Tag Archives: edinburgh fringe

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

Edinburgh Fringe – Gail Bishop and the Impromptu Stage Appearance

The morning began with a slight tickle in the throat. NOPE. Going to ignore this one – I am having too much fun, and don’t have time to be ill. Nothing Dr Theatre can’t fix.

The first half of the day was a back-to-back bard binge. Mrs Shakespeare sounded good on paper: Will Shakes wakes up reincarnated in the body of a woman and proceeds to start rewriting Hamlet, and this ventures into psychosis and delusions. But for all the acting ability on display, the script just doesn’t engage the audience enough to warrant an hour of our time.

Thankfully a one-woman Richard III was both novel and well executed. By stitching all of Richard’s speeches into one monologue and utilising the audience as other characters, we get to look into the maniacal mind of a king hellbent on power at all costs. Emily Carding oozes megalomania and narcissism from every pore – chilling and inventive. I ended up dead.

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Then to Hell Hath No Fury, another diversion, this time with Lady Macbeth explaining her side of the story. Once again, a wonderful concept, and I wanted to love it, but compared to other stuff I’ve seen, it just felt a little bit nondescript, with not enough drama or variation to hold my attention for an hour.

I raced over to see the excellent Father Time (based on one of the Grimm Tales, Gambling Hans) as performed by the very talented Seckford Theatre Company. Fusing storytelling with dance, puppetry and multi-instrumentalism, this accomplished production has set the standard for youth theatre at the Fringe.

By now, that tickle had turned to a stinging soreness, and my nose had begun to run. Much like the start of university, thousands of people (and their germs), packed in close proximity to each other, and too many nights of burning the candle at both ends – the perfect recipe for the dreaded Fringe Flu.

I briefly managed to ignore this during Down And Out In Paris And London, an excellent adaptation of George Orwell’s novel, which has been spliced with Polly Toynbee’s Hard Work, about modern day poverty and zero-hours contracts, with staging reminiscent of The 39 Steps.

I finished up the night with some more stand up: the minutiae as acutely observed by James Acaster, and then I overstepped the mark. Immersive and interactive theatre have perhaps inspired in me a little too much willingness to participate. There were instructions, and I, like the foolish puppy I am, keenly threw myself into the proceedings. Which is how I ended up winning an out-of-date yoghurt and washing a man’s hair onstage. I can’t decide whether Luke McQueen is a genius or a lunatic, but he certainly had me laughing until my face hurt.

Edinburgh Fringe – Gail Bishop and the Backseat Encounters

Another thing I’ve learnt about Edinburgh Fringe: after breakfast, there’s no such thing as mealtimes. You grab food whenever you have a long enough break, so lunch can end up being any time between 11am and 4pm – ish. I have totally lost track of what day it is.

My first show of the day was excellent. 6 audience, 6 actors, 3 cars, 15 minutes in the backseat of each. This Time Tomorrow throws you straight into the ordinary lives of 3 pairs of people, all having a conversation in the front seat of their car. While these are 3 standalone scenes with no bearing on each other, there is great clarity and it is immediately obvious who each character is in relation to their counterpart, and what’s happened in the lead up to this moment. There is tension, humour and pathos, exploring everything from stroppy teenagers to the first indications of Alzheimers. A real joy to watch.

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Improvisation has become one of the essentials of Edinburgh Fringe, so my first pick was Upstairs Downton. With suggestions from the audience, they’ll improvise an hour of early 20th century Downton-esque drama. While very funny, I was expecting a few more references to the actual TV series (and so it seemed, was everyone else).

I then had 2 autobiographical shows back to back: The Eulogy of Toby Peach covers Toby’s dalliance with The Cancer Club, a tricky one-man show in which the realities of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma are demystified, but we’re often so caught up in the narrative, that we miss the punchline and our cue to laugh/applaud. Then onto Whiskey Tango Foxtrot which charts the highs and lows of being a woman in the Royal Air Force. Rebecca Crookshank is an accomplished storyteller, making use of multiple characterisations, physicality, voice and media in her richly engaging show (and one of those characters tears the head off a toy penguin).

