(I am aware this is very very late and we are way past Day 18 of the Fringe, for which I humbly apologise…)
Although I’m not trying to fish for sympathy (….OK, yes I am. I can sense I’m probably not getting much after waxing lyrical about the amazing-ness of the Fringe…), this month has not been an easy one. In between all the shows I’ve been writing about, I have of course been co-editing EFR – and to be honest it’s been as stressful as it has been fun. So I figured I need a good laugh every now and then to make the crises fade away. And the Fringe isn’t short on comedy shows, although not all of them necessarily manage to provide “a good laugh”. So, once again, here’s a snapshot of my comedic experiences at the Fringe so far (the ones I witnessed on stage. Not the ones which involve me trying to be cool in front of actors, or going up and down in a hotel lift trying to find a show, or carrying a rucksack packed with whole chickens back to the house. Although I will admit all these things are pretty laughable in their own way.)
Anyway. First up, the Edinburgh Revue – comfortably at home in their own city, right? Well, maybe if they’d been allowed a better venue. The Banshee Labyrinth is not exactly designed for sketch comedy, and quite honestly the background music they play in that place is terrifying, and didn’t wash away my initial concern at the name of the building I’d decided to venture into. Yet the Revue don’t deserve a scary venue – they really do seem like lovely people and had a lot of fun with their show, throwing themselves into the silliness. As always, some sketches worked better than others, but they started strong with a quick and hilarious history of Edinburgh; with a series of tableaux representing everything from war and rebellion to Harry Potter and Greyfriars Bobby, they had me giggling from the off – a good sign. Beyond this, Adam Todd was consistently strong and I particularly enjoyed his portrayal of Hamlet at the job centre. The gameshow in which a couple have to ‘prove their love’ also guarantees a lot of laughs throughout, and didn’t weaken or lose focus as some other sketches sadly did. Clarisse Loughrey and Katia Kvinge particularly shone in a wide variety of roles, but the whole troupe were likeable purely on the basis of their own enjoyment and enthusiasm. The venue leaves very little space for movement and no option for blackouts between sketches, but in general the Revue worked with these limitations with success. Sometimes the odd awkward laugh-less moment punctuated the fun, and the show is rather rough around the edges. But overall, a relaxed and enjoyable show.
Moving from the back room of the blood-curdling Banshee Labyrinth (it wasn’t that bad – I just like alliteration) to the Pleasance Courtyard, and a prize of £2500. Or should that be £25,000? Or maybe £2.5 million? With Mark Watson in charge of proceedings, who knows? Yes, the Chortle Student Comedy Awards 2012. Six pounds for a night of eight of the best up-and-coming comedians, plus Mark Watson – definitely not a bad deal! And I got plenty of laughs for my money. Footlights stalwart Pierre Novellie was flying the flag for Cambridge and got the evening off to a great start: I’d heard a lot of the material before, but that didn’t stop me enjoying it immensely and giggling away at his parodying of bio-yoghurt adverts and affectionate mockery of the Isle of Man. Elsewhere Kwame Asante, Hari Sriskantha and David Elms all tickled my funny bone, and huge credit should go to Jonny Pelham for having the audience in full-on hysterics for a good few minutes simply with the words “She died”. One act, Johnny F Monotone (aka Sebastian Bloomfield) quite honestly left me baffled rather than amused, but I’ll accept that it simply wasn’t my kind of humour, and it seemed that others around me enjoyed the set. In the end it was Kwame Asante who took the big prize and – putting aside my Cantabrigian loyalty – I was pretty satisfied by that result: he’s clearly a brilliantly talented comedian and a seemed a gracious and humbled victor. Hopefully we’ll be seeing much more of this lot in the years to come, and I’ll be a bit smug to say I saw and rated them all before they hit the bigtime.
Another chance to spot the rising stars came at the Footlights Free Show: I’ve been twice now (the beauty of the Free Fringe) and if you’ve been paying attention you might have read what I wrote about it the other day…. My second visit repeated some of the same acts as my first, but also some new ones. Again, I’d seen a lot of Ahir Shah’s set before in Cambridge so probably didn’t appreciate it as much as the rest of the crowd, but it went down well. For me the show was made by headliner Nish Kumar, who definitely deserves the label of “rising star” which TimeOut gave to him. His quips and anecdotes lifted my spirits from the symptoms of Fringe fatigue, and sent me back out into the sunshine with a broad grin on my face. Frequent performers at the Footlights’ show are the three-man sketch troupe of Rory & Tim (yes, three man…) who are also well worth a watch – details, in another shameless plug, are here: http://edfringereview.com/r/UCDeIuJAT4ScYD6pXDx6yg
I’d definitely recommend them if you’ve got a free hour; but of course, all my comments on this comedy may be totally different to your own thoughts. This was obvious from the reviews which emerged of this year’s offering from the Oxford Revue, ‘Prattle Royale’. Now, I really wanted to like this show. I really did, and I went in there putting all my latent distrust of Oxford aside (sorry, it’s the Cambridge in me…) and prepared to have a good time. Yet the show really struggled to make me laugh – my review here justifies why: http://edfringereview.com/r/UBkdvLdcRSqP1ieWXDx6yg. However, another certain high profile reviewing body gave the show five stars, raving about its hilarity. Were we at the same show? Had they drastically rewritten the script? Was one of us blind or deaf? Or – most likely – doesn’t this just show the subjectivity that is inherent to reviewing, and particularly reviewing comedy: a sense of humour is such a particularly personal trait that it’s even harder to provide the opinion of the masses than usual. I don’t think this devalues the opinions of our critics in any way: I still firmly believe that critics do a fantastic job in providing feedback for shows and audience and creating conversation and debate about cultural events and performances. Yet performers who are unhappy with a bad review should always remember that there is probably someone in the audience who totally disagreed and was loving it. It just happens this wasn’t the person whose job is it to publicly publish their opinion.
As a final note for today, I have a confession to make: I’ve become an Austentatious-aholic. After my fourth visit to the show, I haven’t yet tired of it – the funniest thing I’ve seen here, without a doubt.