Monday, 18 August 2014

Edinburgh Fringe Blog 2014

It's that time again! Yes - me actually writing a blog!  I remember the good old days when I'd churn these out all the time.  Then I changed jobs and bought a flat and found I'd rather spend time off sobbing in a darkened room.  But now, it's that time again - we've been back to the Fringe for our third visit, which means another blog chewing over who we saw.  In our four days in Edinburgh we saw fifteen shows, and here is what me - and 'er indoors - thought of them.


1. Holly Walsh: Never Had It
Our first show and...probably the best!  Holly has become an effortlessly brilliant comedian, and this show is based around her opinion that not only has she not "still got it", she "never had it".  To illustrate this point she asks the audience whether certain people have "got it".  Barack Obama has clearly "got it". David Cameron has not "got it".  Gary Barlow "didn't have it, then he got it, but is now being forced to give it back".  We simply loved this show, the only problem being that everything after this point was an anti-climax. 

2. Nick Doody vs The Debonair Assassin
Free Fringe!  And only the second show.  In the two years since we were last in town the Free Fringe has gone from something akin to the consolation prize for not being able to sell tickets to a considerable behemoth, beginning to rival the Pleasance/Assembly/Underbelly/Gilded Balloon four-headed monster for bums-on-seats.  Some acts have begun to complain of a "squeezed middle" between the Free Fringe and the bigger name paid-for acts and it's not hard to see there being a problem in years to come with many punters simply refusing to take the financial risk of a paid show any longer.  Nick was OK. 

3. Tom Price: Not As Nice As He Looks
Thanks to Mr Doody overrunning we arrived at this one slightly late.  We legged it up the hill to the Pleasance and arrived a few minutes late to be warmly welcomed as audience members 11 and 12 to Tom's show.  You'll mainly recognise Tom as PC Andy from Torchwood but he's also an accomplished stand-up comedian who performs a very warm show...trying to defuse the myth that he's a nice guy.  And, to try and atone for an earlier screw-up at a family wedding, I ended up being re-married to another audience member.  My first night in Edinburgh and already a bigamist.


4. Bec Hill in...Ellipsis
One of Kate's recommendations, so over to her:

I found Bec's videos on digital video website 'The YouTubes' and was very impressed with her animation/songs/general comedy. Her set was a combination of stand-up, audience participation and live animation, and I felt she was strongest when she could revert to her marvellous drawings (and probably a blessed bit of relief to have the spotlight on something else after a pretty relentless hour).

The stand up became quite patchy in places (the 'tedious puns' section dragging on 10 times longer than it really needed to) and the varied ways of performing sometimes felt like a burst of creativity fizzling into too many things because of an overall lack of confidence in most/all of them. No doubt she's ridiculously talented, but want to fast forward a few years when she's really honed her craft.

5. Iain Stirling: Everything
Last time around Iain was in a room no bigger than his former berth of the CBBC Office.  His star has grown somewhat since then and he effortlessly filled a much larger room this time around.  His confidence has grown too and his hour felt a lot edgier than the show we saw two years ago.  Apart from an awkward few minutes on politics it's a really good hour that is largely centred around being dumped by his long-term girlfriend.  Stirling touches on the pain of maintaining his kids' TV alter-ego to great effect in this section ("what's that Hacker?  She took the house?") and at only 26 it'll be interesting to see what angle his future career takes.

6. Frank Skinner: Man in a Suit
Rather unusually we decided to see a "name" in one of the biggest Fringe audiences we've ever been in, as Frank Skinner performed his first Edinburgh show in seven years.  Clearly his audience has aged somewhat since the Fantasy Football heyday and it was a rather silver crowd we were sat amongst.  The £17 ticket price is offset somewhat by the 90 minute duration, although you feel that the show could easily have been pruned to an hour.  Despite this, a good opportunity to see a real master at work.

7. Richard Herring: Lord of the Dance Settee
As much as we love the output of Richard Herring it's hard not to feel that it's time he took a break, and after his incredible volume of output of the last half-decade he perhaps deserves it.  Although an enjoyable hour, long-term Herring fans will recognise a number of routines from this "new" show, including his teenage trip to heckle Ted Rogers and the Dance Settee of the title, dating back to Fist of Fun in the mid-90s.  As enjoyable as the show - his eleventh in as many years - is, it does feel slightly like a greatest hits tour to those of us who've been there the whole way.  Given the surprise twist at the end of the show, it seems that Herring may finally take the leave from the Fringe he seems to threaten every year - but it sounds like he'll need it...


8. Bridget Christie: An Ungrateful Woman
Zzzzz.  Not the show, but the staging at 11.10am, which at the Fringe is roughly equivalent to 6.30am, given you're rarely in bed before 1am.  This start time is partly due to the in-demand slots at The Stand comedy club, but also apparently due to Christie sharing parenting duties with her husband Stewart Lee - who performs in the same room later that day.  Anyway, Bridget's star is growing so we ended up standing up for the show at this ungodly hour, such is her popularity.  Here's Kate again:

Bridget was back back BACK after her award-winning show 'A Bic For Her' with 'yet another' hour of stand-up about feminism. I understand Bridget really broke into the mainstream last year but found this whole part of the set a bit strange. Wasn't 2012's 'War Donkey' about feminism? Wasn't 2010's 'A Ant' about feminism (well, the lack of female comics at least)? I feel this does a bit of a disservice to her earlier work which was really fucking good. This was the best show we'd seen so far for a gloriously complex bit of standup, but I found one of the central themes (about her audition for a Muller advert) particularly lacking, and her returning to it again and again started to grate. The rest was very good though, mainly the yoghurty-based bits stopped it being a stand out show.

