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Edinburgh Fringe day 4 – ever more comedy

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Stewart Lee is the focus of the day and anyone expecting an easy ride from this apex predator in his natural habitat has already been told where to go. Critics and fans alike are told they are “not equipped to review me” and the audience are grouped into fans who are “cackling sycophants” or those dragged in by friends who are the enemy. Blessed anonymity is Lee’s future and his ideal audience will soon be his again. His ideal audience? One that never laughs at anything he says but can form break-away discussion groups.

Those days of small rooms aren’t coming back, and no amount of snarling at 4-star Telegraph reviews bringing in “all cunts for the rest of the month” is going to derail the success Lee is experiencing and nor should it on the face of his new show, billed a work in progress, as they always are. Today’s show had a tight half hour about the insanity that comes from chasing awards and centres around Graham Norton winning a BAFTA over his Comedy Vehicle. In true Stew style, he builds up a small annoyance into a hurricane of vanity and bitter rage. Why is Norton allowed to accept the award and why aren’t people stopping him getting to the stage? What begins as Lee seeming a little bemused that his show didn’t win ends with him outraged that a show where people mostly just go “yeah, I am in a film” and is it possible that chatting can be funnier than he, a proper comedian? It’s excellent stuff.

Even better is his discussion of the prostitutes behind his house and the ways in which he needs to become creative in telling his kids what the condoms at the bottom of the garden really are. He weaves this into a narrative about money and how it changes everything in life. Without his and his wife’s run of success, they’d not have a garden for prostitutes to throw condoms into, so the story has a partially political slant as he counts all the ways that his sources of income are all being demolished by our evil government.

For the second half, Lee recycles some jokes about Islam – which are of course hideously politically correct. We find Lee showing real outrage towards Quakers and the way they live their lives. The point being that you may as well be angry at thee Quakers if you’re going to pick on a religion, surely? Nobody seems to care about those guys.

Where Lee has excelled for a long time is in his ability to make us look at our own prejudices and even better, helps us see how his repetition of themes and flashing the inner workings of comedy at us help create something so much more nourishing than simple stand up. On this showing, he might not be the funniest comic in the UK, but he’s untouchable in intellect and narrative form.

Stewart Lee – A Room with a Stew at Assembly Rooms until 31st August – 2.15pm

 


 

My biggest Fringe surprise was Simon Munnery’s Fylm School, held in a smelly pub reminiscent of the pub from Trainspotting…

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Lovely loo

The surprise wasn’t just how awful the venue was, but how brilliant the show was. Munnery has a great mind for the absurd and instead of appearing on a stage, chooses to have us seated facing a screen. He is projected from the back of the room, using a camcorder that he skillfully alternates between his face and the many cartoons he has drawn on the table. It is a strangely effective way of communicating to us – even though he is not performing directly to us, we all see an exploded view of him, giving a sense of intimacy. The contrast to this, of course, is the absence of comedians at venues like the 02 where all the video screens in the world can’t make them appear anything but very remote and distant.

Lolly Adefope has gained rather a lot of attention at Edinburgh this year, all totally justified on tonight’s showing of her character Gemma – a first-time stand up who has drinks “Red wine no ice” and is a study in tragic comedy. Gemma is all wide-eyed wonder at the world around her, desperately trying to find out what a Vajazzle is and confused as to why “women have to sit down to pee but men never call you back”. We’ve seen these comic characters plenty before, but Gemma feels like a fresh creation, partly down to the sheer exuberance of the performance. Lolly’s full show is based around 5 characters who all are hitting the stand up circuit for the first time and reviews suggest each is fully formed and worth seeing. I can’t wait to see the rest!

 Rhys James is apparently all over Twitter and uses the form of Fylm Show well by imagining famous last words on Twitter. It is said that Oscar Wilde’s last words were “either those curtains go or I do” but here, it’s suggested that Wilde repeated this phrase non-stop for 12 years, so mad was he. Twitter gives you the perfect way to have your final word and James hits on a great idea in his short segment. There’s an air of cockiness and vulnerability in his set and alongside Munnery and Adefope is very funny.

 Flym School is something I will be returning to again. It was genuinely the funniest hour I had at the Fringe.

 Simon Munnery’s Fylm School at Heroes @ The Hub until 31st August at 19.40


For just a fiver, you can catch some of the best acts at the Fringe perform short sets from their shows. A seriously good two hours showing just how many talented comics are at the Fringe.

Best of Hub at Pleasance Dome Aug 26 at 22.00

Edinburgh day 3 – it continues!

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So many things. So many worries that you’re missing this and everyone is having the best time. .. But by day three it’s possible to get a grip on these absurd worries and just enjoy the festival.

