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.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2016: The good, the bad and the ugly

… or rather, the excellent, good, meh, bad and ugly. I’ve just had a very enjoyable week at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. As most of what I saw is on until around the 29th August, it seemed sensible to write a few words about the experience. Most of the shows we went to were pre-booked and definitely met expectations. Unfortunately a couple of the ones we went to after being handed a flyer in the street were firmly in the bad and ugly category.

The excellent

Samurai Drum IKKI – The Power of Japanese Drums. This was a performance that we booked the day before we went and was definitely one of the highlights of the week. The drummers were incredibly enthusiastic and must have been exhausted by the end – I certainly was. Don’t go if you have a headache however!

Rhapsodes. Improvised Shakespeare and more. Absolutely brilliant from the moment the doors opened, with one of the performers showing us to our seats while talking to us in iambic pentameter about Star Trek (he’d noticed Jane’s com badge).

Edinburgh – A Tale of Two Towns. A walking tour from the Greyfriars Bobby Bar, taking in the old and new towns, ending at Waverley Station. Peter was a great guide with an obvious passion for Edinburgh, past and present.

EdinburghThe good

Much that we did that fell into this category, including three things that are there all the time, namely the Cafe at the Hub (friendly service and good food), Camera Obscura (worth the £14.50 admission charge) and Holyrood Palace (even better value at £12).

Many of the fringe shows we saw were good or very good, especially Showstoppers. We were treated to “Boris Blows his Top” – an improvised musical set in a post-apocalypse London. I don’t fancy drinking frothy bilge to be honest (you had to be there), so let’s hope that Trump doesn’t win in November.

Paul Merton’s Improv Chums, Nicholas Parsons’ Happy Hour, Radio Active, The Improvised James Bond (“From Brexit with Love”) and Katherine Ryan’s stand up comedy were all great value too.

The meh

The Edinburgh weather 🙁

The bad and the ugly

Edinburgh traffic. With thousands of pedestrians and only a half-hearted attempt at temporary pedestrianisation outside St Giles Cathedral you had to have your wits about you constantly. The wait on most of the pedestrian lights also favours buses, taxis, cars and trams over people. Not a particularly good experience. It seems genuinely impossible to recycle glass bottles, at least in the part of Edinburgh we stayed in. A couple of the spur of the moment shows fell into the bad and ugly category. I won’t name either as I’m sure that the performers realise it too.

And while we’re talking ugly, here’s a caricature of me from one of the many fun exhibits at the Camera Obscura.

Caricature of meThis was my first experience of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe – and I’m looking forward to returning again soon.