by Joanna Orland
Ever since my days of youth living in Toronto, I have wanted to visit the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. In my tenth year as a Londoner, I have finally made the trek to what I have confirmed to be a Playground for performance artists.
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe (The Fringe) is the world’s largest arts festival spanning over 3 weeks in August, with over 2,500 shows, in what I believe to be over 300 venues. The Fringe showcases the best of performing arts, most noted for its comedy and theatre. If a comedy act can crack the fringe, they’re pretty much good to go career wise. Formats of performance include theatre, comedy, dance, physical theatre, musicals, operas, music, exhibition and events.
My long weekend in Edinburgh was swift and far too brief. Next time I need to go for longer as there were just too many shows that I had wanted to see but didn’t have the time for. These included Doctor Brown, Pappy’s Last Show Ever, Thom Tuck Flips Out, Sara Pascoe the Musical, Thomas Nelstrop and so many more! But what we did end up seeing was excellent and we somehow managed to fit it all into our jam-packed schedule.
FRIDAY AUGUST 10
EastEnd Cabaret: Notoriously Kinky
The depraved and critically acclaimed musical comedy duo EastEnd Cabaret are taking the Fringe by storm. Diva Bernadette Byrne and half-moustachioed man/woman Victor Victoria owned the stage with their multi-instrumental musicianship, Bernie’s sultry and Victy’s charming voices, as well as amazing songs with such perverse lyrics you can’t help but be drawn into their beautifully sick world.
Victy is an incredibly versatile musician. She sings, plays piano, violin, accordion, glockenspiel, and most impressively- the saw. Their songs are not just perverse and comical, but they are actually catchy and solid tunes. Especially their amazingly popular Dangerwank, which will have you singing “DANGERWANK” over and over in your head for days to come.
SATURDAY AUGUST 11
Austentatious: An Improvised Jane Austen Novel
Laughing Horse @ The Counting House
Austentatious was one of our favourite performances of the festival. Accompanied by a live harpist, the cast including Graham Dickson, Cariad Lloyd, Amy Cooke-Hodgson, Joseph Morpurgo, Rachel Parris and Andy Murray do what it says on the tin: Improvise a Jane Austen novel. Not just any Jane Austen novel, but a LOST Jane Austen novel, which is conveniently titled by choosing an audience member’s suggestion out of a hat. And in this case, it wasn’t just any audience suggestion, it was our very own Susanna Jones’ audience suggestion for the long lost Jane Austen novel entitled “Anal and Anal Retentive”. Oh, they must’ve loved her for that…..
Cleverly naming their title character “Anal”, played brilliantly by Joseph Morpurgo, the story followed the relationship and obsessive compulsiveness of Lady Lazenby, played wonderfully by Cariad Lloyd, and her long-time loyal, and equally compulsive servant, Anal. Throw a couple of young nieces and pig farmers into the mix, and there you have Anal and Anal Retentive.
While the story and character development were amazingly well portrayed, we can’t help but have a debased sense of humour and were all about the slyly included anal puns including the quotes:
“I refuse to do it, Anal.”
“It’s queer, but I do love Anal.”
“I was supposed to marry Dick, but I ended up with Anal.”
Discover Ben Target
Ben Target’s show was a serious WTF moment. It was a standout show not just for its pure oddity, but also for its ingenious surrealism and bizarre sense of humour. You will not see anything like this show. Obviously the sentiments are mutual between myself and the Edinburgh Fringe crowd as his audience was left gob-smacked and out on the street outside of the Underbelly Cowgate. Critics too shared these sentiments as Ben is nominated for Best Newcomer in the Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Awards. Well, I hope he wins it as it is certainly deserved.
I don’t even want to review his show any further as I would hate to give away spoilers. And also, I physically can’t review his show any further as my mind has been blown.
Helen Arney – Voice of an Angle
Helen Arney is a comedienne, songwriter and science nerd. In Voice of an Angle, she combines her 3 loves into a musical comedy show about SCIENCE! Full of science puns, metaphors, facts and ukulele, Helen had the audience giggling throughout. The nerdier you are, the more you will appreciate Helen’s show.
Nina Conti: Dolly Mixtures
Nina Conti was certainly another WTF moment experienced at Edinburgh Fringe. Nina is an English actress, comedian and ventriloquist. Her primary on-stage puppet sidekick is a depressed monkey named Monk who she brought out at the start of her show to get the audience warmed up. She then proceeded to introduce the rest of her cast of puppets, each with its own unique look, back-story and personality.
Nina’s performance is not necessarily overtly funny comedy, or even outright ventriloquism. Nina’s show is a character study not just of her cast of puppets, but of Nina herself. Each of her puppets is an aspect of Nina’s psyche she otherwise keeps from the audience. It’s like somebody working out their issues on a world stage, through role-playing in this case with puppets. It was fascinating. The audience was captivated.
One of the most curious moments in Nina’s show was her puppetry of humans. Getting a pair of volunteers from the audience to wear masks that she could control the mouth movement of, Nina put words and a voice to her two human volunteers. What was surreal about this was how their body language altered to fit what Nina was channelling through them. It’s like Nina possessed them. Nina certainly has a genuine gift for ventriloquism and I highly recommend seeing her show for the sheer fascination of the art and the study of an artist’s psyche.