So, Austentacious, the Jane Austen improv group are first up. Selling out the Udderbelly most days, it’s a show you should get booking up because it’s an hour of comedy brilliance. The premise is simple: the audience come up with a title for a new Jane Austen play and the team work out the story. For what it’s worth, mine was Jane Austerity – Poverty in big floaty dresses. But it was never chosen, tragically.

Improv is fascinating to watch, being able to notice the communication between the players and how no ego can get in the way. Today’s show was no different and the story revolved around an art gallery being closed, a prominent wealthy man being likened to a tree, a poor girl offering to dive into a jar of formaldehyde for her love and a meal topped off with endless oregano, Parmesan and hundred and thousands.

Armed with incredible timing, Austentacious is top-drawer improv that needs to be seen.

Austentacious at Underbelly until 31st August.

The second show of the day was the super entertaining Max and Ivan’s The End, where they cunningly change the lights to be different characters taking us on a walking tour of a horrendous town by the sea, with the slogan “Don’t go on the beach!” giving you an idea of the town and its charms. Enormously influenced by the League of Gentlemen, there are many moments of brilliance in the show with comic timing a particular strength.

We are guided through the town and its nuclear power plant and a melee of weird characters all fighting for our attention. The father and returning son duo works well as a central storyline, with callbacks to some blood curdling arguments they’d had in their past always raising big laughs. For me, I found an unexpected but vicious (and no doubt illegal) sex scene to be the high point, intercut with other key moments in the day of the town.

The ending itself seemed to go on for too long – returning to characters we’d just seen, but it’s slick, sick and a lot of fun.

Max and Ian: The End at Pleasance Dome until 30tj August

Edinburgh day 2 – Two full plays and two full comedy shows

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A busy day at the Festival saw me sit through two plays and two comedy shows, a record for me! Every one of them was of a startlingly high quality, with the levels of creativity on display for Down and Out surprising at every turn, the intensity of Luke McQueen being unlike any comedy show I’ve seen and the novelty of Mawaan Rizwan suggesting he can switch from YouTube video fame to real-life adulation.

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First up was Urinetown, performed with passion and wit by the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. The story is about a town where private companies control public amenities and peeing or pooing is only allowed at their toilets, at a cost. The musical is always finding ways to break the fourth wall and talk to us, suggesting that Urinetown isn’t as fictional a place as we might imagine. The performers that stood out were Pennywise as the company snitch who won’t let anyone off their pee fee and the brilliant Graham Richardson as Bobby Strong. Little Sally and Officer Lockstock also impressed.

Urinetown at Assembly Hall until 31st August – 11.45am

Down and Out in Paris and London is a book seared into my memory for the chilling descriptions of poverty and this play combines that with Polly Toynbee’s book Hard Work, where she discovers a world of zero hours contracts, nearly zero support from the benefits agency and a general undercurrent of despair amongst the unemployed and employed alike. A play staged with immense skill, Down and Out simply blew me away as it skipped through time from Orwell to Toynbee in a move as simple as turning a bed around or walking through a door. Armed with a script that hammered home a message that inequality is a pox we’ve yet to rid ourselves of and brilliant performances, the play will stand out for me as a genuine highlight and should find a good home in the home of inequality, London, come April 2016.

Down and Out in Paris and London – Pleasance Courtyard Two until 31st August – 6.30pm

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A spectacularly rampant hour of comedy that starts without a comedian, but a disembodied voice on a phone and pushes performance and stand up into a deeply awkward and brilliant shape. McQueen was once in a double act, but not any more and he’s bitter as hell about it.

Audience participation is often scary, but McQueen has an ability, much like Adam Riches, to keep the doomed participants feeling part of the joke rather than the joke. There is a good mixture of stand up, physic comedy, video clips and props being used and as the ideas pile up on top of one another, the show becomes painfully funny and sad at the same time. McQueen seems to have form at using trauma as a tool and in Double Act he’s honed it to a sharp point.

Luke McQueen Double Act at Pleasance Courtyard Beside until 31st August – 9.45pm

We are asked to put our hands together for a gender-neutral comedian and out comes Mawaan Rizwan, splendid in a flowing gown and giant wig. With pegs for fingers. Starting by feeding the audience badly, he says nothing for minutes at a time and whatever he does say is in whispers. Keeping a midnight audience entranced, Mawaan dances about the stage before making tentative steps at telling a joke inside a joke inside another joke.

