If there has been any fighting in the dance floor, I haven’t seen it.

4 EDINBURGH FRINGE 2010 REPORT NUMBER FOUR

Saturday 14th –  Tuesday 17th

Saturday

Saturday, Saturday. Tiswas day, Doctor Who day. Or in the case of Edinburgh, just another performance/walking up hills/promising to see too many other shows day. The Now I Know My BBCs are all blurring but I think I’m settling into a rhythm. I have to be very careful with the ending – there is a reveal that people don’t guess unless I really heavily lay the groundwork and thread the theme blatantly throughout the show. It obviously wasn’t clear enough in the first week but seems to be hitting home more now.

This is what happens when you do a show every day – you really trim it, make it clearer and ad lib better jokes whilst in the moment. It’ll be about 25% better as a show when I finish on August 29th. Because of the overruns I actually sat down with the script and trimmed and rejigged – there’s no point just resting on one’s laurels, and I may do a further rewrite next week. We’ll see. I note the irony that in a show that maintains that the audience aren’t as stupid as television people assume them to be, I’ve had to spell something out to make it clearer to the audience, which might actually mean that … (ahem)

I went to see my first show (I vowed this year to not even pretend I was going to anything in the first week). Jeremy Lion Goes Green had me doubled up with laughter – what a virtuoso performance from the enormously talented Justin Edwards (ably assisted by a beguilingly deadpan Gus Brown). For those who haven’t caught up with this phenomenon, Lion is an alcohol sodden children’s entertainer whose awful shows are replete with sequestered cans of Special Brew, hopeless props and staggering theatrical ineptitude. And are hilarious. Doing something badly well is an art, and Edwards has his shtick so well honed he’s at Turner Prize level. There’s pathos too, a show-stopping ending, some terrific songs and an absolutely splendid comedy of errors involving ventriloquist’s dummies. I will also be flabbergasted if anyone watching doesn’t have the song lyrics “Rim-nim-a-nim” dancing merrily through their head for days on end afterwards. Even thinking about it now is making me chuckle. A genuine treat of a show. And I’m not being biased because I was I was at university with Justin. I had never seen his creation live before, but the critical acclaim he has received is well deserved. I hooked up with his former collaborator and old pal of mine George Cockerill. We had a good old natter and catch up and it is insane we reacquaint ourselves in a city hundreds of miles away from the one we both actually live in. Justin is married to the heavily pregnant Lucy Porter. I know Lucy from my early days as a stand-up, but she didn’t know Justin then, though I did. Confusing, these intertwined lives. As the evening went on to prove …

In the Brookes Bar at The Pleasance Dome, George and I caught up with Justin and Lucy. Gus was also there, with the actor Rufus Jones, who was in a play with a great friend of mine at The Royal Exchange some years ago. Rufus and I met there and I’ve been pleased to see him pop up on telly being good in stuff ever since. His show, No Son Of Mine, is being produced by James Seabright, who is in charge of me. When talking to Gus and Rufus, I noticed an advertising hoarding (for Spotlight) up at the bar which featured a big picture of a friend of mine, Madeleine Worrall, a terrific actress and a pal I’ve kept in touch with since A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Exchange some years ago. I texted Madge as it tickled me to see her writ large (especially as it wasn’t a custom made picture for the advert – it was a randomly chosen theatre shot that she would have had no idea had been co-opted for this purpose). About a minute after that, Gus, to whom I’d not mentioned this, got a text. From Madeleine. She was on her way to that very bar. She knows both Gus and Rufus of old but not through each other or me. What a delight, and I proceeded to reel with all the mad strange coincidence of this. And then with consumption of white wine. Then Emma Atkins magically appeared in the corner – I’ve known her since pre-Emmerdale days when we acted together in a number of plays written by … Adam Riches, who I haven’t worked with since then till – this very Fringe.

Spooky, spooky spook.

Madeleine Worrall threatens to short out the time differential by meeting her photographic self

It was a convivial evening and I seem to recall bumping into Paul Sinha and telling him how brilliant he is (and he is, his show Extreme Anti White Vitriol which he previewed at XS Malarkey, is passionate, searingly intelligent, brutally funny, but shot through with decency and no little fire).

Sunday

George very kindly came to see Now I Know My BBC from which I’d managed to shave off 12 mintes from the previous overrun. That’s seven minutes short. My A For Androemda joke can’t have been that long surely? Weird. We caught up afterwards and the time simply flew by so we had to hightail it to the Dome to catch up with Justin, Madeleine, Gus and Rufus. The Roaring Boys were also there playing pool – they’re on before me and never fail to dispense a cheery greeting when I arrive after they’ve come off. They got a five star review the other day which is great and couldn’t have been given to two nicer fellows (and since I first wrote this, have earned another – good for them!).

A five minute phone call to my lovely wife turned into a half an hour one so I had to wave to Justin and George as they left for a show, all the while blowing kisses down the phone to Italy. Then to the Gilded Balloon where Jason was having birthday drinks. Wine and Hadoke combined to hopefully not disastrous effect, though I think I keep showing people pictures of my wife because I think she’s very beautiful and miss her. I suspect she’s not doing the same in Italy – “Look sophisticated Mediterranean types, this is the portly, pasty English thing that’s waiting for me when I get home, aren’t I lucky?”.  Agent and confidant and all round level headed ego wrangler Lee Martin’s wonderful Mum was up, enjoying herself and clearly proud of her son, and loads of the Manchester crew were about. Drink, familiar friendly faces, fun conversation, illustrious comics milling about – some corner of a foreign field that is forever XS Malarkey…. It was good to see everyone, and to enjoy chatting to, and celebrating the success of, fellow Gag Reflex acts (and married couple) Lilli La Scala and The Boy With Tape On His Face. They have both earned a number of hugely complimentary reviews (for totally different shows, independent of each other) and couldn’t be nicer people (and have now probably seen quite enough pictures of my wife).

