Right, well, willkommen and bienvenue to the first proper day of the Ocelot 2013 tour of the Edinburgh Fringe. As ever, I am accompanied by my travelling companion, wingwoman and scampo di tutti scampi Herself, with whom I have booked a packed week of events from comedy to musical, dance to magic, and all them other things what are on. Except the kids’ shows, coz that would be weird. Besides, Bagpuss and Friends isn’t on this year.
For regular readers of the Pouch, you should know that this year’s Fringe blogologue comes to you with Added Technology! For I have borrowed Herself’s spare digital voice recorder Dictaphone thing, to facilitate note-taking throughout the day. In times past, you might have seen me frantically recording a pithy observation about street performers or student improv troupes on a tiny actual paper notebook with an actual pencil, or else muttering a clumsy mantra of notes to myself until such time as I can reach my laptop back at base.
Not so this year – the thoughts come to you hot and fresh and fast, straight from the Ocelot’s brain to you, via the medium of a small handheld digital thingy that makes me look like a roving reporter or rogue conspiracy theorist. The only downside is that I have to now repeatedly playback my own foul nasal grunts to figure out what on Earth I was saying, but fortunately you are spared this unpleasantness.
Oh, one other fun thing about the Dictaphone – when you use the back and forward buttons to steer through tracks, it makes high pitched bleeps just like an old Binatone Pong machine. Magic.
Not content with Added Verbal Technology, I have also invested in the cheapest possibly (but fetchingly purple) digital cameras this year. So far I have taken two photos, one of a misaligned advert hoarding which has managed to miss out the central section of a woman’s face, in the style of phossy jaw or a radical LeFort surgery, and the other of an impressive radio mast in Harraby, south of Carlisle. Rest assured the Ocelot will be treating you to the entire photo album at the end.
You should be aware that I have not read the instructions for any of my new devices, content to bumble through with the minimum possibly button knowledge. This leaves my brain free for more important things. Like repeatedly singing the first line of the ‘Alexander and Sergei’ Ebony and Ivory ad, apparently. Gah.
Remind me to walk you through (not literally obviously, that would be a squeeze) the contents of the Ocelot’s actual Fringe rucksack, which has been scientifically stocked with everything the hardcore Fringer might need for a day on the streets of Edinburgh – map of venues, rolled up rain poncho thing, shortbread, spare batteries for Added Technology, tissues, souvenir Henning Wehn My Struggle pen, emergency hair scrunchies, super glue for reattaching Herself’s errant gel nails and many more indispensable items.
See also the Ocelot’s Bat-Utility Pants, which were chosen specially from the boys’ section of Peacocks for its superior extra pocketage. Only problem is that a) they accentuate the Ocelot’s already mannish physique and b) they are the unfortunate colour of baby poo (probably ‘camel’).
A final word of praise for the excellent Ashbourne House B&B – they stock their rooms with high quality Johnson and Johnson cotton buds, that most versatile and ear-friendly of implements. Well done the nice lady who runs the place.
We start today in Carlisle, heading out in our trusty vehicle Elwood for points north, choosing to eschew the obvious choice of ‘straight up the motorway to Glasgow and then turn right’ for the more scenic (and direct) route of the A7 (‘historic route to Edinburgh’).
As we leave Carlisle, we see the same blue-haired, large bottomed young lady that we passed yesterday on our way into town. Either this is sheer coincidence or The City Is Full Of Identical Blue Haired Fat Bottomed Girls! I prefer the second theory.
We pass a local police car, bearing the motto ‘Safer, Stronger, Cumbria’ which was no doubt modelled on the ‘Faster Better Renner’ strap line for the Bourne Legacy. Shortly thereafter we pass a building emblazoned with ‘Kengas Living Flame Centre’. I am disappointed to discover that it is shop for stoves and heating, and not a Zoroastrian Temple. Tch.
We drive through Longtown in Cumbria on the A7, which is very pretty indeed, and see a strange conical stone structure up on a hill outside Teviothead. See, that’s proper travellogging right there…
As the day progresses, I find that I become less self-conscious about talking into the Dictaphone thing. At first very embarrassed when talking in front of Herself, I realise it’s much easier to make a verbal note if I speak it directly to her and just happen to have the recorder turned on at the same time. This has the added advantage of making it a more conversational affair between us. This may be the beginning of some sort of popular spoken blog thing featuring the two of us. What are they called? Pods or something? God, my mind is going. Podcasts.
This year our now legendary Fringe timetabling efforts have reached new heights, as we are sporting personalised t-shirts with our week’s events printed thereon, for ease of reference (though this does necessitate a lot of staring at each other’s chests, and invite the same from total strangers, as we soon discover). Not only that, but Herself is now armed with a handy set of laminated A6 timetablets (I just made that up), attached neatly to her hip (not actually her hip, her trousers. Honestly). They also make for excellent fly swatters.
Came up with an idea for a great new Fringe show, combining two popular acts from the Far East, simply entitled Shaolin Ladyboys. I’d see it.
OK enough waffle. On with the show reviews.
