Thursday, 11 August 2011

The Return of the Chocolate Ocelot’s Fringe - Wednesday

Our overnight guest lets herself out in the wee small hours of the morning (well, 7:30) with all the silent grace of a ninja cat on its tiptoes. The perfect houseguest.

It’s another seven-event day, but as Herself has planned it with Germanic efficiency, there is very little walking involved. This is a good thing as far as I can see, as the rain has returned with a vengeance, and Herself has started to exhibit some sort of knee strain, which she self-diagnoses as ‘muscular’. However, by the end of the day she will still be disappointed with the paltry 8,000 we have achieved. I suggest she walk up and down during some of the gigs to get her step count up.

With a little time to kill in before gigs, we pop into Transreal Fiction, still a sci-fi bookshop and not a purveyor of enforced feminisation porn as the shop’s name suggests. It has moved a hundred yards up Candlemaker Row from Grassmarket, and in an attempt to strike up a rapport with the proprietor, I enter the shop with the stunningly original ‘You’ve moved then.’ To which he replies with a curt ‘Yes.’. There’s nowhere you can go with a reply like that, so I clam up, flick through a couple of art books and fanzines, and bog off. They do sell cuddly triceratopses though, so I may return.

There is also a paintings and framing shop on Candlemaker Row, offering an array of prints and greeting cards. Herself is much taken with a selection of cards portraying stags, goats and hares, as is her fancy, whilst the comic art of Lynsey Hutchinson very much catches my eye. Check out The Bats of St Giles on her website:

Speaking of shops, we find a few minutes to pop into another of my favourites haunts in the old town, only to be struck by a palpable fug of ‘exotic cigarette’ smoke, generated from somewhere within. Without coming across as a puritanical old biddy, this does seem a little unwise on the part of the shop-keepers. Granted, it establishes a certain counterculture street-cred with the regulars, but I can’t see it winning over passing mums and dads. Plus, the smoke’s sure to sink into the papery publications on the shelves, unless the intention is to infuse them so that they themselves may be rolled up and smoked by the customers in the comfort of their own homes later on. Devilish cunning.

Our first show is Wet Paint: A Magic Show, at the Voodoo Rooms. Given that it’s a midday day show on a rainy Wednesday, the turn-out is modest. Shame really – it’s free, half-decent and only a short walk away from a number of big offices. But from personal experience, a lot of the Edinburgh office-drones fail to cash in on the free Fringe stuff right on their lunchtime doorsteps. Ah well.

The show itself is presented by two young magicians called Ben Hart and Neill Kelso. One is tall and dark, the other short and curly haired, with a terribly expressive face. They take turns on stage, alternating between close up magic / sleight of hand (the tall one) and mind-reading / story-telling (the short one). All charmingly delivered, even when the tricks don’t go 100% to plan.

But there is an odd moment when the short one delivers an overlong speech about some criticism they recently received concerning the nature of their magic. It’s all a bit baffling as we the audience don’t really understand the criticism or the apparently heretical nature of the chaps’ magic, which seems to me to be well within the acceptable range of shows I’ve seen. Weird. Clearly some hurtful comments really got under the short one’s skin, but to us ignoramusses in the seats, it’s just confusing. Still, they end on a good note, and I leave having been impressed by the skill of the sleight of hand during the final wedding ring trick.

We then nip along Queen Street to the good old Jekyll and Hyde pub, scene of many a free gig. We are here to see something called Women Just Aren’t Funny, but after ten minutes looking around, consulting the Fringe programme and looking like complete rubes, we are informed that the gig was cancelled. But all is not lost, as it appears to have been replaced by a free solo play called Rachael’s Café, starting in ten minutes. Perfect.

The splendidly gothic backroom of the J&H has been decked out like an Indiana café, where we meet Rachael, nee Eric, as played by Graham Elwell, An adaptation of a real transgender person’s life, we follow an hour of Rachael’s life as she clears tables, reminisces about the hardships of coming out in a conservative part of America, and takes phone calls from her children and ex-wife. There’s a funny bit at the beginning where Rachael complains that male-to-females are always portrayed on-screen by attractive ‘real’ women or men who have undergone none of the procedure that actual MTFs would have – a predictable situation given the low number of transgender actors, but still smacking a little of blacked-up white actors. The irony is of course if that Rachael here is indeed played by a regular guy, so it is a little surreal.

The story ends on something of a down-note, with a slightly predictable piece of theatrical transformation, but speaking from experience, I recognise the exact situation that Rachael finds herself in by the end of the show, so it’s by no means unrealistic. An excellent performance from Graham Elwell, well written by Lucy Danser, and well lived by the real Rachael herself.

Returning from the Jekyll and Hyde, we are importuned by a flushed middle-aged chap called Eric Gudmunsen (despite the name, he sounds pretty thoroughly scots though). In a few short sentences, he lays out the stall for his free comedy show later that day, which he hopes we two will be able to attend. Phrases like ‘real comedy’, ‘for real people, not fringe-goers’ and ‘not for the easily offended’ are employed. As we move on, I read his flyer – ‘The bastard love-child of Bernard Manning and Chubby Brown?’, ‘Non PC World’ and ‘Modern Comedy is Rubbish’. Oh dear. I don’t think I’ll be catching his show. I don’t want to pre-judge without seeing it, but I suspect it may not be my cup of tea.