Monday

Fringe showcase at the Pleasance Courtyard was done in the fug and wooziness of my previous night’s over indulgence. I got away with it and what a great, packed out and good value afternoon show it was. All the acts – John Robins (who gets Brownie points for doing the offstage mic announcement to get me on and pronouncing my name correctly), Danny Ward, Asher Treleaven and Gareth Richards – were spot on. Much fun was had by me being awkward about the fact that there were twelve year olds in the front row. I managed to make a virtue of not swearing, but Danny dropped the C-bomb to hilarious effect.

Desperate for a curry, I actually resorted to making my own, but it was worth is. Yum yum. The National Student allayed my fears by giving me Four Stars. I’d thought they may be a bit young, would reject my nostalgia and not forgive the uncertainty of an early gig. The List joined in with Three – a fair review of a choppy and under-energised show, from a few days ago, in which I stumbled a bit. They got the ending, which I’d worked hard to get right, and praised it, which is an important breakthrough. No complaints, though it seems that reviewers of my age like to apologise on the show’s behalf for “80’s nostalgia” when actually all the references to old telly highlight thematic elements of the show rather than being “do you remember so-and-so” nonsense. Interesting that the student paper had no problem with it, and didn’t add the “you probably have to be of his age” caveat. It was the same with Moths, where all the  newspaper reviewers who were self confessed Whovians dropped a star, with a self flagellating “Well, I like Doctor Who, but you might not so…”. The best reviews came from people who had no vested interest in, or had never seen, Doctor Who, so they could see beyond the umbrella theme to what the show was really all about (you know, the important stuff : imagination, love, family, goodness, and remembering cast lists). Interesting. Still, I knew I’d risk misunderstanding when I latched upon the ideas for the show, and I can’t spell it out any more. Again, it is so much better now anyway, but the critics can only review what they see, and as The List has crucified the odd person this year, I’m happy to have emerged unscathed.

Then a great show, with a pretty good house, with my Mum, brother and niece and nephew on the front two. A few comedians had a day off today and I noticed Dan McKee and Wil Hodgson there, lending much-appreciated support (unless it was the Tony Kinsella situation again and they have some doppelgangers augmenting audiences just to mess with our minds). I didn’t notice another gentleman till the end, who stayed behind to congratulate me and say it was good someone was supporting the BBC. Nicholas Parsons! Nicholas bloody Parsons! A legend and an honour and how thrilling that he should come along. Glad he and Mum and my mate Steve Berry all saw a good show. Tripped home with a spring in my step, and stayed up late but without drinking. Jason has bought an X-Box or somesuch, and so I vent my spleen on Call Of Duty 2: Modern Warfare. If this comedy lark fails, I’m pretty certain that there’s a future for me in special ops, saving the world from tyranny and insurgency with clinical, military precision. Oh yes.

Tuesday

This town, is ‘coming like a ghost town. Lots of comics have a day off at around this time, and the venues look a bit more sparse than usual. So I was expecting no-one in. And so it was a pleasant surprise that we had quite a nifty house, with some good mates up from London, off the train and straight in to see me. Another enjoyable hour (well, OK, hour and three minutes), free from too much uncertainty and stumbling. Two in a row that have come together nicely. So a break tomorrow to ruin any momentum I may have built up, of course.

Reports from XS Malarkey were that it was a bit quiet – do you hear me Manchester (shakes fist)? Support your local comedy club, especially in August. Hooray for Spider and Fishcake (codenames, no-one must uncover their true identities) for keeping their expert eyes on the place while the rest of us gallivant about here, lying about our intentions of going to see other shows and wondering just how much the human statues earn a day (and suspecting that they’re probably onto something – you don’t see them fretting about stars and reviews and audiences).

Missing home and family a bit more than I’m letting on to people, to be honest, and it isn’t easy. Everyone has their own frustrations and difficulties though, so you just plaster on a smile and get on with it. You don’t want to impose your hardships on others. Much better to hide such feelings and only note them down here, on the World Wide Web.

Jason Cook’s lovely wife Clare, who brings our flat a certain respectability and calm, returned to Manchester for one night only, so he and I saw out the day protecting the free world from computer generated hostility whenever Call Of Duty chose not to freeze on us. We’ll probably, therefore, spend tomorrow wondering around the flat in our pants. Because we can. There’s a thought for you all to take home with you.

Tickets for the big, spanking Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf are still available. Tell the universe!

If there has been any fighting in the dance floor, I haven't seen it.

4 EDINBURGH FRINGE 2010 REPORT NUMBER FOUR

Saturday 14th –  Tuesday 17th

Saturday

Saturday, Saturday. Tiswas day, Doctor Who day. Or in the case of Edinburgh, just another performance/walking up hills/promising to see too many other shows day. The Now I Know My BBCs are all blurring but I think I’m settling into a rhythm. I have to be very careful with the ending – there is a reveal that people don’t guess unless I really heavily lay the groundwork and thread the theme blatantly throughout the show. It obviously wasn’t clear enough in the first week but seems to be hitting home more now. This is what happens when you do a show every day – you really trim it, make it clearer and ad lib better jokes whilst in the moment. It’ll be about 25% better as a show when I finish on August 29th. Because of the overruns I actually sat down with the script and trimmed and rejigged – there’s no point just resting on one’s laurels, and I may do a further rewrite next week. We’ll see. I note the irony that in a show that maintains that the audience aren’t as stupid as television people assume them to be, I’ve had to spell something out to make it clearer to the audience, which might actually mean that … (ahem)

