Friday, 27 August 2010

On The Fringe

It's that time of year again - I can never quite believe how quickly the Edinburgh Fringe comes around every Summer! It seems only a short while ago we were in that little apartment on Rose Street watching Marcus Brigstocke at the Assembly and The Doubtful Guest at the Traverse. But brand new year, brand new people to see: this year's Edinburgh Fringe has been our busiest yet. So busy in fact that I ended up taking no photos and we even missed a show as we got there too late! That's the first time we've ever done that before - I think we get too eager sometimes to see everything, and think to ourselves "yeah I can get to New Town from Southside in 10 minutes!" when it's clearly a 20 minute walk. And then the show before it overruns by 10 minutes. Gosh darn it! Anyway, running about like a loon and glaring at people is all part and parcel of the Fringe - this was my 4th year up there and every year it delights and stuns me just how busy everything is - the people, the street theatre, the bloody flyers in yer face. On a weekend it takes a good 10 to 15 minutes to walk the Royal Mile which is just ridiculous! Lotsa fun if you've got the time to stroll, but if you're late to a show (you shouldn't have booked anyway because there was no way time would just expand) - then it's ridiculous...

We arrived very early on the Friday morning after getting the 6am train up to Edinburgh Waverley. We spent a bit of time faffing around trying to find somewhere that did a vegetarian breakfast (that's with a veggie sausage people, not just egg on toast!) but had no luck so ducked into the nearest cafe we could find, which funnily enough did do us a veggie sausage on request - but served it all with chips. Yes chips at 9 in the morning. Welcome to Scotland!

We then made the arduous trip that has to be done at least once every year - try as you might to only make it the once - queuing up at the Fringe box office to collect tickets and to book all the remaining shows. This takes chuffing ages. And not only do you have to stand about in an alleyway for an hour while the queue stutters forward, you're bombarded with actors and performers pitching at you and thrusting flyers in your face, responding to flat questions such as "you look like you enjoy comedy! Who are your favourite stand ups?" with awkward mumbles wishing they'd move off and gleefully harass someone else who makes the fatal mistake of eye contact. It's amazing how quickly you go from kindly taking a flyer from someone to just yelling NO! One of our friends referred to a phrase I'd never heard of before that was quite fitting - "the Edinburgh Fingers" - getting paper and card cuts all over your hands as every time you delve into your pockets or purse the edge of a flyer gives you a little swipe.

TOP FRINGE TIP #1: Try to be super organised before you go and book all your days up - leave a few gaps of course for 'in the spotlight' shows, but make sure these are at the smaller venues where you can just turn up on the door to get your ticket.

We then dumped all of our stuff at our apartment - this time on West Bow, just around the corner from Cowgate. It was truly gorgeous, and astonishing - we didn't expect to be greeted by a long corridor when we opened the front door! Beautiful wooden floors and furniture, a luxurious comfy bed, and wait for it - a colour changing kettle! Why have I only just bought a new kettle?! I want that one! The Breville Spectra - check it out! Oooo preeeetttttty. I could have watched it all day. But I couldn't do that silly, I had shows to see! So let's get to it. We're reviewing in haggis today. Mmmm, vegetarian haggis with clapshot...(we'll come on to that)


The Dumb Waiter @ C Soco
There were two versions of this playing and not a hair's breadth splitting them apart - in the end we just plumped for one, as we both wanted to see the adaptation of the Harold Pinter play. This was a good introduction to the Fringe - it was short, it was engrossing, and even though I don't have a clue what happened at the end (that's reminded me to look it up) a very satisfying piece of theatre - with only two actors in a tiny little room. 

Stewart Lee @ The Stand Comedy Club
We were supposed to go and see Stewart Lee last year but got complacent and expected to swan up to the door and just get in. This time I made sure I booked it within the first week of the Fringe Book coming out. And so glad we did - an excellent show, mainly filled with crisps, his Japanese hating grandad, a hilarious fictional anecdote about David Cameron and berating us for being a slow and dim-witted audience ("I wouldn't carry on with this bit, but because it's you, I'M GOING TO ANYWAY!") A wonderful dry, weighted delivery that had us in fits of laughter. If you get the chance to see 'Vegetable Stew' on tour, do so.

