Category Archives: Reviews

First day

After a slight lie in (I am on holiday after all), I meandered into town on the bus, sampling the Royal Mile (only C fliers in evidence) before heading to C for Down the Rabbit Hole by Lincoln. I arrived at C in plenty of time, but started to worry after the queue I was in with only two people in front hadn’t moved for ten minutes. It looks like C were having severe problems with their ticketing systems, which I hope they fix before the influx as the Fringe proper starts. Nonetheless, I bought a ticket and got to C soco just in time, taking into account I’d gone to C+2 first before realising C soco is the second floor of the building next door…

Despite what the blurb says, Carroll doesn’t meet his own inventions – the play takes place either in Carroll’s house where Alice (Liddell) is staying for the summer before going off to school, or in Carroll’s dream as he sleeps whilst trying to finish Wonderland for Alice. The blurb does indicate some directions this could have gone, presumably given more time; as it was, the March Hare was fantastic, but I left feeling a bit confused as to who was fighting over dream-Alice and what exactly for.

I progressed to the Pleasance and Death of a Theatre Critic, a look at the positions critic and criticised play in the world of theatre, wrapped up in a classical tragedy. I’d say more, but although this is more a record than criticism, I’m worried by the lead character’s speech about critics only giving opinions rather than comparing how the cast implemented the idea they had (worded better than that, though), and it’s late and I’m sure this’ll be talked about elsewhere, so I’ll just move on.

After some more orientation, and a quick trip to Transworld frontiers bookshop for their Attack of the Knitted Tentacles exhibition, I settled at the Pleasance Dome, enjoying firstly Roisin Conaty, and then (after sausages and mash at Monster Mash) Nina Conti. It turns out I had seen Roisin last year in Glasgow, at a spur-of-the-moment comedy night I went to at the Stand. Here, what she did there was just a warm-up (and still amusing), before moving to the main part of the show, talking about being asked back to her school to impart some wisdom to the girls and how she feels she might not be suited for that in a variety of ways (I think she’d be great). This was the sort of comedy I always enjoy, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

Although I’d never heard of her, Nina Conti is obviously very popular – the King Dome was full – and it soon showed why, with her expert ventriloquism, be it accents, voice swapping, or the classic drinking a glass of water, sorry, vodka. I wasn’t so sure on the interactive sections – ringing up a hotel doesn’t really make any difference that you’re a ventriloquist, it’s just you putting on a voice on the phone; and whereas the first person who had a mouth mask put on them went along with it, the second clearly was unhappy, although in the end stole the limelight by taking the initiative and dancing with Nina. But this was excellent, with it being far too easy to forget she was doing all the voices – until the puppet reminded you with a pithy quip. This was my first show involving an owl, but it certainly won’t be my last.

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Can you say what people from Corsica are called?

The second day started much as the first. I had planned to go to Assembly George Street and buy a ticket for I, Elizabeth at 11:50. However, upon discovering the Scotsman had free Assembly tickets, I ended up queuing for nearly two hours instead (which thankfully was just about enough time to work out what to get – everyone else seemed to just stand in line to queue, whilst I frantically read every artist’s blurb and cross-referenced times/prices…). Free tickets for I, Elizabeth, Tripod vs the Dragon, Underneath the Lintel, and Simon Callow were the result, though Callow clashes with the Edinburgh/London roller derby match on Saturday – will gift the Callow tickets to my sister πŸ™‚

As I now had I, Elizabeth tickets for Saturday and had anyway got to its start time, I wrote off the morning and went and had lunch. My first act of the day was therefore Ronnie Golden, teaching us about various musical guitarists from Robert Johnson to Status Quo, via anecdotes, lessons and songs from his own time in a band, the pre-new wave Fabulous Poodles. I’ve never been able to play the guitar – my hands get confused, which is odd given I play violin and piano okay (not to mention Guitar Hero, which I won’t) – and am always impressed by guitarists, so this was both interesting and entertaining.

From there, I headed to the Pleasance. I arrived around 3.15pm, and noticed Sadie Hasler started at 3.30pm. The ticket queue was quite in evidence, but I joined it anyway. The person in front of me (she’s in Wolf at the Caves, go along!) was also queuing for Sadie and so bought my ticket – I paid her back – which meant we made it in time to the Cellar. Sadie only appeared on stage as herself for about three seconds at the end – apart from that, she took on the mantle of various women in history, if not their actual personalities. Fanny Craddock or Marie Curie lecturing, Iris Murdoch trying to read from The Sea, The Sea on gnatty dressers (or was that gnats), Myra Hindley writing haikus, or Sylvia Plath writing letters to Ted asking if they could go bowling; all were very much immediately there, in focus (ooh, that reminds me about the lighting in Death of a Theatre Critic I forgot to mention, like a switch), and my only punishment as the only man on the front row was to shoulder the gender’s blame for getting women pregnant sometimes, phew. Excellent stuff.

My first actual pre-bought ticketed event, Laura Solon was the second act so far to include an owl, hooray. I’d like to state for the record I chose option A at the beginning for narrator, just on account of the special owl narrator T-shirt if nothing else, even if nearly everyone else went for B and thus had the audience’s Choose-Your-Own-Adventure privileges withdrawn. Laura told a humourous and engaging story, playing all parts, and even got in some Barclays brothers references – so going on the current Private Eye she should look out for lawyers’ letters in the post.

With apologies to the comedy agent employee in the queue who knew Tom but I’m not actually sure got in to see the show, I enjoyed but was not taken by Tom Wrigglesworth‘s show on his wedding day traumas. The end, as he immediately said after, did seem to lack something, and other things just didn’t seem to mesh with me. I can’t really complain, as someone gave me their ticket for free a few minutes before it began.

On to Tim Vine. There’s nothing like a good pun show, and this was nothing like… no, of course it was, and from BNAG to torches to the title of this post, I exited with another laughter headache.

Lastly, after a walk all the way across town (these were booked, too, it’s not like I didn’t plan this!), I found myself in the queue for Mark Watson. The show started half an hour late, but that gave me plenty of time to chat to Sally in the queue about her Masters on representation in museums (or something, I told her how forgetful I am, don’t you worry). As the audience filled in, Mark had a Word document open in which he “spoke” to the audience by writing sentences, which I thought was quite nice. It would have been better if he’d actually moved Word’s right margin so that the words went all the way across the screen πŸ˜‰ Mark was very funny, his comedy seemed the most personal of anything I’d seen so far, talking about his worries last year and how he’s got over them.

The overrunning meant I missed the last bus, but I eventually made it home to write this. Incidentally, most acts so far look different to their posters. They generally look better in real life, so I’m not sure what the reason is for this.

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Attack of the shadow puppet

I did not die during Your Days Are Numbered: The Maths of Death, although I had a 0.000043% change of doing so. Any show that has a joke about getting a room in a Hilbert hotel and I are going to get on famously (and conditional probability, footnotes!), plus I got to use a calculator, learn about the Fatal Accidents Act 1976, and witness a shark attack the audience (quite unlikely).

Lunch, then chatting to the cast and crew of Folk Tales Trilogy (see you there tomorrow, guys, I did promise) in the queue for Sticks, stones, broken bones at Underbelly. This was possibly my highlight of the fringe so far (okay, it’s only the third day, but this was already my 12th act), partly due to the fact I was the volunteer brought on stage to have a fight with a Japanese warrior shadow. I believe I acquitted myself okay, including sneaking behind the shadow for a quick back attack, leading Jeff Achtem to say as the shadow couldn’t turn round, neither should I πŸ™‚ Anyway, apart from my Fringe debut, the rest of the show was also excellent, using household implements to create magical shadow characters.

You couldn’t think of much of a bigger switch from Canadian shadow puppetry to Flawless’ “Chase the Dream” at the Udderbelly, but that’s where I was headed next. Very good, as you would expect, group set pieces especially (that might just be me liking a good synchonized dance), and other highlights for me included the Dirty Dancing sequence; the moment where one member obviously became a local centre of gravity and everyone else gravitated towards him seemingly against the flow of their bodies; the slower section with “mirror” dancing (and I think Sara Bareilles’ “Gravity” as accompaniment, not sure); and the lovely ode to House music – “House is a feeling”. [Still incoherent enough for you, Emma?]

Waitrose ice cream van interlude. I’ll never get tired of that.

Over to the Pleasance for the evening, starting with The Penny Dreadfuls performing a back-to-the-roots sketch show – those T-shirts that don’t exist will be in high demand. I remember finding it funny, though I’m struggling to remember many of the sketches now (I do have a very poor memory :-/ ); I more remember the tiny snippet of John Murphy’s wonderfully haunting Sunshine soundtrack [edit: they’ve posted their full soundtrack, which is excellent of them]. Then Shappi Khorsandi: The Moon on a Stick in which she spoke humourously about her divorce, kid and life. [Sorry, but I do need some sleep! It was very good, and deserves more than I’ve given it here.]