The show has a form and it slowly makes itself known through mini game shows, quizzes and almost-magic tricks. My favourite moment was a simple but effective gag about making tape animals out of cellotape. The Guardian described his show as one that will do anything for laughs, so his ending is suitably ludicrous. All I’ll say is when he tells you he’s made a serious play about the transition from boy to lamp, he’s anything but serious.

Mawaan Rizwan at Pleasance Courtyard This – midnight

Edinburgh day 1 – What a Rush!

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This is my third visit to the beautiful city of Edinburgh but my first at the festival, and day one was a wonderful rush! Arriving at the airport and onto the cursed tram, which was smooth and pleasant, offering no idea why it cost over £375m over budget!

A walk through the city to get to Richmond Apartments is a reminder that grey weather does not bestow upon Edinburgh great beauty, but all the same you feel like you’ve arrived somewhere important. It’s a glorious city and the buzz of the festival adds to the atmosphere.

Collecting tickets on the high street ticket office makes things as simple as possible, allowing you more time to develop post-traumatic stress disorder when you emerge back out into the throng of everything. 

To the left of me was a woman dressed as a witch banging a drum, a cacophony of bagpipes rising from the east, a phalanx of ticket jockeys. Everyone was friendly – handing out leaflets without being pushy. All around, posters for shows are pasted to all available open space; it’s a fantastic spectacle that can feel a little overwhelming. In two minutes you’ll see more happening than a city would have in a day. 

Our first show was at the Pleasance Dome. Adam Riches has moved on from performing a sketch-based show to what he describes as a sport movie on stage. Opening with a mash up of three major film studio themes merged into one, it’s evident that Riches isn’t going to lose his comedy touch, but Coach Coach is more about farcical drama than it is about comedy. The premise is simple, sort of. Coach Coach has a family who love Volfsball, but Coach isn’t any good at getting his team to win, not helped by a player with two left hands. Luckily a new player comes on the scene, able to whip up excitement and passion because he’s… a wolf. The opposite team are the centaurs, featuring a player who only communicates by finger clicks and arm movements and a mannequin. There’s also an appearance by Richard Gadd.

At times, the storytelling gets in the way and shows a script that could be tighter. Some jokes fall flat and others work a treat, but when Riches let the cast roam around the audience, things perk up and chaos is controlled but hugely enjoyable. The ending shows the skills that Riches has for audience participation, his ability at bringing storylines together and generating excitement in the audience. Coach Coach is weaker than ‘Bring me the head of Adam Riches’ which won at Edinburgh in 2011, but few comics could pull off a sports movie on stage that is as dynamic as this. He is a natural team player and doesn’t dominate a show peppered with enough gags to make for a highly enjoyable if not spectacular evening. 

At the Pleasance Courtyard Beside venue we caught Twins do a free midnight show. Free is hugely underselling the show, full of quick wit, shambolic sketches and introduced by my favourite new comic duo, Wack and Wanny who the Twins keep trying to kill.

The show is based on Jack’s bucket list that he must complete before he dies (he has until the end of the hour) and through the magic of imagination he goes to Vegas “it’s Vegas baby, roll the dice!” “I don’t wanna!”, sees the Northern lights in Northern England, hunts down a dastardly Mexican who tells everyone they’re rubbish and gets involved with a Pony Club. The Pony Club is particularly sharp, and who doesn’t want to see audience members ride comedians round a racetrack made with plungers?

The Twins have so much enthusiasm and joy in their work that the hour flew by far too quickly. A definite highlight.

Twins at Pleasance Courtyard Beside until Sunday 30th August – Midnight

Adam Riches is Coach Coach at Pleasance Dome until August 30th – 21.45

I love London part 1

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Welcome to part one of a series I’ll sporadically/never update due to my ability to – and I think this could be cute but is probably annoying – forget most things. Today I went to Chesham high street to give my beloved some vouchers he wanted to use. I arrived at Sainsbury’s without any vouchers and at that point clocked that my little journey to town was pointless, but it was a nice day so somehow it was all ok. I do that a lot. Maybe I should be a forgetful but brilliant scholar who has the ability to shamble in a room to amaze people. I have many skills to work on.

The point I intended to make at the opening is uh, about towns. I am moving to London next week, but in a way, I’m just moving to a town connected to another town. A thought that came to me today was that you can live in London or live in London, where you try and take advantage of the city and what it has to offer, rather than complaining about everything but at the same time mocking the idea that anyone would go to Zone 5 let alone leave the M25. For me, I can see the benefits of moving to London are enormous but I will fight the urges to become a Londoner who is as provincial as those they mock:

  • Zone 9 is lovely and green and the air is fresh. Spending an hour on a train is boring. Zone 3 takes me to Oxford Circus in 22 minutes.
  • Transport links in Zone 3 are (compared to anywhere I’ve ever lived) sensational. I can go to Victoria and take off somewhere. I can even use my local train station and head to Essex or the seaside without breaking a sweat.
  • I love galleries and exhibitions, and I’ll be much closer to them.
  • Night-buses! Actual buses that run all night! I can go and see my friends, many of whom live within 5 miles of my new home by bus, too!

