Stealing a march on the launch of the official Edinburgh Festival Fringe programme, the EdFest.com programme was launched on May 22 with launch parties held in Edinburgh and London a day apart.
The early launch and the headline acts at each of the big four venues – Assembly, Gilded Balloon, Pleasance and Underbelly – will do little to stem the tide of claims that EdFest is either trying to take over the fringe or is destroying everything the fringe was meant to stand for, with a slew of well-known comedians at ever increasing prices making it harder for new acts to get reviews or attract audiences.
If you take the cover off the programme and hand it to anyone who discovers comedians by turning on the TV rather than going to comedy gigs, chances are that only the assorted Brexit and Trump themed shows would give any clue as to what year’s programme they’re looking at, and even then it could still be anytime from 2017. Without those topical references a line-up that includes Whose Line is it Anyway, Paul Merton’s Comedy Impro Chums, Frank Skinner, Eddie Izzard, Nicholas Parsons, Christopher Biggins and even Basil Brush (who is admittedly making his fringe debut), could have come from anywhere in the last twenty years.
But this is hardly news and hardly a new argument. It’s also only part of the story. The big four venues will this year bring 948 shows from 29 countries to perform in 107 spaces across 24 venues in Edinburgh in August, and they can’t all have appeared on Mock the Week or 8 out of 10 Cats. So what else is on the schedule, and what should you look for whether or not you want the comfort of a name you can trust every evening?
Ones to watch definitely include Cream Tea and incest (Peracals Productions) at Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre. This show got its fringe debut in 2017 and was on at Space@Surgeon’s Hall last year. Romance, adventure and murder in a knockabout Edwardian comedy. It undoubtedly deserves its elevation into the EdFest line-up this year. To write something this ridiculous and to make it this good requires talent, imagination and ludicrous levels of creativity. Peracals Productions have all of the above.
In a very different vein, Myra’s Story (Brian Foster Productions) at the Assembly Rooms follows a middle-aged homeless Dublin street drinker through a day of her life taking in all the events that have led her to where she is. A one-woman show that combines dark humour and tragedy it has earned fantastic reviews in Ireland and won a Best Tragedy Award in a New York Festival in 2016.
Fishbowl (SIT productions) at Pleasance Courtyard also comes with good credentials as the winner of the Moliere Award for Best Comedy Play. It’s a mixture of farce and physical comedy that promises to delight fans of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Mr Bean. This probably also means that it will be one to avoid for anyone who is not a fan of those three reference points, but with a lunchtime slot it’s worth taking a look at.
Elsewhere, in a programme that proves puns and allegedly clever play on words are the lifeblood of so many show naming sessions, credit has to go to Wound Up Theatre for their contribution to the genre It’ll be alt-right on the Night (Pleasance Courtyard). Possibly not a comment on the European Election results, it’s billed as a story of social justice warriors and the far-right with a jazz-punk score and a friendship that ends with a punch up in a Lidl carpark, so maybe it’s actually about the upcoming Tory leadership contest. It could be great, it could be terrible, whichever of the two it is, it still has a name that will get people to look at the flyer and contemplate choosing it amongst the vast amount of other shows they’ve never heard of.
And that is what the fringe should be about. Taking a chance on shows you’ve never heard of performed by people you’re unlikely to see outside of fringe festivals or small theatres in whatever town or city they happen to come from. Accept the fact that for every unexpected gem you unearth there is likely to be at least one thing that you wished you’d never picked up that turns your hands a funny colour and leaves behind a smell that you can’t get rid of.
Only when you’ve done that, have you earned the right to go to a safe show that is likely to be touring in your home town in the autumn. And if you are doing that, the show to see is Mark Watson: How You Can Almost Win (Assembly George Square). It debuted as a work in progress piece at The Stand last year and already felt like the finished article. A truly excellent show combining humour, self-deprecation and an insight into the true character of Bear Grylls. A comedy masterclass from a comedian who isn’t relying on his name and reputation alone as the selling points for his show.
And now the wait begins for the rest of the fringe programme…
Cream Tea and Incest – Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre 31 July – 25 August (not 15 August) | Myra’s Story – The Assembly Rooms 1-25 August (not 7,14,21 August) | Fishbowl – Pleasance Courtyard 31 July – 26 August (not 14 August) | It’ll be alt-right on the Night – Pleasance Courtyard 31 July – 26 August (not 12 August) | Mark Watson: How You Can Almost Win – Assembly George Square 31 July – 11 August (not 2 August)
Andy Moseley | Image: Contributed