Sunday, 24 August 2014

Doctor Who the morning after: season 8 episode 1

I watched the new Doctor Who episode Deep Breath with the new old Doctor Who last night. This morning I wrote down what I remembered of it:

SCENE: A tyrannosaurus rex is stalking around in Victorian London.

Hurrah! A T-Rex! And it looks brilliant, just like in Walking with Dinosaurs!
What's it doing?
I don't know. Just sort of walking up and down.
Dinosaurs are great. I hope they get it right this time, not like in Invasion of the Dinosaurs or Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. They were rubbish.
Mm, it's still just walking up and down the Thames. A bit like the Skarasen.
Oh. Is it doing anything else?
Mainly challenging our preconceptions of gender.

It's been thirty seconds since the story started. I need familiar faces!
Hurrah! It's Madam Vastra and her wife and Strax.
Yay! Victorian Lesbian Samurai Silurian! Hero in a half-veil!
What's the wife called?
I have no idea. It doesn't matter.
Strax makes me laugh.

Oh look! It's the TARDIS! Covered in KY!
Why does it look so shiny and flimsy?
And here's the new Doctor! And whatsherface. The one after Amy. Quirky Smirky Pixie.

(The mandatory post-regeneration comedy schtick ensues. Everyone kind of forgets the dinosaur.)

SCENE: Victorian Lesbian Samurai Silurian HQ. Some rubbish dialogue about bedrooms.

Why are Vastra and Quirky Smirky Pixie arguing?
I don't know. I think it's called character development.
I think they're just trying to tell us that it's OK for the Doctor to be old.
Where's the dinosaur?
It's over there. Way in the distance, as if they've run out of CG.
What's it doing now?
Still just walking around in the middle of London. Not being shot by the army's cannons or anything.
That's rubbish - they could have had an artillery captain called Lethbridge or something.
Oh look! The dinosaur's caught fire! Way over there in the distance. Can't really see what's happening though.

SCENE: The DOCTOR runs away in a nightshirt. He talks to a horse and gallops off.

Why is the Doctor bouncing up and down on the horse in those medium shots, but hardly moving at all when it's a close-up?
Probably something Timelordy. Or Horsey-Worsey. Best not to ask.

SCENE: Everyone arrives at the scene of the burning dinosaur. Which we can't see for some reason.

Oh you humans. You are rubbish. Splosh.
Has he jumped into the river?
I think so.
Why didn't they show us? Or the burning dinosaur?
I have no idea. Anyway - look! There's a sinister Victorian gentleman in a tall hat!
Ooo! Richard E Grant! I like him! Oh no, it's just some bloke with half his face missing.

SCENE: The Doctor spends a lot of time in an alleyway with an old man.

What's happening?
Nothing. The Doctor's talking about his eyebrows a bit.
Why is this scene still going on?

SCENE: Back at Victorian Lesbian Samurai Silurian HQ.
Quirky Smirky Pixie has taken time out from her frantic search for the addled Doctor to pour herself into a nice Victorian gown and do her hair up in little curls. Just to remind us that if there's one thing the BBC can still do alright, it's period costume.
Strax says something funny ending in 'Boy'.
Quirky Smirky Pixie and Vastra argue again probably and challenge our preconceptions of gender/race/sexuality/marriage/reptiles.
Vastra is all superior and the Pixie does a quirky smirk. Then they work something out to do with a newspaper.

SCENE: A restaurant. The Doctor is smelly. He and the Pixie argue.

What are they arguing about?
I think they're trying to give her a character to make her different from Amy and the others. Apparently she's a control freak.
She is different. She's brunette. They haven't had one of those for ages.

(It turns out everyone else in the restaurant is sort of clockwork. Some very slow peril ensues.)
Could they not just run past them? They seem very slow.
Apparently not. The Doctor is quite old looking.
He's not old! Well he is, but he's been old for ages, even when he was Matt Smith! Hasn't this story told you anything?

(The Doctor and the Pixie obligingly get caught by an evil restaurant booth from Live and Let Die and end up in a Dark Spaceship set.)

Pity. I was hoping for the old Dalek spaceship 'woomp-woomp' sound effects.
Nah, they wouldn't shoot their bolt quite so early and do the Daleks straight away. They're probably resting them for this series because they've been so overused.

(The Doctor and the Pixie look at some rubbish automata and fail to work things out, though the Doctor does suggest that this all looks familiar.)

