Monday, 8 August 2011

The Return of the Chocolate Ocelot’s Fringe - Sunday

I am already falling behind in my daily blog routine. The combination of a busy Fringe timetable and my tortuously slow and rambling diary keeping are edging me toward a 25-hour day, and even copious hunks of tablet and custard creams can’t keep me going that long. So, in an effort to catch up, I am going to really, really try to keep this one short. Let’s see if I succeed…

It is still raining. It has rained all night. Probably. I don’t really know. I haven’t set a pluviometer outside our window to make sure, but it seems pretty much like the same wetness as last night. Our clothes have just about dried off from yesterday, so we set off for a busy 6-event day.

First one just after lunch is on the top floor of the Beehive Inn on Grassmarket, so hardly any distance for us to walk. Huzzah. Cheese-Badger: The Epic of Hairy Dave is a brilliantly performed almost-one-man show, courtesy of Sir Henry Cheese-Badger (I suspect that may not be his real name). This rake-thin young chap delivers, with occasional built-in prompts from his man-servant Grosvenor (a fellow bearing an uncanny resemblance to Cameron from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), an hour-long saga of obesity, vegetables, beards, messianic mania and obsession. All in rhyme and one of those hrolling Northern accents you never hear spoken by real people under the age of 70. Excellent.

Next up is Lights, Camera, Walkies, at the Gilded Balloon, a splendid 3-person show about the disastrous shooting of a Hollywood action movie which has been recast at the eleventh hour with two rival dogs instead of a human star. The two chaps and one lady play a variety of parts each, darting back and forth from behind a kennel-like screen, miming pooches, flinging clothes off and on and taking on an array of lunatic characters and voices. I think my favourite performer is the tall gangly fellow (Richard David Caine) who plays the laid-back stoner dog-trainer, the inebriated English director and the manic Korean director. Tight, well-acted stuff.

And now a short digression. Long-time subscribers to the Pouch will recall my many insecurities re: my appearance. Indeed it was at last year’s Fringe that I spectacularly tried and failed to master the ‘copious swathe of hair swept across forehead’ look of the young gels, and also singularly did not rock an ill-advised ‘roll-neck sweater and combat pants’ look. This year, I am happy to announce, my sartorial experience at Edinburgh is much improved. Not only am I sporting a rather flattering sleeveless stripy top that hides my biscuit-tum and exaggerates my boyish hips, but I am also the proud owner of a proper bloody fringe, courtesy of Herself’s chum Mel. Said crop not only masks a multitude of foreheadial sins, not the least of which is an 8-inch scalp-line incision scar which suggests that I have been one of Dr Hfuhruhurr’s patients, but it also looks very pretty indeed when brushed correctly and in minimal wind. And to cap it all off, my current handbag is now entering its eighth month of good service without falling apart, eating my stuff or just bloody annoying me as it bounces around against my hip. Wonders will not cease.

After the dog show we nip just down to Bedlam, that weird churchy venue stuck in a wedge between Bristo Place and Forrest Road. There we see Vertigo. Not as you might suspect an adaptation of the Hitchcock classic, but a split performance where two plays, both with the name Vertigo, have been booked for the same venue and time. Breaking the 4th wall thoroughly, the characters of Tim and Philippa manage to perform their respective pieces about a young man’s fear of everything and a young lady’s relentless quest to recapture a brief sense of childhood wonder, without resorting to a predictable ‘war of the luvvies’ format. It’s actually very sweet and you don’t really know where it’s going. Good luck to ‘em for the rest of the run.

As is often the case at the Fringe, we find ourselves in an audience comprised largely of performers for other shows, either coming to watch their friends on stage, or simply sat in the front row because they’re on next. We wish the girls who clamber onto the stage at the end of Vertigo good luck.

After a late lunch, we then must nip over North Bridge to the Voodoo Rooms on West Register Street. Here we see The Bitch Doctors, a sort of afternoon cabaret-cum-chat show, hosted by the excellent Desmond O’Connor (no, not that one), who we saw last year as one third of Me, Me, Me! with Mr B the gentleman rhymer. Accompanied by two guest ‘doctors’ - circusy balancey juggly bloke Mat Ricardo and musicky ukuleley lady Helen Arney - Des proceeds to entertain a small but enthusiastic audience with bawdy tunes, anecdotes and gossip from the cabaret circuit, as well as fielding mental, emotional and health problems suggested by the audience. Herself amazes and/or disgusts performers and punters alike with a brief display of her dyspraxic bendiness, and I discuss my terror of being attacked by a blue whale. For once my fear of gig interaction is not too bad, because they are all nice to me, and my voice is not too blokey neither.

It is still raining by the way. It has been all day, and will continue to rain until well after beddie-byes tonight. We have but 25 minutes to rush back across North Bridge to a little venue near Chambers Street, where we are scheduled to rendezvous with our regular fellow fringers Dr Foot and heterosexual fringe mate Mitchell. We make it with ten minutes to spare, impressed with our own speed and agility in negotiating wet streets crowded with fat arses, wheelchairs and doddery old dears. We’re like a two-player version of Spy Hunter.