I went to see my first show (I vowed this year to not even pretend I was going to anything in the first week). Jeremy Lion Goes Green had me doubled up with laughter – what a virtuoso performance from the enormously talented Justin Edwards (ably assisted by a beguilingly deadpan Gus Brown). For those who haven’t caught up with this phenomenon, Lion is an alcohol sodden children’s entertainer whose awful shows are replete with sequestered cans of Special Brew, hopeless props and staggering theatrical ineptitude. And are hilarious. Doing something badly well is an art, and Edwards has his shtick so well honed he’s at Turner Prize level. There’s pathos too, a show-stopping ending, some terrific songs and an absolutely splendid comedy of errors involving ventriloquist’s dummies. I will also be flabbergasted if anyone watching doesn’t have the song lyrics “Rim-nim-a-nim” dancing merrily through their head for days on end afterwards. Even thinking about it now is making me chuckle. A genuine treat of a show. And I’m not being biased because I was I was at university with Justin. I had never seen his creation live before, but the critical acclaim he has received is well deserved. I hooked up with his former collaborator and old pal of mine George Cockerill. We had a good old natter and catch up and it is insane we reacquaint ourselves in a city hundreds of miles away from the one we both actually live in. Justin is married to the heavily pregnant Lucy Porter. I know Lucy from my early days as a stand-up, but she didn’t know Justin then, though I did. Confusing, these intertwined lives. As the evening went on to prove …

In the Brookes Bar at The Pleasance Dome, George and I caught up with Justin and Lucy. Gus was also there, with the actor Rufus Jones, who was in a play with a great friend of mine at The Royal Exchange some years ago. Rufus and I met there and I’ve been pleased to see him pop up on telly being good in stuff ever since. His show, No Son Of Mine, is being produced by James Seabright, who is in charge of me. When talking to Gus and Rufus, I noticed an advertising hoarding (for Spotlight) up at the bar which featured a big picture of a friend of mine, Madeleine Worrall, a terrific actress and a pal I’ve kept in touch with since A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Exchange some years ago. I texted Madge as it tickled me to see her writ large (especially as it wasn’t a custom made picture for the advert – it was a randomly chosen theatre shot that she would have had no idea had been co-opted for this purpose). About a minute after that, Gus, to whom I’d not mentioned this, got a text. From Madeleine. She was on her way to that very bar. She knows both Gus and Rufus of old but not through each other or me. What a delight, and I proceeded to reel with all the mad strange coincidence of this. And then with consumption of white wine. Then Emma Atkins magically appeared in the corner – I’ve known her since pre-Emmerdale days when we acted together in a number of plays written by … Adam Riches, who I haven’t worked with since then till – this very Fringe.

Spooky, spooky spook.

Madeleine Worrall threatens to short out the time differential by meeting her photographic self

It was a convivial evening and I seem to recall bumping into Paul Sinha and telling him how brilliant he is (and he is, his show Extreme Anti White Vitriol which he previewed at XS Malarkey, is passionate, searingly intelligent, brutally funny, but shot through with decency and no little fire).

Sunday

George very kindly came to see Now I Know My BBC from which I’d managed to shave off 12 mintes from the previous overrun. That’s seven minutes short. My A For Androemda joke can’t have been that long surely? Weird. We caught up afterwards and the time simply flew by so we had to hightail it to the Dome to catch up with Justin, Madeleine, Gus and Rufus. The Roaring Boys were also there playing pool – they’re on before me and never fail to dispense a cheery greeting when I arrive after they’ve come off. They got a five star review the other day which is great and couldn’t have been given to two nicer fellows (and since I first wrote this, have earned another – good for them!).

A five minute phone call to my lovely wife turned into a half an hour one so I had to wave to Justin and George as they left for a show, all the while blowing kisses down the phone to Italy. Then to the Gilded Balloon where Jason was having birthday drinks. Wine and Hadoke combined to hopefully not disastrous effect, though I think I keep showing people pictures of my wife because I think she’s very beautiful and miss her. I suspect she’s not doing the same in Italy – “Look sophisticated Mediterranean types, this is the portly, pasty English thing that’s waiting for me when I get home, aren’t I lucky?”.  Agent and confidant and all round level headed ego wrangler Lee Martin’s wonderful Mum was up, enjoying herself and clearly proud of her son, and loads of the Manchester crew were about. Drink, familiar friendly faces, fun conversation, illustrious comics milling about – some corner of a foreign field that is forever XS Malarkey…. It was good to see everyone, and to enjoy chatting to, and celebrating the success of, fellow Gag Reflex acts (and married couple) Lilli La Scala and The Boy With Tape On His Face. They have both earned a number of hugely complimentary reviews (for totally different shows, independent of each other) and couldn’t be nicer people (and have now probably seen quite enough pictures of my wife).

Monday

Fringe showcase at the Pleasance Courtyard was done in the fug and wooziness of my previous night’s over indulgence. I got away with it and what a great, packed out and good value afternoon show it was. All the acts – John Robins (who gets Brownie points for doing the offstage mic announcement to get me on and pronouncing my name correctly), Danny Ward, Asher Treleaven and Gareth Richards – were spot on. Much fun was had by me being awkward about the fact that there were twelve year olds in the front row. I managed to make a virtue of not swearing, but Danny dropped the C-bomb to hilarious effect.