Rubbish robots with human faces that come off! It's Four To Doomsday!
No, it's a ship from the dawn of time - it's Earthshock!
But the rubbish robots are sort of clockwork. Maybe it's - gasp - the Celestial Toymaker! The Who revival we've all been clamouring for!
Ah no. Clockwork plus organ theft. It's just the dudes from The Girl In The Fireplace.
They were quite scary in that.
These aren't.

(More slow peril ensues. The Pixie holds her breath a lot, like in Mr Vampire.)

Cowabunga! It's Vastra and the gang, armed with awesome samurai swords and blasters!
Why are they getting overwhelmed by the slow rubbish automata?

SCENE: The Doctor and the main rubbish robot are now in a balloon made from human skin. They talk a lot about being human probably.

If there's all this mild body-horror plot with skin and T-Rex optic nerves, why am I not freaked out?
I think because they keep saying and not showing, even though it's now getting on for 9pm.

(Slow peril continues for Pixie and the Victorian Lesbian Samurai Silurian gang who have failed to chop/blast the rubbish robots into little pieces.)

Look! The main rubbish robot has fallen from the skin balloon onto the top of Big Ben! Hurrah!
But did he jump or was he pushed by the Doctor? Ah…
Oh I see what you're saying - is the Doctor naughty or not? Ah…

SCENE: The Doctor takes off in the TARDIS and leaves the Pixie behind. The Pixie puts on her old clothes. The Doctor comes back. They talk. Matt Smith phones her from the past and tells her it's alright and can he please look after the new old Doctor as that is going to be her character as well as being brunette.

What's this? An epilogue?
Oh goody! I hope Nick Fury turns up!
No, it's the main rubbish robot and an old woman called Missy.
She looks like Mother Nature from the Tampax ads.
I think she's the arc-plot villain. Maybe she's recruiting a League of Anti Doctor Baddies to gang up on him.
I think she's the Master's wife. Missy, Mistress, gettit?
Shut up. Anyway, here's the next episode teaser. Oh, it's the Daleks.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

The Chocolate Ocelot's 2014 Fringe - postscript

A confession and a competition: I made up some of the shows in the preceding week's reviews.

I think there's one fictional show per day. A No-Prize for identifying them all.

I am a scamp.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

The Chocolate Ocelot's 2014 Fringe - Day Seven

Like Logan 5, I have reached Last Day. My Fringeometer is flickering faster than Bagpuss and his friends waking up and so I take this brief lull on Friday night before my last show to record the day's events.

Shakespeare's Villains
The California Shakespeare Ensemble
The Space on North Bridge

Definitely the theatrical highlight of my Fringe. A small cast on a small and scenery-free stage interweave the meaty bits from Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet and The Merchant of Venice, concentrating on the villainy. I can't praise or recommend their acting highly enough. I'm pretty much a Shakespeare pleb and much prefer West Side Story to R and J, Throne of Blood to Macbeth and Forbidden Planet to The Tempest, but this company made the meaning of every single part of the plots perfectly clear through intonation, expression and body language. And the swordfights in Romeo and Juliet looked (and sounded) lethal, with foils, fists and knees flashing inches from us in the front row. Go see.

We then split the party on this last day, so that everyone can scamper off in different directions to catch whatever show(s) that have caught their eye this week. I have a personal shortlist, comprised of things that look interesting on the flyers I've been handed on the street, shows I've been meaning to catch anyway but have thus far missed (i.e. Ellie Taylor's Elliementary, which I tried and failed to see twice thus far), shows that friends have recommended and shows featuring people who've done guest slots in gigs I've seen this week.

Surname and Surname
Briony Redman and Paul Foxcroft
Counting House

Hurrah! I typed Counting House correctly for the first time this week! No naughty typos for me! Surname and Surname were recommended by various chums on the Facebook and I'm jolly glad they did and that I found the time to catch this second helping of last year's show. The show takes me once again to the poky little Loft at the Counting House, not so much a comedy venue as a Japanese army punishment for uncooperative British officers. Foxcroft and Redman put on a great tight sketch show. Literally tight given the tiny Loft - Paul whacks his head on the slopey ceiling at least three times. Really polished stuff. I loved Briony's capital cities songs and Paul's turgid sci-fi prose, which brought to mind shades of Garth Marenghi, not least because of his Matt Berry-like tones. Definitely worth watching.