Lastly, Russell Kane. My sister was meant to join me for this from Reginald Hunter, but he had overran and so she missed it (managed to switch to Sunday, I believe). I’m not sure whether it was the heat (Pleasance Beyond was getting very hot by the end of the day), the slight annoyance at other overrunning acts, or whether I just didn’t like it, but whereas nearly all the audience seemed to enjoy this show tremendously, I only laughed a couple of times (and even then, the joke I remember was making fun of his girlfriend for the ability to sleep in an upright car seat on the way to Edinburgh). I’m sure one could try and infer something about my relationship with my father, but I think it was more that I just did’t find it very funny, sorry. We’ll see if my sister disagrees on Sunday πŸ™‚

Tomorrow holds the postponed-due-to-free-ness I, Elizabeth, the clash of rollery derby and Simon Callow, the aforementioned Folk Tales Trilogy (or they’ll be upset), and Tripod vs the Dragon. Plus whatever else I sneak in the gaps.

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Third-wave feminism, from folklore to the present day

[How’s that for a pretentious title!] Female empowerment. Speaking as a mother, I… sorry, wrong show. Anyway, my day has taken me on a diverse journey of shows, some or all of which I can shoehorn into my chosen field for the day.

It began with I, Elizabeth at the Assembly George Street, written and performed by Rebecca Vaughan, directed by Guy Masterson. The whole tale was made from letters, speeches, etc. that Elizabeth I wrote or said, providing a fascinating insight into one of England’s most famous monarchs – her thinkings over marriage, children and the succession, Mary her sister and Mary Queen of Scots. Told in one scene without break, this must have been strenuous to perform and it was carried out beautifully. The occasional lighting-style buzzing lights presumably meant something I didn’t understand – time running out, reminder of mortality, or somesuch maybe – but you don’t need critical theory to know when something’s good, that’s what I say.

I wonder what Elizabeth would have made of roller derby. Described by Steven Wells as “something sexy, anti-corporate, amazingly fast and incredibly violent. A sort of anti-golf”, this fringe event of a match between the Auld Reeke Roller Girls’ Twisted Thistles and the London Rockin’ Rollers All Stars was packed – they said they’d never had a bigger audience. I wondered why roller derby seemed to be entwined with punk, but I did a quick Google and I see lots has been written on that by others paid to do so, so I’ll just say that it was fantastic. I’ve never been into football, I’ve never really followed much sport (apart from Wimbledon and curling), but that moment when your jammer bobs and weaves round the opposing blockers to break through the pack – when you find your heart in your mouth, your hands clapping with no conscious thought involved, the surge of noise from the crowd – it’s quite a feeling. I was obviously supporting Edinburgh, as I’m living here for the month, but sadly we lost 117-93.

Whilst this was on, I had sent my sister and her friend to Simon Callow, I’ll try and get her to write a review at some point. I think they liked him.

Disney princesses are not – pace Enchanted, and even then – known for their empowerment. Princess Cabaret by seven Australian women showed us what six Disney princesses (Aurora, Jasmine, Belle, Ariel, Cinderella and Snow White) and Tinkerbell would more likely have been thinking through songs and sketches – Jasmine being told that once she marries Aladdin he’ll be running the country even though she’s been preparing her whole life and he’s a street urchin; Belle telling Beast she preferred him before his human transformation; and a lovely madrigal, on a topic I can’t quite recall now but they definitely had quite a lot of fa-la-la-la-la-ing going on.

Folk Tales Trilogy at Spotlites was a quieter affair, retelling three folk tales – Norse, Russian, and Welsh – all with a theme of loss and (except for the Welsh, why are their myths always depressing?) recovery. More modern dance than I would normally choose to go to, but the tellings were strong and acting (and props/costumes πŸ˜‰ ) well done.

Lastly, Tripod vs the Dragon at the Assembly. A satire – and yet not – of any Dungeons & Dragons tale you’d care to mention, this was a well acted and sung musical production with some funny shadow puppeting and geeky asides. Elana Stone was fabulous as the dragon; her voice on Ivory Tower or On Paper (I haven’t suddenly got a good memory, I bought the CD) was heartwrenching in places – and her keyboard was rather good too. The men, yeah they were very good, but the woman stole the show.

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First Fringe Sunday

The Fringe leads a dream-like existence in a world of its own (look at me, talking as if I’m an old hand rather than someone who’s never been before and is only five days in). One day seems pretty much like another, and so this morning I didn’t realise it was Sunday – which wouldn’t have been a problem, if the bus had actually turned up. But it didn’t, and the next one wasn’t for half an hour rather than the usual ten minutes, and so I missed what I was going to try and see first. Oh well, there are other days. I then compounded my misfortune by going to the wrong Assembly venue for my next (first) show, Underneath the Lintel, although thankfully I realised my mistake in plenty of time.

Underneath the Lintel was a one-man show wherein a library book returned anonymously 113 years late opens a world of adventure and mystery for a staid Dutch librarian, putting himself on the path of the Wandering Jew and finding himself becoming as one with the thing he seeks. This was a thoughtful and impressively acted piece, each piece of the puzzle playing out accompanied by musings on past loves and life. “Though we rarely recognize the place, underneath the lintel is where we stand every day, every moment, of our life.”

My only other act of the day was Bridget Christie / A Ant. The ant was the warm up act, and it did the job nicely – I could go so far as saying it was brilli-ant. (I wasn’t quick enough, but savant would have been a third answer to the maths question posed.) The main act was a wonderful meander – told mainly through the medium of buying her husband a cat – of things such as letters from Sainsbury’s, Wikivandalism (I am most pleased to discover this wasn’t just a tall tale), and comparing Richard Dawkins to Jesus. I’m only disappointed that there was apparently a joke involving wooden props that was missed out; if someone else goes, please let me know what it was πŸ™‚

I see a possible proof for P != NP has just been announced, so quite a day, and a fitting introduction to tomorrow’s Science Theme Day, including Helen Keen (twice if I’m lucky, once with a NASA scientist), time travel(ling magicians), and PBH himself talking about stars (or possibly the Edinburgh Skeptics’ At the Fringe of Reason). And Josie Long, which isn’t science themed at all, but she’s great.

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I had booked one definite science-related act before coming to Edinburgh, knew of a free science event to attend at the end of the day, and had booked one other act that was vaguely science-y (it involved time travel), and one that didn’t look science-y at all. But in the end, I managed to fit in far more science than expected.

My first act wasn’t science-based at all; after an early start to an empty Royal Mile, I attended A slacker’s guide to Western theatre at the Bedlam, a frenetic charting of the art from the Greeks to In Your Face, via Chekov (f-off) and Shakespeare, with a very entertaining horse race to decide which was the best play of Shakespeare’s era (Dr Faustus won).

Crepe for lunch, and then It Is Rocket Science with Helen Keen, with able shadow puppetry assistance from Miriam (there was a lovely moment when an envelope constellation appeared upside down, Helen pointed it out, and you just heard a loud exclamation from behind the rocket where Miriam was crouching). A very engaging and humourous show about the history of Helen’s interest in space, and rocket science – onward, to Mars!

Or in fact, out and back to the same room an hour and a bit later (it was pouring with rain, I didn’t go anywhere) for Morgan and West: Time Travelling Magicians, containing an amazing array of tricks, all of which impressed me mightily, especially the card swap and classic book/page/word prediction trick (with a little time machine help).

Time travel certainly must have been involved, as I made it to my next venue apparently in no time at all, in time for an act that started just as the previous one apparently ended. Two (not so) gentlemen of comedy present presented three short stand up routines, from Sarah Campbell and two others. A nice catch, given I’d actually come for the next event, not having expected to arrive in time for this one as well.

The next event was At the Fringe of Reason, the daily talk organised by the Edinburgh Skeptics, and today was Simon Singh, on the history of his libel battle with the BCA and libel reform. Much of the story I already knew, but it’s always good to hear it directly and hear about more recent developments, or just to hear Katie Melua’s more scientifically accurate version of her song again.

Meeting up with my sister, we popped down the road to the Caves for Josie Long’s Be Honourable. Josie started her act as an astronaut from Maidstone – brilliantly continuing the day’s science/space theme, hooray – with whom I might have apparently slept (some confusion over who exactly has gone to the Moon or not, don’t ask), before progressing to the photos of Walter Ezell, something I had already seen at the Electric in Birmingham, but brought up to date (he’s finished his year of breakfasts) and sharpened. The theme of doing nice/good, as opposed to just being nice/good (or neutral, or as Josie put it, “yoga”) carried us right the way through to Nye Bevin and her/his hatred for the Tories, in Josie’s engaging style [have I used engaging already today? It keeps popping into my head, I’m no good at this, it’ll do, it’s right after all!]

However, after the show, I posted to my Twitter a message about how great it was that there was an astronaut in Josie’s show; upon submitting, the newest message in my stream was from Josie, and it said: “Oh my god, what a different reception from yesterday! It may as well have been a totally different show- a serious play perhaps. #edfringe” For reference yesterday, “My crowd tonight were fantastic, I enjoyed my show so much tonight! Thanks if you came #edfringe”. Perhaps people reviewing their audiences will be the next big thing rather than the more usual other way round, but I felt, frankly, a little hurt as I read that in the queue for my next event – I had really enjoyed the show, laughed lots, but apparently we were a bit of a disappointment. Others have said the same, to which Josie replied with: “nooo! I’m so glad you enjoyed it, sorry to seem moany x” – but it did put a slight dampener on the event for me.

