Edinburgh Fringe 2014

I spent five happy nights in Edinburgh in August, spending many pounds to take in a total of 29 shows as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Much could be said about the week as a holiday, but I’ll keep this post to some short reviews of each show we saw, in chronological order. They’re a bit slapdash, but I’ve left them in the form they were scribbled soon after the shows. I’ll leave the poetic reviews to the professionals.

Peter Antoniou: Happy Medium
Our first Fringe show in an intimate setting with a charming guy and great audience interaction. Unfortunately, the more I reflect on it the less impressive it was. The performer does some great ‘mind reading’ tricks but, in some cases, jumps so clearly to such a specific answer that it’s obvious he’s seen what the audience has been writing down. Nonetheless, Peter Antoniou has some friendly wit and makes the audience all feel part of the show. 3/5

Richard Herring: Lord of the Dance Settee
Richard Herring makes reference in his show that many reviewers feel it lacked a theme – and he’s not wrong. Some amusing little rants, quips and stories, but with no real purpose to being on stage other than to tell us how he used to mishear hymns at school (hence the title). It still make me smile, plenty, but with so many other clever shows at the fringe this did feel a bit like just a collection of jokes and stories, not a clever show. 3/5

What Shall We See Today?
A super helpful way to kick off a day at the fringe, especially for newbies.  In a small, crap, hard-to-find room Mat the host discusses his favourite shows with the attendees, along with another guest from the comedy circuit. Audiences can share their experiences and recommendations for an interactive hour that leaves you with plenty on your ‘to see’ list -and some of our best Fringe experiences came from these recommendations. This is a positive review discussion – not a ‘show’, but really helpful nevertheless. 4/5

High Noon Over Camelot
Our first Free Fringe experience was probably the worst. Some talented musicians with a good idea – telling the story of King Arthur in a space rock styley – but in a room with a crap sound system and no spoken narrative between the songs it wasn’t very easy to keep track of. It wasn’t a ‘musical’ – just a band playing back-to-back songs whilst static, so there was little to see or be interested by (though credit due for some interesting steampunk costumes). There are better free shows out there. 2/5

The Girl Who
A lovely piece of musical theatre by some talented people. Catchy songs and distinctive characters lead the titular protagonist through a series of worlds as she seeks her lost parents – but it’s the actions of audience members that choose which route she takes at critical junction points. The ‘choose your own adventure’ aspect was a nice idea, though I get the impression the show would have been very similar whatever choices the audiences make – perhaps a bit more control on the audience’s part would help this. The songs and characters are big and almost pantomimey in places, but there’s no denying the talent. 4/5

Tom Binns Has Not Been Himself
This man‘s character comedy was recommended to us, so we went to see this show that included his ‘Hospital Radio DJ’ and ‘Psychic’ characters in amongst some standup. Unfortunately, the standup just wasn’t up to the same standard as the character stuff – there were free shows with much funnier people than this paid one. However, the characters saved the day – they were clever, they got the audiences involved, they had good timing, and they trod just the right balance of realism and caricature. Tom Binns is a likeable guy, I’d like to see more characters from him in future. 3/5

Baby Wants Candy: The Completely Improvised Full Band Musical
SO MANY IMPROVISED SHOWS AT FRINGE. SO MANY MUSICALS. So we said we’d only do one, and this was the one recommended by a bar lady. I’m pleased we did. Having previously seen ‘Showstoppers’ (also very good), I had high expectations, but the talent, quick thinking and chemistry these guys need to pull this off is so commendable. The plot had a few false starts, but that’s to be expected when the audience lobs the title ‘The Queen Gets High’ to an American cast. Again, one wonders how much they rely on stock characters, melodies, or framework from other shows, but the result is good. A few catchy songs and some laugh-out-loud moments. 4/5

Andrew Maxwell: Hubble Bubble
Some of the best comedy we saw at the Fringe. Andrew Maxwell had a show with a purpose, with a theme, with a relevant topic, and the anticipation for the show was as much for a lecture or seminar as it was for a comedy gig. He brought in just the right balance of asides, impressions and jokes to the main thread of his arguments, all with an irreverent tone and total command of the audience – with a few heckles at people popping to the toilet to boot. The man does great accents, too. I want to see more of him. 5/5