Naked Evil
Anders Wollstonecraft
The Frooty Goose

This powerful one man show gets us up close and personal in a series of intense monologues from writer/director/actor Wollstonecraft, in which he portrays some of History's most notorious murderers, serial killers and sociopaths whilst gradually disrobing down to his flesh. Starting quietly enough with Dr Harold Shipman giving a little bedside chat to a patient, he moves through Raoul Moat, both Krays and the Acid Bath Murderer in a series of increasingly strident vignettes. As the pile of discarded clothing grows ever larger at the small audience's feet, the tension grows, leading to a truly in-your-face climax from the naked source of evil itself. Forget your Guy Mastersons and your Pip Uttons - Anders Wollstonecraft is the master of one man theatre.

Musical Comedy
Ed and Tommy Croft
Beat (another nondescript subterranean door opposite Underbelly)

I love the serendipity of the Fringe. If we hadn't seen a poster for Quantum Leap comedy improve show Oh Boy! yesterday, we wouldn't have switched shows and seen Ed Croft as the guest Sam Beckett, and I wouldn't have picked up a flyer for his own show Jollyboat. Which brings me to this secret pub chamber which must be almost under Chambers Street. Ed and brother Tommy put on a blistering hour of rock and pop comedy songs to the delight of all. My personal favourites are Rock 'n' Fucking Roll and Wednesday. At the end I want to make a donation (it's a free gig) and pick up a CD. I only have a £20 but I'm happy to slap it down in return for a great feel-good show.

Cry me a River: The Songs of Julie London
Kerry Jo Hodgkin
Jazz Bar (next to C on Chambers Street)

Now, bear in mind that the extent of my Julie London knowledge is just one song. The titular river number, as performed by Julie in the classic 50s film The Girl Can't Help It. On the strength of this I have brought Herself and CJ along to the ominously named Jazz Bar to see Kerry Jo Hodgkin in action. The clue is very much in the name of the venue, but I have failed to appreciate the jazzosity of the show. Kerry Jo's singing I love (and almost nod off to), Malcolm MacFarlane's guitar work I enjoy (he captures the simple twanginess of Cry Me A River perfectly, but the Ocelot just cannot be doing with your jazz trumpet, I'm afraid. I'm just chilling and enjoying the smooth mellowness of the music and singing, when this bloody wailing horn cuts in like a cat being pulled through a garden hose. And everyone claps after he stops noodling away. The only trumpet bits I do like are when it sounds like he's doing a waa-waaah sound effect from an old Tom and Jerry cartoon. So in conclusion: two-thirds lovely, three thirds lovely only if the Spirit of Jazz is within you.

McNeil and Pamphilon Go 8-Bit!
Steve Neil and Sam Pamphilon
Pleasance Dome (eventually. they started 40 odd minutes late due to technical issues, which I can believe)

How best to describe this? An interactive video game show with comedy guest stars, forfeits straight out of Shooting Stars and real audience participation? Like nothing else on the Fringe (well, apart from John Robertson's The Dark Room), the show divides to the audience into Team McNeil and Team Pamphilon and helpful helpers help us to log our smart phones in to the special 8-Bit server via WiFi, where we can register our nicknames and take part in the proceedings. A series of retro gaming rounds ensue, with guest comedians largely from the same Ditto Productions company, including the Beta Males and Jim Campbell, whilst Paul Foxcroft, who I've seen earlier in the day with Briony Redman, provides the commentary. Other guests include sweary Aussie Fringe veteran Brendon Burns doing a strange virtual reality helmet game (in which his actual glasses were the true losers) and WCW pro Colt Cabana (when they introduced him, I thought they said it was Torquemada) who later helped out with one of the forfeits, spinning Steve McNeil around and bodyslamming him Final Fight style after a successful PacMan forfeit involving half of the audience holding up mini cheddars for him to gobble. Top marks to Will from Clever Peter for devising the fiendish forfeits.  I admit I had the fear that I would be called upon to sit up on stage and contribute my skills to Mario Karts Double Dash or Bomber Man but I dodged that bullet. Had they needed a pilot for a game of Elite on a BBC Model B though, I'd have been all over it baby. In the final round, the entire audience got to take part in a game of Democracy Pong, via our smart phones, just nudging Team Pamphilon across the winning line. Go us! Awesome, brilliant fun.

Thus our Fringe ends. CJ and I claim our Team Pamphilon badges from the helpful helpers and file out into the Edinburgh night. One last nutella crepe from the nearby Gilded Balloon food area, and it's back to base.