The queue I was in was at the Voodoo Rooms; I found myself next to Gemma Arrowsmith of Mould and Arrowsmith – I do hope to make their show at some point this month. We were queuing for Keen and Khan – Starstruck, wherein Helen Keen from earlier today did a show with Dr Sophia Khan (currently University of Shanghai, previously NASA) about things you might not expect from NASA. This was a delightful ramble through things as random as NASA’s “dress code” to the naming of telescopes and NASA’s weighty responsibility for world peace.

I haven’t booked a thing for tomorrow, will play by ear. Think I might not bother with the late night show I was planning to go to, though; just a bit too late for me.

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Hard rock oompah, drunk Toto, maths ukelele, Old English hip-hop

Apart from the very first day of getting my bearings, this was my first full day where I had nothing pre-booked. 2 for 1 day meant lots of things were sold out already, so I knew I had to be eclectic. I’d seen that Baba Brinkman and the Your Days Are Numbered team were doing the day’s Devil’s Advocate quiz show, so thought I could bookmark my day with Baba and his free show, and see some other things in the middle. Given I was around the Caves area, I picked Goring+Stokes and Oompah Brass, and a couple of other free fringe events in the gaps.

On my arrival in town, what actually happened was I obtained a ticket to Helen Arney, which then naturally led to tickets to Loretta Maine, on immediately before, and a now very musical theme to the day. Incidentally, 2 for 1 tickets (today and yesterday) and free ticket pairs (from the Scotsman earlier) have been great for getting me, a lone festival goer, chatting to random people, trying to sell/ give away my spare tickets – I’ve never not succeeded yet (actually, I don’t know about Goring&Stokes, I gave that ticket to the box office in the end but then heard someone asking for one ticket, so presume/hope they got it), and I’ve met people from Chicago to Chorlton.

Anyway, on to the shows, and we’ll rattle through them as I’m starting to get watery eyes and should probably get more sleep than I have been doing so far. Devil’s Advocate was a skeptic-themed quiz show, with rounds such as odd one out of ghosts, a Tarot reading, and at the end, as loser, Baba Brinkman gave a lovely and entirely accurate 60 second defence of young earth Creationism. Goring & Stokes, Nerds of a Feather was two stand-up acts, Stokes and then Goring. Both were amusing, though I preferred Stokes’ more optimistic view of nerds.

Oompah Brass were amazing, even if I think they might have permanently deafened the children sat two rows in front. They performed the best version of Sweet Child O’ Mine I’ve ever heard, and covered everything from Bach to Bohemian Rhapsody (as a Bavarian waltz, obviously) with alacrity, speed, and most of all, volume.

I enjoyed Loretta Maine: I’m not drunk, I just need to talk to you, though had to leave early due to it starting late. Any show with Toto’s Africa will be a winner in my book. I’m glad I left, though, rather than be late to the next act, as Helen Arney’s Songs for Modern Loving was even better. I’m obviously a philistine, as I’d never seen a loop pedal in use before – isn’t it great? I’ve never gone out of my way to find ukelele players, but any who can sing one song about wanting to be Justine Frischmann, Ben Folds, and Neil Hannon, and then one about Choco Leibniz referring to the mathematician (and seriously consider using the tuner to work out the different pitches of London and Edinburgh contingents of the audience) will definitely be one I keep up with.

Lastly, back to Baba Brinkman and Cabaret Voltaire for his brilliant Rapconteur, in which he performs hip-hop versions of Gilgamesh, Chaucer, Beowulf, and more. Apologies to the person next to me who wondered what I was doing furtively with my phone – I was ringing up my old friend who studied Old English at university so he could have a quick listen πŸ™‚

So that’s one week at the Fringe. I’ve seen 36 shows so far, and I’d happily recommend over 30 of them. I don’t think I’m actually exaggerating that much when I say this might be one of the most fun weeks I have ever had. Let’s see what the next week holds.

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80s History of Musical Celebrity Space Dinosaurs called Charlie

MJ Hibbett’s full-cast (two-man) rock musical Dinosaur Planet began my day of history. A story of when dinosaurs from space invaded the UK (to be specific, Norwich) and then giant robots did the same, told by MJ (who I’m guessing most of my readers – ok, my reader – will know from the Hey Hey 16k song) and Steve Hewitt. Songs included The Battle of Peterborough and (my favourite) Literature Search, as the dinosaurs marched on the little Lincolnshire village of Stamford, in Lincolnshire. Low budget and entertaining.

Steve Pretty also had a looping pedal! Never heard of it before, and now two uses in two days, what are the odds. Steve was also Helen Arney’s snail playing a mini-harmonica yesterday, which is where I heard about his show. What I most remember from Steve’s routine on the history of pop music was not the playing of the first phonograph song on motorcycle helmet, or our stone age jam session, but the comparison that Candiru is to your urethra as Crazy Frog is to your ear, and (when at the Radiophonic Workshop stage) a very clever creation of the Doctor Who theme using the looping pedal and echo effect.

Charlie Talbot was my third act of today at the GRV. I’ve found a number of comedians I’m seeing appear to be around my age, which means it can be quite thoughtful when their act muses about their life, obviously bringing me to compare to my own. After finding he’s being replaced in his own show, Charlie muses on the wide variety of jobs he’s held in his life, from bassist to headhunter; he’s also an AFC Wimbledon fan (woo, down the MK Dons), and has a copy of something by Plato signed by B. B. King, which I was quite impressed by πŸ™‚ Towards the end, he also talked about his depression, in a very open and honest manner, providing thought as well as humour; I thoroughly enjoyed his show.

Down to the Caves for soup and then Eric’s Laws of the Land, in which Eric tells us of things he would like to ban, improve, or change. Thankfully, as a pedant in this arena, this didn’t once mention things that someone thought was a law but isn’t in any way; it was more things like people who buy you a bad Christmas present will be fined the cost of what you actually wanted (including postage).

Over to the Udderbelly for Celebrity Autobiography, in which various people including Mark from Ugly Betty and Norm from Cheers (yeah, I’m sure they have real names too) read excerpts from, umm, celebrity autobiographies. This is of course hilarious, especially Tiger Woods’ guide to putting from How I Play Golf, joint readings from Katie Price and Peter Andre (with Bridget Christie as Katie, hooray), and the telling of Liz Taylor stealing Eddie Fisher from Debbie Reynolds through the varying perspectives of each involved.

I ended the day with some PBH free fringe over at Cabaret Voltaire, with Back to the 80s, a sketch show of many different 80s references, including someone buying Kitt from a used-car salesman, Hannibal Lecter on Blind Date, and ET phoning home to be told off for waking them up.

I’m now becoming a little obsessed with seeing acts’ reviews of themselves/ their audience (and by extension, me as part of that audience). Thankfully, from yesterday Oompah Brass said it was a “great show” (it was), and Helen Arney called us “SUCH a lovely geek-tastic audience” (aww πŸ™‚ ). Today, MJ was “disappointed to find we have now sold A ticket for today’s show” (they got 14 in the end, and were pleased), Steve Pretty called us a “very nice audience“, and Charlie Talbot said “small but great audience“. Go us!

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Robin Ince and the musical Killer Crabs

Today was Robin Ince day, and why not. It began at Canon’s Gait, for his show Carl Sagan is still my god in which he compered a science-based stand-up show, with Helen Keen, John-Luke Roberts, someone I can’t remember the name of, argh!, and Professor Richard Wiseman. All were entertaining and elucidating, as was Robin himself.

Next to the GRV (I’ve clearly been lucky missing all the power cuts) for Robin Ince and Michael Legge with Pointless Anger, Righteous Ire, where they did lots of shouting about things – including those suggested by the audience such as people who are walking in front of you in the street and then stop randomly, and getting annoyed by critics who just write down where they’ve been and what they’ve seen (oh well, sorry Robin, this is more just for my memory than any actual criticism in the sense of the word πŸ™‚ ). It was Michael’s birthday so they handed out whisky to the crowd and we all sang him an angry Happy Birthday. Michael at some points did look like he could do himself a serious internal injury if he keeps us this level of anger, I hope he’ll be okay.

A pause to Robin Ince now, as we head over to the Under- and Udder-bellies, first for the Fitzrovia Radio Hour, a hilarious telling of three wartime radio shows as if we were the radio studio audience – complete with silent cast hatred, low-budget sound effects and frequent adverts for Rose’s Carbolic Soap. I see the Guardian have already written the perfect review with “Just the right mix of fondness and irreverence”, so we’ll go with that.

The Magnets performed their a cappella, accompanied by a human beatbox (Andy Frost), perfectly – no matter how much I looked at the man doing bass and the man doing drums, you kept forgetting it was them producing these sounds and not some off-stage instruments. This was compounded when Andy Frost performed a routine on his own, putting together all the others’ parts and creating more simultaneous sounds than seemed possible from the one mouth.

