, as was the way darkness was used to leave a performer's image on the retina.

I've mentioned The Late, Late Show in a previous post. One high spot (literally) was the acrobatic dance of Circus Trick Tease, but I can't let the 77-year old female San Franciscan comic Lynn Ruth Miller pass without mention. She was terrible, from her granny raps to her jokes, only some of which were younger than she was. Her sub-Joan-Rivers shtick relied entirely on the shock value of a septuagenarian telling sex jokes, but the jokes wouldn't be funny if she were 50 years younger. 1/5

I had to see Colin Hoult's sketch show Enemy of The World at the Pleasance on my own because my friends had started to run out of money. He knocked me out – not literally, because I had to sing later in his show. Backed by a graceful young woman with a triangle, a grubby older man on guitar and a mad, swarthy homunculus on bongos, he acted out the parts of several deranged, damaged characters with a heavy reliance on audience participation. His stock in trade is arrogant, deluded men. Most disturbing was Len Parker, an ex-squaddie from Nottingham with some psychotic ideas for film scripts and the loving, aggressive Glaswegian father, terrifyingly interrogating his son on what he wanted in his Christmas box. The funniest was the camp film impresario, complete with feather boa, asking the audience their names: "John? Oh fuck, I love that. How do you spell that?", then asking his companion, "Is he your boyfriend? Look after him. Never clean out his trough." 5/5

It's just possible I won't get back to the amazing theatre show Bound, the slightly misfiring Taking Liberties and Aude, Vide, Tace, the always hilarious Shakespeare For Breakfast (hilarious except for a dreadful Lear) or the sublime Micky Flanagan. If not, I can tell you they were alternatively amazing, misfiring, hilarious and sublime. And maybe you'll never learn how my penchant for sitting at the front and getting involved led to an obscene online incident involving an unsuspecting female friend.

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