Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2008

Just back from a fantastic weekend up in Edinburgh with Elaine, Ursula and Ralfy, ably hosted by Chris and Renata and the Meredith Family! Weather started dismally but improved to the point of being quite pleasant. Here’s what we saw:

Death, Love and Communism by Jenni (or is it Bernadette?) Byrne. An intimate affair in the Faith venue, with Bernadette performing effectively solo, supported by a chap playing a guitar at the side. She spoke, she sang, she danced and acted out this “self-devised cabaret” of a story of death, love and communism. Slightly surreal, it was still watchable, and the references in the story to her being an orphan were soaked up by her parents sitting in the front row of the audience!

Red Peppers

At Hill Street Theatre, a Noel Coward play written in 1936, featuring a bickering couple backstage after performing their vaudeville act. We arrived late and so had to creep in across the stage front. Hazel Lucas and Jeremy Battersby were the two actors who pulled off this short play admirably. There had actually been a review in the Times that very morning but I had failed to read it. Most enjoyable though.

Happy Savages in the Underbelly

According to Elaine this was effectively the same story as the film “Closer”. This didn’t spoil for me a well-acted and intense drama of two couples and their intertwined and messy relationships.


By Paul Parry, the comedian who has “literally” cycled from A to B (A being a town in Norway and Bee being a place in the US). His show revolves around the misuse of the word literally, especially by the likes of Jamie Rednapp and co.

To make his point, Paul has also been to Hell (also in Scandinavia) and Back, and by the end of the show literally had the audience eating out of his hand (he was handing out sweets). He backed this up by holding a candle up to best comedians at Edinburgh (which he literally did and photographed). All quite amusing.

A Beginner’s Guide to Happiness – Paul Conneely.

Arriving late we ended up in the front row (horror!) for this stand-up gig, but in the end we managed not to be the butt of any joking or interrogation from Paul, who led us through his thoughts on life and happiness. Overall quite amusing, though I think comedians need to move on from the “how expensive train tickets are” routine, it’s been done, we know it’s several hundred quid to go anywhere by train at short notice these days.

On the Waterfront

An expensive show in Pleasance Grand, a large theatre-like venue just along the road from the courtyard, On the Waterfront is a theatrical interpretation of the Marlon Brando film of old, the story being of the poverty of the dock workers in New York when the mob used to control things, murdering those who threaten to blow the whistle on their extortion and rackets.

There are about a dozen actors, who in between spoken parts are often slow-mo walking about the dark atmospheric stage to jazzy blues music, which makes the scenes more interesting than just using static props. Some of the dialogue is a bit simplistic or forced, and the show is longer than it should be, but I was definitely enjoying it before a interval vote resulted in us leaving! So no report on the ending I’m afraid, but the reviews are good!!

Political Animal with Andy Zaltzman.

As we queued to enter in the crowded Underbelly bar, Andy Zaltzman walked past me. “Andy Zaltzman” I exclaimed. He nodded. Anyway, this late show by a regular on the Now Show and Newz Quiz was platform for a variety of standup guests with a loose political theme. Andy warmed the audience up with his fast witty observations, before handing over to the first guest. Unfortunately I don’t have his name (update – Chris worked it out - Jamie Kilstein), but he was American, short, loud and crude, and rapidly lost the audience. Without being openly heckled, he was barely clapped off, and it was an uphill struggle from then on.

Next up Dan Atkinson presented us with some of his thoughts from his show Credit Crunch and Other Biscuits, which was fairly amusing – for example his definition of posh being anyone who buys a bottle of wine and keeps it for more than a day without drinking it, but it wasn’t fantastic. There was one more up, but I can’t remember who it was!! Rob’s observation was that Andy Zaltzman should have saved more material for in between acts rather than his long piece at the beginning. Overall good, despite the one very bad egg!

Late n’ Live

Compere’d very energetically by Phil Nichol. Last time when Ralf and I did this show it was in the basement (I think), and it was a far more suitable venue for this long gig which is supposed to be a casual “pop in and out” affair. How can one do this when it’s in a tight theatre with no leg-room, long rows of seats with only a central aisle, and zero free space to move around in. Plus of course, like most of the venues, temperatures in the oven range – why when it was cool outside, don’t these places have any windows or ventilation?

Gilded Balloon

Anyway, first guest was a black guy whose name I’m still looking for, but he was very good. From NY, he was incredibly laid-back, and not crude, which often the late night comedians end up being. He talked about the Olympics, the outrage amongst black people that a Chinese athlete had one a sprint, and the view that Scotland was the White Africa, where white people were made! Very good and the audience lapped it up.

Following was an Australian comedy band called Axis of Awesome who were quite good. I slipped out to go to the bar and missed the next guy who apparently was so bad, rude and crude that he was booed off stage! Ed Byrne was brought on to rescue things, which he ably did before the comedy ended and the Big Hand band, playing http://www.thebighand.co.uk/home.php ska and punk, took over to run till 5pm. We didn’t stay for the whole set!

Alpha Male

Dan Riches apparently broke his leg during this show, but the show goes on.