Robin Ince now asked Why? back at Canon’s Gait, where he had a stack of postcards on topics and was going to ask the audience to choose from them. I say was going to because he didn’t get round to this until the latter stages of the act, which was a tiny bit disappointing as some of the material before then had been the same as in other shows I’d seen today (not to unexpected given the amount Robin is doing, I don’t want to seem churlish, it was still funny!). But there was more than enough new material too, even before the postcards – on banal sex, or a horror theme park ride by Ingrid Bergman, or his son’s sense of wonder.

A quick 30-minute walk across town to the Eric Liddell Centre for what would undoubtedably be the strangest evening of the fringe. Robin Ince has a book out, about his quest through second hand book shops for the Books That Taste Forgot. Firstly, we had some readings from his book itself, but this was followed by readings from Killer Crabs or Night of the Crabs with various musical accompaniments. We had Stewart Lee accompanied by Charlotte Young on spoons, Kevin Eldon accompanied by Josie long on swanee whistle, Helen Arney performing a lovely that-day-written song about the side of killer crabs we don’t think about, plus jazz trumpet from Steve Pretty and tap dancing. Hilarious, mad, wonderful.

Then it was all the way back to town for Frisky and Mannish’s one-off and final showing of The School of Pop. I’ll confess to never hearing of them, but was recommended by friends, and I’m glad they did. From their version of No Scrubs sung by Queen Elizabeth I to explain Tudor foreign policy, to their Kate Nash version of Wuthering Heights, to my favourite, the nursery rhyme version of Sound of the Underground (including Wheels on the Bus, Old Macdonald and Mary had a little lamb), this was some sophisticated and flawlessly performed singing and piano playing. Their medleys were also great – we had one based on Destiny’s Child’s Independent Woman (“Question”) but with questions from just about every pop song with a question in it, one horror-themed one (Total Eclipse of the Heart has never seemed more frightening), one on love, one on leaving at the end (Go now always bringing back memories of Return to the Forbidden Planet). A lovely end to a great day.

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On the 10th day, it got a bit random

After meeting an old friend at Forest Cafe for a catch-up, C was my first port of call for the ASBO Fairy Tales – a Bristol Grammar school production giving us such stories as Snow White and the Seven Dads (going on a King Jeremy Kyle-type show), Jack stealing the hen that lays tobacco after climbing a giant weed plant, and Mouldylocks and the Three Bears, where some faux-hippies squat in the house of the bears. I enjoyed the inventive use of title sequences. Thanks also to mic for leaving a comment on my blog; I stuck my head round the curtain to say hi after the performance πŸ™‚

Philip Talbot had left a comment about his show on 62% Actor (so named as 62% of actors earn under Β£10k a year). He gave a very interesting talk about his life in the theatre, regaling us with tales of how and why he became an actor (partly due to being expelled from school for writing a poem in a maths exam!), about his strict Plymouth Brethren parents coming to see him (they had never been to the theatre before in their lives), or when he understudied at the National, comparing the beer-drinking actors of yesteryear to the more sober ones (at least pre-performance) of today (with a nice Bob Monkhouse anecdote).

My next event was going to be the Garden at Belushi’s, but it didn’t appear to be happening (and I can’t remember who I was hoping to see there), so instead I crossed town to the Gilded Balloon for Baba Brinkman’s rap guide to human nature. I had of course already seen Baba in Rapconteur, so knew what to expect, and was not disappointed by this look at evolutionary psychology, for example how lapdancers get 30% more tips if they’re ovulating, with phat beats provided by his resident producer.

Crossing town again (all this exercise must be good for me) took me to St Mark’s artSpace for Polymnia’s Choral Chillout. They took a short while to get going, but by their section on US traditional songs were well into the swing of things, and I particularly enjoyed Down in the River to Pray. Later songs included Ev’ry Time I Feel the Spirit and Piazzolla’s Tango – Verano PorteΓ±o, both of which I very much enjoyed.

Lastly, I headed over to the Stand for Jo Caulfield. Jo told some very entertaining stories; of mistaken identity, which ended with her being invited to the wedding of someone she didn’t know at all (I think you should go, Jo) and paying for their dinner, or a story for children to teach them about the coming disappointments in life (not in any way autobiographical). Near the end, she told us how she’d been asked to write a column about losing your virginity for an American magazine (because, according to them, the British are the best at romance), and so asked members of the audience where they lost their virginity so she could compile a map. After some normal answers, including Leeds and Luxembourg, one couple both answered London and confessed it was with each other. Jo thought this was sweet, but then noticed two girls sat further down the same row looking rather embarrassed, and correctly inferred that these were their children, who had sat away from their parents so as not to be embarrassed by them. In this, they had certainly failed! A similar thing happened when another man said he’d lost his virginity in a hotel – Jo wondered aloud why someone would get a hotel especially for losing their virginity and he replied: it had been his honeymoon…

In all, a very random but entertaining day. Tomorrow, I’m moving house, so we’ll have to see what we can fit in.

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Three shows in 3D

Washing done, house move successfully accomplished, yummy lunch at Ooud successfully eaten, I only made it in to town late afternoon. After a brief look at the Fair Trade on the Fringe, Pleasance Baby Grand was my destination for Mould and Arrowsmith in 3D (buying my ticket over the phone whilst stood in the rather long queue – grr, weekends). This was loud and proud in its geekiness – from its boot up screen being unable to find actual jokes to its adventure story using Steve Jobs to save the world from the virus-infected 3D network-infected avatars of themselves. We had actual 3D glasses which worked very well; I even had the odd effect afterwards that my eye that had the red lens was tinged blue, and the blue lens was red-tinged for a few minutes afterwards – isn’t your brain compensation clever. I muchly enjoyed their version of the Crystal Maze, Arrowsmith’s longest line optical illusion, and the Poirot section using more tongue twisters than that Pinky and the Brain sketch (you know, that one).

Legend was on straight afterwards at C, a “brand new Greek legend” that followed Demophon, son of Theseus, in a world where all the monsters have been killed and he’s shipwrecked on an island. The Prologue and Chorus were inventive, arguing with each other and being responsible for scenery moving (and being in the right place at the right time), the story felt appropriately mythic, and the whole affair was quite winsome, deserving more than the six of us watching.

In fact, I came back an hour later for Obstacle Company’s other production, Pulse, a story about the possible last day on earth with an asteroid on an impact course. This was very different to the other play, obviously, and followed what a group of “normal” people might do in such a situation, latterly including a car crash victim with short-term memory loss. It was, quite sadly, easily realistic in a number of ways, and I left wondering what would happen to each of the characters.

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Ups and Downs

Approaching midway through the fringe, with the initial adrenaline finally starting to ebb away, today probably wasn’t the best day to pick to see some emotionally charged material. Nevertheless, the day began with Ups and Downs, a play set in the afterlife’s waiting room, with some newly deceased people having to deal with the secretary, caseworker and Holy Ghost deciding on their destination (he deals with the easy ones before passing others on to the other two) – or is it that you make your own decision? Are your actions enough, or is it the thought behind those actions? An interesting take on the issues, especially in the case of the teenage suicide.

Chandrika Chevli was run over by a taxi 40 hours before she was to begin her 2009 Fringe show. In this packed show at the Royal Mile Tavern, she took us through what she was like before the accident and what happened afterwards (in the immediate aftermath, pieced together from others as she has no memory of that time) with her recovery. It’s truly amazing what our bodies and brains can do and cope with, and how they do so, and this was clearly present in her humourous and sometimes emotional talk.

Spot of queuing for some tickets was followed by Keepers, a play about two lighthouse keepers on the Smalls, off the coast of Wales. It had very interesting musical accompaniment, including a headless clarinet to produce a very convincing sound of waves, and lovely uses of mime/sound to convey the feeling of the lighthouse; I left feeling quite alone in a large crowd (read Lyn Gardner’s review for more).

Nick Mohammed is Mr Swallow was a large contrast; remembering an entire pack of cards and someone’s mobile phone number (come on audience, don’t sit on the front row if you don’t want to get involved, and how hard is it to make up 9 numbers if you don’t want to actually give your number?!) amongst a quite annoying catchphrase and some very funny interplay (the violin playing was hilarious). This was soon after followed by Pappy’s, a sketch show with three blokes. I think I’ve decided I’m not a great fan of sketch shows; don’t get me wrong, this was very funny, especially the running Justin Bieber joke, but I just didn’t enjoy it tremendously.

Last act of the day, and it was a cracker, was Smoke and Mirrors at the Famous Spiegeltent (which, it turned out, was not the same tent my friend Susie had acted in in Beauty and the Beast in Oxford last winter). Classic circus cabaret, from tap-dancer vaudeville to magicians turning doves into ducks to the bearded chanteuse, all accompanied by a very accomplished four-piece band and all effortlessly held together by the compere (who must have made a cracking Hedwig). I left with a palpable sense of wonder – it had been a rollercoaster of a day.

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Memoirs of the Apocalypse

Floor, Wall, and Chimney look out of the window

Memoirs of a Biscuit Tin was excellent, if the saddest thing I have seen on the Fringe (or in fact since Up). A story of parts of a house – Wall, Floor, Chimney – investigating the disappearance of their owner, Rosie Benjamin. They visit her past through ingenious use of props – if I say a hatstand plays the same role as Ellie in Up, and that I’ll never look at drinking from a bottle of milk in the same way again, you might begin to get the idea – and slowly piece together what has happened. A tale of loneliness and remembering.