Desperate for a curry, I actually resorted to making my own, but it was worth is. Yum yum. The National Student allayed my fears by giving me Four Stars. I’d thought they may be a bit young, would reject my nostalgia and not forgive the uncertainty of an early gig. The List joined in with Three – a fair review of a choppy and under-energised show, from a few days ago, in which I stumbled a bit. They got the ending, which I’d worked hard to get right, and praised it, which is an important breakthrough. No complaints, though it seems that reviewers of my age like to apologise on the show’s behalf for “80’s nostalgia” when actually all the references to old telly highlight thematic elements of the show rather than being “do you remember so-and-so” nonsense. Interesting that the student paper had no problem with it, and didn’t add the “you probably have to be of his age” caveat. It was the same with Moths, where all the  newspaper reviewers who were self confessed Whovians dropped a star, with a self flagellating “Well, I like Doctor Who, but you might not so…”. The best reviews came from people who had no vested interest in, or had never seen, Doctor Who, so they could see beyond the umbrella theme to what the show was really all about (you know, the important stuff : imagination, love, family, goodness, and remembering cast lists). Interesting. Still, I knew I’d risk misunderstanding when I latched upon the ideas for the show, and I can’t spell it out any more. Again, it is so much better now anyway, but the critics can only review what they see, and as The List has crucified the odd person this year, I’m happy to have emerged unscathed.

Then a great show, with a pretty good house, with my Mum, brother and niece and nephew on the front two. A few comedians had a day off today and I noticed Dan McKee and Wil Hodgson there, lending much-appreciated support (unless it was the Tony Kinsella situation again and they have some doppelgangers augmenting audiences just to mess with our minds). I didn’t notice another gentleman till the end, who stayed behind to congratulate me and say it was good someone was supporting the BBC. Nicholas Parsons! Nicholas bloody Parsons! A legend and an honour and how thrilling that he should come along. Glad he and Mum and my mate Steve Berry all saw a good show. Tripped home with a spring in my step, and stayed up late but without drinking. Jason has bought an X-Box or somesuch, and so I vent my spleen on Call Of Duty 2: Modern Warfare. If this comedy lark fails, I’m pretty certain that there’s a future for me in special ops, saving the world from tyranny and insurgency with clinical, military precision. Oh yes.

Tuesday

This town, is ‘coming like a ghost town. Lots of comics have a day off at around this time, and the venues look a bit more sparse than usual. So I was expecting no-one in. And so it was a pleasant surprise that we had quite a nifty house, with some good mates up from London, off the train and straight in to see me. Another enjoyable hour (well, OK, hour and three minutes), free from too much uncertainty and stumbling. Two in a row that have come together nicely. So a break tomorrow to ruin any momentum I may have built up, of course.

Reports from XS Malarkey were that it was a bit quiet – do you hear me Manchester (shakes fist)? Support your local comedy club, especially in August. Hooray for Spider and Fishcake (codenames, no-one must uncover their true identities) for keeping their expert eyes on the place while the rest of us gallivant about here, lying about our intentions of going to see other shows and wondering just how much the human statues earn a day (and suspecting that they’re probably onto something – you don’t see them fretting about stars and reviews and audiences).

Missing home and family a bit more than I’m letting on to people, to be honest, and it isn’t easy. Everyone has their own frustrations and difficulties though, so you just plaster on a smile and get on with it. You don’t want to impose your hardships on others. Much better to hide such feelings and only note them down here, on the World Wide Web.

Jason Cook’s lovely wife Clare, who brings our flat a certain respectability and calm, returned to Manchester for one night only, so he and I saw out the day protecting the free world from computer generated hostility whenever Call Of Duty chose not to freeze on us. We’ll probably, therefore, spend tomorrow wondering around the flat in our pants. Because we can. There’s a thought for you all to take home with you.

Tickets for the big, spanking Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf are still available. Tell the universe!

Standing and Delivering (and occasionally doing neither)

EDINBURGH FRINGE 2010 REPORT NUMBER THREE

Monday 9th – Friday 13th

Monday 9th

It’s all starting to blur now. Monday involved partaking in Peter Buckley Hill’s legendary Peter Buckley Hill And Some Comedians at the Free Fringe. An institution himself, PBH has nonetheless been lucky to stay out of one. He was on fine, if elongated form, and introduced Richard Sandling, Matt Tiller, Michael Dolan and then myself. Richard did a joke referencing David Collings, which made me do a little dance in my brain, Matt was on fine form with his witty songs, and a nervous Dolan, protesting that he hadn’t gigged in ages, went on and blew the place apart with his blend of tartrazine-spiked misanthropy. I had fun, but kept it short as I had to nip up to FFF. There was just time to pick up the gauntlet PBH had left by paraphrasing Macbeth by doing most of that character’s speech from Act 1 Sc VI. Not often you get to do that at a comedy gig, and when the opportunity arises, one must seize. Fun, and the very essence of the Fringe.

Now I Know My BBC overran by four minutes. Odd, as I unintentionally dropped some bits. Including a bit in the first half regarding lazy labelling that people of ethnic origin have to put up with in small market towns. There’s a payoff to the joke later which, without the set up, just makes me sound bizarrely racist. Guess who forgot the set-up? I rushed the ending a little, and it needs a bit of streamlining, but fortunately I spotted Tony Kinsella in the audience . Tony had helped me bat ideas for the show about early on and we worked together a lot on the Unbroadcastable Radio Show. The audience were giggling away and I directed a lot of stuff that I knew he’d like directly at him. Afterwards I phoned to ask where he was – somewhat surprised he announced he was on the Royal Mile, and off to a gig. We arranged to meet later, and when we did I asked him needily what he thought of the show. He informed me that it was very good, and that Paul Kerenza had come up with some very funny stuff. What “And I look forward to seeing yours tomorrow,” he said. He hadn’t been in? Who was that I was doing the gags to then, who was chuckling away? A ghost from the future? Surely no-one else looks like Penfold and gets cheeky in-jokes about archive telly. Quick, everyone, have a look round to see if Michael Gove’s been smuggled in to infiltrate the Fringe.

