One of the most vibrant and fun fixtures on the UK calendar is the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe experience, and this year I was once again lucky enough to have the opportunity to go up there land in my lap. Certainly a massive aspect of its appeal is the similarity the atmosphere bears to the Adelaide Fringe, only it’s on what feels like a much larger scale. A bunch of us went up in 2007 and had a thoroughly and comprehensively excellent time, and we hoped this to be in some way on par. And so it truly was.
Getting there was what you would call fairly straighforward (aha, see what I did there? TRAINS ONLY GO STRAIGHT FORWARD!), however once again Jason’s Law of Transport Hassle was observed, in that of the lengthy entirety of the train, only the carriage we were in had no working power supply and therefore no lights or aircon, and we (Anna, Paul the Dodgy Aussie, and the long-suffering HC) arrived in Scotland’s imposing capital a sweaty and disheveled gaggle. Although a bloke on the train must’ve thought my sweaty visage too pathetic to ignore, and gave me his spare can of cider: clearly I looked like a man in need of a drink.
An easy and nevertheless enjoyable trap at the Fringe is to get caught up with going to see the shows of all the circuit standup comics, for whom Edinburgh is like the end of school concert where they put in a stellar effort for the month and try to attract the coveted 4 and 5 star reviews which guarantee an audience. Thanks however to a crafty bit of Guardian reading and the expert advice of Anna’s uncle we managed to build an itinerary rich in variety and difference.
** It’s worth mentioning at this point that though I took a few photos, there’s none in here of any of the acts, because the venues are often quite small, and even without using flash, the red lights on the cameras are usually enough to either interrupt the talent, or throw their concentration. And that’s just rude. So, there’s unrelated photo malarkey instead.**
The shows we saw, in no particular order, were:
Poland 3 Iran 2 – a slide presentation & double-barrelled show and tell session in a sidestreet pub by an Iranian filmmaker and a Polish-British artist, intimating the close yet seemingly unlikely bonds between their two countries, via reminiscence about war, football, swimming, subbuteo and sticker books.
John Hegley’s Morning Wordship – having only heard of Hegley via fairly Establishment channels I was expecting this to be fairly stuffy BBC middle-class-sanctioned wit. However Hegley’s shambolic nature and genuine mock earnestness put him somewhere between Daniel Kitson and Tim Key for me. He clearly has a strong fondness for his family home in Luton, and a protective fondness for people who wear glasses (addressing them conspiratorially as “The Wearers”). And involving the audience in a pseudo beat poem song about Guillemots complete with wingflap hand movements, whilst simultaneously inviting audients to participate in a Guillemot-drawing contest is JUST the right kind of Sunday morning silliness for me. [John Hegley’s official site]
Barbershopera : Apocalypse, No! – The Barbershopera team once again hit the exact mark with another verbally dexterous, cheerfully silly tour-de-force in 4 part harmony: this time basing the work on an underconfident and under-numbered quartet of apocalyptic horsemen who somehow recruit a schoolteacher (War, Famine, Pestilence, and Beth) to help them bring about Armageddon. Easily on par with their other shows & one which I’ll look out for in London. [Barbershopera site]
Idiots of Ants: The Red Button – This was the first show we saw of the Fringe, and featured fresh faced sketch artistes Idiots of Ants working their way through a brace of humorous vignettes tied together with the plot device of a TV remote control. Sketch comedy is a tricky genre of humour, and the jokes were well-presented if unmemorable. In a world where “sketch comedy” is widely thought of as “make a scene out of 1 or 2 interesting/amusing things, then move on” it was an admirable job to drag each idea out to a decent length sketch. [Idiots of Ants]
The Invisible Atom – a one-man play, taking a journey through various economic and social machinations via the discovery of his own adoption. A workmanlike performance with a few innovations which I enjoyed but it wouldn’t occur to me to recommend it. The presentation varied nicely by means of a sort of “change of camera angle” effect the actor achieved through use of a sort of visual synecdoche.
The Late Late Show with Mikelangelo and Paul Zenon – a last-minute show decision at 11:45pm (“because we can“) found us in the crowd for a Fringe showcase with that air of “haven’t made it yet” aspiration and the sort of shabbiness that a “Late, Late” show tends to attract. Baritone Aussie-Balkan crooner Mikelangelo hosted proceedings egocentrically with an almost “Elvira” vibe (think velvet curtains, candelabra, and skull-shaped mirror ball) with offsider comedy-magician Paul Zenon. We witnessed various points on the entertainment spectrum, from 77 year old rapper & stripper Lynn Ruth Miller, to country-horror band Graveyard Train, acrobatics from Circus Trick Tease, very dexterous impressions from Anil Desai “The Impressions Guy”, and the highly excellent a-capella stylings of The Magnets, all accompanied with Zenon’s bullshit magic tricks. I’m sure I’ll never forget the “balance a pint of cider in a snooker triangle, attach it to a dog lead, then swing it around my head, stop, then chug the pint”, even if only for the line: “Don’t panic people, we’ve done this trick 7 times now, and there’s only been 2 very minor injuries… the other 5 were pretty fucking serious, mind you”.
