Friday, 17 August 2012

A Day At The Fringe

One of the many pleasures of living up here in St Andrews is the proximity of Edinburgh making it easy for us to visit that wonderful city whenever we like and giving us the opportunity to visit the fabulous Fringe. When we were working we always promised ourselves that we would get to the Fringe but years came and went and we didn't make it. Now, we're almost veterans (well we've been twice). Last year was very much a learning experience but we're both fast learners and, with Marion's exceptional organisational skill, this year we were able to take in four shows, two restaurants and have a look around the street entertainment in one day.

We learnt last year that deciding what to see when you arrive in Edinburgh is a bad idea and wasted over an hour in the ticket queue. So this year with help from the weekend papers we chose our shows in advance, booked tickets online and picked them up in five minutes from the fully automated box office collection point which ran like clockwork. We realised we had time for another show so downloaded the official App onto the phone, checked what was on at our available time and picked up the tickets a few minutes later. That's one thing we've found, the Fringe festival is incredibly well organised - shows start and finish on time, the place is well signposted and it all seems to run like clockwork.

We lunched at Bella Italia - okay it's not exactly fine dining but it was handy and we had vouchers which gave us £20 for every £5 of Tesco points. We knew we had to wait as the place was busy and the Fringe was on but forty minutes for a starter was a bit too much to accept so Marion persuaded the waitress that a top up to our wine was called for (and graciously given). Marion's salmon was overcooked - probably because they forgot the starter - but my Tagliatelle Di Campagna was surprisingly good and redeemed the visit from being a disaster (for me at least).

Lunch over, we took in our first show. Sharron Matthews Superstar: Gold was cabaret (in the afternoon). Canadian Sharron welcomed us all individually with a handshake as we entered Pleasance Above and we all warmed to her straight away. She's a big young woman with a great voice and terrific humour. Her act is a mixture of singing, anecdotes  and some sparkling and good humoured interaction with the audience. Her enunciation is so good that in her fresh take on some classic songs the penny finally dropped and I heard the true lyrics for the very first time. I loved her versions of Don't Stand Too Close To Me, a ghostly Hotel California and a cover of Bohemian Rhapsody that would have given Freddie Mercury a run for his money. In fact I loved the whole show; it was not all a barrel of laughs as she told a particularly sad story from her childhood with a great deal of pathos before turning back to the comedy on hand. A great hour and a highly recommended afternoon show.

When you say that you left a comedy show with tears streaming down your face, it's usually a sign that you've been crying with laughter. Not the case with Sean Hughes' fabulous Life Becomes Noises - an hour about his father's death from cancer last year. His final lines touched me deeply. This show mixes tragedy and comedy to perfection. Marion spent half of the performance with her hand inside a puppet elephant (don't ask), and it's not just stand up as Hughes uses a variety of simple props and costumes to make this tribute to a father who was far from perfect but shared a bond with his son that only a father and son can share. It's a wonderful performance, extremely funny, brilliantly written and perfectly performed. Leaving the show I overheard a few of the audience who had been taken aback by the dark theme and I suggest that you check shows out and read all about them before buying tickets.

After Sean's show we headed to David Bann's vegetarian restaurant for a glass of wine and a few tasty vegetarian snacks. We liked this place; it has a busy atmosphere, friendly service, good food and, being just a few hundred yards from the Pleasance Courtyard complex of Fringe venues, it's perfectly located.

Our evening's entertainment concluded with two sell out shows - Sarah Kendall and The Boy With Tape On His Face. Sarah performed in Pleasance 2 which is a less intimate venue than those of the previous two shows and I felt that this place made it difficult for the comic to engage with her audience. We saw a show here last year too and I had the same feeling then. Kendall was an unknown entity to us but she won us over with her feisty, very Australian, feminist take on life, motherhood and sexual harassment with a funny hour that was well written and well performed but somehow lacked that something - possibly that intimacy - that turns a good show into a great one.

On the other hand, Sam Wills - one of the hot tickets of the Fringe, playing to a packed Pleasance Grand, had an instant rapport with his audience. Again ,we knew nothing about this performer other than what we had read in the blurb and reviews and were not quite sure what to expect. New Zealander Wills' entire show is conducted in silence (he has gaffer tape across his mouth) and the humour is created by his mimicry, his facial expressions and ,mostly, his interaction with willing audience participants. Unlike most shows where performers take audience members on stage, the crowd gave the impression of being willing to take part as The Boy With Tape On His Face treats the poor public with good grace, doesn't make a mockery of them and, as the announcer told us all before the show started, if we didn't take part we'd look like a cock. How we laughed! But on reflection I'm not sure why we laughed. If I told you we spent an hour watching people imitate light sabres with retractable tape measures, being Spanish bulls with shower attachments, playing golf with ping pong balls and a dustpan, flamenco dancing with trick false teeth for castanets and bursting balloons with a staple gun, you'd think we were mad. And that's what this show is; daft, mad, silly, even a bit stupid but, due to Will's expressions, it somehow works and a good time is had by all.

So a great day for us. We enjoyed it so much that we're hoping to get back again before it finishes on 27th. All four shows were good. The best all round for me was Sean Hughes but, if you want something funny, happy and uplifting,  watch Sharron Matthews - she really is a superstar.