Of course there are loads of annoying aspects of London but when the title of the post is “Bloody London: Part 257” I’ll be banging on about them ad nauseum. For now I am super excited about the new changes ahead. One is trying to go to new things – that’s what I mean about living/living in London; I could have easily have gone to the V&A yesterday and been totally content, but I do that plenty already so in the coming months I’ll be cracking out the Time Out app, going with friends’ recommendations and using Twitter to find exciting new things to do. Yesterday I visited the Mr Brainwash exhibition near Holborn to check out his giant murals on the outide of the Old Sorting Office and the extensive artworks inside.

It was a stark reminder of how lucky, how very very lucky we are to have free access to so much art and culture  when I recall the 4-hour window of free entry to MoMa in New York. MoMa was absolutely brilliant, but for $15, I’d have thought twice, paid and wept. The exhibition was a heady mix of spray-paint, vinyl artworks and giant statues made of stuff like car tyres. There was a nice nod to his film “Exit through the gift shop” where you were allowed to take two large posters, three postcards and a free drink on the way out. The cost of that exhibition must have been enormous but he can command up to $80,000 for a piece of work, so it’s all a totally glorious advert. I’m fine with that. We’re all fine with that.

After, I headed to a Mexican place for a taco – London now has more Mexican places than Mexicans, surely? It was as you’d expect, yummy. Headed off to The Photographer’s Gallery off Oxford Street and checked out the Deutsche Borse prize nominess and a selection of Japanese photobooks. For the photobooks exhibition you had to put on gloves, which on contact with the glossy paper make a noise that is as scary to me as the noise of balloons being touched. Ughhh. Yet again, it was free!So, my first lesson from the sporadic/one-off I Love London series is that good times can be had for free and also, people are still somewhat lovely on the Tube. A woman waved at me to check I knew I’d left my phone on a chair. Lovely.

 

We’re making plans for…Santigold (and a good leader deficit)

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As Putin declares himself to be the winner of Russia, the world may like to remind him he’s an enabler of the murder taking place in Syria and that his idea of democracy is pretty disgusting. In Britain, at least Cameron and his lot are pretending to care about the best way to destroy the NHS, to evicerate the poor and make life progressively worse (it’s their idea of being progressive). They debate their evil plans and put on phoney listening exercises. Putin just dictates and I cannot wait until he falls from grace.

But where was an opposition that was worth believing in? His main opposition was communist…give me a break!

Similarly in London, there’s Ken Livingston working flat out to make a fool of himself – his tax-dodging and high-spending nonsense makes me feel uneasy. He has misjudged the mood of the people if he thinks promising people gold works – people know money’s tight and that Boris resembles a Polar bear on roller skates…but Ken’s got it all wonky in my eyes. And then there’s the other guy.He’s so low key he’d need to petrol bomb a Spar to get attention.

In France, blah blah blah. In Syria, the referendum that never was while the world squabbles about what comments they are able to write on a letter to the government. Brilliant!

In the U.S, Obama fights against a bunch of religious fundamentalists – Santorum is anti-gay and believes that privacy doesn’t extend to the bedroom and he’d put back Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell back in the military. He’s all for a stupid fence between America and Mexico, he wants to “drill everywhere” for oil and thinks condoms are bad and that abortions can only exist if the mother’s life is in danger. In short – he’s a complete fool and he disgusts me. I have literally felt queasy hearing what the Republican party thinks is acceptable to say in public and to campaign for. Newt Gingrich is just an abomination, I don’t even want to consider him. I despair at the leaders the world is offering. There’s a distinct lack of humanity and decency happening.

I get criticised for saying I like what Ed Miliband says because he’s isn’t what people expect a leader to be. If having principles and actually sticking by them is bad (he may become like the others and disappoint us), then perhaps I need to move to a quiet place and rage alone.

But if you read this far, you may notice that something’s got my goat. It’s true. I need to vent and if someone disagrees with what I’ve said, let me know and explain to me how America can lay claim to be free if people bicker over contraception and basic human rights. Or why the church in Britain is so very against same-sex couples deciding they want to be devoted to each other. Tradition is lovely…unless it leads to discrimination.

Santigold dun gone released a new single though, so there’s something good! And BBC4 has Dirk Gently back on this evening. It’s not all bad, back to your telly, people!

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