Not all encounters on the streets of Edinburgh are negative though. A couple of days ago, a chap and a little girl intercepted us outside the Gilded Balloon, despite our best and excruciatingly obvious attempts to skirt around them. But he quickly won us over by politely introducing himself (Roy Hutchins) and his daughter and then reciting a short poem about people walking invisible dogs in Brooklyn. So even though we haven’t seen his full poetry show, I’m going to plug it:

We visit a regular food haunt right by Wee Bobby, to take on a fresh supply of tablet, only to be told that they’re all out! I am disconsolate and start to get the shakes, until we duck into a newsagents and I espy some tablet in professional looking wrappers, rather than laid out in irregular home-made slabs, as is more common. But we are soon disappointed that this so-called tablet is nothing more than fudge. Gooey, chewy fudge, that sly sticky tablet-tease. I am again disconsolate.

Next we see old favourites the Dog-Eared Collective at the dank Underbelly, our first and only time at this venue as I have had a number of unpleasant gigs here (usually late-night ones ruined by drunken young arses). Their show this year is You’re Better Than This, another series of splendidly silly sketches, including Snooker: The Musical, a unicorn-themed perfume advert (love the home-made hooves) and Karl and Johann’s Streetdance/Basketball movie.

For this last sketch, they need a ‘volunteer’ from the audience to play the role of ballet-babe. The spotlight falls on us. I have unwisely sat us in the front row, in the centre, to show our support for the show (we sponsored their flyers). I freeze in the spotlight, but manage through rictus grin and rolling eyeballs to volunteer Herself instead, thank God. M’colleague excels herself onstage, joining in the dance routine and training montage with aplomb. Well done her, and thanks for taking one for the team.

Leaving the show, we say hello to the lovely Joanna Hutt, one quarter of the DEC and newsletterer, fundraiser and dispenser of souvenir badges. I feel almost like part of the troupe. But more shows beckon so we hustle off.

Our next two shows are both at C on Chambers Street, venue for singing, musicals and plays. First up is Scene of the Titans, the true story of Northern Ireland’s first gay rugby team, rendered into a musical. The numbers are snappy, the accents are more or less genuine (we detect a few ringers in with the real Irish), and the choreography is funny. I was going to single out for praise the actor who plays Sophia the glamorous drag queen, but according to their website, the role is played on alternate nights by Dario Cacioppo and Randy Grab and with no cast photo, I can’t tell you who we saw! Very pretty, whichever one he is. Shame they made him take off the wig though.

We then stay in exactly the same room for Dinner, a piece of proper theatre. I say this because it uses the standard of a dinner party, where a group of insufferable arseholes take turns behaving appallingly to each other without resorting to violence or just leaving. That’s part of the theatrical suspension of disbelief I suppose, but I’m always struck by the unbelievability of these plots. You’d just walk out or punch someone after 5 minutes of the sort of verbal assault these characters inflict on each other.

According to the flyer, this is actor Alfred Enoch’s first major play after the Harry Potter series. I suppose they mean the films. Looking at the cast, I’m guessing that he must be playing Lars, one of the dinner party’s two hosts. He is a lanky red-haired gentleman, so I can only assume he played one of the endless Weasley clan in the Potter films, though for all I know he was Fenrik Badwolf or Felix Cumbottom of the ministry of magic.

In the queue outside the ferkin’ Caves, waiting for Henning Wehn in the relentless rain, I am assaulted by a waft of cigarette smoke from a chap in front of us and I am reminded of an incident a couple of days ago. We are queuing at the Pleasance for Colin Hoult, and two young ladies, evidently Fringe performers of some sort, start rolling up fags. They’re stood behind us, right behind us, as in elbows brushing against handbags close. Nattering all the while about their show, whatever it is (probably some crap burlesque from the look of them), they fish out the loose baccy, roll out the rizlas, pop in the filters, and light up. Then proceed to smoke with abandon, blowing it all over us with gay obliviousness.

Now, I know it’s outside and all, and they’re theoretically allowed to smoke, but in a tight queue with people you don’t know? A little impolite I think. I exchange grumpy looks with Herself but neither of us quite manages to say anything – she because her two settings in the situation are frantic but mute rage and frantic but exceedingly verbal rage, and I because I can’t think of a single blessed way to get these two carcinogenic young ladies to stop without me coming across as a complete prig (or prude, or prawn, I’m not sure). So we suffer in smoky silence. So after it happens again outside the Caves, we discuss the problem and resolve that next time one of us will begin to feign an asthma attack while the other implores the cancer-stick addicts to show a little compassion. It can’t fail.

We finally get in to see Henning When, who delivers another entertaining hour of Germanic observations on Britain. I love the way he pronounces uniquely English idioms like Right Old Two and Eight and Blimey O’Reilly. And how he gets away with some of the things he says, I have no idea; it must be his winning though curiously arranged smile. We enter a draw to win some fine German wines and grooming products, sponsored by the Munich tourist board, so fingers crossed.

Our final act of the day is a free science show at the top of the Beehive inn on Grassmarket - Kaos Theory: Dangerous Science with Professor Andy Kaos. A logic and risk assessment prof from South Suffolk uni, he also brings interesting science demonstrations into schools. This much is apparent in both the experiments we see and his delivery, which is very much of the bullish male teacher variety, bringing back unpleasant school memories for me. Nonetheless, in between rubbish jokes that he’d do well to drop, the prof treats us to two or three fun and not a little perilous live experiments, involving flames, explosions, and electrifying the entire audience via a hand-held Tesla coil, which can’t be bad.

Magically, the treacherous fudge I had been hoodwinked into buying earlier has transmuted into a more tabletty substance. Clearly sitting inside the increasingly hot and damp outer pocket of my raincoat for the better part of a day has had a transformative effect. I resolve to try placing other foodstuffs in my pocket tomorrow to see if they too will turn into tablet. It’s like a fairy tale.

Today’s SlebWatch: No-one. It’s clearly the rain keeping them inside.

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