I live in Edinburgh, and in August, during the Fringe, Edinburgh gets CRAZY. Welcome to the first of four* weekly review articles on the visitors I’ve had, the shows I’ve seen and the sides I’ve split.
*All completely off-topic – no TV involved.
Week 1: My sister and her boyfriend join me for their first ever Fringe experience
Now you may not know this, but the Edinburgh Fringe is quite a big event: we have shows coming out of our ears, noses, mouths and other orifices too unpleasant to mention. To try and distil all this excitement into a one-weekend period for a couple of newbies, we decided on three major categories of show – stand up, improvisation and music – and agreed on one show from each, plus a wildcard.
Representing the stand-up contingent was Richard Herring: Lord of the Dance Settee. Now I’d seen Herring on various panel shows, but all I really knew about his comedy was that, in 2009, he grew a Hitler moustache just to see what would happen. Consequently, I was expecting a controversial show – not necessarily Frankie Boyle-standard, but something a bit edgy. What we got, however, was a sweet but slightly disjointed ramble through the trials of childhood, from the challenges of singing hymns in school (“I was cold, I was naked… hee hee, naked!”) to kisses from scary aunties. I do like observational comedy, but I find that it’s funnier when it makes you go, ‘By Jove, he’s right! I’d never thought about that before!’ than when your reaction is, ‘Well, naturally…’ A couple of times, the observation did evolve into something unexpected; for example, the aunty-kissing moment became a meditation on the longevity of human memory and existence (which, to be fair, was funnier and more interesting than I’ve made it sound) – so the show was engaging, and thought-provoking at times. But ultimately it was an hour of gentle smiles rather than belly laughs – plus one horrified gasp during a disconcerting story about window décor, but the less said about the nightmarish vision painted by that particular (hilarious) anecdote the better.
Next came some improvisation, in the form of Racing Minds’ Aaand Now for Something Completely Improvised. Now in contrast to Richard Herring, I’m pretty familiar with Racing Minds – I’ve seen them several (dozen?) times before, and last year I described them as “the greatest improv troupe known to man”. I therefore had extremely high expectations, which, you’ll be pleased to know, were not disappointed. As usual, the preposterous storyline took a back seat to a constant stream of puns, self-mockery, questionable regional accents (Welsh? Indian? Geordie?) and general high jinks, mainly to do with increasingly ineffective attempts to create a realistic-looking zebra out of a walking stick and three scarves. Minor changes from past shows were all to the good – for example, the always-impressive keyboard player was actually allowed to speak (and made an excellent job of it), and the slightly larger venue meant that for once there was an offstage area where costumes could be changed with a minimum of fuss. Even though it wasn’t my favourite show they’ve ever done (that honour would have to go to either the one about pinguins [sic] or the one with the Australian horse-people), it was still an absolutely fantastic hour, and my respect for their ability to be that funny, for that long, without preparing any of it in advance, increases every time I see them. Sadly, I didn’t get a Werthers – but there’s always next week.
The third show of the weekend – in the music category – presumably involved somewhat more preparation. Of all the various musical genres on offer, we went for a cappella (largely due to an ongoing sisterly obsession with Pitch Perfect), and we chose Exeter University’s all-male group Semi-Toned: Toned Up. They were tuneful and slick. The presentation was fluid, the voices were harmonious to the ear, and the outfits achieved an aesthetically pleasing smart-casual balance (although I bet the one guy wearing skinny jeans and multicoloured socks had a telling off after they finished). The only drawback, for me, was that many of the songs featured were recent (you know, Jay-Z and the like), and since my knowledge of popular music from the last five years is patchy at best, I was forced to lean over to my sister several times and ask, ‘Who did this originally?’ As a result, subtly humorous changes in the lyrics and clever vocal reinterpretations of bass lines often went over my head. Still, I could get fully on board with the Disney number – Donny Osmond eat your heart out – and the Meat Loaf song, both of which were very well performed. Plus, the beatboxers were genuinely incredible. I especially liked the one who looked like a Spanish Charlie Brooker.
Finally, the wildcard. With time in the schedule for one more show, and with my sister commenting that she’d be quite interested in something about feminism, we flicked through the guide and said, ‘That one’ll do’. And what a wise decision we made. Andrew Watts’ Feminism for Chaps was a delight. I was quietly sceptical about how much I’d enjoy an explicitly feminist show – my sister and I have had some quite vocal debates on the topic in the past – but it turned out to be my favourite sort of feminism: less debate over terminology and affirmative action and more making fun of sexist idiots. Jokes ranged from cricket metaphors (which I generally didn’t get, but the men in the audience were wetting themselves) to puns based on French philosophy (which I did get, and since I was the only person in the room who did, I was singled out and called a show-off – whatevs). Thrown into the mix were a few genuinely upsetting stories about how far we have left to go, tempered with a brilliant anecdote about Watts sticking it to The Man in a strip club, of all places. The show was hysterical and heart-rending by turns, Watts was extremely likeable, and we left hoping that his message of peace, love, equality and orgies would be spread far and wide. If you’re in Edinburgh this month, you can help with that…
SHOW OF THE WEEK: Feminism for Chaps (Laughing Horse Free Festival at the Counting House, 6:15pm)