At FFF, I managed to redeem my antics from the previous one by dancing like a monkey for a bitty, not entirely cohesive audience slightly overbalanced by overconfident youth. In the first half Elis James confessed to having drunk too much wine before going on (you’d never catch me doing that) but was his usual brilliant self, The Boy With Tape On His Face is going to storm the Fringe this year (and the unco-operative girl he brought on stage, who had the audacity to think that anything she might do would be funnier than if she just went along with what he was doing, was rightly dispensed with even if she wasn’t justly ashamed of herself). In the second bit, Sam Gore is just as waspish and sharp even without his suit, and it was nice to see a confident Nik Coppin end the night on a high. No drinkies for me.

Tuesday

An overlong show yet again, but this time without the apparently racist outbursts, so let’s look on the bright side. Tony was in this show, as was another Manchester turn, Jeff Downs. Jeff pointed out that he hadn’t made an important connection, and I grumbled and grumped that the connection was obvious and could easily be picked up. I nonetheless tried to make it more obvious on Wednesday’s show, and lo and behold, it worked much better. Sorry Jeff.

Pleased to hear from Spider and Fishcake that XS Malarkey was nice and busy. I always get a bit angsty when it goes on without me there. The boys are looking after it well though.

Wednesday.

Traipsed around looking for souvenirs for the boys, and bought them a load of yummy Edinburgh Rock. Then remembered I’d done that four years ago and it hadn’t been liked. Damn these modern kids who get to be fussy about sweets. They’re sweets for goodness sake! Merely purchasing them should get me a free pass into Daddy heaven. Bumped into Ian Fox, who has brought his camera to Edinburgh. He’s a great photographer. The publicity photos he did me for Moths have been extremely useful, and they were most affordable – budding comics in need of good shots, I wholeheartedly recommend him to you. He’s been capturing the spirit of the Fringe in picture form, and I reproduce an example here.

A Snapshot Of The Fringe (Image © Ian Fox)

An Italian supper with Robin Ince and a lovely lady I’d not met before, Charlotte Young (who is the girlfriend of someone I know) was a delight, and another night of sobriety was easily navigated (though I did have some ice cream – yum, yum). Robin has been very self deprecating on Twitter and said he felt comics should reflect on the diffculties as well as the successes of the Fringe when they Tweet or Facebook or Blog, as otherwise it paints an inaccurate picture. I shall try to follow his advice here, then.

I got a nice 4 star review from Edinburgh Guide – huzzah! On the other hand, I’m not very good at swimming.

See, triumph and disaster in careful balance.

Thursday

Best show yet. A great crowd who, if anything, bestowed too much laughter unto me. So I overran again. I had to pitch the show at the less laughy people for fear of leaving them out and resting on my laurels. It was such a good show that of course, no reviewers were in. Whereas The List were in for a slightly stumbly performance the day before. Still, at least the ending worked better than ever before (thanks Jeff, sorry Jeff) at that show.

Anyway, it was straight off to The Stand in Glasgow – with Sam Gore again, and the delightful Sarah Profit driving. Had a good time opening, and was thrilled to be on the bill with the magnificent Pippa Evans (as Loretta Maine) with whom I worked last year on Totally Looped – she’s daffy fun, extremely talented and a pleasure to see, and was in with her new hubby: they honeymoon after Edinburgh.

Friday

Yikes, busiest day of the fringe so far. Breakfast with the lovely Who-appreciating chum, who I first met when I did Moths at the Maltings Theatre, St Albans. It was a great gig which got lots of laughter and yet resulted in me receiving hate e-mail from a man calling me a “liberal tosser”. Ah, this angry isle and its keyboard warriors. Anyway, my friend is fluent in the language of those on the periphery of social acceptance, in that he knows his Zentos from his Zeos, so we had a lovely and all too brief chat about the merits or otherwise of The Power Of Kroll and Season Three. A man needs times like this. Then it was off to Susan Calman Chats Up in which the perky and witty Miss Calman effortlessly engages an audience who then stare at a comic who thinks the gig will be easier than it turns out to be and only really thaw when Susan returns and the chat commences. It wasn’t unpleasant by any means – they’re a nice bunch who turn out of a lunchtime, so don’t get raucous like an evening crowd. The chatshow banter was much more fun and it is an entertaining hour – they were also treated to Wil Hodgson and Rob Rouse after I’d gone. Rob was good enough to tell me later that he thought I’d done well (tellingly, neither he nor Wil did the stand-up bit) which is a measure of what a kind and thoughtful man he  is (the only person to go round and introduce himself to all the door staff at XS Malarkey and make sure to thank them and remember their names when leaving at the end of the night: that’s Rob Rouse, utter gentleman).

Adam Riches Rides continues to be an a total pleasure and joy. He’s getting deservedly good notices, and it’s inspiring to see such a strong show so professionally put together. It also benefits from the contributions of the doughty, long suffering and hilarious Benjamin Wilson who undergoes a right pummelling at the top of the show, and Kirsten, Kerry and Amira (who are all up here in a play called The Track Of The Cat) fulfil vital support roles and do so very well indeed. Done sloppily their contribution could bring a show down. Done with unobtrusive skill really helps to lend a sheen of quality to proceedings. I cannot recommend this show enough – you’ll have a big, stupid smile on your face at the end of it, I guarantee.