The matinee showing of Barbershopera had a tough job on its hands following that, and thankfully it did so, with a madcap story of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (well, three plus Beth the primary school teacher after a naming mix-up) not really wanting to carry it out and trying to fix things up instead. Some excellent singing, and their ire at ineffective hand-driers is well directed.

Slipping back to the 12th century, Hildegard of Bingen and the Living Light told a story of the nun Hildegard of Bingen, interspersed with songs on period instruments that she had composed. She communicated with popes, lectured, founded her own monastery and wrote theological texts. Oblique reference was made to how her vision could possibly have been a symptom of migraines, and this was an interesting look at what has changed (or not) in the past 900 years.

Home for tea (first time I’ve done that this Fringe), then back out (sans bag and therefore umbrella, which obviously I came to regret) and to the present day for Frisky and Mannish: The College Years. The sequel to School of Pop that I saw on Thursday, this was a very welcome more of the same, including highlights such as Come on Eileen for Blood Brothers, Creep as a dance track, Saturday Night as a ballad. Polished until it gleamed.

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This will be the title of a blog post

Where is the blog post on yesterday’s events? Hopefully, in a moment, Matthew Somerville will be writing something about what he got up to yesterday, unless he’s given up or forgotten. In his blog post, which I’m sure will be erudite and full of whimsy, he’ll first talk about Tom Williams’ Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury, wherein Tom told Matthew and others a character comedy about a murder trial based around people such as the court painter, and the lawyers (the defence lawyer was fed up of being a maverick and just wanted to stick to the rules – in fact, he mused, wouldn’t being the maverick that stuck to the rules really be the true maverick?).

You’re probably beginning to realise that someone has started writing this blog post, and it’s not Matthew Somerville. This Not Matthew Somerville will just come along, take the spotlight of Matthew’s blog, and begin to write about the events Matthew got up to the previous day, starting with Tom Williams and moving on to Nicki Hobday, a delightfully self-referential show which started with an empty stage with voiceover asking about this empty stage, progressed through what makes good theatre and some lovely talking hatstands, and ended with – well, Matthew wouldn’t want me to spoil it but let’s just say it involved giant balloons and then change the subject dramatically, pretending none of the above ever happened.

I next went to see Stewart Lee. Continuing my audience paranoia theme, I want to go back now to see if how one joke was received truly was the worst it had been so far, or if that was actually part of the act – sometimes, it can be pretty hard to tell. Ah no, it was us, we were weirdly quiet. Anyway, I laughed lots (especially at running jokes, I do so like them); perhaps I need to work on a more throaty louder laugh.

Quick dash across to the Dome (I’d pay either to relocate the Stand lock stock and barrel to Bristo Square somewhere, or to have a new bridge put in going across, otherwise it’s up, then down, then up, then up, then down) for Pete Firman and his magic. Some classic good magic with twists, teleporting a Β£20 note into a cupcake or predicting a card chosen randomly from an imaginary deck, combined with some nod-and-wink “magic” including a predictive bag with an audience-but-not-volunteer-visible window and a hovering ball powered by obvious plugged-in air blower. Great fun.

One Man Lord of the Rings does exactly what it says on the tin, and how so. Reminding me at a number of times of Peter Serafinowicz, this contained very impressive, umm, impressions, a few knowing asides, and did indeed contain the plot of the entire trilogy (as told through the films) in an hour, including soundtrack.

Lastly for the day, Norman Lovett took us on a charming ramble through the contents of his bag, which included loo roll tubes, empty plastic bags, some cycling gloves, a small claw thing from Maplin and more, accompanied by digressions about the Sugababes (I don’t think they are the Sugababes any more, Norman, not now they have no original members) or Manchester (hooray). He also dealt very well with the noise coming from upstairs, so that was, as he pointed out, actually helpful to his show. A very different pace from most comics I have seen, but just as welcome.

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I saw a man who wrote a book, and other things – let’s take a look

The first thing that I saw today,
Green Eggs and Hamlet was okay,
it was the plot of Hamlet, though
in rhyming couplets – quite a show.

Then next came Kevin Eldon‘s act,
Titting About as point of fact,
Some very witty repartee,
Mention of owl and stuck CD,
A part in French that was most awesome,
Not to mention all the poem(s).

The hum’rous tale by Jess’ca Ransom,
Played she parts all very handsome,
Give away a million pound(s),
“To whom” she asked, and seeked, and found,
From dog lido to Geordie hunter,
Harborne pub to biscuit dunker.
(Her opening music I did ask,
was Buble’s River, she unmasked.)

Last of the day was Stewart Lee,
launching his book for all to rea(d),
With special guests, you understand,
like Eldon and Franz Ferdinand,
Rich Herring heckled, climbed the stage,
Was it all planned, or fake outrage?
Frank Chicken even made the bill,
(go vote for them); was all quite brill.

I say this post has been absurd,
It is shorter in count of word,
But it did take so long to do,
I think I now do need the loo.

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Victorian dictator obsession

Read all about it! Read all about it! Man can’t be bothered to write another blog post in the style of a show he’s seen! Thunderer gave us an exaggerated glimpse into a Victorian newspaper – modern enough to employ a Lady – and told a few humourous tales, a gentle introduction to the day.

Tiffany Stevenson’s show was about dictators, from Mugabe to OK! Magazine (death count of 62 memorial issues, including one before the subject had died) to her mum, who still tries to dictate her life (thinks she’s not responsible enough to have a pet but keeps asking when she’ll be having children). Particular ire was reserved (deservedly in my opinion) for OK! Magazine, and it is much to her credit (and Bumble the cat) that the show remained light and funny given the potentially sombre information included (more on Hitler and Mugabe than OK! Magazine there). I’m pleased to report that we also performed well: “Lovely show today! Had a great crowd in.”

Obsession was a two person show talking about, unsurprisingly, people’s Obsessions, whether that was Gemma’s OCD regarding taking OCD tests or avoiding people named Simon, or David’s with The Artist Formerly Known As Prince. We also got given free chocolate, which always goes down well.

Lastly, the polished (if injured) Chris Addison gave a very middle class hour of comedy, as he said himself, starting with the story of his very middle class injury of jumping down the stairs too far a few days ago whilst trying to catch the Sainsbury’s delivery man. One section I particularly enjoyed began after talking about the miracle of wireless (it really is), with the annoyance of Google’s auto-correct or suggest feature, moved through talking about poor website form usability (none of mine would behave like that!), finishing with discussion on Amazon’s scary recommendation features. A geeky slice within a comedy pie.

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Wasabi Peas shot my Doctor Who scotch egg one Midsummer Night

The Pantry Shelf began with a very excitable pot of wasabi peas watching TV adverts from the cupboard, including her own. From there, we learnt about the personalities of the food inhabiting our shelves, and the upset caused by the introduction of an apparently healthy new quinoa/date/bark bar called Queenie. A light satire on multinationals and branding, but mostly a story about wanting to be loved, with some lovely acting and costumes – especially the wasabi peas.

I got hit with a scotch egg twice in the Boom Jennies: We Want Action – the first time when a character was tempted by it and threw it away, bouncing off my leg back onto stage, and then the second when someone later tried to kick it off stage, it hit my shoe and rebounded straight back (sorry). They’re made of tough stuff, those eggs! Anyway, this was a lovely hour of character comedy set around the Union Campaigning on Ocean Conservation with its hard-hitting leafleting campaigns, or graffiting the wrong person’s house, and the dynamics changed by a new arrival.

Being handed a gun at the start of Holly Burn‘s show, it was quite distressing to find myself killing the act within the first couple of minutes. Holly seemed to take this in her stride, however, proceeding with an hour of surreal delight including Jason the Very Rich Tiger, Custard Flanagan and his cultivation of doubt, and some great American Beauty interludes with felt-tip pens. I can see how some people might not like this style of comedy (far be it from me to say they’re too boring), but I certainly did, a madcap hour of brilliance.

Midsummer Night’s Madness was perhaps one of the best versions of Dream I’ve seen. Drawing parallels between the fairies (invisibles) and kids that might have been given up on by the System, this was Shakespeare made brilliantly accessible through hip-hop, song, and dance. Moving the Mechanicals to being those jobs that are often ignored or despised, such as traffic wardens, was inspired, Puck was a controlled bundle of energy, and everything was perfectly realised.

Whilst waiting for friends to see Helen Arney (yay), I popped into Yianni Agisilaou’s guide to the universe who took us on a trip from the start of the universe and the speed we’re moving through it down to sub-atomic particles and the LHC’s experiments. This was a nice gentle set up for Toby Hadoke and his love affair with Doctor Who, how it’s really not that different from football (except it got you bullied at school), how their episode titles are so well devised, how he obviously does know everything about the subject and how it’s affected his relationship with his son. A very funny and heartwarming tale for anyone, Doctor Who fan or no.