David Leddy’s Sub Rosa – a highly hyped “promenade performance” – walking from room to room in an atmospherically lit Masonic Lodge, as chapters of a creepy Victorian murder story were played out. Subtly incorporating details from the building added to the unsettling story, and following the final gruesome chapter we suddenly found ourselves dumped out into a cobbled Edinburgh backstreet. Definitely a lesson that good storytelling and atmosphere will beat special effects and showiness with no trouble, and this was justifiably one of the hot tickets of the Fringe. [David Leddy’s Sub Rosa]
Brendon Burns: Love & God & Metaphysics & Shit – Brendon Burns is one of my favourite must-see comics, and not so much a comedy performer as a force of personality. Comedian, after the court jester style – telling stories to make us thing about our own lives. And in this show, despite being a seemingly self-focussed rambling affair, it tackles exactly what it claims to, with outspoken atheism being as much in the firing line as religion, and Brendon having a revelation or 2 about what’s important in life. [Brendon Burns’s MySpace]
Beautiful Burnout – I had real trouble with this one. A play following the fortunes and motivations of a group of young boxers, giving an insight into the inside world of boxing with both a compassionate and a critical eye. The performance, necessarily & appropriately, was very physical, with many of the training sequences being highly charged aerobics-style routines. If anything, I was a bit lost: having no real touchstone with the rituals and ethos of boxing. Many reviews I’ve since read similarly remarked that there was something missing from the show, but cited the physicality as a redeeming feature. It’s also possible that that’s the exact reason it was lost on me.
The Ballad of Backbone Joe – The bleak, baritone-heavy pseudo-Americana turn of the century genre must be getting a bit of a workout in Australia at the moment, although this trio telling a Mark Twain/Coen Brothers/Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker style story following a half-arsed caper murder invesigation in 1950’s rural New South Wales was extremely entertaining and made use of enough theatrical devices to cover for the fact that it wasn’t especially good at any one thing but was disarmingly fun enough to go along on the ride for. [Suitcase Royale]
Lunchtime show at Princes Gardens: Steven K Amos, with Clarke Peters, Rich Fulcher, Simon Evans, Showstoppers – on Saturday morning we had a bit of a break to mop up, and found ourselves in front of a venue advertising a showcase with Stephen K Amos and Clarke Peters, and as we were keen for a bit of the Lester Freamon action, we jumped right in there. I really likes Amos as a compere/interviewer, and would be keen to see him doing more in this capacity. Clarke Peters was there by virtue of his jukebox musical, Five Guys Named Moe – and with a showbiz history stretching back years he proved an engaging, fascinating and warm subject. Rich Fulcher I find it harder to get along with. He was promoting his show “Eleanor the Tour Whore”, and whilst I find most of what he gives as material a bit sad, I love hearing him talk about it, because it comes across as a very shambolic and piecemeal career: I love that he feels like he’s getting away with something by doing it. Showstoppers were a comedy musical improv troupe, who improvised a 2 song musical on a topic and style of our choice – I found it rudimentarily clever, but the problem with musical comedy for me is that the bar has to be so much higher for it to be worthwhile, and this felt clever, but not clever enough to be noteworthy. The high point of the show for me was the standup of Simon Evans – I’ll definitely be looking for more of his social satire & smug sarcasm in future months.
Five Guys Named Moe – Clarke Peters brought back his jukebox musical containing the music of Louis Jordan to Edinburgh, giving it a snappy re-tooling, and the piece about a man (Nomax) whose girlfriend has left him and the five titular Moes who come out of his radio to help him understand what’s happened and how to deal with it through the medium of singing and dancing at him. My enthusiasm for this piece doesn’t seem rampant, however the problem here was mid-afternoon exhaustion, coupled with an overwhelmingly urgent bladder situation, meant that there was little or no chance of properly enjoying the latter end of the show.
Smoke & Mirrors – probably my least favourite show of the weekend. This was an indulgent Edwardian circus-cabaret, featuring acrobatics, magic, singing, some surreal/absurd sideshow trappings, but ultimately nothing that really lit a fire under any of us. Definitely style over substance.
Daniel Kitson: It’s Always Now Until It’s Later – by stark contrast, the best show of the weekend for me was Daniel Kitson’s latest theatrical masterpiece. I know I’ve written at length before about the enthusiasm & respect I have for Kitson, but in this piece once again he proved what a master of storytelling, nuance, comedy and sentiment he is. The stage was shrouded in darkness, illuminated dimly by a spray of hanging bare lightbulbs – each representing a moment in the life of either one of the two protagonists – Caroline Carpenter and William Rivington – and each shining bright as Kitson crossed the stage to talk about that moment, the time just before and just after that moment, and fascinatingly demonstrated that the intersection of two lives rich in detail can be as mundane and passing as it can be meaningful. He’s a master of taking the ordinary and describing it in such a way that it becomes a thing of consideration and beauty, but also of the sort of sentence construction that Douglas Adams would be proud of (for example, near the beginning declaring that this story was about love, but it was “no more a love story than the Bible is a book about carpentry”). As usual, at the conclusion of Kitson’s monologue I found myself clapping earnestly, hoping somehow that it might convey my enthusiasm to his ears and that he might come back out and continue weaving the spell. But of course he didn’t – he’d shown us exactly as much as he meant to, and that was that. [Daniel Kitson]
And that was the story of Edinburgh this year! Well, it doesn’t include my 3.5 hour delayed flight back on the Monday morning (thanks for NOTHING, BA!!), which made the getting up at 5am for the early flight all the more futile (JBS Transport Rule, exhibit B for this trip). In addition, we ran into my favourite London Barista Mr Fabio Ferreira for a most excellent Cortado just when I needed it. I also got to shake hands with Daniel Kitson, but didn’t hassle him for a photo – chiefly because I’d turned into a gibbering idiot.
On Sunday afternoon there was scope to catch up with Mr Billy Abbott for a burger & a couple of beers, which was a fine thing – our plans to do a remote-outpost mini whiskysquad session were scuppered by the fact there was just far too much else to do.
And – other than linking back to my Flickr set of Edinburgh images – that’s all I think I need to say for this year. Roll on, 2011!!