Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Fringe 2011

And so we come to Edinburgh again for the fringe. This year, though, we are taking it really easy. Apart from the EICC all venues have horrid uncomfortable seats and Julian can no longer take more than three shows a day. We’ve gone from a programme of five, sometimes six, shows a day because the pathetic sight of Julian in pain is not really fun.

So, Monday (2 for one day) we saw three shows. We took the train as a return is less than £4 at the moment, started with the wonderful Instant Sunshine, moved on to Ed Reardon; A writers burden (fab!) and finally saw Josh Widdicombe in a tiny stiflingly hot hut at the Pleasance. Josh is a young comedian who is both very personable and funny. He made the mistake in fixing on Julian following the inevitable question, ‘Where has everyone come from?’ I guess he thought Swindon was the potentially funniest place. Oops. It wasn’t quite as derailing as when Ian and I got into a question and answer session with John Bishop some years ago but there was always the potential. As Ian points out, a comedian isn’t really interested in hearing a participant’s life story, they want sound bites to be amusing with. I’ve seen much more seasoned performers than Josh flounder when faced with Julian’s answers (Otis Lee Crenshaw found it very difficult to adjust his song ‘Big [Julian]’ to a job maintaining analysers). I was very impressed with the way Josh dealt with Julian’s too much information. He was friendly, professional and managed to wring laughs out of Julian’s contribution without any nastiness emerging. Josh is a thoroughly bright and charming young comedian. I’ve got a bit of a crush.

Tuesday (2 for one) we drove over as we wouldn’t be out of our last show to make the last train. We had intended to go to see Robin Ince’s free show at Canon’s Gait. This free show is non-ticketed. Obviously, though, there needs to be some way of managing the audience so there are queue places allocated. We were too late to obtain a queue place (not a ticket) so we planned to try again on Thursday whilst we trudged up the horribly crowded Royal Mile, gruffly refusing leaflets and avoiding catching the eyes of the bright young things breathlessly inviting us to their shows.

We plunged, with relief, out of leaflet central and headed off to find Transreal, recently relocated. There are so few SF bookshops left these days. I’m sure I’ve said this before but since Andromeda died there is only Transreal where I can go to browse, to discuss books with a knowledgeable owner, to find new authors and books that I would never discover from Amazon. I’ve always had great suggestions from here and, again, I walked away with far more books than I intended to. I think of it as supporting a sanctuary because I could almost certainly get the books cheaper on Amazon but money is not the only consideration here. As Bob Waldrop and others point out, every time you make a buying decision you are changing the world.

Julian and I were only lured out of Transreal by Ian texting us from Under the Stairs to tell us that he had warm pitta bread and dips. Reluctantly we paid and entered the cool haven in the basement of one of the looming grey buildings on Merchant’s Street. We drank our Citrus Punch whilst we waited for our lunch and for June to join us. June is an Edinburgh resident and an accomplished Fringe goer. Although joining us for a few shows she experiences a very different Fringe from us, going to many free events as well. She had come from a Japanese tea ceremony and planned on looking for other shows after she left us.

The first show we saw was Cul-de-sac, a very strange play. It was very well acted and started out as mildly amusing. A new person, Tim, has moved into the cul-de-sac and meets his neighbour, Neville. As Tim is told about what is expected of him we hear of Tony for the first time, the man who, it slowly emerges, controls the neighbourhood. During the hour we see the slow breaking down of Tim by the social controls exerted by Tony, with able assistance in abuse by the doctor. As each episode became more sinister and disturbing fewer and fewer people laughed. Towards the end the absurdity was completely overwhelmed by the horror. It was a very strong piece, professionally performed and I didn’t like it at all. We wondered if it was an allegory for Britain under Blair, with all of us becoming creepily acquiescent and accepting of things that were patently wrong. June suggested that there should have been some sort of warning as there were definite triggers for people who have been abused. Julian says, ‘A cross between 1984 and The Stepford Wives’.

We retired to the Corvoisier Bar for a pint of tap water and some beer for the boys before heading for another sweaty venue, Above at the Pleasance. This was to see Isy Suttee’s show, ‘Pearl & Dave’. This was a lovely tale of unrequited love with songs. Images of loveliness include two girls letting off a penpal request attached to an ordinary balloon from the top of their climbing frame, an accountant with rows of friendship bracelets up his arms, a papier mache penguin called Roy, and a skype romantic dinner for two. At the end there were tears in my eyes. Most of the women leaving were sniffling slightly. Reviews have likened her to a young Victoria Wood but I tend to think this is because if a woman is funny and sings songs that are both funny and poignant there is no one else to compare her too. Isy is, I suggest, incomparable. You really wouldn’t hear her and think she was anyone else. And I completely agree with another reviewer, someone who doesn’t greet the gift of a five foot papier mache penguin, lovingly made for them by their lover over weeks, doesn’t deserve such devotion. I’ve got a bit of a crush.

We trooped down into the blessed coolness and headed for dinner at the Home Bistro. I love this place and the delightful Roland who was devastated yesterday when he didn’t have a place for us, and warmly welcoming today. The salad I had was lovely; pear, beetroot, feta and leaves with a great dressing. I had, of course, had no starter and a light main in order to keep a bit of space for the fabulous ice cream. The toffee was nice, the ginger was splendid and the marmalade was luscious.

Half way through the meal I got a call from Sally. Salford Uni had emailed her to say there would be an induction day on 25th August. 25th is the day the kids and I are travelling up to Scotland on Megabus for our traditional bank holiday weekend fringe binge. Transport tickets booked, show tickets booked, all arrangements made. Of course. I know it’s two weeks away still but most people I know have fairly busy diaries and are booked up at least a month in advance. It would have been useful had they asked us the pencil in the dates several months ago. Oh well. We agree to look at options on Wednesday morning.

At the point I thought we had already reached the highspot of the fringe with Isy. We looked around at the rest of the audience for the next show and worried that they looked quite a serious lot. I guessed that the show would be informative and worthy but probably a little light on laughs. I’ve read Mark Thomas and I’ve been impressed by his politics but I’d never seen him perform before. If I had I wouldn’t have been concerned. His two-hour show about extreme rambling, walking the Israeli wall, was astonishing. A serious subject with potential for bigotry, potential for dull preaching. This is not, of course, what we got. Mark is a consummate performer, a storyteller, a comedian able to wring helpless laughter out of an audience, whilst laying out the enormity of a wrong done to two nations, both Palestine and Israel. He took us on the walk, introduced us to some marvellous characters, crossed the wall backwards and forwards many times, led us to sympathy, anger and understanding. I really had not realised how good he was. I’ve got a bit of a crush.

So here we are, Wednesday morning, having a lazy day off and catching up on gazing at laptop screens. I’ve filled in my Biobank diet questionnaire (the second and both times I have been eating abnormally), caught up on the cartoons (XKCD, Freefall, Bug and Questionable Content) and gazed out at the unrelenting rain while fending off invitations to supermarket shopping. I’m hoping the boys will wander off soon and leave me to browse through my books. Or maybe just finish off ‘One Good Turn’.

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