My Fringe binge is drawing towards its close and I have this morning “off”, except for a modicum of IT support (which is the currency that I exchange for my accommodation), so I felt it was time to bring my readership up to date with my “doings”.
Booking later and to a less rigid plan, coupled with fewer late night gigs, has definitely been a success – though, perhaps oddly, has failed to result in my aged limbs finding the duvet’s embrace any earlier. My gig choices have generally been sufficiently obscure (or, indeed, unpopular) that I have failed to obtain tickets to very few of my original selections – and the resulting need to explore more interesting alternatives has resulted in some excellent choices.
This is the first year I have tried Fringe theatre and my two examples so far have been excellent – with my third to come just after lunch. I can thoroughly recommend Blink! at the Traverse and Oh the humanity… at St Stephen’s: both combined small casts and minimal sets but still provoked real laughs and some serious thinking, as already established it is much easier to sneak a “message” past my defences if it is accompanied by a good sprinkling of jokes (though whether I’m thinking the “intended” thoughts I’m never wholly convinced).
With the exception of the theatre, none of my Fringe choices have cost more than a tenner (obscurity is your friend), and even those have been some of my cheapest theatre going experiences of the past year. As treasurer of an arts charity, I now found myself counting seats and worrying about the financial viability of the artists who have been entertaining me over the course of this last week. Even if the venues are very cheap to hire (which I suspect may not be the case, despite their rather ad-hoc nature), the costs of a month in the Athens of the North (which given the collapse of the RBS and Bank of Scotland may be a more appropriate choice of alias than in days of yore) are going to make break-even little more than a dream for most. Laundry costs alone must be substantial given the small and very sweaty nature of most of the performance spaces. If I were ever to perform at the Fringe, the music played while the audience are waiting for my (not-so-grand) entry would be a recording of me playing a piece of 100+ year-old music on the piano or recorder to save on PRS costs, though oddly no-one has gone this route, yet…
Most stand-up is just the one person, but I’ve been to see a couple of sketch groups – which must have higher accommodation costs or else be very close. Both Jigsaw and the Three Englishmen (Spoiler Alert: ** contains four men **) were very good (and extremely silly) and far more hit than miss (unless you count Nat Luurtsema as a miss). Both shows may provide fodder for future nightmares: in the case of Jigsaw relating to fellation of Tom Craine (one of the risks of sitting in the front row) and for the “beef” Englishmen (ask Tom Goodliffe) I shall never be able to watch Nigella again. I think sketch comedy, which was a mainstay of my late night Radio 4 listening when a lad (for some reason it seemed to be banished to the post 23:00 slot), may be having a bit of resurgence.
Perhaps my biggest insight from this year has been the joys of the Free Fringe. These events have no tickets or entry cost, you make a donation on exit, and the artists don’t pay for the venue – which I think is funded through bar sales (as they seem to take place in pub basements, usually of establishments offering a rather better range of beer than the paid Fringe). I am wondering if this can be a funding model for classical music? I’ve been to three FF (and now I abbreviate it, it is obviously my natural home) events so far: all have been excellent and include my two top Fringe shows of 2012. Domestic Science was good fun, and properly educational: I shall never look at turmeric in quite the same way again and now want a stick dulcimer. Thom Tuck Goes Straight to DVD was hysterical and I’ve now booked to see his new show this evening. However, this year’s winner of the comedy Fringe is Nick Doody and his soi-disant Massive Face. Most shows have been good for 50-55 minutes – a few with material for only around 40 – but have reached a conclusion after an hour and I’m happy to leave. I reckon Nick did a good 70 minutes and I would have been happy to stay all night. I’ve only really seen him once before, also in Edinburgh, and he was brilliant then as well (a show I still remember bits of years later) – this man ought to be properly famous and not just to those of us who haunt late night Radio 4 and listen to the full list of writers at the end of the show to pick their choices for next year’s Fringe.
I know readers worry about the level of my calorific intake, so let me put your minds at rest. I am now so well-known in Bonsai, that they know my usual – not bad in a bar-bistro more than 300 miles from my home. Yesterday I also discovered the Edinburgh Larder – which provided quite the finest takeaway sandwich I can ever remember consuming and the accompanying brownie was pretty special too. I may have to return in around 90 minutes time… (assuming I can hold out that long).
I have also learned some stuff about myself – and not just that I am now obsessed about the financing of the arts. I have now reached an age where I am no longer afraid to sit in the front row – it usually has the best leg room, and that is way more important than the risk of being “picked on”. I have also let go of yet another element of my masculinity. I used to find the individual rooms at some of the larger venues using my own skill (or an exhaustive search): now I just ask some child employee (there seems to be almost no-one employed who would have had their own door key in my youth) or, at a pinch, anyone wearing a lanyard. It is so liberating – and quick – I think the rest of my masculinity may not be long for this world (if only I had a feminine side to fall back on). Or is this just the last of my shame finally departing for a less challenging assignment?