I finished up with some stand up comedy, Ivo Graham whose post-Eton ambition seems to stretch as far as not splitting up with his girlfriend, Nish Kumar who articulately fixates on the frustrating infighting of left-wing politics, and Bronston Jones whose show God Bless ‘Merica is an hour of exploring everything that’s wrong with the USA from a homegrown perspective. He is proof that comedy doesn’t have to be laugh-out-loud funny all the time: sometimes audiences are quite content to just sit and listen.

Edinburgh Fringe – Gail Bishop and the Wild Haired Alchemist

Things I’ve learnt: Very few things start promptly at Edinburgh Fringe. Start and end times are a slightly arbitrary concept. Which you’d think would be good for someone who – in spite of military precision timetabling – is rarely on time for anything. I met my downfall by arriving by the skin of my teeth to the venue and almost* wasn’t allowed in (*this is a lie. They wouldn’t let me in. I waited until the coast was clear, and snuck in. Please don’t send the fringe police after me).

This is the 3rd time I’ve seen Seth Kriebel’s work, and We This Way is an expansion on previous show, The Unbuilt Room. With his bright mechanical voice (think Kryten from Red Dwarf) he takes you on a choose-your-own-adventure in his head, with narration detailing locations, sights, sounds, smells and options “you could get off the train, stretch  your legs and have a look around… or you could open the old man’s suitcase and see what’s so heavy.” There is the novel approach of ‘decision by democracy’, using coloured glowsticks to indicate individual choice, but ultimately it is the wisdom of crowds that determines the route.

From there to the Gilded Balloon for Will Seaward Has A Really Good Go At Alchemy. Boom-voiced, big haired and eccentric to a tee, Will has decided that he doesn’t like being an impoverished comedian, so his latest get-rich-quick scheme involves transmuting base metals into gold. In an hour. Even though he hasn’t done any chemistry since he was 12, and alchemic success has eluded some of the finest minds in science for centuries. But buoyed by a tide of jolliness and unfailing optimism he creates pure comedy gold.

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There are two Game of Thrones-themed shows at the fringe this year: Winter Is Coming. Again. (marred by the actors mostly shouting over each other between songs, denying us any real idea of what’s going on) and the infinitely more slick and successful Thrones! The Musical – with great clarity and witty lyrics, it works well for both those who’ve seen the show and those who haven’t.

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Then back to the circus for Bromance, which blurs the lines between masculinity and vulnerability with pure elegance. Mixing physical strength with balancework and dance, it’s effortlessly cool without being arrogant. Then finishing up with a bit of stand up in the guise of John Robins: Speakeasy, which is essentially a very funny hour of how the internet has turned us all into terrible people and why it’s the worst thing ever invented.

Edinburgh Fringe – Gail Bishop and the Clingfilmed Puppeteers

Yes. I really am going to name all of this week’s blog posts in the style of Harry Potter.

After a long, stressful Saturday and a good night’s sleep, Sunday presented itself for a packed day of theatre. First up, Boris: World King, a witty little satire starring Britain’s favourite buffoon, Boris Johnson (well, a man in a blonde wig). A brilliantly funny show is filled with latin, Boris bikes, wiff-waff and tomfoolery. This level of clowning and mimicry takes skill in order for it not to look too staged. My next show was a complete contrast in tone and content: Much Further Out Than You Thought ventures into more emotive territory, as Lance Corporal James Randall tries to tell his 9-year-old son why his time serving in Afghanistan has affected him the way it did – haunting and gripping.

I am always drawn to anything labelled as immersive, partly because as a theatre genre it is so diverse in its execution. Awakening: Sweet and Sour Sensory Composition asks the audience to put on an eyeless mask and to experience the show through their senses. I can’t explain why the two performers were wearing clingfilm, but it did make a rustling sound which helped to establish where they were in the room. As one of the few people who were masked quite late on, I watched as they gently turned the audience into marionettes, made them dance and brought various sensations to their ears, noses and skin. Even once masked, there is that unusual mix of feeling both completely safe and wondering what’s going to happen next. Every individual receives a different experience depending on where they are sat and when they are masked. A fascinating performance.