Moving house again tomorrow, and wondering whether to have the whole day off – if I do, do I count it in my average or no? I guess I probably still should…

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Solo Cello

Moving house again, late lunch and cake at Falko the Konditormeister, and tea with family meant the only thing I saw today was Red Cello Electrified, in which South African Carol Thorns plays an electric cello whilst images of South Africa play out behind her. The music brought to mind Einaudi, if he decided to go into electronica cello, and I found myself mesmerised by the shadow cast on the projection by the playing.

I was in fact planning to go to FaurΓ©’s Requiem after this finished, but the thought of waiting for the last bus and having to make up the bed having not done it earlier meant I instead decided to come home for a relatively early night, wondering whether to try and do something silly tomorrow or not.

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Twelve hours from this moment, Matthew will be at his least pleasurable Fringe experience so far. Three and a half hours ago, he was shivering at a bus stop, stifling a yawn and hoping that he’d read the bus timetable correctly for a Sunday. In under one hour, he will be at one of the best productions of the Fringe, if not beyond. But at this moment, this exact moment, he hears his name called from the box office and basks in the glow of realisation that getting up at 6am and standing in a queue for two hours to secure a return ticket to Daniel Kitson’s It’s Always Right Now, Until It’s Later had all been worth it, and that you really make your own luck.

I won’t bother repeating what critics all over have been saying about this production; it was magical. I loved the staging of hanging light bulbs, the masterful storytelling such as alliteration littering the linguistics (yeah, I won’t bother trying) – everything about it was just about perfect.

Moving on to another one-person show, this time Rosie Wyatt in Bunny, playing an eighteen year old with middle-class background (Guardian parents, applying to university, plays clarinet in orchestra) and real self-esteem issues, as we travel with her (and ink moving backdrops) from leaving school, meeting her boyfriend, to being caught up in a hunt for a kid to beat up. Confident and supremely fragile in equal measure, this was a great performance with no happy ending (or final ending at all).

First taxi of the fringe (was with less organised friends πŸ˜‰ ) to get to the Stand for Simon Munnery, an hour of top comedy beginning with a French restaurant section where there’s no food in any of the dishes on the menu, breaking for an advert for an oar-lock watch, before coming up with stand up on such topics as Icarus and Sisyphus, or tracking down his great-uncle in shadowy Marylebone (not Paddington!) pubs.

I will remember Vanishing Horizon most for its very inventive stagecraft and use of props – never have so many suitcases seen so many uses – backed up by an intriguing story of someone travelling to South Africa to pick up their grandmother’s ashes, intermingled with vignettes from the history of women in flight – everyone needs to learn to fly in their own way.

Emo Philips doesn’t really need much saying – from his Best Religious Joke Of All Time to watching Avatar, and playing chess with old men in the park (you can work that one out yourself), this was a hilarious hour of comedy.

My last act of the day was another in which I seemed to fail to get at all an act others seemed to enjoy (although I did notice other stony faces sat opposite). Bo Burnham was my 94th Fringe show, and I think this means that I can safely say there were a number of jokes I had already heard (and I don’t think they had been stolen from Bo). His haikus – apart from one which I think might fit in the above “already heard” category – weren’t (and why bother explaining what one is if you’re just going to read something that happens to be seventeen syllables but doesn’t even bother to fit the line metre?), his piano playing was sloppy (frequent mishits of the bass), his raps were put to shame by Baba Brinkman, and I haven’t even got on to the misogyny (and if it was meant to be ironic or self-aware, it failed) – this was actually the first show of all 94 in which this appeared to be present. The best bit was when he quoted Hamlet – so thanks, Shakespeare. It’s sold out, so you can’t go anyway.

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Twenty days, one hundred shows

This day approached a milestone at its end, my one hundredth show of the Fringe. But before that I had tickets for five other things, first of which was the Aspidistras’ Secret Breakfast Gig. Coffee and croissant included in the fiver, this was a lovely way to start the day, with sketches ranging from teaching us how to spell aspidistra, to one about an aspidistra competition. They weren’t all aspidistra based by any means, with a song on whether you want to be Steve Tyler or just be with him, and some twisted Australian kids TV (though not as twisted as Round The Twist was, remember that?), finishing with a rousing song about the Fringe to set us on our way.

Next was Two Brothers and One World Cup, a play about sibling rivalry, hatred and rapprochement based around events during the last eight world cups. The audience got to pick in which order the world cup stories were told, and the one we settled on appeared to make quite a lot of sense as a narrative, with both flashback and flashforward. I wonder how it feels played totally backwards chronologically.

Eric’s Tales of the Sea was described by Stewart Lee as ‘what the stage was invented for’ and you couldn’t think of a much better setting than Just The Wee Room at The Caves, with its curved roof, damp, and dark. I don’t think I could ever live on a submarine – I even got a bit antsy just hearing about decompression sickness – and these stories from an ex-submariner were tense, emotional, and yet also very humourous.

Colin Hoult (and supporting musicians, who were great) gave us a number of interesting and funny characters, including the dad trying to get his son to tell him what he wants for Christmas, the bullied schoolboy/shelf-stacker/old man, and the ex-army guy trying to write a screenplay. By the end, he had four members of the audience on their knees, chanting “pigs in blankets” – you had to be there.

Using the power of Twitter via Josie Long (thanks!), I gave away my spare ticket for Claudia O’Doherty’s Monster of the Deep 3D, which was a delightful hour of comedy about the last survivor of an underwater habitat, Aquaplex, built by various world powers back in the 1970s as a beginning to possible future human habitation, and which exploded 30 years later. Done in the style of a presentation by this last member, this included some amazing props (including one for each member of the audience at the end to use to see the reenactment of the last night of Aquaplex).

My hundredth gig, then, after a rather tasty wrap from those people who won that award for their other wrap (yeah, those ones), was Susan Calman, with Constantly Seeking Susan. Neither a Glasweigan, Radio 4 listener, or a lesbian (the three audiences Susan is normally known to, and she suggested she should get funding for bringing these people together), I was still thoroughly entertained. Reading us the rather depressing obituary for herself she’d written, and with memories of dying before (in Paisley) she then went on to discuss various aspects of this and how she would like to be remembered after she’s gone. Ferero Rocher, feminism, sleeping with people with the same name as your parents, everything was covered in this warm and funny hour.

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Ovid’s Metamorphoses set the famous stories in the second world war. This was inspired in a number of places, including sirens replacing Sirens, Narcissus/Echo as silent film star and cinema usherette, or Daedalus being a war planner and Icarus an RAF pilot. There were some very inventive use of flats and costume, and my only disappointment was the very ending which seemed a bit tacked on. Overall, a really great retelling of the myths with excellent acting, music, and staging.

Odyssey was a one man production placed under “dance and physical theatre” in the Fringe programme. I don’t really understand the latter half of this category – sure, this had lots of physical actions, but was basically some lovely storytelling, summing up the whole thing (apart from the very ending, which I have on good authority is a bit bobbins and of possible non-Homeric origin) in just over an hour, with appropriate actions for each character, and for describing what was happening. (I’d have just put it under theatre, personally.)

Caroline Mabey told us about breakfast, the evil meal of the day trying to oust all the other meals (and with an aside of the confusion of the Dinner raincloud, much appreciated by us northerners). I was made toastmaster (though I failed), many, many lettuce were read out, and a good time (and bad puns) was had by all.

When in Rome was completely, as billed, Glee in togas. The music choices seemed a little odd in places, but they were all performed with gusto, although the band did drown out the voices during the loud numbers – luckily we were sat near the front. Classicists beginning to get annoyed at the reference to Christianity in the time of Augustus were dealt with a couple of sentences later, by the slave character who seemed to be slightly aware of the world he was in. I particularly liked the activity going on in the background of various scenes, which was clearly well thought out and executed.

In contrast, Persephone: The Musical had the smallest audience yet, showing yet again as Stewart Lee has said, people want what they’re familiar with over what they might not be. It was just as, if not more, enjoyable, with excellent singing and music, telling the story of Hades, Persephone, Demeter – and a guy named Trip who I didn’t recall from the myth. I can see why a musical needs a hero character more readily than a Mount Olympus conference telling Hades to stop it, but why name him Trip? Anyway, the music brought to mind Einaudi in places, and was played by the composer on stage, and all the singers brought appropriate energy to their parts; this certainly deserved to be seen by more people.

Lastly, we had Richard Herring – Christ on a Bike: The Second Coming. My first moment of the fringe where I was about to beg someone to stop as I was passing out from being unable to breath due to laughing, the only problem with that happening being the rest of the set afterwards seems somewhat of a disappointment by comparison (it wasn’t). Excellent (well, from Richard’s point of view on his blog, “satisfactory” πŸ˜‰ ).

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Cancelled Shakespeare for Clarance House

The day started out well, with Shakespeare for Breakfast providing a comedy version of King Lear with a happy ending (don’t want to start the day feeling depressed, now, do we). Through the medium of TV shows such as Who Wants to be a Million-heir, Jeremy Kyle, or Britain is Valiant, the story of Lear was told with musical numbers, good acting and free croissant.

Next up was meant to be Mythos, but it was cancelled (dunno why). So instead, Sarah Bennetto tickets were purchased at short notice and I’m glad they were, as we were taken on a lovely journey of one woman’s trip to a party. At Clarence House. At the invitation of Prince Charles. In polyester. I wish I’d seen the Soundtrack Channel when it was around, and not just because Sarah would probably have been as engaging as a disembodied head in the corner talking about people’s texts (except the death threats and marriage proposals) as she was with us.

Ava Vidal was next but she too was cancelled due to illness (looks like she went to hospital with a bad eye according to Twitter – hope it’s better!). So giving up, meandered slowly to the Pleasance for Hamlet, the Musical. This was a slick production – though at the start there were just a couple of moments where the singing and live band felt slightly out of joint, but it was very minor – with classic Musical songs, some nice use of props and a faithful rendition of the plot well-acted by the versatile cast.

Got chatting to Helen Keen and Miriam Underhill, who were flyering outside the Gilded Balloon – what lovely people they are. Go and see their show, I’ve already done so (woah, two and a half weeks ago now). They will be thrilled to learn, should they find and read this (might happen), that the acts in the final of So You Think You’re Funny did not tell a single rape joke, or in fact any nasty jokes at all. Hooray! In fact, the first half was really good (one telling lots of puns Tim Vine style, which of course I like), although I think the one woman in the final should have stuck to non-“I’m a woman, let’s try and make a joke about my pubic hair” material; the second half was less good in my opinion; then Rufus Hound keeping us entertained whilst the judges deliberated was pretty awful (he was good up until then as a compere, and had a section on religion that was good, but was mostly just bad talk about the differences between men and women – go and see Baba Brinkman, Rufus); and then the judges awarded the act I’d liked pretty much the least. But I seem to be having that effect with comedy awards, so let’s just say awards and I have differing opinions. I think mine are funnier.

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Wolves at the Gilded Balloon

Wolf was interactive theatre in the Caves, looking at the reintroduction of wolves into the wild, along with how we envisage wolves in popular culture and fairy tales. We stood throughout, the excellent cast weaving amongst us, sniffing, rubbing, investigating, as we were taken through various scenes of wolf activity, questioning how and whether we can live together. Special thanks to the lady in the audience who moved the red scarf from her to her boyfriend, sacrificing him to the wolves instead of herself; and happy birthday to the cast member who I met in the queue for Sadie Hasler what feels like a lifetime ago. Here’s a better written review.

An Hour of Telly: Live took us on a whirlwind sketch tour of TV shows and adverts with a twist, ably performed by two people, one of whom I’d seen singing in Colin Hoult’s show.

Pluck are a musical trio of violin, viola, and cello, who don’t appear to get on very well. This leads to some excellent playing under unusual circumstances, such as an upside-down cello, a violin being set on fire, or a fight over who gets to sit on the chair. I especially enjoyed when the cello player fell in love with the person sat next to me, and came over to serenade him, much to the chagrin of her two fellow players. Balero has never seemed so full of passion.

The Bruce Collective was another show in my time here that deserved a far bigger audience than it had – although as this was an improv show, it meant we all could certainly feel individually involved, and my choice of fear of the number 13 and my umbrella were both incorporated with excellent effect by Mike Wozniak, Jarred Christmas, Simon Young, Chris Harvey John, with Benny Davis of the Axis of Awesome providing music (getting thorougly annoyed every time the Space Sponge was mentioned and he had to flip settings to do the dramatic chord πŸ˜‰ ). Pete Simmonds (the DJ from Baba Brinkman’s show) had his name used as the hero of our tale, and a wonderful time was had by all.

This was followed (after bumping into Helen Keen again – hello!) by the Axis of Awesome themselves. Everyone knows the Four Chords song, and this was preceded by other songs such as Can you hear the fucking music coming out of my car; I’m not trying to touch your ass, I’m just trying to put my seatbelt on; and songs about lasers or boybands. Accompanied by jokes and chat, this was, of course, awesome.

The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre was slightly annoying to me, not because of the act which was great, but due to one particularly drunk person in the audience (it was only 9pm!) who was laughing at every line, funny or not. I normally don’t let this bother me, but their laugh was very annoying. Anyway, ignoring that, we had sock puppets singing songs, performing period dramas, and making lots of bad puns on TV show titles with members of the royal family. It was easy to forget these two socks were being operated by one man hidden away behind the Punch-and-Judy style theatre front.

The Boy with Tape on his Face deserves all its accolades, and reminded me how much I love the AmΓ©lie soundtrack, which was used extensively throughout. From getting members of the audience to (eventually – I’m sure I’d be just as bad, but come on people, just do what he does) mime Blame it on the Boogie, re-enact a snow globe, or getting everyone to sing along to Enigma’s Return To Innocence (I cheated by actually knowing how it goes), this was amazing.

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The Wilds of the North … of Princes Street

Much of my day today was spent down past Leith Street, in a hitherto unexplored section of the city. First up was the History of Britain at Greenside, from the Roman invasion to the present day – in slightly different settings, such as Alfred the Great’s fight against the Danish as a wrestling match, King Arthur as a game show, or 1066 as a job interview. A satisfying romp through the ages.

The Really Terrible Orchestra, set up by Alexander McCall Smith and with him on baritone sax and giving a short speech in the middle, then played in St Mary’s Cathedral to a capacity crowd. Their renditions of pieces such as Carnival of the Animals or The Bartered Bride truly had to be heard, and it is to their credit that there were only a couple of places where I felt nervous for the piece running away from them. (Interestingly, I spotted someone else also conducting amongst the brass section, I wonder what that was for?) I don’t expect many people will ever see the head of the Catholic church in Scotland, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, singing The Hippopotamus Song from the pulpit!

Four Women of the Apocalypse at Walkabout was actually one woman, Roisin Rae, playing four parts. Telling a humourous story where the world has ended and only these four women have apparently survived, it followed how they were all in their own way coping, from anthropomorphizing hair straighteners (and stealing the radio battery to use them) to keeping pet cockroaches. Sadly for them, it looks like the human race might not survive much longer, as their encounter with a surviving man ends in disaster.

Picture by Spinneyhead (CC BY-NC-SA)

Now a diversion back to my normal haunts, firstly for Toby Hadoke’s Now I Know My BBC, wherein Toby tells us how he met his wife thickly disguised as how the BBC has always been there for him and others, and what it does for us all. Learning disappointment early on when your pictures aren’t shown in Tony Hart’s Gallery, explaining old TV shows by comparing them all to Hollyoaks, how Grange Hill taught as well as entertained, this was a funny and heartfelt look back at TV of yesteryear combined with a heartfelt polemic on behalf of the BBC. From a quick Google, I am also surprised to learn Toby was partly responsible for Lemn Sissay’s giant poem on the side of Hardy’s Well in Manchester!

John-Luke Roberts Distracts You From A Murder contained a large array of audience insults, a wonderful joke about starfish, a lovely public information film about a sexually transmitted disease, and included, amongst others, the punchlines “it disrupts the tides” and “you know, context”. It absolutely did not contain a murder that I could see, as I obviously did as I was told and ignored any screams I could hear coming from the wings.

Lastly, back up north at New Town Theatre, Barockestra did exactly what it said on the tin, performing rock versions of various pieces of classical music, vaguely in chronological order (though there was some Tchaikovsky inbetween baroque and classical that wasn’t even commented on). Two opera singers and four ballerinas completed the group, and they added to the slightly surreal air, being the vaguely straight people to the rock going on around them. There were a few basic typos in the background text telling us about each piece of music, and Queen of the Night could have done with being a tone lower, but that’s a tiny moan and did not detract from the great music on display (especially the Flight of the Bumblebee solo) and the engaging way it was performed.

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Penultimate Day, to Tim Minchin from the KKK

It’s very pleasing, and obviously a sign of the quality round this here festival, that even on my penultimate day I see some absolutely cracking shows. First up was Sex, Lies, and the KKK at the Caves, which is definitely straight up there amongst the really good stand-ups I’ve seen (and I’ve seen quite a few). From talking about his live radio interview with a member of the Ku Klux Klan the night of the 2008 US presidential election (trying to give him enough rope to lynch himself), to wondering why the condom company is called Trojan (once it gets in, it bursts open and lots of little men jump out and run amok?!), this was some very intelligent and thoughtful spiel on prejudice, happiness, and the freedom of love (sorry, I realise that’s a rubbish overview, but I can’t do it justice in words at this time – perhaps there will be a transcript somewhere, I’d certainly like it); a delightful hour.

Cirque de Legume was rather different, but still quite enjoyable, involving such scenes as a stripping onion, chair slapstick, or a barking lettuce after a carrot. The two performers were very adept at emoting, barely using any words bar their well-worn catchphrase, yet carrying currents of underlying subtexts behind the vegetable-based fun. [Insert your own pretentious statements about the role of clowns in society here, I’m a bit tired, can you tell?]

In part due to my feeling a little sorry for the tiny audience for The Bruce Collective, but also because it sounded quite good, I next went to Mike Wozniak and Henry Paker in The Golden Lizard. This was a hilarious romp with librarians (well, one librarian, one alphabetiser as he keeps failing the librarianship exam due to his fear of ladders), scientists (things would be much simpler with only five numbers, yes), and a brilliant way of getting a dead body off stage. That’s before I mention the giant goose, the five states of matter, or the body swapping by the evil mastermind. Chock full of humour.

