Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Edinburgh 2011: Fringe reviews part 1

Edinburgh's Fringe festival again proved its worth this week, although my two companions and I only had four days to sample what this year's festival had to offer. We've been lucky: there's a lot of cack at the Fringe, but we generally don't get many duffers and there was only one this time.

David Lee Nelson… Status Update (Beehive pub, Grassmarket, Thursday 18 August, free)
This was a rather odd show, which wasn't sure if it was comedy, philosophy or therapy. Nelson used video interviews with himself followed by live commentary to take us through his personal relationships, using anecdotes such as his then-future-ex-wife buying him porn for his birthday. The long pauses were probably intended to add poignancy to his story, but they tended instead to suck the energy from his performance and failed to counteract the effects of an excellent lunch at the same venue.  2/5

Colin Hoult's Inferno (Pleasance, Thursday 18 August, £12/14)
I saw Hoult on a whim last year and insisted this year that my companions come and see the man who gave me one of the highlights of 2010. Hoult's stock in trade is a series of realistic, damaged characters, all played with frightening realism and who presume that the audience understands and approves of their world-view. Last year, each character had his own slot in the show; this year a new set of characters merged and returned throughout the performance, engaging with the audience and allowing catchphrases to emerge. My favourite was the Welsh poet, listening by the wall to his neighbour – who is more successful on "the YouTube" – entertaining his friends and acolytes and "playing Monopoly and Twister and eating prawns straight out of the packet… who eats prawns straight out of the packet? Perverts, that's who." Hoult seems to have made a few changes after some bad reviews at the start of the run, but despite a couple of misfires I still found him utterly wonderful. 4/5

Tim Key, Masterslut (Pleasance, Thursday 18 August, £12)
A brilliant show from a master performer, who managed to keep a big theatre laughing without telling any obvious jokes. He used projection to enhance his show without ever losing contact with his audience, relating surreal and often meaningless stories from the life of a loser where logic collapses in on itself. Most memorable was the scene where he dived into the on-stage bath while allowing the screen to take us on a quest for a submerged can of Carlsberg, after which my companion (who had foolishly caught a thrown towel earlier in the evening) had to dry him off. Did the meaning of life emerge from any of this silliness? I hope not: neither from mine nor Key's life, but I didn't care one jot. 5/5

Shakespeare For Breakfast (C Venues, Friday 19 August, £7.50)
Gotta get up for this one. After King Lear last year, Macbeth got the treatment for an audience fighting the combined assault of hangovers and croissants that are more stale than a workingman's club comic. Here the Scottish play is re-tooled as an episode of Glee, with Duncan reduced to head boy of secondary school. As ever, there were cringeworthy moments and cultural references that went over my head (did Ross really have a monkey in Friends? Three simian seasons, apparently. How did I miss that?), but it's always a romp and the actors were excellent as usual. 3/5

Amused Moose semi-final (Bongo Club, probably £10 though I can't remember how much it cost…)
…but I do remember that it soaked up three hours of an afternoon that otherwise would probably have involved too much red wine. It's difficult even to name the comics, since I've lost my playbill and the website is so shit that it would have looked embarrassing in 1999 and even makes the lame name look professional. I mean, "Amused Moose"? And don't get me started on the fact that the two intervals were five minutes long while the queue for the understaffed bar was ten minutes. Fortunately, none of this detracts from the fact that this was a cracking afternoon's entertainment, with some quality acts giving ten-minute excerpts from their shows. DeAnne Smith deserves a mention for her warmly engaging show that constantly undermined the traditional relationship between performer and audience, ending with a 'Dear John' letter to the audience: "I love you, but I know you want to see other comedians and, to be honest, I'm seeing other audiences…"), but the clear winner for me (and the audience) was Canadian comic Tony Law with his laconic performance about how to be a comedian. Was that post-modern comedy? I think it was. 4/5

It's just such a shame that this was the prelude to Doctor Brown (Underbelly, Friday 19 August), which was the biggest pile of shit I have ever seen at the Fringe. I just don't have time to describe how rubbish this show was. I could have done better myself, except that I wouldn't have imagined anyone would pay to see such lame and irrelevant garbage. You've got to be seriously drunk to enjoy this crap, although some of the audience were, especially that annoying woman at the back who was even more annoying than the young man sitting next to her who tried to seduce me before the show. As I walked out I commented to my companions that I could have spent an hour looking at my own arse in a mirror and had more fun. 0/5

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