Some Thing In A Pub
Crap, we’re in the wrong room. We wanted the Pierrot thing. How do we leave? Oh pish, you’re awful. 1/5

The Dead Pony Society
Whilst the bus venue is a nice idea, it’s pretty uncomfortable. The show itself raised several smiles, and quick-fire sketch comedy cannot be easy. With a set, more costumes and more space you can see some established comedy really coming together. As it is, they did great with such constraints and came back to some quite amusing recurring jokes. 3/5

Atella The Pun
I love puns, and when you get the UK Pun Champion in a room with a UK Pun Quarter-Finalist the results are bound to be laugh-out-loud. And if a joke falls flat you’re on to a new one in seconds – no worries. The costumes the guys wore and the title itself are all puns, and they bounced from one subject to another – as called out by the audience – with wordplay after wordplay on diverse, obscure and bog-standard subjects, rarely using anything I’d heard before or making me groan. I think they missed some obvious tricks, and though the ramshackle nature of the show is part of the charm, they could tighten up the end a bit to tie it all together. Nonetheless, laugh-out-loud fun from very resourceful guys. If you like puns, see them in one form or another. 4/5

Ian Fox Presents: The Unsearchables
Down a million stairs in a labyrinthine venue, issuing tickets for this free show may have put some off, meaning it had but a tiny audience. Nevertheless, Ian connected with the crowd well and we felt a part of things. He made us smile, he made as nod, and giggle with him and each other. The whole premise was ‘questions you can’t Google’, which led to pictures of people and Ian asking ‘WHY is he doing that?’. Funny, but the more it went on the less it connected to the premise. His ‘adverts’ in the middle were occasionally amusing but mostly fell flat, and felt prepared-in-a-rush. I want to like this show much, and wish the lovely Ian the best, but the theme could be developed much more.2/5

Rob Auton: The Face Show
A free show far better than many paid shows, Rob Auton is utterly fascinating as he starts his show with no words, gripping us with only his face and his drawing skills. As he moves on into the ‘talking’ bit of the show, there are many smiles and giggles about nothing in particular. In fact, it’s hard to remember exactly what happened for an hour – whether it’s a bad thing that he’s unmemorable or a good thing that he made the time fly by so enjoyably I don’t know, but I’ll lean towards the latter. The poetry at the end went on a bit, but I’d have no hesitation recommending anyone to see this show, even if he were to put up the cost seven quid. 4/5

Coping
We vowed to see the first show we received a flyer for – and Coping was it. It was university drama and, I confess, I had limited expectations, but the company were actually very good. Some very strong, very controlled performances – with the woman playing ‘Olivia’ a particular standout. The plot isn’t ground-breaking, and is predictable, but is handled with emotion and a balance of dialogue and silence that really grips. The company sing and harmonise well, though the guitar accompaniment is distinctly amateurish it doesn’t detract from the power of the play. 4/5

Red Bastard
THE Fringey show. Like nothing I’ve seen before. Left me so impacted. A man in a red costume, all misshapen and prancing about the stage like a devilish imp, points and leaps and shouts at the audience with such control of everything from his fingers to his eyes – every movement is deliberate and powerful. He makes the audience move, shout, change seats – and then challenges them to think what’s stopping them doing more with their life. No spoilers – but people in the audience had their lives change. The ending was memorable, too, though strangely not shocking. Red Bastard got us well and truly out of our comfort zones. Must see. 5/5

Sam Simmons: Death of a Sails-Man
Surreal one-man play about a man trapped at sea, windsurfing. The brash Australian Sam Simmons shouts expletives at the audience, himself, his inner monologue and no-one in particular as he moves through different emotional stages before death…and at the end, as he summarises his fate, you realise it’s been a bit cleverer than you thought. Some catchy musical snippets punctuate the show, as does the arrival of Sam’s silent assistant at various stages to move the myriad props that Sam deserves credit for using so effortlessly in precisely the right order and the right time. A bit weird, but glad I saw it. 4/5