Until next year. I'll keep it short next year. Promise.

Friday, 8 August 2014

The Chocolate Ocelot's 2014 Fringe - Day Six

Last full day!

Just had an idea for an Edinburgh version of Hellblazer called Costorphine. Probably played by John Hannah in a dirty mac slugging Irn Bru and chowin' down on tablet. There's plenty of infernal nightlife down on Cowgate for him to sort out.

Other news: Herself's phone went kaput yesterday when an especially uncharismatic director asked us to turn our phones off before a performance. Herself duly, foolishly, complied. I mean, who actually turns their phones off when they're asked? I certainly don't, but like the time-honoured feeble patting down of one's pockets when pantomiming sorry mate I haven't got any change, I usually just wave a greasy finger randomly over the screen. Also, the selfsame director insisted on delivering a long and dull fire exit awareness announcement before the start of his show, effectively killing all the energy in the room (that's a phrase I picked up from a performy friend earlier this week). Anyway, she turned it off, and then couldn't turn it back on again afterward. Needless to say, sadness ensued.

But all's well that ends well. The excellent Mr CJ Hooper fixed it the next morning using his finely honed Google Fu, thus saving us a tiresome trek to the nearest Geek Squad outpost of Carphone Warehouse. Well done CJ, well done.

On the down side she appears to be developing a croaky throat type cold. A condition which does not mesh well with CJ's partial deafosity. She may have to expand her limited sign language repertoire today from the three rude phrases that CJ's taught us, the naughty boy.

Random fact: apparently a conservatoire is a posh name for a sort of musical theatre company type thing and not the French name for a greenhouse built onto your kitchen as I had thought. Who knew?

Our rather fine holiday flat in the Rear Window apartment block off West Port has a kitchenette, divided from the living room by a fairly pointless wooden divide. You can lean on it and rap with your housemates in the (rest of the) living room or pretend to be a TV chef or the chicken from Parappa the Rapper. It is supported at one end by a sturdy vertical beam that I have thus far resisted using for a crap pole dancer impression.

(brief pause)

OK, scratch the resisted bit. Herself and CJ are duly impressed. Pretty sure that's what their facial expressions meant. Hurt me knees a bit doing that.

Recommended music and bar type place: the Cowshed down on Cowgate opposite Underbelly. Strewn with straw (is that a tautology?) and a couple of plastic cows, you can get a drink, plonk yourself down on a hay bale and enjoy whichever guys are banging out some rocking tunes in the performing area. Nicely different. I like the open holes in the frontage, so passersby can stop and lean in the enjoy the music and look a bit like Waldorf and Statler.

Distressing sight seen at the Assembly Hall (the building at the top of Mound Place that looks like Hogwarts with a cool Lawgiver statue of John Knox inside): woman on phone holding lead of little dog with back arched in that unmistakeable I want to do a wee or poo but I know I'll get in trouble if I do it here manner. Woman does not notice dog's distress and continues to speak on phone. Can a passerby (i.e. me, increasingly distressed myself by the imminent dog wee/poo jeopardy) possibly break the social hymen betwixt strangers and alert the phone woman to her pet's situation? The answer turns out to be no, craven that I am. There should be an app for this where you can send a Wee Alert! message to a nearby phone by Bluetooth and save everyone's blushes. Assuming dogs can blush.

Speaking of handy apps, I'm told that there's one for keeping track of everyone in a particular group so you can find each other more easily if the party gets split up (Never Split The Party!). So a bit like the map in World of Warcraft when you've joined a group for a bit of kobold bashing (not a euphemism) I imagine it has a funny name with an 'e' missing like Trackr or Mindr. Very handy. Also quite stalky. 'You spent a long time in the loos just now'. 'I thought you were going straight back to the flat - looks like you took a detour to check out the late night Castrati Rap Battle at the Frooty Goose'. And so on.

Right then. I think I've got all the idle nonsense out of my head now. Thanks awfully for bearing with. And now the reviews (puts on spectacles, shuffles papers).

Readers of yesterday's post will recall that due to chronic mismanagement of my time, I ended up carrying my laptop around for the entire day for no good reason. This fact in no way affected my enjoyment (or lack thereof) of any of the performances, but I just wanted you to appreciate that I ended up lugging the bastand thing over a distance of several Edinburgh miles without complaint (that last bit isn't true). I'm like that old Greek dude Cissyface or something. I think he had to roll a big ball up a slope only for a giant robot ant to roll it down again I think. I must admit that this was an episode of Ulysses 31 so the original tale may have had moderately less mechanical insects, more's the pity.

