Laura Morgan and Danni Glover brave a wet weekend in Auld Reekie to bring you their Fringe recommendations, while Alice Sanders shares some home truths about taking a show to Edinburgh for the first time.
If this photo alarms you, that’s about right. The hot ticket of the first weekend of this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe was last year’s big hit Red Bastard at the Pleasance Courtyard, and if you manage to get a ticket, you need to go along prepared to face some of your fears. What starts off as a piece of accomplished physical theatre becomes, through a feat of audience manipulation that Derren Brown would be proud of, something terrifying, beautiful, ennobling, affecting and uplifting. It’s also brilliantly funny. If you only have an hour to spend in Edinburgh, this is where I want you to spend it.
My second recommendation is for late-night (11pm is a late night when you are nearly 38) sketch show, also at the Pleasance Courtyard; The Jest. Featuring a cast of five, some clever set-ups, brilliant payoffs and all squeezed into one of the less accomodating performance spaces at the Pleasance, this has a 90% hit rate, which is pretty amazing from a sketch show. Watch out for my personal highlight, a striptease to Only You, but be prepared never to hear the song quite the same way again.
You can’t review friends’ shows, so I’ll briefly and honourably tell you that Rob Deb at the Counting House and Heartbreak Motel at the Liquid Room Annexe (which Google will tell you is on Victoria Street, but you can only get in by going all the way around the bottom of Grassmarket and up Cowgate) were both a lot of fun and, as part of the Free Festival, excellent value for money. Also free is Richard Wiseman’s cabaret show And The Goat Remained A Goat at the Voodoo Rooms, which tells the story, with a mesmerising (pun almost intended) musical accompaniment, of ghost-hunter and conjurer Harry Price. But the show I’m most disappointed to have missed is Wiseman’s end-of-run show Experimental, which plays in the same slot from August 17 and which sounds extraordinary. Get there if you can, and then tell me what I missed.
I’m also sorry not to be there for The James Plays; three separate plays about Jameses I, II and III of Scotland, running as part of the Edinburgh International Festival (and therefore to be classified under Proper Theatre), which look dark, violent and a lot of fun, especially as Sarah Lund features as a love interest. Happily, the run comes to the National Theatre in London from September, so I’ll be able to indulge my love of the more murderous bits of history then.
Laura Morgan is the editor of MostlyFilm.
This year is the first time I’ve taken a show to the Edinburgh Fringe. In the past I’ve secretly scoffed at comedian friends moaning about being tired and broken. Back when I was an idiot I thought ‘It’s an hour a day’s work’. Well, it’s Day 10 and I’m done in. First, there’s the flyering. If constant rejection isn’t enough for you, try being rejected over and over again as the rain pours down on you, with huge, cold raindrops that go right in your eyes. Just try it. Try getting so sick of people turning their nose up at your flyer that you stand on the Cowgate close to tears shouting “Better than a trip to the dentist, come and see my show at 2.30, more pleasurable than being bitten by a shark, come and see my show at 2.30, probably less crying than a divorce party, come and see my show at 2.30”. Second, there’s the show itself. Doing a show’s tiring because during that one hour you emit so much energy as you’re trying to communicate with a room full of people. I do improvised comedy, so my brain is constantly trying to work at double speed. Try all that mixed in with nerves and the sheer amount of hormones that go through your body performing every day. It’s a cocktail of adrenaline, testosterone, cortisol (the stress one), and then the sweet release of endorphins. You’ve never known true bliss until you’ve tried the heady mixture of endorphins and beer. And there are so many opportunities for drinking beer. And so you do, and one day you find yourself trying to do all of the above with a crippling hangover too.
In the last 10 days we’ve had all three categories of show: fine, stinker, and stonker. My ego swells with every laugh and clap and drains away with every silence and empty bucket. The worst moment was when we only had three audience members, and two of them walked out just before we were about to start. The best was when three audience members spotted us in a restaurant post-show and came over to tell us how much they loved us. Pack your wellingtons, your mackintosh, and plenty of spare self-esteem. I can’t believe we’re not even half way through…
Alice Sanders is in Heartbreak Motel at the Liquid Room Annexe until August 24.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that in general, improv at the Fringe is horrible and should be avoided at all costs, which is why it was such a delight to be surprised by Austentatious at the Pleasance Dome. Now, I’ll concede that that the audience who enjoys both Pimp My Ride and Pride and Prejudice may be niche, but it certainly made me feel at home. The improv style of taking a single idea at the beginning of the show and allowing a play to sprawl forth is far preferable to sitting among an audience with at a twat in the back row determined to make his suggestion heard and allows the cast to do what they do best: Jane Austen jokes. It’s a simple formula that wouldn’t work if the cast were not so committed to their source materials and their performances. A particularly nice touch was the live cellist who elevated the show away from its relatively low production value apparently effortlessly.
It would be easy this year to see nothing but shows about the independence referendum, but why on earth would I do that to myself? Imagine my reaction upon being singled out by an MC at a stand up show, holding a ukulele and asking me how I planned on voting? The horror. That said, the debate is so pervasive that it was bound to have interesting repercussions on the artistic output around Britain. I took in one show about the referendum this year: All Back To Bowie’s at the Stand in the Square. I don’t think there are any shows about this topic without an agenda, and the agenda for All Back To Bowie’s is that independence is the way forward, but that’s not to say it’s a nationalist show. It’s as much about the nature of discussion and debate as it is about the politics of independence. It’s a mixture of spoken word, music, panel discussion, poetry, and Bowie references, all centred around a different theme of the referendum, or David Bowie, or both. I don’t think this show is going to change any minds – largely because I think its target audience is for people who have already decided to agree with the creatives involved – but I do think that it deepens the quality of discussion on at least one half of the debate and that’s a good thing. It’s intellectually challenging without being unapproachable.
The stand-out show of the festival this year, for my money, is the Neo-Futurists’ Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind at the Udderbelly Cowgate. The touring version of a show which is the longest running in Chicago, Too Much Light attempts to show thirty randomly ordered plays in sixty minutes, with varying success. It’s the best of the Fringe, really; funny, sad, nostalgic, political, apolitical, confrontational, friendly, musical, visual, above all truthful. It’s a theatrical performance art selection box, whatever that means. The show oscillates the audience from joyful and immediate experience to sombre introspection without giving much of a breath between the two. It’s a microcosm of life in that respect. Thematically, it shares breath with the popular podcast series Welcome to Night Vale, whose star Cecil Baldwin is a Neo-Futurist cast member. If I had only one complaint it would be that on a bad day the audience, involved as they are, may be distracted by the person they came to see rather than the spectacle that was right in front of them (I saw the show on two occasions and this was true of one of them), kind of like the recent reports of Martin Freeman’s performance in Richard III being beset by cheering mid-scene. The exhibition of art to any audience for any reason is wonderful, but at some point I’d like it to feel a little less like a rock concert. But then, maybe that’s the way theatre is changing? If anybody could accommodate that change, the Neo-Futurists could. There’s a lot of faith involved in this show. The first act of faith is taking my word and seeing it for yourself.