4 days in Edinburgh

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(Not shown: It Might Get Ugly late on the Saturday night)

Sh*t-faced Shakespeare

This is a show with a very simple premise: take a cast of 6 people, condense a Shakespeare play down to an hour, prepare it as a serious Shakespeare production, then pick one of the cast and get them very very drunk before the play starts. Then you have 5 people trying very hard to do the play properly and one person who is completely incompetent: coming onto stage before their cues, missing the cues, telling other people to kiss, telling the audience that she’s going to do some acting now, and generally messing stuff up. It was good fun but not super-hilarious. How good it is probably depends a lot on who they get drunk and what whims flit across that person’s mind on the night.

Boris & Sergey’s Astonishing Freakatorium

Really impressive puppetry: most of the puppets took three people to operate (one person on legs, one on arms, one on head, I think) and they were able to use that to give the puppets a really expressive physicality. It also meant that despite having 6 puppeteers they were limited to two characters on stage at a time, which is a bit ridiculous. They did have a fun (if very ambitious) audience participation bit where they called upon two volunteers to assume the characters of spirits summoned in a séance. The puppetry was technically amazaing and I was charmed by the two main characters, but on the whole the show was a bit excessively bleak.

Abandoman: Hot Desk

Good fun, but not the heights of brilliance I was hoping for (this show cane highly recommended by several people). The setup is that the cast have to write a hit song in the next hour or one of them will be killed. We the audience supply ideas that they then improvise a rap around. They start with some love songs (one about a couple in the audience who they quizzed, one about someone’s crush on Lara Croft), then some songs for old people (about hobbies, investments AMD reminiscences), then a song about a first world problem (soggy croutons, in our case). The guy worked the crowd incredibly well, but the show didn’t really click for me.

The Horne Section: Milk the Tenderness

I liked this. Alex Horne is an impresario leading a 5 piece band for a sort of variety hour. They have a guest come in and do a bit (we got a standup who ended his bit by remarking to Horne: “you know, I don’t think I’ve made an audience that angry with for a very long time”. The bit was a shambolic one but I couldn’t work out if it was meant to be or not). Anyway, Horne and the band do a bunch of musical comedy bits and Horne drives the whole thing along brilliantly.

Viewmaster

This was good, too. You start in the Summerhall courtyard, which is buzzing with food, drink and merriment. Then you are led down some passageways, past queues of people chatting quietly as they mill around waiting for their show, and up the stairs to the quietness of the loft, perched above and at a remove from all that chaos. You fill in a questionnaire and enter Dan and Ryan’s den. They look at the questionnaire, analyse the results, and pick a journey for you to go on.

Dan plays the music for the journey, Ryan reads the poetry, and a viewmaster provides the visuals of the journey. It’s a beautiful little experience (the whole show is for one person and only takes 15 minutes) that draws you out of Edinburgh and into the locale of the particular journey with remarkable vividness.

Nofit State: Bianco

This was a very intriguing show. I think it was probably the biggest show that I saw, in terms of both ambition and size of cast. It was held in the Nofit State big top, which was operating as a venue without seats. They had four wheeled truss structures that they moved to provide various settings for the action to take place on, and as the action moved the audience was moved to follow it. This was both a strength and a weakness of the show, with quite a lot of the total running time being taken up with rigging changes as they moved stuff around. They were going for this very dynamic thing of the action shifting and changing and the audience coming after it, which was a beautiful dynamic, but it was hindered by the time taken to move stuff around and lock it into place. The overall vibe of the show was wonderful, feeling like a celebration brim-full of joyful chaos (I know I said something similar about Akoreacro. Once is a coincidence. Twice is a genre). And they had some immensely skilled people, particularly a tightrope walker who did a frontsault.

The Jest

The Jest are a five person sketch comedy crew. My relationship with sketch comedy is a complicated one (I don’t usually like it but I keep going to see it). A lot of their stuff was pretty good. I particularly liked their wordplay where they’d pick a particular actor and work a ton of titles of their films into a sentence.

Jamie Adkins: Circus Incognitus

I think the last one-man circus show I saw was the brilliant ‘Kaput’ by Tom Flanagan. This was a reminder that a show that good is quite unusual. There was nothing wrong with this show, but it felt very formulaic and workmanlike.

Mark Grist & MC Mixy: Dead Poets Death Match

This was fun, although very silly. The show ends with the two guys adopting the characters of two dead poets for a rap battle. On the way, the guys talked about various dead poets and the influence they had felt from them, and did poems inspired by those figures. This was kind of in the intersection of spoken word, poetry and rap, and I think I would have liked it to be more on the straight poetry side, but it was a fun and engaging hour based on dead poets.

Torsten the Bareback Saint

This was pretty bad. It was billed as a song cycle about a Dorian Gray figure, which I guess it might have been, but that didn’t come through for me in the songs. For me the songs were a bunch of disparate points that I was unable to link back into that supposed central theme. If the songs had grabbed me, that might not have mattered, but they didn’t. They’d made a weird choice to have a pianist on stage but a lot of the music was coming through on a backing track. Either have a backing track, or have an accompanist, or make a joke out of having both. This show failed there.

And I haven’t even mentioned the biggest problem with the show, which is that it felt like the performer was taking the audience for granted. This was an side project for him, and I suspect he’s used to playing much bigger stages. His mode and manner might work for playing a bigger room but just didn’t translate to the smallish room he was in.

Or maybe he’s just not very good.

Shaun Usher: Letters Live

This was the only non-fringe event I went to, being part of the book festival. It was a curiously lifeless event hosted by two people, one of whom is behind the ‘Letters of Note’ project and the other is the author of a history of letters and letter-writing called ‘To the Letter’. Through their work these guys have discovered a lot of letters written by and to various people, some with great gravitas and some entirely frivolous. The event consisted of a cast of actors, comedians and so on coming up and reading a selection of these letters. It didn’t work for me, with the length of the letters being part of the problem. Much of the beauty of a letter is the intimacy of it, the strength of authorial voice. And here we had people standing up and reading letters that were not their own. The very sterile context of a book festival stage and the rather short length of the letters did not give the readers the time or the space to claim the author’s voice as their own. That the readers were introduced before they read, thus bringing them into focus as themselves when they needed to be present only as the author’s avatar, added to the problem.

Nice idea, though.

It Might Get Ugly

This was an honesty themed stand-up show with a lineup that changes every night. The brief to the comedians is super-simple: be honest to the point of regret. I think it could be really magical when a skilled comedian really crosses the line into over-sharing, because most of them have practiced walking that line. The night I went was pretty good, but nobody really crossed the line. One of them told a lovely story about the lengths he was willing to go to to visit his girlfriend when she goes to study in Oman, one I have forgotten all details except the two words ‘Canadian’ and ‘lovely’, (oh, a third word: ‘bisexual’), and one told a hilarious story about going back to a girl’s house after a gig, going into her room (in her parents house) and seeing posters of himself on the wall, insisting on seeing ID, then sleeping with her. That last guy was the closest to fulfilling the ‘honest to the point of regret’ brief, but still wasn’t really sharing more about his life than I expected him to be. Still, a good night, even if the MC was a pretty awkward dude. He kept talking about how much the producers had paid him to take the show, which is a regular event in London, to Edinburgh. I assume the producers plan on some shows going well and some going poorly, and seeing the crowd this one drew on a Friday night I assume this one falls onto the ‘poor’ bucket. Which is a shame, because as shows with a lineup of comedians go, I’ve seen a lot worse.

And that was my 4 days in Edinburgh.

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