The Addams Family
Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
Assembly Hall

Staged by the same company who put on Avenue Q in the same venue last year, this is a great musical comedy. Not just the movie with songs, the plot sees little Wednesday Addams as a young woman falling in love with Lucas Beineke, a nice guy from a normal family. Familial tension and farce ensues, like Meet The Parents crossed with Rocky Horror. Great simple set (they have to be simple at a festival, where the stage is shared by several acts every day) and an effective chorus of grey ancestor spooks making the scenery changes. Strong singing voices, great songs and a few sweet dancing (and fencing) moves. A very professional production.

Physical Theatre
New Zealand Season / Te Matatini Kapa Haka
Assembly Hall (the distressed dog incident took place here)

A contingent of Maori people put on a lovely display of haka (war dances) and songs, complete with taiaha (them spears like skinny paddles with a blade at one end) and poi (soft balls on cords). Cue much stomping, brandishing and tongue waggling from the menfolk, and much hypnotic poi-swinging from the womenfolk. Some of the blokes look proper fierce with their tattooed faces and eye-popping expressions. By the end of the show I am full of tribal martialness, or possibly martial tribalness and am aching to get in another session of the pathfinder role-playing game with my Shoanti warrior woman Valka soon (certain readers take note).

Hamlet: Private Eye
Glass Dagger Productions
The Space on North Bridge

Now I'm not saying for sure that this was the show with the fire-safety director. But it might have been. My advice, if this is that show, is to ease off on the buzzkill announcements and get straight on with the show. As the title suggests, this is Hamlet as a noir private dick story. Sort of spoofy but perhaps not spoofy enough, or perhaps not serious enough, the individual performances are perfectly decent, but the action drags and might benefit from a bit more oomph. Even a few gunshots sound effects would help. The guy who played Hamlet would make a good John Costorphine though (see above).

And The Goat Remained A Goat
Richard Wiseman and the Creative Martyrs
The Voodoo Rooms

Part lecture, part magic act, part musical piece, the dry Richard Wiseman relates the life story of actual paranormal investigator Harry Price, who famously probed the most haunted Rectory Priory in the 30s, as well as debunking various psychic hoaxers and other strange phenomenon. Despite getting off to a bad start with an irritating admonishment that we had not applauded him enough at the top of the show (that sort of behaviour always gets my back up - earn your applause man, it's not a right), Wiseman won me over with some excellent stage magic, including a floating table trick with the lovely Herself ably assisting. Afterward we agree that she would make an excellent magician's assistant, being both bendy and distracting. The Creative Martyrs, a violin/cello duo sat in the corner like the ghost of Laurel and Hardy, supply mood music throughout and eerie Harry Price themed songs, including one about my favourite talking mongoose Gef. It was like a musical version of the Monsters Ghosts and UFOs book from my childhood.

Hendrick's Carnival of Knowledge
Hendrick's Carnival of Knowledge
Royal Circus

Though situated way north of the main Fringe action, Hendrick's is well worth a visit. We weren't able to shoehorn any of their actual talks into the schedule, but instead enjoyed a variety of unusual cocktails in their well-appointed bar. Though enjoyed may have been too strong a word for my Cucozade, a vibrant cucumber flavoured sherbet concoction. We are delighted to meet the director and artistic designer chaps, with whom we discuss the many fine artefacts dotted around the Georgian terraced house that they have taken over, including Peter, a ten foot tall rearing stuffed polar bear, and a variety of headless birds and framed crab pincers. We contribute to their Swan of Knowledge by imparting important facts. I bore them all with my fascinating discourse on the origin of the word vril, as in Bovril. They also have a mobile bar/library outside called MAAM which stands for something, and we discuss various mutual steampunky type friends with the chaps. A splendidly dressed site, and I only wish we'd had time to sit in on a lecture or two.

Das Vegas 3
Frank Sinazi
The Voodoo Rooms

As he says, worth checking your sensibilities at the door. Das Vegas revels in swinging offensiveness, hosted by the Fuhrer of the Board himself, Frank Sinazi. Expect intentionally lame Nazi puns, banging Sinatra tribute songs (my favourite is opening number Das Reich), and a mixed bag of guest artists. A decent turn from burka'd double act Baghdad's Got Talent, somewhat flat shock comedy from a stubbly vicar, a quick appearance from Saddami Davis Jnr and jiggly burlesque from Betty Grumble (I liked her Venetian mask style make-up). Rightly earning his place as the closing act was Jesus though - moving seamlessly from a beatific smiling procession through the audience (he touched Herself's head) and gradually stripping down to his messianic thong, he's a very fit Son of God and a lovely mover. More Jesus please.