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I have a few friends performing at the fringe this year, so it was a joy to go along and support Sooz Kempner: Character Activist in a room with a modest audience of people who didn’t know her – and to hear them laughing. From Essex princess to Soho Vlogger to mediocre heptathlete to West End diva, this ramshackle bunch are delivered with conviction and a wry smile. And singing. Reknowned for belting her lungs out, this is by far and away where her performance comes into its own. Have you ever wondered what it would sound like if Christina Aguilera sang Silent Night? (Well now that I’ve put the thought into your head…) Pop along to the Mash House and let Sooz show you.

From song to circus, in the capable (and calloused) hands of Circa’s Close Up a stripped back show where nothing is hidden – they do of course have the physical ability to do all these tricks, but there is the mental challenge: when performing, they often have to smile brightly through the fear that this may go wrong. Nothing is made to look easier than it actually is.

With my days jam packed, I have left my evenings free for a bit of spontaneity – in this case a bit of music-based comedy The Shuffle Show, where a couple of Aussies take us into the Pandora’s Box of the iTunes shuffle, picking a theme and seamlessly segueing from one guilty pleasure hit into the next. It’s fast paced and funny, culminating in a dance routine featuring every bit of iconic pop choreography.

I ended the night as the court stenographer for This Is Your Trial, an improv show where members of the audience go on trial, prosecuted and defended by some top fringe comedians. Tonight, Marcus Brigstocke and Howard Read, with the right honorable Jessica Fostekew keeping order. My friend Andy managed to accuse himself of a crime he didn’t commit by putting his name on the wrong line. Other violations of the law included alleged piano theft and questionable jazz ownership, wedding ring loss and tickling to death, and it was my job to tweet the proceedings – including the drawings from the court artist. An anarchic joy and I may have to go back for seconds.

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Edinburgh Fringe – Gail Bishop and the Sudden Lack of Accommodation

11.45am
This has not gone well.

In spite of booking (and paying for) accommodation in February, I found out with less than 24 hours notice (3pm yesterday) that hotels.com had failed miserably to pass my booking onto the place I was supposed to be staying. Cue much stress and many emails, phone calls… and a few tears. The theatrical adventure I’ve been looking forward to for months has started off in a distressing fashion and this has somewhat marred what should’ve been an exciting trip to bonny Scotland.

But I have done what and self-respecting Brit would do: I have had a cup of tea (and a grumble on Twitter). There is not a lot else I can do until I arrive in Edinburgh.

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3.15pm
After some serious adulting and a 20 minute phone call to Hotels.com in America (in which I used my stern “I’m not shouting at you – yet.” voice and terrified a foreign man), I have a room. It’s the one I was supposed to have in the first place. A self-contained room in Student Halls with a bed, a kitchenette and en-suite, a 5 minute walk from the Pleasance. As promised, they’ve laid on bedsheets, towels and a few basic kitchen bits – so it’s like lo-fi self-catering.

The cock up did sadly cause me to miss This Will End Badly starring Ben Whybrow (Punchdrunk alumni), a one-man tragicomedy exploring the dark heart of modern man. I will try to squeeze this in later in the week.

The great thing about reviewing for Bargain Theatre is it’s taking me to see things I might not otherwise have booked. We Can Make You Happy a perky cabaret about happiness and existentialism.

My highlight of the day was Bryony Kimmings Fake It ‘Til You Make It a brave, honest look at mens mental health. Funny, poignant and moving, it charts the true story of her relationship with her fiancé, Tim, who has clinical depression, and how they are managing it together. Tim is in the show too, which is what makes this truly personal and lays the issue bare from first-hand experience. Often shows that visualise their metaphors risk straying into cliché, but these were understated and haunting. After a long, emotional day, this was very cathartic and really struck a chord.

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This was followed by some light relief. And DEATH. John Robertson – The Dark Room: Symphony of a Floating Head harks back to those primitive 1980s text-based computer games where you “awake to find yourself in a dark room” and your mission is to escape. Complete with black leather sci-fi costume and matching graphics, Robertson stalks the stage, mercilessly taunting the audience with ridiculous options such as “find light switch”, “Czech pockets” and “tripe”. But ultimately, all choices lead to DEATH. Macabre feel-good silliness.

