Why I believe in the Loch Ness monster: Edinburgh Fringe 2017

I’ve just returned from a very enjoyable week at the Edinburgh Fringe. Unlike last year, we were fortunate enough not to encounter a bad show. However, the “star” system is clearly broken, as everyone’s literature only ever owns up to four (or occasionally, five) star reviews. For example, here’s a random sample that accompanied my gin and tonic at the Pleasance one evening.

Four stars

Everyone only admits to four stars or more – so how do you pick shows that are really worth seeing?!

So given that everything we saw almost certainly had a 4* or better review somewhere, I’m not going to play that game. Instead, everything gets a sentence or two. That seems fairer to me, as it doesn’t attempt to quantify something that is inherently subjective. In no particular order, here are my star-free reviews of everything we saw this year.

Shaken not Stirred – The Improvised James Bond Film

Coincidentally the first show we saw last year as well. Alexander Fox and Dom O’ Keefe with an hour of silliness – this year we saw A Quantum of Sausage. Good fun throughout.

Education, Education, Education

Set in a secondary school the morning after Tony Blair’s victory in 1997, bringing a whole new twist to the question “did you stay up for Portillo”? Brilliantly staged and performed by an ensemble cast. The Stage presented an award for the production at the end of the show we saw – definitely deserved. Hopefully audiences elsewhere in the country will get to see this excellent production too.

Henning Wehn – Westphalia is not an option

Proof (if any were needed) that the Germans really do have a sense of humour – especially after he enthusiastically encouraged us all to clap along to an old Hitler Youth song. “That’s how it starts”, he said …

Ringo

Alexander Fox again, this time with a new solo show. It took a few minutes to get going, but the final 2/3rds was one of the funniest and most innovative shows I saw during the week.

Finding Nana

Jane Upton’s bitter-sweet play about how memories of our grandparents formed in childhood affect us as we grow older, and what happens when we eventually lose them. Cleverly staged, with Phoebe Frances Brown providing an emotionally charged solo performance.

Showstopper! – The Improvised Musical

This is the third time I’ve seen this (twice at Fringe) and I’m still in awe of the sheer amount of hard work that clearly goes into making the concept work. It’s really, really funny too! This time the audience came up with a country pub setting for The Pint Before Christmas. Improvised musical numbers in the style of Rent and My Fair Lady were the highlights.

Rhapsodes

Adam Meggido and Sean McCann (both of Showstopper) hold a Shakespearean (and sundry other theatre styles) improvisation duel. Like Showstopper, it clearly takes a huge amount of effort to make it work as well as it does. A particularly creepy ‘poltergeist’ anecdote from an audience member helped make this year memorable.

Great British Mysteries?

Probably the strangest show I saw this year. Memorable because it was so unusual and funny, as well as being brilliantly performed by Will Close (Dr. Teddddy Tyrell) and Rose Robinson (Olive Bacon). If you’ve ever had to suffer in silence through pseudo-science tv shows, you’ll love this. “Evidence schmevidence”, as Olive Bacon would say. A great handout (and badge) at the end to remember the show by. I’m glad that the car park at Loch Ness will still allow an hour’s free parking, even though the monster has now been found.

Loch Ness

Remember, fool is proof spelt backwards.

Whose Line is It Anyway?

Clive Anderson, with Mike McShane, Colin Mochrie, Steve Frost, Tony Slattery and Kirsty Newton. Still as fresh as it was when it first appeared on Radio 4 back in the 80s. Improvised comedy at its best.

Matt Forde

The only overtly political standup we saw. Matt happily took apart May, Corbyn, Farron, Sturgeon and Nuttall (remember him?) with equal vigour and humour. Naturally, his evisceration of Donald Trump was the highlight of the show. Happy!

Sara Pascoe – Lads Lads Lads

I’ve enjoyed her performances on television ever since her role in the ill-fated “Campus”. Her stand up material is delivered with great pace and timing. Sadly, I’m clearly a bad person as I really don’t like dogs.

Lucy Porter – Choose Your Battles

Another standup who deliberately avoided political topics this year and instead made me laugh at her “benign neglect” approach to parenting, wince at the thought of the extortionate cost of losing your electronic car keys and made me determined never to watch Coronation Street ever again.

Reduced Shakespeare Company – William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged)

Great fun. The Tempest meets Richard III meets A Midsummer Night’s Dream and many others. Sitting in the first few rows is dangerous – as water pistols *may* be involved …

Murder, she didn’t write: The improvised murder mystery

Similar format to Showstopper! but without the music. An entertaining hour of improvised comedy.

 

Phew!

The fringe also helps to get you fit – I took 82,534 steps, climbed 267 floors and logged 714 active minutes over the course of the week. Even the weather was good. Food was generally found on the hoof, with two of the best meals of the week had at The Cellar Door and 56 North.

56 North Gin Menu

The extensive gin menu at 56 North – hic!

I’m looking forward to 2018.

The Occupational Psychology of Open All Hours

One of the more enjoyable television highlights this Christmas was watching David Jason reprise his role as Granville in Still Open All Hours, which aired Boxing Day on BBC One.

Open All Hours, with the much-missed Ronnie Barker in the role of Arkwright, the tight-fisted grocer, first appeared on our screens in 1976. Judging by the appearance of the shop, little changed (except the prices) in the intervening 37 years. However, Granville the errand boy had become Granville the shop owner and was now displaying the money-grasping traits that had been associated with his former boss, rather than dreaming of romance with the milk-lady.

In the context of my Occupational Psychology masters, a few things about Still Open All Hours struck me as interesting. Firstly, Granville had spent his entire working life with a single employer. That’s unusual, as although research findings differ, people working in the UK today are more likely to have anywhere between 6 and 15 different employers during their working life. Looking back over my career, I’ve had five different full-time employers (I’ve worked for one of those twice, so you could argue that I’ve had six) and two part-time employers. On average, you’re also likely to change job (if not employer) every four and a half years or so.

Secondly, although Granville is now the shop owner, his job doesn’t seem to have changed very much over the last 37 years – even to the extent that falling off the shop’s delivery bicycle still seems to be part of his job description. However, the pressures on most modern workplaces from new technologies, globalisation, competition and acquisitions mean that change is inevitable. Some occupational psychologists now recommend that rather than simply performing a static job analysis as the basis for recruitment, effort must be put into determining how, and how much, a role may change over time if an organisation wants to recruit the best people. The ability to recruit talent, rather than just people with specific skills, will therefore become ever more important to organisational success.

Thirdly, Granville’s personality appears to have undergone a radical change. He’s taken on the traits (and comically, the appearance) of Arkwright and is no longer the naive dreamer from the original series. While we’re talking fiction of course, I believe that this illustration makes an important point.

For me, the balance of evidence is that personality is primarily and perhaps even entirely shaped by the situation someone finds themself in, rather than being an inherent and stable characteristic of that individual. In other words, if you peel the layers off the onion of an individual’s personality, you will never reach a central core – the ‘real’ person – because there isn’t one to find. While the research suggests that there is some predictive validity between personality inventory scores and subsequent job performance, for me the probability is that the work situation someone finds themself in is going to influence their effectiveness and behaviour far more than any supposed internal personality traits. I believe that the most successful organisations in the coming decades will recognise this and find ways for employees to become better leaders – and better followers – rather than simply suggesting that an individual’s personality is either right or wrong for a particular role.

So there you have it. The occupational psychology of Open All Hours in less than 600 words! But as always, I’d be really interested to hear what you think. The comments form is just a click or two away … and while I’m in a festive mood, may I wish you all a peaceful and prosperous 2014.

This article was originally written for the University of Leicester Student Blogs, 28th December 2013.