The Alpha Male

The general theme between several silly and sometimes amusing skits was of the concept of there always being an alpha male, how he would behave, how to identify him etc. Of course, Dan Riches was.. the alpha male.

Highly embarrassing audience participation

Thank goodness we were tucked away at the back, for he pulled out a couple who didn't know each other and proceeded to involve them in making a cocktail whilst suggesting they should get together. The audience members did well considering but it was awfully embarrassing!

The Aluminium Show

All reports and recommendations before we attended this described it as being strange, weird, but fantastic. And indeed, when taking our seats inside Pleasance Grand, we wondered how they would stage anything with all the metallic tubes coiled round on the stage floor covering almost all space?

The answer was that to a fast dancy space-aged soundtrack those lightweight tubes would be inflated and would unfold towards the audience, snaking their way over our heads right up to the top of the venue. Once enough fun had been had pushing them away from one’s head, they recoiled to the back of the stage, being quickly replaced by dancing slinky coils of aluminium with human dancers inside them, resembling robots or futuristic life-forms.

Long coils drop from the roof, strange fashion shows are held, and apart from a dull bit in the middle, my attention is held for the full hour (despite the closeness to ballet!). Very strange but very good!

Stuart Black - Pale and Confused

Back in the irritating venue of Faith (bad understocked bar, strange access to venue, small squeaky seats and (of course) baking hot to boot), we had a solo standup in Stuart Black. With two beers which he sipped from alternately, he mused about random things, paranoia in modern-day life, railed against some of the less complimentary reviews he’d had, and gave the impression that he might at any time lose the plot completely in what was his last show. He didn’t, and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed his witty observations and comedy.

Elizabeth and Raleigh: Late but Live

This was strange. Very strange. Ranging from unfunny and tedious (as Raleigh goes through a photo slideshow), to educational, explaining dates and histories from the period, to comic, this show starred Simon Munnery as Queen Elizabeth I and Miles Jupp as Sir Walter Raleigh. Raleigh explains to the audience that he is hoping to marry Elizabeth.

Queen Elizabeth

She then turns up and decides to behead him instead. As described on the flyer: “Potatoes, tobacco, Elizabethan dance, cross-dressing, xenophobia and laughs galore.”!

British fleet take on Spanish Armada

Goodness knows what German Ralf, Italian Ursula and Irish Elaine made of it all, but I enjoyed it!

Time for one last show..

The Late Show at Underbelly
Last up, Chris managed to book us in to this, running from 00:40 for about 2 ½ hours. I think it was Tom Wrigglesworth compering. We then had a rude but funny Finland bloke, Ginger and Black,

Ginger and Black

and Reginald D Hunter, a black American living in the UK talking about attitudes towards men these days. Again, very good.

Reginald Hunter

The final act was an American chap who was slowly building up a story about Brits and their reluctance to spend more than ten pounds on anything ever, revolving around a meat van near where he lives in Paisley. Was going well despite the venue being disgustingly hot, then off it goes - the fire alarm! The venue wasn't hot because of a fire downstairs though, it was a false alarm. We took the hint though, and headed home.


Other Stuff
Edinburgh's not just about drinking and shows though. One of the delights is climbing the many hills about, including Arthur’s Seat, Carlton Hill, the Braids etc. First up, Arthur's Seat:

Atop Arthur's Seat

It's a good climb, but the wind kept us cool. Marvellous view all around from the top, and at the bottom, a pub called the Sheep’s Heid (head), which coincidentally had a beer festival on! Good planning, Chris. We ordered haggis and black pudding, ostensibly for Ursula to try, but of course I ended up eating it all. Not bad!

The Braids are hills near the Meredith's house in Morningside. Not quite Arthur's Seat, but a pleasant post-breakfast walk and also blessed with a marvellous view.

L to R Sophie, Louis, Rob, Leia, Elaine and me

Edinburgh from the Braids

Photo taken by Louis!



More boys

In general we had good weather, after the drizzle of the first day.


Sunshine in Edinburgh!

One of the evenings we went in search of that famous Scottish delicacy, deep fried pizza. I had visions of it being an actual pizza, cooked, then battered, then fried. Frankly I felt sick just thinking about it.

Bene's - it's Bene!

What one actually gets is a pizza which presumably has been cooked then briefly dunked into the oil, giving it a oily sheen but nothing like as bad as I expected - especially as pizzas tend to be fairly oily creations anyway. Tasted rather good in fact!

Deep fried pizza and Mars bar!

And for the record, Ursula, who was horrified by the whole concept, had a bite and declared that, although it was not "pizza" as the Italians have defined it, it was, and I quote "not bad"! So there you have it!

Mr "Rad"oja, sorry I missed you! Next time, next time!

So thanks to Chris and Renata and the Meredith Family for hosting us, and thanks to Ralf, Ursula and Elaine for coming up and making it the fun weekend that it certainly was!

P.S. Acknowledgment: Most of the photos in this posting are by Ralf Rohm. Thanks Ralfy!

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