At this point, I’m going to diverge slightly from my usual review format, by not telling you exactly what we see, or where. The reason for this is that the show is not terribly good. Herself’s granny once said, if you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all. I however am torn between sparing the performers a right slagging from a snarky nobody like me, and telling you how so-bad-it’s-funny the show is. If this was just you and me in the kitchen, I’d happily name and shame them, but this is a public bloggy type thing, and I’d feel bad tearing into people I don’t even know who’ve gone to all the trouble, time and expense of putting on an Edinburgh show. So it’s going to be as anonymous as I can make it, but given the subject matter, that may prove a little difficult. Bear with me.

OK, so the show is about a famous historical figure. This much we know going in. What we don’t know is that the performers are rather young, late teens, early twenties perhaps. Young, and on the whole not all that experienced, actorally speaking. This does however become apparent within two minutes of the play starting (albeit fifteen minutes late). There’s an awful lot of poorly rehearsed ‘general chat’ between a gaggle of female characters, which is neither realistic-but-improvised dialogue nor stagily orchestrated background chatter. It’s a bunch of girls all saying ‘Oh hello, Mary.’ and the like over the top of each other.

Then there are the boys. One of these chaps, looking like a gangly young Jason Flemyng, seems to act his best when a bag has been placed over his head (don’t ask) but the rest of the time is a little cartoony in his delivery. Though compared to the other young fellow, he’s Daniel Day-Lewis. This other lad, sporting a trainee beard (almost) is the most am of drams we’ve seen so far. He marches up and down the stage relentlessly, not knowing what to do with his arms, and has mastered… the art of pausing… every four or five… syllables as he speaks… to give the air… of a measured… delivery. Once I notice it, it’s all I can concentrate on. Well, that and the wandering accents. When one of the character says to another: 'What part of Norfolk you from, dearie?’ I am hard pressed not to shout out ‘Dublin, via Sydney’.

Yet if there is one piece of advice I would give this young drama group, it would be to dispense with all the needless scene shifting. The stage is little more than a curtained-off black square, as are many of the improvised venues in Edinburgh. But this production has chosen to use a couple of big wooden blocks onstage, to serve as bar, bed, mortuary slab and so forth. All well and good you might think, but the kids have to shift these big squeaky things around after every single bloody scene, in the dark, often taking thirty seconds to a minute. Just to flip wooden block A over and shove wooden block B to the other side of the twelve foot stage. It’s just not worth it for the hassle and time lost. I swear they could shave the play down by ten minutes if they just left the fershlugginer blocks in one place and used them more sensibly. Tch.

On the positive side of the show, I would say that the make-up is very good, especially the young ladies’ blacked out teeth. One of the performers (she played the mad old bird) was a passable actor, and the bag with eyeholes was sturdily made.

At last the show ends, with a shock-gasp revelation. Or is it a question mark? Ah, think on. Myself, Herself, Dr Foot and HFM Mitchell all congratulate ourselves on not sniggering out loud through the performance and we scamper off. Being charitable to the youngsters putting this on, and considering their age and inexperience, I would give this show the one-word rating of Bless.

The two of us bid farewell to the others, thus ending our crossover Fringe team-up for another year. They are off to consume more booze no doubt, having already divided their time equally between pubs and gigs for the preceding weekend. Exchanging recommendations of shows seen (they: Gerry Sadowitz, we: Subsist), we scamper off into the soggy evening to once again cross North Bridge, for to see Mr Phillward Jupitus, late of Never Mind The Buzzcocks and Radio 6 Music.

As it turns out, this is Phill’s first stand-up gig in ten years, encouraged to do so by his comedy chum Eddie Izzard. This fact is related by a lengthy but entertaining impression of Mr Izzard, which frankly I could listen to all night. Phill himself has lost a fair bit of weight this year, and he does look the better for it. At first I’m worried that he’s just going to rehash old material, as he starts off with his ‘My (six year old) daughter brought her boyfriend round for the first time’ story, but thankfully he admits that this is just a warm-up, as well as a prequel for a newer story, this time about his now 16-year old daughter bringing her boyfriend over to stay the night.

Phill is as funny as he ever was and I am pleased to have dragged Herself along to see him, as I’ve had a real soft spot for his comedy ever since his Star Wars-themed Ready, Jedi, Go well over ten years ago (his miming of a romantic encounter between Chewbacca and a less than compliant Ewok will haunt me forever). The one down side is that the venue – The Stand over on George Street - is only half seated and we, arriving late, must (no pun intended) stand at the back and peer over the heads of the rest of the crowd. Not too much of a problem for one as lengthy as I, but Herself at a modest 5 foot 4 inches must constantly weave and swerve her head from right to left in order to peer through constantly bobbing bonces before her. But a bloody good show nonetheless.

And then back to the apartment at a reasonable hour for once. Hurrah! Except that I then spend a good hour formatting the previous day’s blog. Tch. I swear tomorrow’s one will be a bloody bullet point list.

Today’s SlebWatch: No-one! We see nobody even remotely famous today, apart from Phill Jupitus. I expect they are all attending church. Or maybe the more famous you get, the more water soluble you become. That’s probably it.

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