Arthur’s Quest: A Medieval Musical
theSpace @ Venue 45
… and not theOtherSpace in the venue next door. We’d sat through 5 minutes of a mixed media two – woman show about a Chinese woman writer in London before we had to sneak out (I let the door bang on my exit, oh the shame) and trot 100 yards down Jeffery’s Street to the right Venue 45. Argh.
Anyhoo, Arthur’s Quest is a nicely short 45 minute show featuring about five performers (a couple more appeared right at the end; perhaps they’re shy) with decent songs and a simple story about a lad and a girl and a wicked step mum in a castle. The chap who plays Merlin (with an accordion!) is like a cross between Matt Smitt, Simon Farnaby (he of Horrible Histories’ Stupid Deaths) and Treguard from Knightmare. Which is a good thing.
The young people can all act and sing and play instruments rather well, and the simple props and back projection works perfectly well in the three sided Space. Well done, the young people. Though as Herself correctly states, there is no earthly reason for the characters to be called Arthur, Merlin or Guinevere, as they’re not that Arthur, Merlin or Guinevere anyway. A Medieval Musical would have been a perfectly good title on its own.
Ben Hart: The Outsider
Ah, Underbelly, how we dislike your cramped multi-storey workhouse venue. But if we are to see this young magician, that is where we must go just this once. The slender Ben Hart is younger than his moody Jensen Ackles promo poster suggests, but he is already an accomplished sleight of hander with an engaging natural manner. Some of the tricks didn't come off (I think, bit hard to tell), and there may have been a couple of stooges in the front row. Still and all, he has very clever fingers and a nice smile, which should take him far on and off stage.
Executed for Sodomy The Life Story of Caterina Linck
Because everyone should see at least one transgender leather dildo sodomy trial play, right? Very well acted by all three female performers, though annoyingly the cast list does not say who plays who. And apparently written by two chaps, who get into the variously-gendered characters’ heads very well.
This is Proper Theatre, inasmuch as there is no set, minimal props and lots of falling down and emoting and stuff. This is Herself’s highlight of the day and it is rather good. I liked the carved wooden guns.
We then explore the rest of the C Nova venue in search off the excellently effed Free Fringe Film Festival. It turns out to be a room tucked away on the second floor, with comfy sofas and a projector playing a series of 5 minute films (all black and white thus far). After some technical problems, it is up and running, and we enjoy a documentary about an insomniac bagel baker on Brick Lane, a man caught wanking before a funeral by his wife (sound quality not good enough for us to catch the punchline of exactly what material online he was using to ‘engage’), and a silent called Who Will I Play With Now?, which featured a rather charming central man-child character.
Worth remembering as a nice dark place to sit down on a comfy sofa without having to buy a drink…
Henning Wehn’s Authentic German Christmas Do
Just The Tonic at the Caves
I am getting to loathe all these ‘venue @ place’ designations. Can it not just be The Caves, or Just The Tonic? It’s like True Steppers featuring Dane Bowers and Victoria Beckman all over again. I don’t know where I am.
Any road up, we joined a somewhat older crowd (and surprisingly German-literate) at this second preview of Henning’s German Christmas show. There are German carols to be sung, which we stumble through at a mournful pace, and I would suggest keyboardist Elaine Cheng steps up the tempo in future gigs. Also, just do one verse of each song. Still, Henning is enthusiastic and entertaining as ever, and where else are you going to get comedy structured around rebuilding Britain’s ailing manufacturing base?
We meet other old people in the crowd with colour coded timetables and exchange mutually congratulatory admirations. But they do not have t-shirts or lammies. Thus we are still win.
Voices In Your Head
And finally to Pleasance for our last show of the day, which we know little about, but suggests top Fringe comical people responding to an off-stage voice in some manner, perhaps like Snog, Marry, Avoid. As it turns out, there are four guest performers, from whom I recognise Thom Tuck from the Penny Dreadfuls (and Radio 4’s Sketchorama) and Sarah Pascoe. Matt Richardson and Ian Smith (named after the Rhodesia bloke?) I do not know but are also good.
Basically, the disembodied female Voice directs them, through leading and amusing interview questions and a few props supplied by a complicit audience, to improvise weird-ass characters, either singly or in pairs. Tom Tuck’s maniacal brain-napping museum guard Alan and Sarah Pascoe’s queen bee are highly entertaining, but all four are clearly enjoying the freestyling format and rolling up at each other’s performances. My favourite show of the day.
Then back down Cowgate to base camp. With every passing year, Cowgate - Edinburgh’s Gutter - becomes more like Birmingham’s Broad Street, which a slightly dangerous mixture of late night bars, meandering drunken hens on towering fleshtone high heels (what’s with that anyway? Is the intention to look like your own actual feet have hideous pointy heel protrusions?), meandering drunken men looking for a snog and/or fight, and the usual sad smattering of homeless people. This is also, I believe where our fellow Fringers Dr Foot and his heterosexual Fringemate Mitchell are staying, in one of the posher hostels. God alone know if they’ll get any sleep tonight.
Another future Fringe show, a musical based on the words of Edgar Allan Poe: Brimful of Usher.