The night ended with the misleadingly described Comfort Slaves. Anyone expecting “Our culture and society is becoming, anaesthetised, dumbed down and depressed but we need to wake up.” may find themselves rather bewildered by a series of disparate scenes of a traumatic nature. Shock factor is high, and some in the audience weren’t ready for the brutally graphic content. It takes a while for it to make sense, but it presents some interesting juxtapositions of what modern society finds offensive, and asks some very pertinent questions. They’re working on getting a much-needed content warning on the website.

Countdown to Edinburgh Fringe

I’ve never been to Edinburgh Fringe before. (I know, right?) I haven’t been deliberately avoiding it, it’s just been a lack of the fates aligning for me to have enough annual leave to go away for a week in August.

So I have my accommodation and trains booked. I have spent weeks drowning in spreadsheets and maps, meticulously planning how best to pack in everything I want to see, both cost effectively and efficiently so that I’m sticking to venues in the same locale rather than madly criss-crossing the city. This is all good in principle, but I do have a talent for cutting it fine and being easily distracted, so my military precision may all count for nothing.

Last night I begrudgingly accepted that with 8 shows all starting around 2 o’clock, and only 6 days in which to see them, I’d have to let a few things slip. It’s heartbreaking, because so much sounds so promising. The more you look, the more you find. So unless Professor McGonagall can lend me a Time-Turner for the week, I’m going to have to deal with a lot of FOMO (Speaking of which, I should probably find time to go and have a cup of tea in the cafe where J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter).

But I’ve found some real gems which I’m hoping will be good. Most of my picks seem to fall into the following categories:

  • Comedy
  • Circus
  • Friends’ shows
  • Shakespeare-based
  • Confined spaces/darkness
  • “Please wear sensible shoes”

Some shows fit into more than one category – although I’m yet to find a comedy Macbeth performed to one audience member at a time in a series of dark cupboards in Edinburgh Castle and told through the medium of circus – if someone wants to make that, I promise I will come and see it. Admittedly I dreamt a week ago that I went to see Thunderbirds on Ice which also had audience participation.

So I have a hugely diverse bunch of shows to see: improvised lost Jane Austen titles, 1940’s Hitchock-inspired circus, a Shakespeare where the audience play the other characters, a series of conversations in the back of 3 cars, a choose-your-own-adventure where the audience determine the order of the scenes, frank explorations of mental health, my friend’s older brother trying to transmute base metals into gold, Game of Thrones spin-offs, and a steampunk scavenger hunt. It will be nothing if not eventful. I am quite concerned that I will be torn between the need for sleep and the need to see more shows.

So here are my picks, all beautifully listed for you with links (some of these I’ve managed to see in London previews):

Comedy

Austentatious: An Improvised Jane Austen Novel
Fake It ’til You Make It
John Robertson – The Dark Room: Symphony of a Floating Head
Sooz Kempner – Character Activist
Thrones! The Musical
Will Seaward Has a Really Good Go at Alchemy
Will Seaward’s Spooky Midnight Ghost Stories II
Winter is Coming. Again.

Circus/Physical Theatre

Blind Man’s Song
Bromance
Close Up
Hitch!
Ockham’s Razor: Arc and Every Action…

Shakespeareish

Hell Hath No Fury
Mrs Shakespeare
Richard III
Titus Andronicus: An All-Female Production
To She or Not to She

Immersive/Confined Spaces/Darkness/Sensible Shoes

Awakening, Sweet and Sour Sensory Composition
Comfort Slaves
Father Time
Fiction
Helpless Doorknobs
Jethro Compton presents Sirenia
Phantasmagoria
Tate Postmodern
This Time Tomorrow
We This Way

Other

Citydash
Down & Out in Paris and London
I, Elizabeth
Much Further Out Than You Thought
My Beautiful Black Dog
The Eulogy of Toby Peach
We Can Make You Happy
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot