I love the Edinburgh Fringe. Sometimes.
Last weekend I made the arduous journey northwards through the signal-less wastes of Northumberland and the Scottish Borders to visit one of my favourite cities. I adore Edinburgh; it’s the nearest major city to the town I grew up in, so I have a lot of fond childhood and teenage memories of visiting the place. Oddly though, we never used to go to the Fringe. I really don’t enjoy crowds, the last bus home was too early, and I wasn’t really into stand-up comedy before starting uni. These days though I seem to end up in Edinburgh about once a month visiting one of my best friends (Jono – more on that mess later), and I’ve started a bit of an annual tradition of popping up for a weekend and going to free fringe shows with my good friend Robbie.
This year I decided to go up on the Friday night and stay until lunchtime on Sunday – a good couple of evening’s worth of shows and crashing on Robbie’s inflatable mattress, ideal. Then on Thursday morning a Facebook invite pops up for a Pizza Party at Jocelyn’s place on the Sunday evening. Never one to pass up the perfect foodstuff I decided to change tickets, extend my stay, and crash on Jono’s futon on the Sunday night.
Rookie error. I won’t go into the details, but Royal Mail’s “special delivery” which is “guaranteed by 1pm” is none of those things and nearly resulted in me being trapped in Edinburgh. Fortunately East Coast’s customer service is top notch and they sorted spare tickets out for me. An argument for nationalisation if ever I heard one. But let’s move on.
Day 1: Friday – Glitter and Puppets and Drag Queens, Oh My!
No sooner have I dropped off my bag at Robbie’s than the phone rings with Jono encouraging us to go pre-drinking at Katie’s. This is the point where I realise that my plans for a couple of quiet pints have already been dashed against the rocks of Jono’s agenda for the evening. Two pints later and sure enough the four of us are on our way over to a 20 act free show extravaganza at Dive at the Forest Café (“a volunteer run, not-for-profit arts and events space masquerading as a groovy veggie café in the heart of Edinburgh”). The following few hours are something of a glittery blur, but based on the Facebook timings I think these are the acts we saw:
ON THE TANNOY – MISS ANNABEL SINGS!
TWONKEY’S PRIVATE RESTAURANT – “**** a surrealist’s wet dream”
BORIS AND SERGEY’S ASTONISHING FREAKATORIUM – highly acclaimed freaky puppet clown artistry
ADRIENNE TRUSCOTT – winner malcolm hardee award 2013
LEAH KALAITZI – shhh! deaf stand up with bsl interpreter.
EAST END CABARET – winner best cabaret adelaide fringe 2012
OPHELIA BITZ – “voice of an angel…mouth of a filthy gutter-slut.” time out london
LAURIE BLACK – filthy songstress
MCGINN – Songs For Glitter Fetishists
MARKEE DE SAW – musical saw-ceress
BLUDSLUGS – chick raaawwwwwwk!!
CHERRYFOX – burlesque fascinatrix and ‘sing-and-fling’ show grrrl
FIGS IN WIGS – Abstract, hilarious, surreal performance with dancing
LAKE MONTGOMERY – award-winning singer/songwriter from Paris, Texas
COLIN MAGUIRE – spoken word in spandex and a shopping trolley
LACH – antifolk guru and star of BBC radio 4
Of these my top picks are probably The Bludslugs, Boris and Sergey’s Atonishing Freakatorium, and Lake Montgomery. Bludslugs are the Dive house band who rocked pretty hard in (inexplicably) outfits made from carrier bags. Their Soundcloud is here, but they’re a lot better live. B&S’s AF are an improv puppet show – which is a lot better than it sounds. Here’s a sample, although what we saw was substantially more x-rated, and had voices, and puppet sex. Lake Montgomery does really good acoustic music stuff – she has a great voice and is well worth checking out. The rest of the acts were all pretty decent too, and we managed to satisfy Jono’s drag queen quota for the weekend. The compère for the evening was also really good, and performed some cracking Cabaret numbers. Forest Café is a really cool little intimate venue, well worth checking out, and I get the sense that Dive is pretty popular monthly event outside the festival as well. I can see me and Jono ending up there at some point in the not too distant future.
Day 2: Saturday – Serial Killers, Dildos and a massively racist Japanese Man
Festival top tip: Embo Café/Deli on Leith Walk makes a gorgeous breakfast wrap thing. Also, since it’s on Leith Walk it’s a tourist free zone.
Our plan for Saturday was to just set up in a free venue for the entire afternoon and check out whatever free acts we fancied. Jekyll and Hyde has long been one of my favourite pubs in Edinburgh, and hosts a whole load of Laughing Horse Free Fringe Events. We managed to get a good group of a dozen or so people up for this (including 6 Durhamers!), so we hogged a big table as people dipped in and out of events.
All the Fun of the Fairburn
Rachel Fairburn’s stand up was our first show of the day, and as usual we had absolutely no idea what to expect going in. What followed was an hour of pretty solid stand up about (amongst other things) the family curse, family funeral parlour and her slight obsession with serial killers. Best part? Free serial killer colouring book at the end. The audience was a little disappointing for this show, but I think that’s par for the course at a free event at lunchtime.
Freddie Farrell & Friends
This was one of those free stand up shows which are actually adverts for comedian’s real shows. Short sub-10-minute sets from 6 different comics trying to get you to come along to their own shows. Varying quality, but mostly quite good – these kinds of shows are never a bad idea if you’re looking for things to go to later on. Alex and Mark went along to one of their shows later (101 one liners) and claim it was pretty good.
This was a show I was excited about from the moment I saw the description. Which I’ll include in its entirety below:
“Nymphonerdiac: one’s a nymph, the other’s a nerd and here’s where the twain shall meet. When sex-crazed pole dancing Carmen Ali, and Neanderthal expert Ella Murray first met, Ali offered Murray a threesome, which surprised Murray because she barely gets invited to twosomes. First impressions of each other aside, this year they bring you a stand-up show where their worlds collide like never before, like two atoms in the Hadron Collider, or when cum hits you in the eye. Come along … unless you’re under 18.”
This was right up me and Jono’s alley – because frankly “one’s a nymph, the other’s a nerd” pretty much sums up our friendship. The show itself didn’t disappoint at all. Ella Murray had a some really funny material about jawbones and her (slightly concerning) stalking of another fringe performer. Carmen Ali’s stuff had us simultaneously laughing and cringing in horror at jokes about taking shots out of a mooncup and having anal so rough that you could feel your heartbeat down there the next day. Really funny stuff. The only thing I’d have like to see more of was the two of them playing off each other, as it was the show was more like two separate 30 minute stand up sets. Well worth a watch though.
Moving on from Jekyll and Hyde we decided to wander over to the Cowgate to change things up a little. We lost a few people as they hared off to get food or see other shows, leaving a core of 6 of us to head along to the rest of the evening. We ran across a little outside bar tent which was conveniently quiet to have a break and a couple of beers whilst remarking upon the DJ duo’s remarkable resemblance to George Michael and Channing Tatum.
Handily enough a Ben Norris show started right next to us, so we headed in to see that. This was a fairly good, regular stand up show – I’d describe his stuff as perhaps a kinder, gentler Louis CK. Generally pretty good, although you could tell he was getting a bit annoyed at the crowd. I don’t think the 40-60 year old council retirees in the front 4 rows were the target audience for jokes about toddlers and pooping.
Do not go to this show.
I don’t really want to dwell on it too much, because it was just awful. A solid hour of racism and nothing else. The highlight of this show was the drunken Glaswegian girls heckling – who in any other show I’d have despised. Seriously, the best way you could describe this act was “cringe”.
That promptly killed the evening, so we headed back to Robbie’s to crash out. Claire has earned a lifetime ban from picking Fringe shows.
Day 3: Sunday – Chilling out, Festival Fatigue and Pizza Parties
Sunday was planned to be my chillout day, and it was exactly that. I dropped my bag at Jono’s, we had a little wander around an art exhibition and then Jono, Robbie and I spent the afternoon relaxing on a couch in Outhouse. Cracking playlist in there, and some not bad beer.
After that, off we went to Jocelyn’s for pizza and Cards Against Humanity. Solid evening of good fun.
I think me and Jono then had a drunken heart to heart about art and what it means to us, but again my memories seem to have gone somewhat blurry.
So that was my weekend adventure at the fringe! I caught up with some friends who I’ve really missed (hadn’t seen Robbie in ages), I saw some funny people and had some fine beers. Can’t ask for more than that.
If you’re on the fence about doing a Fringe trip then I can’t recommend it enough. Just find a place you like, hang out there and go to some random stuff. Even if it’s awful you’ll get something out of it. Fringe Fatigue hits hard though, so I’ll be having a good week of being antisocial this week.