Given I’ve been to a number of shows in the PBH Free Fringe, I thought I should better pop along to the man himself, Peter Buckley Hill at Canon’s Gait with Under the Stars. A song making us feel sorry for the lonely universe was the main reference to the title, the rest being some gentle stand-up, a bit too much innuendo for my tastes, ending with a song requested by a member of the audience that was nothing more than a pun on her peas = herpes. Oh well.

I have seen some cracking shows at the Gilded Balloon – my pointless graph tells me 14 in fact, from Helen Keen (who I bumped into again today, this time on Nicholson Street so it really is just fate) to Morgan and West, Baba Brinkman to Claudia O’Doherty, Pluck to the Boy with Tape on his Face. Tonight was the third and last night of their 25th anniversary celebration, with Phil Jupitus, Stephen Frost, Sean Hughes and Tim Minchin. I’ll gloss over the first three as whilst they were fine, Tim Minchin was of course in a league of his own, whether it be singing about the pope, the placement of the soul, or monologues on the posters strewn over Edinburgh.

So tomorrow is my final day. I’ll be home in the evening packing and actually seeing the people I’ve been staying with rather than the usual get up after they’ve gone to work, back after they’ve gone to bed, before heading back to Birmingham on the Tuesday. I suppose I should start thinking about how to wrap all this up!

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The final day

The final day of the fringe, and my final day in Edinburgh. <sob>

I started off at the Gilded Balloon (which I’ve been leaning to more frequently towards the end – 10 of the 16 times I’ve been here have been in the past 5 days) with Girl Constantly F***ing Interrupted, Caroline Peachey’s one-woman show about trying to coming to terms with the murder of her mother (in both character and, from reading the flyer we were given before the show, in real life). The character, Faith, has multiple personality disorder, and over the hour we see some of the inner and outward struggles someone in such a horrible situation is going through, but ultimately ending with hope for the future and the realisation that perhaps life is simply what you make of it.

Another one-woman quasi-autobiographical, yet quite different, production followed, with Long Live the King at the Assembly George Street. This told the story of Ansuya Nathan’s parents (though I did not realise this at the time), of their move to Australia when pregnant with her on the same day as Elvis Presley died. A very moving tale of integration and upheaval, with some excellent Elvis impressions and poignantly relevant soundtrack.

Lastly, was Bec Hill, who Didn’t Want To Play Your Stupid Game Anyway – her flyering of the Gilded Balloon 25th anniversary queue the night before paid off! From a marvellous advert for tampons (I really pity marketing executives who came up with the “jokes” we were told about) to what must be one of the best puns of the fringe based around a rule of grammer (okay, one of the best puns of the fringe at all), accompanied by lovely use of an A2 pad (always a winner in my book), this was a lovely show with which to finish my Edinburgh Fringe, on the theme of encroaching adulthood and extolling us not to forget our inner child – and given I’ve just spent a month doing basically nothing but that, I heartily concur πŸ˜‰

And so all good things must come to an end. I’ve seen 136 shows in 27 days, which I’m not sure is any sort of record, but certainly seems like quite a lot to me – and I’ve always managed to get home by midnight apart from on the Frisky and Mannish School of Pop night πŸ™‚ I’ve written, if not reviews, then summaries of all I’ve seen, mostly so that in the time to come I can actually remember what I did see, and I hope it’s been of interest to some people out there. This has been an extraordinary month, one I feel very lucky to have been able to do, and in customary end of show fashion, I wish to thank everyone involved with any part of the fringe – it’s all been completely marvellous and wonderful, without hiccup. Special mention must go to my sister and a friend for putting me up for the last four weeks, even if they hardly saw me; Helen Keen and Miriam Underhill who I bumped into yet again, were incredibly lovely, and shared a congratulatory end-of-fringe drink; and Twitter, without which my time up here would have been much more lonely, and I wouldn’t have got tickets for Tim Minchin.

If anyone has any questions or comments, please feel free to write below; I’m off back to Birmingham on the 10am train in the morning, when I imagine it’ll be some time before things seem normal again.

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International and interplanetary intrigues

The first thing to do this year at the Fringe proper was to pick up the mound of preordered tickets from the main box office. This accomplished, the Bedlam was our destination for Belleville Rendez-vous. I’d been to Bedlam last year, but in the main theatre had obviously never looked up and seen the immense space and gothic window above the stage lights. Anyway, the stage captured the film pretty much perfectly, from the excellently realised dog barking at passing trains to the ingenious method for catching frogs or the rolling waves of the Atlantic.

Meadowbank Sports Centre was home to the international Edinburgh vs Stuttgart Roller Derby match. Edinburgh led narrowly throughout the first half, but lost the lead shortly in the second half, and from then on it was a closely fought back-and-forth between the two teams. With two points between them going into the final jam, Edinburgh managed to claim just one more, thereby losing by the narrowest of margins. A great game, and Juicy Lucy made some excellent points in her final bout for Edinburgh.

The bout finished in time for us to catch M J Hibbett and Steve Hewitt in Moon Horse vs the Mars Men of Jupiter. I saw Dinosaur Planet last year, and this more than matched that for laughs and high production values; it’s an important story that needed to be told, about the man, horse (and robot) keeping us safe from threats from other worlds.

The last event of the day was Evelyn Evelyn at the new Assembly George Square. Very accomplished piano and accordion playing, with harmonious tunes and humourous lyrics, but I didn’t really see the need for the concept itself. The bits that weren’t songs just seemed to get in the way of the music slightly; the slight audience participation wasn’t that interesting, though shadow puppetry is always nice. If Amanda and Jason want to duet together, they should just do so, it’d be just as good, doing all the same songs and fitting in more.

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Today I attended and spoke at the Edgelands conference organised by the lovely Andy Field and Hannah Nicklin. I spoke about archives, silos, and open data, with particular reference to GeoCities, the Edinburgh Fringe, and the Birmingham Rep archive on the AHDS – or rather, only on Theatricalia (which now also has all the Fringe productions from 2010 and 2008). There are audio recordings of the talks on AudioBoo, and I was being filmed (eek) so I guess that’ll be appearing somewhere at some point.

Rachel Coldicutt spoke before me, and she’s written up her talk and subsequent discussion. I felt my provocation wasn’t that provocative, but as people don’t seem to know or learn from what has happened, it’s always worth banging the drum for innovation that doesn’t have to be particularly innovative πŸ™‚ My subsequent discussion ranged from personal backups to curation and is all this potential process getting in the way. I guess the overarching point I’d like remembered is that it’s about informed decision making, knowing the risks and rewards for e.g. putting your video on YouTube, and thinking about the future, and how open data and collaboration can potentially help.

I was rather nervous beforehand, as it’s a very different audience to one I’d be more used to, but I think it went well overall – my favourite response was the following, which is basically all I could ask for:

This guy needs to stop making me laugh or I’m gonna be giggling all over this audioboo #edgelandsless than a minute ago via UberSocial for BlackBerry Favorite Retweet Reply

Everyone else’s talks, or provocations, were interesting and indeed thought provoking, it was certainly good to spend time thinking about things far removed from where I normally am, and to meet some new people or finally meet people in person.

Today’s show count is pretty tricky, but as part of the day I definitely saw two excellent performances, by Deborah Pearson and Hitch by Kieran Hurley, and I’m going to count the conference itself as one event.

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Classics of sorts

Agamemnon by Steven Berkoff told the timeless tale of the curse of the house of Atreus. Performed in loincloths with big hair (plus the director’s note in the programme tells of the cast’s hatred of the caked-on mud) on a propless stage, this energetic show went from slow motion horse galloping to fast bath murdering in a dark, moody way. To follow, a completely different type of classic, with a stage production of the 80s (well, I assumed that, but I’ve just checked and it was actually 1990) computer game The Secret of Monkey Island. Very reminiscent of the game itself in its manner and execution, this was a lighthearted romp through Melee Island.

Simon Munnery up next, and I’m sure I will remember his bubble hat for a long time. Any show including zeppelins is going to be a good one, and this certainly was, also including a poem read by the city of London, and two microphones having a chat.

Back to theatre for The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, staged in an appropriately run-down C soco 2a. The production always had the feeling of things on the border closing in, and though my enjoyment of the show was slightly marred by one or two young kids in the audience who would not stop asking questions (well below the age suggested in the programme, I’m fine with it in appropriate situations as Jabberwocky will say in a couple of days (ooh, spooky)), this was an enjoyable version of the book, from the train journey beset by actual wolves to the sinister metaphorical wolves of the governess and schoolmistress.

Lastly for the day was Helen Keen’s Spacetacular, which as well as a shadow puppet show about the moon and its inhabitants (Clangers, or lizard men?) included guest turns from an astrophysicist talking about gamma ray bursts and Amateur Transplants singing some vaguely (and some not at all) science related songs. Helen had provided us all with some tin foil before the show to fashion as was our wont, and the ray gun someone near me had made was very detailed and certainly deserved the prize it won.

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