Dealer's Choice @ The Zoo
At my very first Fringe in 2007 I went to see a performance of 'Closer', one of my favourite films of all time. Sadly Natalie wasn't in it - boooo - but it was really worth seeing the stage version of it, as of course, the film had been born from the play. This year we went to see another of Patrick Marber's best - Dealer's Choice, which centres around a poker game in a shabby London 'restaurant' and muses on chance, luck and addicted personalities. This was actually my favourite play we went to see - not just because they transform the words you've read so blandly on a page ("and who did invent the wheel?" "I don't know - Mr Fucking Wheel!") but because the scene changes were a work of bloody genius. Again, it was a small cast moving around a small space - so instead of going off 'stage' to resume, they darkened the room, blasted some Jurassic 5 from the speakers and robotically danced in theme with poker game movements into their next positions. Fabulous! And the guy who played Mugsy was a real talent.

Andrew O'Neill @ The Tron
A regular at the Fringe now - going to see Andy's latest show (I can call him Andy. He cooked pasta in our house at 2am the other week). There was more new material than I'd been expecting which was a bonus, and was still hilarious despite not quite matching the utter brilliance of last year's show. "Anti-cat" and "I'm not being racist, but is this the train to Reading?" still crop up in our vocab daily! This is someone who won't charge you £17 to have a laugh, so please, if he's ever in a town near you, GO AND SEE HIM. Tour dates here.

TOP FRINGE TIP #2: Go and bloody see Andrew O'Neill!


Free Stand Up @ The Sin Club and Lounge
Usually when we want to see some free/pocketful of coins comedy at the Fringe we seek out Robin Ince, but unfortunately this year he's already done his dates and had left (not to worry as he's clearly stalking us anyway: at End of the Road, Cheltenham AND Ilkley in the coming months!). So we took a chance on this one - it had been given four stars in Three Weeks (one of the Fringe review papers) and been called "the best free stand up at the festival". So we trundled along. And laughed a little bit. The guest act - Joe Bor - was on balance the better of the two, but still lacked hugely in the quality of comedy you come to expect from other shows, and of course television. Danny Ward, the main act, had a good hook in revealing ridiculous objects he'd acquired over the years (such as a screwdriver with a light on the end) but his delivery was stilted and he sometimes ventured on when he should have realised it wasn't working and stop. But you have to give these things a go - one times out of ten you get a lovely discovery. This wasn't one of those times.

Aleister Crowley: A Passion For Evil @ C Central
Yup, this definitely was the hubby's choice. As a one man show it was credible - I'm in awe of anyone who can remember what is effectively a 45 minute monologue - but when I start noticing how itchy my head is and start shuffling about on my chair then I know my interest has long since vanished. Plus as a relative noob to Crowley, this show didn't really help to shed light on his life, or what he did with it. More than anything he struck me as grossly unremarkable.

Alex Horne @ The Pleasance Courtyard
After a couple of sub-standard shows, it was a relief to finally hit the winning mark again. And barring my illegal boyfriend (still to come), Alex Horne's Odds was my favourite thing at this year's Fringe. He was just LOVELY. The kind of comedian you want to run up and huggle within the first two minutes. His show was so engaging as well - involving the audience from the very beginning by handing out raffle tickets and then whittling us all down by way of bonkers challenges, such as betting on raindrops falling down on a window on the projector screen ("don't worry, it's not random!"). The show mainly focused on the bet he had put on at William Hill on his 30th birthday that he would get a hole in one at golf before he turned 32, and this led to some great videos including him teeing off into an unsuspecting pigeon, who later recovered just fine. A lovable warm comedian who is genuinely funny most of the time just being himself - another person to seek out if you can, or go check out We Need Answers immediately. Oh look - here's a clip now!