(I must caveate I was in a massive grump at this show because it was raining, I was hungover and forced to stand for the hour because The Stand doesn't have enough bloody seats and the audience was a load of cagoule-wearing Radio 4 listeners who probably arrive an hour early for every show at the Festival and nick all the chairs in the process.)

9. Frisky and Mannish: Just Too Much
Frisky and Mannish are now staging their sixth consecutive show at the Fringe.  You probably know by now what they do - very slickly staged shows parodying and deconstructing pop music.  And although this latest offering doesn't really do anything new, they do it so so well and with so much enthusiasm and professionalism it's hard to complain.  Both are hugely talented and clearly obsessed with pop music that it doesn't matter so much that it doesn't break any new ground.  You'll struggle to have more fun in an hour at the Fringe. 

10. Josh Widdicombe's XFM Show Live!
Josh is effortlessly funny.  We went to see his live show in Harrogate in May and he makes it look so easy.  Naturally we were keen to see him in Edinburgh, but unfortunately his only appearance was a few nights of his "XFM Show Live".  Of course, we've never heard this before, so we weren't expecting much especially after being told in the queue by a fruity young XFM intern "it's full of in-jokes".  In fact it was a fairly entertaining ninety minutes, mainly carried by Josh's guests it has to be said, on a rather inevitable panel of seven male and mostly white men.  And we got an XFM pen out of it. 


11. Matt Forde: 24 Hour Political Party People
Hmm.  We saw this on impulse at the Pleasance, thinking we might like a bit of political comedy.  And although there was nothing specifically wrong with it, it just wasn't...funny enough.  Although clearly blessed with a slight talent for impersonations, it's perhaps not the best idea to constantly use these sometimes slightly ropey impersonations as part of the jokes for the entire show.  An edge was added by Forde almost losing it when someone's phone went off - admittedly bad form but normally dealt with using a bit more humour and less genuine annoyance.  The finale was a cringeworthy version of YMCA re-styled as "UK MPs", which was about as funny as it sounds. 

12. Christian Reilly: Lost in Music
Christian has a long association with Richard Herring and it was on his podcast As It Occurs To Me that we first discovered Christian's comedy songs.  Another Free Fringe show, Christian managed to fill a not inconsiderable room on a drizzly Wednesday night.  Although the material perhaps stretched at a full hour, it's great to see Reilly's appeal broadening out to a wider audience.

13. WitTank: Old School Secrets
We saw WitTank for the first time two years ago - and although the name still makes me cringe they're very much emerging from the shadow of Pappy's to become a very slick, confident and funny outfit.  As with Pappy's Last Show Ever this year's show, although still sketch-based, is all linked around a single narrative, and all the better for it.  You'll never see Shania Twain in the same way again.

14. BBC Radio nan Gaidheal
This year's "sort of" show entry.  We spent a while in the BBC Fringe area, and out time coincided with a session for Radio nan Gaidheal or "Radio Nan" as Kate insisted on calling it.  It was a Gaelic music set, with a surprising amount of English being spoken.  Hey-ho.  I wrote two years ago about how good it was the Beeb have got involved in the Fringe so much in recent years, but it seems to have got a little out of hand this year.  Various programmes found themselves presenting special editions from the BBC tent seemingly for no other reason than they could (Newsnight? The One Show? Rasta Mouse?).  The nadir was undoubtedly encouraging people to watch The Great British Bake Off on the big screen - surely the modern day spirit of the Fringe.

15. Charlie Sloth presents Hip Hop Comedy
Our last show was another freebie - yep, we were skint - and a surprisingly good effort from BBC Radio 1Xtra's Charlie Sloth.  Kate and I are about as urban as PJ & Duncan, but despite this enjoyed the various turns.  Here's Kate's write-up:

So we headed into the Radio 4 tent for our last show at the Fringe, and managed to sneak into 'Hip Hop Comedy' about 30 seconds before it was due to start. This was hosted by Charlie Sloth, and the audience was more Gardeners' Question Time than 1Xtra gig, particularly at the front (who presumably were sitting through everything in order to see free stuff, tight gits). God, I really felt for the acts! A highlight was Mark Grist (because the bonus of my job is I get paid to watch Don't Flop Rap Battles so I was a squealing fangirl).

But the standout was Lolly Adefope. She came on stage doing character comedy, a Manc working in admin at a construction firm. It produced a very weird reaction in that largely everyone thought she was very funny, but there were about 20 people in the audience (myself included) that found it A Very Very Funny Thing Indeed and were crying with laughter. It was just one of the most perfectly pitched, beautifully executed bits of comedy that I've seen. There was then a lovely atmosphere in the tent of 'shit, this woman is extremely talented and I get to say that I saw her first.' Can't wait to see what she does next.

And that's it!  We love our biennial Fringe visits so much that we rather rashly decided on the last night we'd rather not wait two years till the next time.  Better get saving then.  See you next August!