Fringe the First

Hairy Scotsmen
A bunch of hairy Scotsmen entertain the crowds on the Royal Mile, Sunday 8 August 2004. Try a 10-second sample [66k mp3].

Every year I tell myself I’m taking a year off from Fringe reviewing, and every year I end up doing it anyway. And I haven’t even finished those extra batches of book reviews, or anything about the movies I’ve seen lately. Too late, they’ll have to wait: August is upon us, and with it the greatest arts festival on earth. As the weather teeters precariously between the gloomy fog of 2002 and the glorious sunshine of 2003, we’ve teetered precariously from a few pints at the bar to a few shows at the Pleasance.

First up was Chris Addison’s first preview on Wednesday night. He’s one of the bigger names at the Fringe, but I’ve missed him in previous years. His Funny Money columns in The Guardian are always good, so I thought his show would be too, and wasn’t disappointed. He took us for a brisk jog through the history of civilization, ancient and oldish, with an eye to figuring out how to rebuild it when ours collapses. If we rebuild it along Addison’s lines, it’ll be in danger of collapsing again—from laughter.† Beneath the veneer of upper-class aloofness (it’s all a front, ’e’s a cheeky chappie really) is a stand-up with wit to spare; Addison’s jokes are playful, plentiful and unpredictable. I’d love to repeat the one about archaeologists here, but I don’t want to spoil it. If you get the chance, definitely go and hear it for yourself.

Later that evening we scored some freebies for Kevin Tomlinson: On The Edge (from Kev himself, no less), which thanks to first-night scheduling delays kept us up way past our bedtime, but what the hell. It was an impressive hour of one-man improvisation, feeding off audience suggestions but loosely structured around the seven ages of man. A couple of sections didn’t work so well (but might on another night, such is the fickle nature of improv), but most were funny and a few were even poignant. Worth a look.

Friday night was alright for fighting, but because I’m a big wuss I went to James’s and Barunka’s and Lucy’s show instead. Being one of those fortunate few who is disqualified from giving an impartial opinion, all I can say is that I laughed outrageously many times, and enjoyed it more than anyone could reasonably expect of an hour spent watching a woman with a bag on her head. David Lynch’s 1980 movie The Elephant Man might be an obscure target for satire in 2004, but The Elephant Woman brought it all back with its breathtaking props, skilful puppetry and lavish costumes, only three of which are nepotistic-reviewer hyperbole. Actually, “nepotistic-reviewer hyperbole” is the hyperbole, because this really is a skilful show; it takes genuine skill to find the point between the laughable and the laugh-out-loud, where nothing appears to be trying too hard even when it’s obvious how much hard work went into it. Was that velcro’d trunk supposed to fall off? You couldn’t be sure, and that’s why it was funny. Population:3 have perfected the art of the shambolic spoof built on a rock-solid script and unerring comic instincts; I was amazed to read in James’s blog that a good ten or fifteen minutes of the performance was freshly rewritten that day, the material was that strong. With a few more nights of fine-tuning this will be as fine a spectacle as any on the Fringe, and if it doesn’t pack ’em in there’s no justice.

And so to another marvel of shambolic comedy, seen earlier this evening: Jeremy Lion, the drunken children’s entertainer, performing his Happy Birthday show. The one-line description tells you all you need to know, really, apart from whether he does the concept justice: to which the answer is, ohhhhh yes. Lion had me laughing like a hyena (note the clever animal-based wordplay, kids), and I almost even forgot I was sitting in the most insanely bloody hot venue in Edinburgh, the Pleasance Above (and this was at 6 pm; imagine it at 11). An hour of nursery rhyme medleys, didactic cakes, the insanely bloody scary Mr Shush, birthdays through time, a giant octopus, and The Disappearing Wine trick passed all too quickly; oh, for the eyes of a child, for whom an hour lasts a week... and who would’ve thought Jeremy Lion was really crap. Which is exactly why he isn’t.

†Poster-quote rates available on request.

Here’s what people said about this entry.

Ah, I heart Fringe. :) I've always wondered if there's some crazed human traveling to EVERY Fringe show in the world.

Added by Ed on a Wednesday in August.

A friend working at the Pleasance told us that someone saw 175 shows at the Edinburgh Fringe last year (over three weeks).

Added by Rory on a Thursday in August.