Alex Horne: "who needs a baby monitor for crying out loud?"

Richard Herring @ Assembly George Street
Ahh, our casualty. Alex Horne overran by 10 minutes, and Alex Horne isn't the kind of show you want to leave early - it's just too good. So we gritted our teeth and just hoped we'd fly across Edinburgh in time to get to Mr Richard Herring. But unfortunately you can't do a 20 minute walk in 4 minutes, so we turned up very late and weren't allowed in. It was pretty demoralizing, and we were very sweaty from running. Huuuu. £12.50 we'll never see again.
No haggis :-(

TOP FRINGE TIP #3: Unless venues are literally next door to each other, always leave 30 minutes between shows for travelling time. Of course this will all be redundant next year when they finally get the trams. Huzzah!

David Leddy's Sub Rosa @ Hill Street Theatre
Not an actual theatre, and not a straightforward play. A group of us were met by a guide outside the New Theatre on George Street at 12.20am and led by torch to a masonic lodge a few streets down - it had been specially opened for the Fringe. After a brief setting of the scene, we were led inside and room to room, where a character from the play would be waiting for us to deliver the next part of the story. As we climbed higher up the stairs, the climax to the doomed tale of a chorus girl in a corrupt, abusive music hall loomed in. It was very unnerving, and at times bordering on horrific - imagine sitting deadly still and quiet in a tiny room listening to a woman describe a painful miscarriage in full, gory, human detail with fellow 'audience' members just as ruffled as you are. Certainly not an experience I'll forget in a hurry - although I did expect to see the trunk with the dead bodies of our hero and heroine dangling above our heads in the final room. Now that would have made us run all the way back to our apartment at 2 in the morning!


Uber Hate Gang @ Underbelly's Big Belly
This is an example of an 'in the spotlight' play - i.e. it gets a good review in Three Weeks, Broadway Baby or Fest and suddenly gets a surge in ticket sales. Because it was on at a handy time - midday - we had a free spot to go and see it. What started as rather talky and not a lot of conviction, slowly unravels into a force majeure of a performance from an excellent cast and a well written - if a little melodramatic at the end - script. Compelling to watch, although no real threat is substantiated by the mention of a bomb in the theatre, the later scenes of violence and a rape which felt forced upon us (jeez, we'd had a really lovely past 12 hours!) were powerful punches. Despite the good reviews, still feels like an overlooked corker.

Call of Cthulhu @ Hill Street Theatre
Another one of the man's choices - I think I enjoyed this even less than Alesiter Crowley. It wasn't a linear play as I was expecting - another one man show that plays on atmosphere and emotion rather than storytelling. So not knowing the story I couldn't really follow it, and again my mind wandered. But the hubby, being a Lovecraft stalwart, had a blast.

Keepers @ The Pleasance Courtyard
Every year we always have a friend (or more!) who's doing a show at the festival - this year it was fellow Brettoner Fionn who we saw a couple of years back in Lost In The Wind. The show, Keepers, is based on a true account of two lighthouse keepers based off the coast of Wales at The Smalls Lighthouse. The shifts are agonisingly long, and the two of them bicker frequently - and when one of them dies in an accident, the other's grief, displaced guilt, and isolation tips him into delusion. This was a beautifully sad story, performed with eloquence and humour by the two leads. You could tell the whole audience were enchanted by them, and rightly so. If we only saw one piece of physical theatre this Fringe we were glad it was this one.

Arj Barker @ The Assembly George Street
Or Dave from Flight of the Conchords as most people know him. I didn't realise the connection until I read a review and decided we must go. FOTC has always been impressive for its array of brilliant, kooky bit characters, many themselves stand up comedians (Rhys Darby, Kristen Schaal - who we saw here last year) so it's a good a bet as any show to see. Arj Barker was probably the weakest of the paid comedians we saw - it was very up and down, and he seemed to mix up his delivery/punch lines quite often and then 'gahh!" to us about it. When he was funny he was very, very funny - and I promise I'm not writing that in Sarcastica. We had to leave a couple of minutes early because there was no way I was going to risk being late and not getting into...