Titty Bar Ha Ha: Hard Time
A nice concept building to a unique finale. This two-woman cabaret show unites the audience in escaping from prison, with challenges helping the team each step along the way to freedom. Dishing out shots, charming the audience and involving them in intimate ice-breaking games, the ladies really made the venue feel a great place to be for an hour. The songs were enjoyable with clever lyrics, and the musical finale is distinct and memorable, not least for its audience involvement, medley skills, and great instrumentation. A surprise hit with me. 4/5

W@nk the Dog
It promised bawdy, filthy acts and it delivered, including the kind that make you cringe and feel like you’re in the seediest, cockroach-invested dungeon with a creepy, pervy, captor. It helps that the venue feels like such a dive. Of course, some jokes weren’t that bad, and some just fell flat, and as four comedians appeared there was a bit of variety and you never had to put up with any one for long. They did well to get diversity of acts considering the limited remit of the show, and the compere and all acts handled drunken idiots in the audience well. One comedian in particular just couldn’t be ‘filthy’ if he tried, and brought the most laughs, but there’s no way I’d recommend the show. 2/5

James Freedman: Man of Steal
A clever show with a very clever finale. This is James‘s first Fringe show, and it’s clear – despite his clearly remarkable talents, he lacks a lot of showmanship, and was never quite sure if the show (how pickpockets and identity thieves work, with explanations and demonstrations) was a performance or a public service announcement. Some of the most pressing questions remained unanswered at the end, too, which had a few technical difficulties unfortunately. Perhaps I’ve become numb to the impressive nature to some of these tricks through seeing such things on TV, but I really think he could have made a bigger deal of some of them – big yourself up, James! Work the crowd! Still, the finale is a show-stopper, and you will sit up and take notice. 3/5

I Need A Doctor: The Whosical
I’m not a big Doctor Who fan, but I know enough to get the in-jokes…which is convenient, as that’s all there was to the show. It is built on the premise that the talented cast of two wanted to develop a Doctor Who musical, but had to change things for copyright reasons to avoid being sued by the BBC. Unfortunately, they felt the need to take TEN MINUTES to explain this to us at the start of the show, when the title all but makes this clear. Then, throughout…there’s no real plot. Just a series of events that takes us from one ‘oops we can’t say that or the BBC will sue us’ reference to another. The songs are well done, and the cast do well to leap between costumes and around the stage so quickly, but this feels like a joke that’s been ‘done’. Plus, some of the references clearly dated the musical…it needs updating for 2014 as it must have been around since last year judging by some of what’s said in it. Still – perhaps I’m being harsh on what is clearly marketed as a family show, and lots of younger audience members clearly loved it. Credit where it’s due to the performers and concept, but I would update this with a plot or leave it be. 3/5

Phil Jupitus Is Porky the Poet in Juplicity
This is Phil in character doing poetry, not as Phil doing standup, so we weren’t really sure what to expect – and got a mix. The ‘character’ is really nothing more than a name, and Porky/Phil broke away from poems at regular intervals to joke with the audience, which was enjoyable. Most of the poems won’t win any awards, but are short and sweet, and memorable when Phil discusses his history of gigging – moving even when it comes to a poem on fatherhood. A musical interlude in the middle sees Phil bring on special guests which added nothing to the show save a little diversity, but it was a nice way to spend an hour. 3/5

Mark Simmons – Mr
Recommended to us as ‘like Tim Vine but cheaper, and funnier’ – we were not disappointed. Even the very title of Mark’s show is a joke (I laughed out loud when it was explained) and Mark’s flat, deadpan delivery of one-liners had us all laughing a lot. He has diversity in his show – he reads from a book, holds up pictures, even undergoes a costume change – and this keeps things from getting in a rut. He also interacted a bit with the audience which was nice, especially in response to delayed laughs or puzzled looks. I’m sure Mark can go far with his comedy – I’m glad I saw him! 4/5