Then to PBH. I noticed a distinctive group sitting on the second row, which included a man with a red Mohican. They were a fun, feisty bunch and I thoroughly enjoyed myself, watched in awe as Robin Ince did twenty minutes of utter brilliance, and was sad to miss the excellent Gordon Southern, but I had to nip along to the Edinburgh Stand for the late show. Miles Jupp compered charmingly and I bounded on, happy to just do the material I’d shared with the good people of PBH’s crowd. And there, in the front row, was Mr Mohican and his six mates. So I had to do different stuff. I stumbled along with some distinctly second tier material – and they all roared with laughter. It was a brilliant gig – but not down to me at all. A terrific club with a savvy, generous audience. I got heckled by a lady and had great fun with her. By the time Phil Nichol devoured the stage at the end of the night though, her bonhomie had turned to belligerence and she was escorted off by the attentive and supportive staff.

It was Jason’s birthday, so he popped in and we stuck around for a bit. Being one of the best comedy clubs in the world, it was of course fully populated by an illustrious bevy of comedians – which meant the socialising was as good as the performing.

An excellent end to a busy but good day. Only one downside – I spoke to the kids and it only served to emphasise how much I’m missing them. Had a bit of a sad moment.

Sorry I haven’t put links of everything and everyone mentioned above, but it is stupid o’clock in the morning and I should be asleep.*

*OK, more links now added, and the text has been slightly edited and tidied up.

Will There Be Any Stars, Any Stars …?

EDINBURGH FRINGE 2010 REPORT NUMBER TWO

Saturday 7th & Sunday 8th

“Hey Tobes, are you up in Edinburgh for the month? If so, do you fancy helping out a little with my show? I need someone dressed as a tiger to get hurled onto a grenade where he explodes in a sea of orange polystyrene. Have you ever played that before??!” That text could only have come from Adam Riches. I worked with him a lot doing daft but brilliant plays in Manchester. He packed his bags for London where I was sure he’d become an overnight success. It’s taken a bit longer than that, but he’s had deserved hits at the Fringe in the past few years, mustering a raft of  superb (Four And Five Star) reviews that justly herald his gift for batty, charmingly silly comedy and performances of winningly idiotic chutzpah. Not even the most cynical can fail to smile at his stuff, so who am I to refuse to play a tiger for the man who has cast me in the past as a superhero’s cocky agent, a Diabolo-wrangling gypsy, and a half man/half Dalek? Be good to catch up too. He has a rare gift for not allowinging the inherent annoyances of this business effect him – he just knuckles down, grafts away, and produces reams and reams of comedy gold without fail. But I suspect he’s a terrible, selfish lover.

Next day – “Toby, I’ve cut the skit, so you can hang up your paws”. Damn, sacked before I’ve even begun. Story of my career! I’d spent the whole night channelling my inner Tony (it’s Grrrrrrreat!) and watching old ESSO adverts. Then, on Sunday “Toby – great news, Tiger is back!”. So I’m not the only one making last minutes changes to my show!

Anyway, I won’t spoil the gag by revealing any more than I have above, but suffice to say Adam Riches Rides is terrific – and he’s selling out already (not by accepting an OBE or doing adverts for McDonald’s or genocide, I mean all his tickets are being bought). It’s a joy to participate in the most infinitesimal way to something so inventive and funny. It opens with a song in which Pierce Brosnan outs himself as a Centaur. That’s all you need to know. (Five stars)

The Original Plan Had Been To One Day Play Hamlet

As I won’t be seeing my wife until the 1st of September, Saturday and Sunday were precious times with her, mostly used for swatting up on the show. She made me revise and remember the rigorous order and not forget to get all the loose ends tied up. She really helped (All The Stars In The Sky).

Performances were nicely attended and jolly. Still missing bits out: nothing major, but I’m still not making the ending as neat a series of payoffs as I should be. The shows have been running to time, which is a major consideration, though Saturday was the first night they made me work, where the satirical second half went down better than the nostalgic first. This is a good thing, but it meant I had to be on my toes, and I responded by pacing about a little too much. Agent, promoter and friend Lee Martin was in, who told me to put a table on stage for my drink so I didn’t pace about so much, like Simon Cowell on the prowl, dancing about in anticipation of feasting upon the soft, pliable carcass of a newborn baby.

Having missed one interview because (thinks of any number of excuses …) I forgot (No Stars Hadoke), I then mistook the Pleasance Courtyard for The Pleasance Dome and went to the wrong place for another. Still, everyone seems pretty calm at the moment, apart from a testy antipodean homuculous techie-type I encountered throwing out far too much machismo for a Lilipution wrangling a prop of an afternoon. I rose above it (which was quite easy considering).

Flatmate and superb comic Jason Cook (Five Stars, every time) is doing predictably well, and together we’re creating our own modern day Never The Twain as he plays upon the supposed charm of his salt-of-the-earth ignorance and I introduce him to eclectic foodstuffs (“This is an anchovy”) and the concept of literature. As usual, he takes much of what I say that is funny and Tweets it or quotes it in his set and gets the laughs for himself. The cuckoo. Or leach. Or twat.