Monkey Toast: The Improvised Chat Show
Longform Improv guru David Shore brings his successful Canadian show Monkey Toast to the UK. Featuring an all-star cast of UK comedians and improvisers, David welcomes celebrity / special guests to be interviewed by the man himself, while the cast of improvisers then use the interview material as inspiration to improvise scenes.
For the show we attended, Thom Tuck of the Penny Dreadfuls was the standout guest, pretty much a show on his own. He came on stage with a Simba of Lion King doll clutched to his chest. He spoke words few and far between, but he was striking in his delivery. While discussing his show concept “Thom Tuck Goes Straight to DVD” where he has watched all of the Disney fare that bypassed cinemas so you don’t have to, he seemed to get very emotionally involved in the lives of these cartoon characters, delivering our favourite quote of the interview, “Simba is not a violent king”.
Speaking of quotable characters, improviser Paul Foxcroft was by far the most quotable person of the Monkey Toast improvised scenes, and beyond that, the most quotable person of the entire Edinburgh Fringe. Paul kept popping up in many of the shows we saw, intentionally seeking him out or not. Our favourite Paul quote of the Monkey Toast show was Paul as Walt Disney, discussing his plans for creating a Lunar Disney before anyone else gets there: “Nasa Doesn’t Have Imagineers!”
The Beta Males’ Midnight Movie Theatre
The brainchild of, and hosted by sketch group The Beta Males, The Beta Males’ Midnight Movie Theatre was every B-Movie lover’s dream come true. A cinematic screening of a terrible B-Movie, in this case it was SPIDERS, with live performance art, interactivity and comedy, featuring an all-star cast of guests, including director of SPIDERS Gary Jones (played brilliantly deadpan by Paul Foxcroft).
This Midnight Movie Theatre experience had us questioning our very own reality. Guest cast members including Late Night Gimp Fight, Cariad Lloyd, Rachel Parris, Paul Foxcroft, Max & Ivan, McNeil & Pamphilon, Thomas Nelstrop and The Noise Next Door, made the screening of a B-Movie into a comedy / performance art extravaganza. I don’t want to spoil it for you as I demand you see it for yourself! What’s the perfect excuse to do so? Well, Halloween of course! The Beta Males will be doing their Midnight Movie Theatre this Halloween at London’s Leicester Square Theatre.
SUNDAY AUGUST 12
Ladies and Gentlemen – Free
Laughing Horse @ The Counting House
Ladies are Briony Redman and Monica Heisey. Gentlemen are Paul Foxcroft and Joseph Morpurgo.
I’ve seen Briony, Paul and Joseph as improvisers, but this was my first time to see them flex their sketch muscles. Again, Paul Foxcroft is the most quotable character of the Edinburgh Fringe, with some of the most memorable scenes including one involving a cloud headpiece and some tic tacs. I couldn’t bear to spoil this for an upcoming audience, so do see them if you have a chance. Some genuinely brilliant moments.
The Beta Males in… The Space Race
I’d seen the Beta Males previously in their The Bunker and The Train Job shows. The Space Race was in the same vain as these previous shows, but involving space and alien invasions! Highlights included a sketch I believe to be entitled “The Sixties” as well as their amazing videos which played between segments. Brilliant!
Rhys Darby – This Way to Spaceship
Whatever Rhys Darby did on stage would not be good enough for his fans, because it wouldn’t be Murray from Flight of the Conchords. His curse is that he played that character so well and so lovably, he will always be famous for that and perhaps for nothing else. His stand up was solid, very good, and most of all endearing. It wasn’t hilarious or groundbreaking. Some people even walked out. He is not Murray. Nobody expected that.
The Boy With Tape On His Face – More Tape
Best.Show.Ever. A clear number one favourite of our weekend. Made us desperately want to see Doctor Brown’s show as it supposedly takes The Boy With Tape On His Face style silent clowning to the next level. Highly recommend!
Humphrey Ker is… Dymock Watson: Nazi Smasher!
Humphrey Ker, formerly of the Penny Dreadfuls, brought his show Humphrey Ker is… Dymock Watson: Nazi Smasher! for a short run to this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. This very show won Humphrey the Fosters Edinburgh Comedy Award 2011 for Best Newcomer. Very prestigious indeed. This show is more of a one-man-play rather than a sketch or comedy act. The narrative is as interesting as the comedic elements and you can’t help but be rooting for the fictional Dymock Watson to triumph in the end…. Mostly as the alternative is the Nazis winning….
MONDAY AUGUST 13
Max and Ivan Are… Con Artists
We had time for one last show before we packed it in for Edinburgh Fringe 2012 – and what a show it was! Max and Ivan are the epitome of a good sketch act. Their character work is excellent, their story-telling enthralling, and their special effects hilariously wonderful. I’m thinking of the laser beams in particular.
It does take a little while to get into the show as the character introductions and backstories are a bit tricky to initially get your head around as there are so many of them. Once all are introduced, it is with impressive ease that both Max and Ivan can transform themselves into a vast amount of unique characters, each recognizable by an accent and physicality. The story is an Ocean’s 11 type heist job with all of the usual clichés touched upon and used to Max & Ivan’s comedic advantage. They are destined to be stars on the sketch scene, and were a fabulous way to end our weekend of FRINGE!