Brendon Burns and Colt Cabana Sit in a 150 Seater at 10pm and Provide the Commentary to Bad Wrestling Matches
I somewhat felt we didn’t quite get what we were billed. They didn’t commentate on wrestling, they just showed a series of short video clips and took the piss out of them. It was like being at a party where someone has YouTube open. Yes, it was funny, but worth the money? Probably not. The arrogant and brash Brendon and Colt dealt with hecklers impeccably well, and had us howling at a couple of points – but I’m not sure they could do it if they didn’t have some funny videos. Probably means a lot more if you’re really into you’re wrestling. I don’t regret going, but I wouldn’t advise you paying full price. 2/5

Marc Burrows in the Ten Best Songs of All Time
Marc did well in a hot room to get all the audience involved in his personal journey, with anecdotes, facts and jokes along the way. I’m sure it helps that I like Marc’s music taste, but this was an enjoyable hour spent discussing what it means to be the ‘best’ song, hearing Marc’s top ten, and helping compile our own list. Marc can also tell you what your favourite music says about your sex life, which is funny. Worth a visit. 3/5

Leaving Home Party
I love Catherine‘s voice. It is moving and charming from the very first note. Here, Catherine tells a – presumably dramatised – tale of what happened when she left Ireland for Scotland, using the sparse stage furniture well to map the highs and lows of the experience. The story goes that there wasn’t much drama, just a series of events that we can all identify with, and we learn a few snippets about Irish and Scottish culture that leave you informed as well as slightly moved. The voice falters a bit on some higher notes – but this is a story, not a song recital, and you feel Catherine is telling you as a person, not a performer. Plus, she’s got a cracking smile. I loved this little show. 4/5

I Killed Rasputin
Again, we were unsure what to expect as Richard Herring does drama, but it’s actually rather a well-written play. I’m glad my friend filled me in on a brief history of Russia and Rasputin before the show, as I might have got a bit lost otherwise, but this nicely fills in the details of his death and the rumours surrounding it with some great acting, chemistry and timing. The characters are rather believable, though there is also some pop-ups from some ‘silly’ representations of the likes of Hitler and Stalin, which move the story along, albeit in a different style to the main thread. Plus, there’s a dog puppet – very skilfully done, but I’m not entirely sure why it was necessary. Great use of the stage though, for a comedian/historian Herring has done well. 4/5

Pss Pss
When you leave an hour-long show with no dialogue and realise you didn’t get bored, credit has to go to the two silent performers who display great skills of balance and movement. The narrative of why exactly there were tumbling and moving wasn’t clear – there was a lot of gyrating that was supposed to mean something but was lost on me – though I suppose that doesn’t matter. Some of their physical feats were remarkable and, though I wish they’d got to them a bit sooner, were worthy of great applause. Some nice involvement of the audience too which brought the biggest laughs. Worth a watch if you like anything circussy! 4/5

Gareth Morinan’s Play: Time
I don’t really know where to begin. Some of the biggest laughs of my Fringe came from this show, and some effort clearly went into it – but it was bad. Maybe that’s why it was so funny. To be fair to Gareth – each day he brings along a different guest, and on our night the guest would not shut up about the reviews Gareth had been receiving which, whilst funny, really didn’t give a chance for the protagonists to get on with the show. I like the concept of semi-improvised theatre, but this was more asides than anything resembling a narrative. The forth wall was not in the slightest bit there, and you sometimes wished it was. Every night is surely different, and it really, really made me laugh – albeit through self-deprecation. 3/5

Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens
I’m glad we finished our Fringe with this. Catchy songs and a cast you can’t take your eyes off with fascinating costumes and enough dance moves to command some fair respect. The sound system wasn’t incredible so I couldn’t really follow the plot of the songs, but it wasn’t tricky to pick up from the drama of the piece – and it was far more about enjoying the ride than understanding the ‘story’. It’s a show done around cabaret tables with a stage at one end and a bar at the other – and this meant I felt really bad when I needed the toilet before the interval. The music, though billed as ‘disco’, touched on sleazy speakeasy and plenty in-between. The cast were varied, but the leads did a great job and everyone earned their money for absolute sure. If you like glitter, disco, Rocky Horror, immersive musical theatre, things a bit glitzy and cheesy, or some sleazy kitsch – see Saucy Jack! I’m glad I did. 4/5

Ticket stubs from Edinburgh Fringe 2014

Just a few of the ticket stubs.
Not shown: credit card bill