With my lovely wife gone (The Stars Have All Gone Out), I forced myself to honour a commitment to perform at Free And Freakin’ Awesome Comedy Showcase at Bannerman’s for Ro Campbell – simple premise, Ro goes on and gets some comics to be funny. I didn’t really want to do it and thought it’d be either ill-attended by the dead, or well attended by the riotous. It was actually packed with lovely people, Ro did a great job, and I had a lot of fun unleashing all the swearwords and bile I have elected not to use in my BBC show. On that issue, I have got myself another review in which I’m described as “charming and likeable” but safe (Three Stars – I lost marks for pacing about too much: guess which show they were in). Safe, me safe??! Have they never seen me caterwaul with rage about trivia at XS Malarkey or The Comedy Store? Oh, maybe they haven’t. That said, I do also think that there’s a lot of noise and swearing that gets mistaken for profundity around these parts … I’m sure Jonathan Swift didn’t yell at eveyone. That said, maybe I’ve been so conscious of being reasonable with the message and intent of the show, that I’ve left a bit of my passion in the fridge to cool. Maybe I need to get it out and add some spice to give it some much needed heat. Then people will enjoy eating it. Or something.

Oh, never mind the metaphors – it seems that so far the reviewers love the show, but don’t want to sleep with it yet. I texted that fine Manchester based Irish comic, Caimh McDonnell, who knows a thing or two about doing well in Edinburgh, to that effect. “Don’t worry,” he texted back, “People kept giving my last show fake mobile numbers to get rid of it.”

And I walked up Broughton Street with a big smile on my face, placed there by someone miles away in a different city, but in the right place just when I needed him. (SuperStar)

News, Reviews and Booze (but no Boos).

EDINBURGH FRINGE 2010 REPORT NUMBER ONE

Well the madness has begun: flyers litter the streets and students dressed as pirates line the pavements thinking that the best way to get punters to come to see their thespian hi-jinks in Penzance is to yell at strangers and guffaw in a way only those with a vestige of youthful bravado left in them (soon to be dissipated by tax and broken dreams) can. And God has gleefully placed various ambling types between you and where you want to go, and they shamble along in a zig-zag as you try to get past. Even without clocking you, they manage to anticipate which direction you’re going to take to manoeuvre out of their way and block your path with deadly slowness: ambling human shields, precision-placed and impenetrable, walls of anorak-clad flesh determined to make you late for your fourth gig of the day as you realise you’ve said yes to one too many people.

Anyway: Days One and Two, Thursday 5th and Friday 6th  August

Previewers and Reviewers

A gentle start. A preview, so the pressure is off – just get the freshly honed show out there and in your head Toby. A decent fist of a crowd, enough for you to verbally map out your masterwork, consolidate it, identify the less certain and more fatty passages, and work your arse off on Friday to have it shipshape for preview two when the press are allowed in. And it works – Thursday a workmanlike and slightly (in places) tentative stab at an hour long version of the show that ties up all the loose ends. Some ends where tied more efficiently than others, though. No problem – have a look at those, reinsert forgotten jokes, reorder, and bingo! Friday flows much better and is finally the show as it needs to be, and is performed without too many fumbles. All good. Except, what’s this? Two press in on Thursday and none on Friday? That’s entirely the wrong way around! Dash and crikey. And shit. Oh well. As I wait tentatively and with irritation (it’s no-one’s fault, it was a communication breakdown inevitable in the flurry of the fringe) I have other things to do. One is to appear on Hardeep Singh Kohli’s Chat Masala, and to blog about it. Read about that adventure here.

Not the sort of showbiz circles I usually move in
Not The Sort Of Showbiz Circles I Usually Move In

Not sure I’d have personally given away the punchline in the title of the article, but never mind (Two Stars for that, title writer).

Then to the first F***ing Funny For A Fiver shows (three gigs in one evening on my first night here – perhaps a clue to why my decision to not drink was steadfastly maintained for about seven and a half minutes after show one). I’m compering these intermittently. I use my desire to unwind and my anger at the reviewer situation to fuel an inventive, if slightly long, opening, to prove to myself that I can be witty and spontaneous and delight an audience even without a refined and honed script. Banter, whimsy, comic flights of fancy – they all tumble out and I’m as surprised as anyone, revelling in the heady, freewheeling atmosphere you can only get at the craziness of the Edinburgh Fringe. It’s going well! Good work – karma restored, and the comedy Gods are smiling. They’re also, alas, refilling my wine glass far too quickly and all the heady expectation, disappointment, desire to please and sheer enormity of the situation lead to a rather more, um, wayward second section, where I all but undo the good work done in the first. Karmic balance knocked out of kilter again, resolutely fulfilling its mission to maintain that life is just, well, like that. Still, the comedians in the room enjoy watching the poison of Bacchus unravel my faculties in public, and entertainment that is had is of the kind the Romans would have thoroughly enjoyed. (So, first half, Five Stars, second half … hmm, Two). The other acts on were Mark Allen, Elis James, Sam Gore and The Boy With Tape On His Face who were all excellent. It’s a top notch late night show, albeit one with an occasional compere who promises he’ll never drink again.

Wife And (Good And Bad) Times

I’m sharing a flat with Jason and Clare Cook; this is good news as they’re splendid people who find it amusing when I get angry about things, and it’s far enough away for me to walk off any macaroni cheese pies I’m definitely not going to buy from Greggs, promise. My wife (an undisputed Five Stars, always and forever) has taken the long, six hour trek to Edinburgh to grab two all too short days with me. She arrives just in time for F***ing Funny For A Fiver, which provides perfectly timed evidence that she’d probably be better off if she hadn’t bothered. We had a couple of nice meals – one at a restaurant that shall remain nameless on The Royal Mile, that boasted a fine menu but service that was as enthusiastic but inefficient as a holiday rep attempting to disarm a nuclear missile with a pen-knife and some jam (Three Stars, being generous as it was only the second night). L’Escargot Bleu was a different affair – an authentic French vibe and casually brilliant food at respectable lunchtime prices (Four Stars).