Mark Watson @ Assembly The Mount
MY ILLEGAL BOYFRIEND! I ENVY HIS WIFE! *ahem* I am grossly in lurves with Mark Watson. It's quite obscene really, and yes, highly illegal. But he's just so lovely! He started his show already on stage, typing up observations onto a projected screen above our heads as we filtered through into our seats. Already we were on his side and would have laughed at anything. His latecomers joke - "then I say: it turns out she didn't even have a kangaroo!, and you all BWAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHA like it's the funniest thing you've ever heard when they come and sit down" was winningly playful. I'm not sure how much of his actual act he got through as he kept digressing off topic to talk about outlandish laughs, guessing where foreign people in the audience had come from, ranting about Magners Pear Cider (in a boyish grumble) and his fanboy love of Derren Brown ("I have an email from D.Brown in my inbox! But should I play hard to get now? - delete, block sender?"). I could honestly have sat and listened to him ramble all night, he was just amazing. My only qualm was that I wish I had taken my camera along with me that night as he was signing books in the courtyard afterwards and I could have had my photo taken with him! Boooo. Yes, BOOOOOO - he believes there should be more booing of people in real life. BOOOOO! Oh, and chasing. Randomly chasing people in the street. "raaaahhhh, I'm a monster, rahhhhhh!" Sigh. I envy his child, too.
Let's have a big picture to remind ourselves of how BRILLIANT MARK WATSON IS.



We started the day by trekking up to the Royal Botanical Gardens to see a rather underwhelming mushroom exhibition (rock and roll!). But that was okay because we got to have lunch at Henderson's on the way back and discovered the delicious joys of vegetarian haggis. NOMINGTONS! You can learn how to make it here - we certainly will be!

TOP FRINGE TIP #4: Make sure you try the vegetarian haggis whilst you're there - preferably with clapshot (turnip mash)
We had some lovely meals out over the festival - a trip to Bo's on the Friday night enlightened us to how a baked banana filled with dark chocolate and a chickpea and chili souffle can work as a main course, and at The Outsider (my favourite Edinburgh restaurant) we were introduced to pink peppercorn sauce. Slurp, slurp. Bit disappointed by the puddings that were offered before me this time around - it says a lot when the best thing was a scrumptious pink doughnut from, er, Tesco's. But perhaps I'm becoming way too fussy over my puddings. Naughty, naughty. Onto the last show of the festival - sobs.

Sticks, Stones and Broken Bones @ Underbelly's Belly Button
We ended on a really lovely note - seeing a Canadian puppeteer turn bits of old junk and tat into mesmerising and charming shadow creations. He was instantly adorable, and treated the audience - mainly full of adults - like kids, sidestepping the little ones on the front row to pull up grown men instead to take part in his mini performances and stories. His sheer delight was infectious, and his message at the end - "there is always time for play" rang big chords with me.

And then it was time to go home! (awwwwwwwww /chorus of readers) A very successful Fringe I felt - the busiest we've ever done I believe with 14 shows! Can't wait to do it all again in 2011. If you love comedy, or theatre, dance, art, music, magic, puppets, stand up, sketch shows, literature, physical performance, mime, circuses, burlesque, street theatre, exhibitions, workshops, underground tours, overground tours, eclectic shops, brilliant people, endless cafes, the all-encompassing buzz of being in a very special bubble that no one apart from the people who are there can understand...come to the Edinburgh Fringe. It's like climbing the net bridge in the playground: when you've done it the once you'll want to do it over again, and again, and again.

TOP FRINGE TIP #5: YOU MISSED OUT, IS WHAT! Put it in your diaries for next year :-)

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