I’ve just got back from a week at the Edinburgh Festival. I hadn’t been to Edinburgh before - I’ve been thinking about going for a few years but somehow I always just kind of forgot about it. Anyway, this year I remembered the festival’s existence in plenty of time to book accommodation and cheap train tickets.
Rachel & I stayed at the Palmerston Lodge hostel which is about 10 minutes’ walk from Princes Street. At one time it must have been a magnificent huge town house, but nowadays it offers reasonably priced if somewhat skanky accommodation. In general it wasn’t too bad, although it reminded me of my student halls of residence a bit too much - the whole place needs a damn good scrubbing, and if they could fix the toilet seats and make the showers work properly that would be nice too.
Although not too far from Princes Street, and although the Fringe features acts in a total of 261 different venues across the city, we found that a lot of the acts we wanted to see were concentrated in just a small number of large venues - mainly the Pleasance and the Underbelly, both of which are on the other side of town. The buses are fairly frequent and the walk is good for you, though I think next year we might try to find somewhere a bit closer to the action.
One thing I quite enjoyed was spotting comedians as we were walking about. We must have seen Arthur Smith three or four times in various places. We also saw Paul Merton, Steve Frost and Richard Vranch in the Library bar in the Gilded Balloon, and we saw Jeff Green, Marcus Brigstocke and Richard Herring variously about the place. How exciting.
Anyway, here are some reviews of the shows we saw:
Lizzie Roper in "Peccadillo Circus"
Lizzie Roper interviewed a number of people about their sex lives. On stage, she plays back these interviews to herself using an MP3 player, and then re-enacts what she hears - every voice, every stutter, every pause. It’s very entertaining - not always laugh-out-loud funny, but brilliantly performed and somewhat disturbing at times. Some people are really screwed up.
The Stand Late Show
This is on every Friday and Saturday night and features different acts each time. A great way to warm up and get into the festival spirit in a poky little venue with the tiniest toilets you’ll ever see.
The show we saw was compered by Bruce Devlin, who is very quick and rather camp. I found him amusing at first, but when he introduced the later acts he was reduced to bitching about people one might read about in Heat magazine.
Reginald D. Hunter wasn’t too bad but there were a few too many jokes about being black and American for my tastes.
Sarah Millican jokes about being a bitter divorcee, which is probably only amusing if you are one too.
Rhod Gilbert is a very funny and amiable Welsh bloke.
Mike Wilmot was headlining. He’s a fat Canadian who drank a lot of beer and told filthy jokes and was absolutely hilarious. He could have gone on forever, and he almost did.
Luke Wright in "Luke Wright - Poet Laureate"
Luke Wright is part of “poetry boyband” Aisle16 and looks as though he has recently celebrated his twelfth birthday. There was plenty of silly poetry, accompanied by some excellent drawings and animations. The poetry was mostly good, although the hour would have been better filled if some of the flab was lost and a bit more time taken over the good stuff.
Will Smith in "How to be Cool"
I really enjoyed the warm-up show I saw for Will Smith’s show last year which was entirely devoted to his obsession with Marillion’s “Misplaced Childhood” album, in which he intermingled stand-up comedy with video clips of him hassling Fish himself. This year, Smith again uses PowerPoint slides and video as he tries to figure out what coolness is. The result wasn’t quite as brilliant as last year’s show, and at times was more cringeworthy than funny, leaving the audience awkwardly quiet. Nonetheless it is still an excellent show and well worth seeing.
Russell Howard is a very quick and likeable comic who just seems to be having a chat rather than actually performing. This is what makes him an excellent compere, and even though when he does his own stand-up there’s no real theme or substance, he is still very entertaining to watch.
John Hegley in "Elevenses"
This show is on at 11 in the morning and we only just made it. As usual there was plenty of silly poetry and songs, together with more serious and poignant material that makes everybody say “aah”. Thoroughly entertaining for all ages - this was the only Fringe show I saw where parents had brought along their kids - and there was tea and biscuits too (alas for only one member of the audience).
Justin Edwards in "Unaccompanied as I am"
Justin Edwards is the creator of Jeremy Lion which is one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a very long time. This year however he appears as himself and performs a number of comedy songs. He’s a surprisingly good singer, although he did appear to have trouble keeping in time with his backing tape when used it. The song about Paul Shane from Hi-De-Hi really is shit, even if he admits it himself. Even though a few songs fail to hit the mark there’s some excellent material here.
Stewart Lee did a one-off performance, a repeat of last year’s show. Even though I’d seen the show before I still found it incredibly funny, maybe because I have a bad memory.
Paul Kerensa in "Back to the Futon"
When I heard somebody was doing a show entirely based on the “Back to the Future” films, I booked tickets immediately. At last - a show with a lot of film references that I would definitely get. Unfortunately the show veered between the pretty good and the decidedly lame. He’s not as clever as he seems to think he is, and just because your jokes are geeky doesn’t make you anywhere near as good as Dave Gorman.
Daniel Kitson in "C-90"
Wow. Daniel Kitson’s show is a story about a man who catalogues compilation tapes. The audience sits on three sides while Kitson walks about a sparse set, introducing us to the other characters who live in the same village. It’s absolutely spellbinding stuff as their stories intertwine. Beautifully written, it’s also exceptionally funny and Kitson brings the characters to life in intricate detail. When the story ends, he leaves, not even returning for a bow, and the audience can take a look at the huge shelves of tapes on the stage. For me it was definitely the highlight of this year’s festival.
Richard Herring in "Menage à un"
I like Richard Herring’s writing, particularly his “Warming Up” blog, yet oddly I was less sympathetic to his on-stage presence where he came across a bit more twattish than I imagined he would. Nonetheless he was still very entertaining and the show improved for me after a few crap jokes at the beginning.
Overall I can thoroughly recommend going to Edinburgh. There is so much going on it’s mind-blowing - by my calculations, if you were to see eight shows a day, and stay there for the whole month, you’d still miss out on 90% of everything that’s happening. I’ll definitely be going up again next year, and the year after that, and the year after that… maybe at some point with a show of my own. Better get writing.