Friday and Saturday saw her help me go through the gig, firm it up in my brain and really work it through, and emerge much better for it. All we could then do was wait for the reviews from Thursday. Out they came and they were fair enough for that first night, although I wish Chortle could extrapolate that a first preview gig from an experienced comic will inevitably tighten up by the time any potential punters arrive. I have to say they have form for not allowing for the symptoms of a preview, and the only criticisms in the review referred to obvious first night flaws rather than problems with the show (so I’ll only give them Two Stars, despite some decent insight and neat phraseology). Nonetheless, it reads like a coveted four star review – though that’s not matched by the rating, so ultimately it’s a missed opportunity for some poster adornment. Slightly disappointing, and a tad churlish, but hey ho, that’s what can happen when you let people in on a preview. A similar story with Three Weeks too, and that’s a publication where the reviewer you’re allocated is a real lottery. You’re often at the mercy of someone who has only got the job because they own a pen. I’ve seen some right howlers in there in the past, so to get one that uses its word count to accurately describe the show and make reasonable criticisms must be chalked up as a win (Three Stars to me, Four Stars to the reviewer).

Anyway, decide for yourselves;

Chortle

Three Weeks

So so far, solid if not sexy. Maybe I flirted with sexiness at my rock ‘n’ roll antics on F***ing Funny For A Fiver (I wished they’d called it Quite Amusing For The Price Of A Lady (Godiva), it’d trip off my tongue with far more élan, frankly), which just goes to show that sometimes, being sexy is no replacement for a mug of Horlicks and a good read.

In A Nutshell

So far (Three Stars).

RICHARD SHAW RIP

RICHARD SHAW

I was rather saddened to recently learn of the death of the actor Richard Shaw. When I first saw the brilliant Quatermass and the Pit many years ago, I was captivated by it, and thrilled at what a complex and sumptuous production it was. I was also taken by many of the performances, but one that really stuck out was that of Richard Shaw as the beleaguered workman Sladden. Initially brought in to do a hush-hush drilling job to get into the hull of the mysterious object buried in Hobbs Lane, he is initially a typical, chirpy, working class character. As the story unfolds, however, he becomes pivotal, being the first to completely succumb to the baleful influence of the Martian inheritance dormant within us all. In a sequence even my Mum remembered from watching all those years ago, he assumes the gait and posture of one of the creatures, as all about him the pit goes haywire. Eventually seeking solace in a churchyard, he collapses to the ground and the gravel beneath him begins to move. Later, under cross examination by Quatermass, he has a vision of life on Mars five million years previously. So many aspects of Shaw’s performance could well have been hokey, and yet he pulled off every one brilliantly. Actors now are well versed in the tropes of science fiction, not so then. It is a performance well ahead of its time, by a largely jobbing character actor who merrily filled the screen both big and small, in roles which similarly filled the spectrum (he has one line in A Night To Remember, and none in The Dirty Dozen, but bigger roles in 633 Squadron and the Doctor Who story The Space Museum in which he was the lead villain). I enjoyed his performance in Quatermass so much that I entered into a correspondence with him. He was the first actor to whom I had plucked up the courage to do this, and the fact that he replied encouraged me to contact more people, and so a teenage pastime was born, which has of course, been greatly useful to me in later life.

As none of my Quatermass archive has been published (bar the use of my photographic collection on the BBC DVD release – in the gallery and booklet), it seems fitting that the original contribution to it should be the first to hit the public domain.

Richard was deeply flattered to have been contacted about his role in the show – “you bring back long lost memories, where have all the years gone?” he asked. Rudolph Cartier had seen him in a play called The Schirmer Inheritance and offered Richard the role of Sladden. “When I read the script I realised it was a very important part and I quote, said thank you, and took the part.” He had fond memories of the cast, and as for producer Rudolph Cartier: “He was the finest director at the BBC, a very hard task master who was a joy to work for and in fact I did eight other plays for him.”

“Sladden was very difficult to play, trying to sustain the level of being twisted and torn by the Martians was very wearing – in those days everything we did was live, though we did do a little on film. During one of my runs through the flying objects I did break my toe. To say it was painful is putting in mildly but I had to keep shooting.” Original Quatermass monster actor Duncan Lamont played Richard’s role in the subsequent feature film, because “I was asked to play it originally but was already committed to another film with Ray Milland so had to say ‘Sorry, I can’t do it’”.

Richard, a humble, charming man, was not one to overplay his importance in the show, and was very happy to be reminded of his work on it, and proud of the serial itself. “I am very aware that I seem to be remembered for my performance in Quatermass, people still come up to me and I am very touched by it. It is gratifying to know my work is appreciated.”

After Quatermass, Richard continued to work over the next few decades, notching up three performances in Doctor Who. His biggest role was in The Space Museum. “Bill Hartnell was a long standing friend and we had worked together many times. When I played Lobos I sustained a severe blow to my left eye which caused some problems for the first episodes but we had to carry on.”

The late Bernard Wilkie recalled that Richard had been extremely co-operative and a joy to work with on his difficult, effects heavy scenes. Patrick Connor (also no longer with us, alas), who played a policeman in the series, also remembered Richard; “He was, to my knowledge, the only actor in the cast to have had only TV and film experience (i.e. none on the live stage). The number of actors without theatre experience had started to grow, and to some degree they were slightly looked down upon by theatre actors. Most of them were a bit aggressive and had a bit of a chip on their shoulder – but I got on with Richard fine”.

Very much one of those “I know the face but…” actors, despite a five decade career in some major productions, it is unlikely that Richard’s passing in April, aged 90, will get the acknowledgement it deserves, so I hope this little corner of the internet serves as some sort of tribute to the man and his work.

Richard Shaw 1920 – 2010, RIP.