It was a very good year (part I)

2013 was the year the Free Fringe got really quite exciting, no longer was it just stand-up comedians in back rooms of pubs, there were proper shows to see! Or, at least, that was how my buddy and I perceived it. Casual Violence: Om Nom Nominous in the Voodoo Rooms was one such show, so good we went to see the company’s other non-free show the next day; the live musical accompaniment was a fine asset!

The Hawke Papers at the Blind Poet (loved that pub, alas, no longer there, that fine old boozer has been absorbed by the Pear Tree) was an interactive murder mystery using the full space of the pub for us to move around, look for clues and talk to the various characters. It was popular for a morning show, we missed out one day but were given a signed flyer and told to be there twenty minutes early the next day to be sure of getting in!

We heard that Death Ship 666 at the Three Sisters was very good and very popular and at 10:45 in the morning! After one miss we made it in plenty of time on the second attempt, great show, dubious venue. It may be fine now (I haven’t seen any shows there for a few years) but the back of the Three Sisters used to have a whiff of stale urinals, watching a show distracted from it, but hanging around waiting for a show to start was not pleasant!

The Free Fringe show that sounded right up our street was Captain Morgan and the Sands of Time at what was the Fiddlers Elbow at Picardy Place – ours and every other bugger’s street. We’d heard it was popular so headed down a good twenty minutes early, apparently not a hope in hell said the guy who came out to count the queue.  The next time we were just over half hour early, so did we get in? Argh, by a gnat’s crochet, no!!! We were right at the door, next in, sorry, jam-packed full!! Now fainter hearts may have given up at this point, not us, another evening another even longer wait (forty five minutes) but, yes, we made it in! Was it worth it? Absolutely! Two actors, one musician (yes, more live accompaniment), lots of characters including Poseidon, a Lovecraftian creation played by the actors together.

2013 was the year we saw the wonderful Aidan Goatley for the first time, another visit to the Voodoo Rooms to see Ten Films With My Dad, a Free Fringe show. It was also the Fringe we finally scaled the mighty Arthur’s Seat, not once but twice, to see This Arthur’s Seat Belongs to Lionel Ritchie, a gala spectacular of Barry Ferns and friends (not quite at the top as it was a very windy squally day) and then Barry on Arthur’s Seat, which poignantly turned out to be the last time he’d do his solo show up there – his knees had decided enough was enough.

Here’s a little collage of pics from the Arthur’s Seat shows. See, you can tell it was a proper Free Fringe show – there was a doorway to go in through and it’s where he stood with the bucket at the end 😆

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Caterpillars, hedgehogs and sperm – all in one day!

Friday of week two is a good day to take off work and Fringe, most years I’ve done this; it was always a day for seeing pricier shows that were on the Friends of the Fringe list for me and Bud, always beginning with Shakespeare for Breakfast, we’d snaffle any croissants left on nearby seats at the end. This year it just happens to be one the days I’ve taken off work, but thinking about it, it is indeed a perfect day to Fringe. It’s shortened the working week, woohoo, which allows for later shows on Thursday night; it’s far enough in that the list of possibles has been whittled down from it’s original unwieldy size; it’s also far enough in that other possibles are in the mix, from chatting to flyerers, tips from people in queues, reviews.

Just as well I didn’t go to any late night shows on Thursday night – the first show I saw on the Friday started even earlier than Shakespeare for Breakfast! Okay, so only five minutes earlier, but still, my Fringe Friday tradition of running to get to the first show on time ain’t gonna end with early starts like this! Headhog was only on for six days of the middle week, the blurb was that a man has a scan after having a fit and discovers he has a hedgehog living in his skull. No one can explain how it got there and removal of it is (obviously) unknown territory.

Headhog was a charmingly absurd play; a great concept to mull over. I liked Malcolm, the turmoil he was going through was well played out. When he becomes more concerned by the “why me?” than “how?” the scene with the ecologist and philosopher was great – amusing and exasperating. Some of the play felt a bit clunky but overall it was well done, with a lovely melancholy ending that was somehow quite uplifting.

Two hours later I was back in the same venue, Paradise In The Vault, in the Annexe room, one of the best smaller venues; the seats are generous and comfortable, with a reasonably tiered-height between them, it’s also got a good record with me for good productions.

The Man From Verona was a very funny, dark comedy, quite farcical at times. It is quite a small stage but the set was well-conceived to maximise use of every part of it. Everyone was great in it, especially Mama – don’t mess with a mafia matriarch! Rocco, her henchman, had some wonderful moments. The Man From Verona himself is a mafia don/landlord, Harry,  who spends a lot of the play dead, but is very effective when he’s alive. Blaze and Jimmy, our secretly-in-love couple are the ones we’re rooting for, will they get to be together? Will Jimmy ever be able to leave the bathroom?

From Paradise in The Vault on Merchant Street it was a quick jog over to the Space @ Surgeons Hall, with just ten minutes to spare before The Very Well-Fed Caterpillar started. Another trustworthy venue, I see they’ve moved their Box Office to just inside the gate, probably to cut down some of the noise in the foyer though the queue inside was still regularly told to hush – with more and more people joining in the sssssshhh-ing for a laugh.

The Very Well-Fed Caterpillar is one weird show! It’s extremely quirky and absurd, a great piece of high-energy physical theatre and hell the delivery is fast, it can be tricky to keep up with the plot at times. I followed the basic story, Caterpillar likes eating, can’t stop, won’t stop eating, demands all the food his subjects have, a complete tyrant hated by all; through a portal he meets and falls in love with the Butterfly King, a good, beloved ruler; Caterpillar tries to change his ways, err, the ending escapes me! No matter, the destination is unimportant, the journey there is loads of fun with this talented, enthusiastic bunch.

After a breather, a beer and a bite to eat, I headed to Boteco on Lothian Street for Privates: A Sperm Odyssey and though it’s a PWYW show instinct told me to buy ticket upfront; good call as a lot of folk had tickets, I doubt many without made it in. Oh my, how much utterly joyful daftness can one hour contain??!! Blimey, never have sperm been so funny! These three chaps, Luke Rollason, Christian Brighty and Tom Cufzon have created one bloody wonderful show. And I’ll never hear the name Darnell again without a smirk on my face!

So, four for four, and it was only half past six! At this point of such a brilliant Fringe day picking the next show is trickier, it’s like, it’s gone too well, don’t mess it up. I decided to take a chance with Ava Beaux: The Mysterious Tales of Poe at the Revolution Bar as part of PBH’s Free Fringe. The blurb promises macabre minds, magic and gothic tales. Ava has been at the Fringe before and I’ve always been a tad tempted so tonight was it. Well, it was lovely, good magic and a charmingly dark sense of humour, but it came across as too rehearsed and some how contained, she needs to get wilder?! The venue wasn’t the best though for her show, too many distractions which hampered the ambience Ava was going for. I did enjoy it but not half as much as the previous shows.

As the night was still young I took a wander up to the Squares, Bristo and George, plenty of ambience there. Flyerers, buskers, young chaps trying to hang on to a high bar for 100 seconds (a tenner a shot, £100 to any who can do it, I’ve seen many try but none succeed), bright young things out to party, older things blethering to other old things only met in Edinburgh in August. The melting pot that is Fringe.

Toodle pip!

 

 

Nick Helm on Dave

I was just flicking through the telly channels when I happened upon Eat Your Heart Out With Nick Helm. Huh? Nick Helm has a food programme now?! Mr Shouty was conversing in French and later showing off his few words in Portuguese, all in lovely mild manner. Hmmm (looks into the distance, head to one side, a hazy wibbly-wobbliness takes us back, back…)

Friday 3rd August 2012, rushed home from work to get to the Pleasance Queen Dome in time for Nick Helm: This Means War. My choice, I just really like the poster, very Flashman/ Rik Mayall’s Bombardier, it worked for me. I had heard he was quite loud, quite loud?! He came on singing a Motorhead song, well, shouting it, then he seriously ripped into some of the audience, boy, was I glad we were well back in the middle of a row. One poor chap ended up on stage peeling spuds and being yelled at for most of the show, but while we felt the fear we enjoyed the show anyway.

I didn’t see Nick Helm again until 2015, well to be fair, in 2014 he only did two nights at the Pleasance Grand at £15 a pop, that’s ’cause he’d made it on to the telly in Uncle. Then in 2015, he appeared on the Free Fringe with a catchy show title, Nick Fuckin’ Helm: My Edinburgh Hour. This time, a young chap at the front who hadn’t clapped and laughed enough was made to sit behind Nick on the stage so that a more appreciative lady could gave the seat, again I was glad to be well back in the crowd! It was another very entertaining show, especially as the venue sound limiter kept cutting out the microphones whenever he sang – it’s not like Nick Helm really needs amplification in a room that size anyway!

So, his new tv show on Dave, well I really enjoyed it. Him and a mate just go places, eat loads of food and meet the chefs who cook it, and he’s quite sweet actually. There were two half hour shows together, the second had Nish Kumar as the buddy, he’s another chap who’s doing rather well these days. I saw him doing McNeil and Pamphilon’s Go 8-Bit back in 2013 and 2014, yes, at the Fringe it was theirs, not Dara O’Briain’s.

More about that later.

 

 

Shine on Elsie Diamond

The end is in sight, this time next week Edinburgh will seem so bare and empty, sigh. So to cheer myself up from the impending gloom I took myself off down to CC Blooms to the exquisite Elsie Diamond in her new one woman show, The Sensible Undresser. I first saw Elsie last year as The Sensible Dresser, where she recounted tales of a dresser in an Opera House who has dreams of being a great singer; some hilarious stories, some bittersweet and a singing voice to raise you up or break your heart, oh, and a finale from Les Mis that really showed her vocal prowess and other charms!

Did I mention Elsie is a burlesque performer? Costumes are put on behind a screen at the side of the stage to be teased off again to music, and give the girl a couple of large feather fans, wowzah! Hubba hubba!

This year’s tale of the Undresser is about Joanne who on seeing a burlesque show decides to become Winnie Sparkletits, from underdog to success to saggy tits to final self-awareness and acceptance (and another astoundingly good final number). The costumes are brilliant (love that headdress), voice as stunning as ever, beautiful, sexy, smart, saucy and charming! All in one delightful package!

Wowzah!

 

 

 

 

A turkey and a Tuck.

Goodness me, it’s the final week already. More shows finished at the weekend, new shows take their places and I have my eye on a few I’m thinking of seeing. As I’ve mentioned before I’ve seen this year’s turkey, its always good to get it out of the way, of course I could yet see another one! So what was this travesty of theatre that deserves the title of turkey?

Oh dear, I can hear my old mother’s voice, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all!” Sorry mother, it was Egg at Bourbon Bar as part of the Free Fringe. It was a packed out room, whether the rest were more up on what to expect, whether it was just their sort of thing I don’t know, but I just found it too pretentiously arty and she was too softly spoken to be heard at times. I try to find something to like about it and from the applause at the end others did seem to like it, though I noticed a number of folk walking past without putting anything in the bucket. Bad form! Only a show one walks out of early is worth nothing, if one is there til the end it’s worth at least some spare change or my usual is a fiver.

At the other end of the Fringe spectrum, I seriously enjoyed Thom Tuck’s show An August Institution, at 3pm at the Dragonfly. A wonderful hour of silliness and a rather bizarre make-over, I suspect those who got a lot out of Egg, may not appreciate Mr Tuck’s humour.

Well, I’ve enjoyed it since I first saw him in the Penny Dreadfuls’ Aeneas Faversham back in 2006, bloody excellent show it was! Saw them each year after that and when they all did solo shows. Thom was the one who continued to come up each year to do a variety of shows, including on the Free Fringe. His show one year even got enlongated into a short series on Radio 4! I saw his Scaramouche Jones in 2015 which delighted and moved me (it’s in my diary for 2025). Yes, I reckon he’s become an August Institution and long may he remain so!

The Squirrel Show

Back as a young student my friends and I would explore the pubs of Edinburgh and occasionally even speak to the locals, this one particular group of lads were noteable by their pronunciation of my friend’s name, “No, it’s Philippa”,”Yeah, Phulupuh”, “No, you’re saying Phulupuh”, “Yeah, that’s what you’re saying”,”No we’re saying Phil e pah, not Phulupuh”, and so it went on and on. We also noticed that here girls were girruls and films were fillums, oh, and in Chippies we had to say very quickly if we didn’t want sa’n’sauce on our chips as they were usually putting it on as they asked.

On a few years and I realised if someone was talking about Dawn, they were probably talking about Don. It did explain a few things about the stories I’d heard about her/him. Then with Bud there was the long-running “khaki/car key” debate, apparently I say it like “car key” which is not the same as “khaki” at all according to Bud, who, of course, was always supposedly correct.

So the Squirrel Show was water off a duck’s back to me, been there, done that and got the t-shirt. I had no idea what the Squirrel Show was, but I saw it mentioned on Facebook that Mark Steel, Will Seaward and John-Luke Roberts were appearing, among many others, and it was a one-off for charity, hey ho, why not?

The whole premise is to help the comedian Chris Coltrane to say “squirrel” properly instead of “squirle”, one audience member went down the Sesame Street route, patiently separating the syllables to join them again, bet she’s a teacher. Some audience members were almost apoplectic (I really couldn’t decide if they were plants to keep it going), and all the other comedians were not helping the situation. John-Luke Roberts was surreal as ever, rushing the stage and dancing every time Walking On Sunshine came on, I did miss the first five minutes but I doubt there was any explanation there. Will tried his best to tell the tale of Big Squirrel and Little Squirrel while being heckled. And, wow, they had Mark Steel to headline, as you would expect he gave a funny but insightful monologue, pure genius!

Apparently, this has been going a few years now. Well worth catching next year, unless mispronunciations drive you insane, on the other hand, it would be fun to take along that friend who’s always correcting others – just light the blue touchpaper and stand well back!