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!

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