As I slope back to base, the big laptop on my back inducing curvature of the spine, Herself and CJ stay on at the Voodoo Rooms for liquid enjoyment and the late night Ruby Darlings, two charming young ladies who I'm told do rude songs in not many clothes. Later on at the flat, I am treated to a rendition of their song about Bottom Sex.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

The Chocolate Ocelot's 2014 Fringe - Day Five

Hump Day + 1, as we slide inexorably toward the rear end of this particular camel/holiday analogy.

Let me start by saying that I'm writing this up not on Day Five itself, nor even the next morning, but at 11:45 pm the day after. The ridiculously packed timetable of shows has once again done for my much-vaunted ambition to stick to a strict regime of writing up every morning. The combination of late night show followed by staying up even later to talk nonsense and play Weebl and Bob cartoons followed by getting up for an early show the next morning has finally taken its toll. This morning we had to tear out of the flat at 11:00 am to catch our first performance, so I just grabbed my faithful laptop, stowed it in my just as faithful rucksack and proceeded to lug it around For The Entire Day in the hope of finding a quiet hour somewhere with free WiFi to do some writing. Fool, fool, fool.

Once again I promise myself, and you dear reader, that next year I either see a whole bunch of shows or do a lot of writing. But not both. This way madness has lain. And like a victim of self-inflicted abuse or possibly David Lo-Pan, I keep coming back for more, year after year. I even brought a voice recorder to simply dictate record my show reviews on the hoof, but haven't quite gotten round to working out that whole 'turn sounds into written words' thing. Must work that out some time.

Enough flapping. Here's what we saw:

The Seussification of Midsummer Night's Dream
Red Bonnet Productions
The Space on North Bridge

This pretty much does what it says on the tin, with great enthusiasm. An all-female cast of young performers renders the Shakespearean play in Dr Seuss style rhymes, led by Narrator #1 and Narrator #2. Bright costumes and snappy, witty lines. My only gripe is with Shakespeare's plot, not the production itself - that whole Pyramus and Thisbe play with a play thing? It's a bit of an anticlimax after all the cool fairy farce love potion stuff, Will. Just sayin'. I like the comedy wall though. And for extra fun, after we've applauded at the end, they do it all over again at high speed. And then even faster and backwards. Oh, and there's a fun Hunger Games shout-out when one of the characters dies. Enchanting. See what I did there?

Birdwatchers' Wives
Caroline Smith

I love saying I'm going to see something at Summerhall. Makes me think I'm in Game of Thrones. But instead of cool dragons, they have a green orang-utan in the courtyard for some reason. Anyway...
Birdwatchers' Wives may be one of the odder shows on at the Fringe, taking place in a dark, steep-seated chamber that looks like it's been used for Victorian dissection demonstrations. We are greeted by the arresting sight of Rita Grebe - a seven-foot birdwoman in a vast ballgown bedecked with feathers. In her Germanic accent, Rita tells us about Twitchers and Robin Strokers and the bird identification method JIZZ, while video sequences keep us abreast of the strange world of avian singing contest BirdOrff and Rita's rivalry with her nemesis Maggie Grebe. She is ably assisted by her chickwoman Grouse who does a lot of the hard work in the show's most sinister episode, as Rita, hunched over her offspring in a single spotlight, forcefeeds her slice after slice of bread, slowly, ever so slowly. Beautifully weird.

Oh Boy!
The Maydays
Cowgatehead (kind of opposite Underbelly)

No, this isn't a Buddy Holly story thing. We were are Cowgatehead to see Comedy Death, with comedians talking about dying on stage, but we cravenly switched to Oh Boy! when we saw from the poster that it's a tribute to the Quantum Leap TV series. The format is that a small female cast, plus a 'guest Sam Beckett' from elsewhere on the Fringe, takes a year and a title suggested by the audience and then improvs a Quantum Leap story. Being true geeks of a certain age, this is catnip to us, and we join in on the intro Surprisingly, we are not the geekiest members of the audience though - a guy beside us knows all the real episode titles. