Edinburgh Fringe – Gail Bishop and the Prosecco Witch

OK I really am quite ill. Not gravely ill, just hot/cold/sneezy/exhausted. Much as I hate to admit it, time to take things a little bit easy. Fewer shows, more rest. Bah.

I started back in the 1940s with Kate Cook’s Invisible Woman, filled with tales of derring do as housewife Mrs Bishop finds herself leaving home, becoming a spy in occupied France and uncovering a dastardly plot. Kate plays all of the characters, switching accents and posture with great accuracy – a nice light piece, perfect for early afternoon.

Several people have been badgering me to go and see Kitten Killers, partly as one of them apparently lives very close to me – so I went along to see what all the fuss was about. Tongue-in-cheek anarchy with a naughty twist – pacy little sketches from turning cliches on their head to bursts of observational feminism. Really infectious comedy.

The Sunset Five was mentioned in an article I read about the cost of taking shows to the Fringe, so I thought I’d give it a whirl. Described as “Hot Fuzz meets Oceans Eleven“, a quiz team stage a heist in order to save their financially stricken pub. Filled with multi-instrumentalism and wry British humour, this versatile cast tell the story perfectly. One of my favourite comedy plays of the Fringe.

Promising a bewitching tale of Cornish mythology and the sea, Jethro Compton Presents Sirenia was a real highlight. In a tiny room with space for about 12 audience, lighthouseman Isaac prepares to wait out a ferocious storm. Just before he battens down the hatches, he spots the body of a girl washed up on the rocks. She is barely alive, but also not what she seems. From the stench of stale tobacco in Isaac’s clothes to the spray of water as he struggles out of his waterproofs, this is the closest I’ve come to Punchdrunk for a long time. A really vivid, scintillating piece of theatre told with drama and intimacy.

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Shit-Faced Shakespeare does exactly what it says on the tin. The Magnificent Bastards get one of their actors absolutely shit-faced just before curtain up, and attempt to put on a Shakespeare play. In this case, The Merchant of Venice, the actress playing Jessica, and two bottles of prosecco. While the rest of the actors valiantly continue with the play as written in the script, she derails it by stealing Portia’s caskets, falling out of a canoe, and adding in a lot of Greek mythology (Venice is now on the River Styx). And witches. So many witches. While Shylock is trying to extract his pound of flesh, she is shrieking incantations on the floor. With a different actor getting shit-faced each night, this bears seeing more than once.

From witches to ghouls in Will Seaward’s Spooky Midnight Ghost Stories, the art of storytelling – and mostly just an excuse for an hour of Will’s big booming melodramatic voice and silly facial expressions. Reading from his terrifyingly-named book ‘BLOOD’ and channelling the ominous contents of an old VHS tape, it’s sublimely daft.

After a night of ‘some’ sleep, my body went into meltdown. I successfully made it to the Royal Court’s Manwatching: a monologue written by an anonymous woman, detailing her most intimate sexual fantasies and thoughts about men. However the delivery of this speech is in the hands of a male stand-up comedian with no prior preparation. Marcus Brigstocke steps into the round, is handed a bound A4 copy, and is expected to start reading immediately, without even so much as a skim through. The no-holds-barred frankness is an eye opener both for him and for us. I was really expecting more giggles from him, perhaps some embarrassment – but mostly it’s just read with warmth and openness, and the occasional eyebrow raise and side-nod of a man comfortable with the task he’s been set. With a fresh, unprepared man each performance, this too could warrant a return visit.

My final show (I had hoped to carry on seeing things) ended up being My Beautiful Black Dog – another exploration of depression, through song and punchy rhythmic poetry. From the all-out mania and world-conquering chaos often used to disguise all the broken stuff underneath, down to the blank numbness and inability to get out of bed for 3 weeks. Initially this is all very intense and overwhelming to watch, but Brigitte Aphrodite slowly peels back the layers to something far more vulnerable and subtle, her soul laid bare. And you cannot help but fall in love with her.

Finally, my body gave up – and I retreated to bed at about 4 o’clock in the afternoon, exhausted, gunky, and brimming with memories, the like of which I don’t think I would’ve had outside of the Fringe. I have lost all track of place, person and time. I would happily live in this weird little bubble for a good while longer. I have been spoilt by something which is so much bigger than itself, of creativity in all of its guises. I don’t think I’ll look at theatre in quite the same way again.

Thank you to everyone who has performed, helped behind the scenes, guided, chatted in queues, cafés and pubs, made me jump, laugh and cry, provided company and debate both in person and online. You’ve all helped to make my first Fringe an unforgettable experience. Thank you.

Now for bed, tissues, drugs and olbas oil.

xx

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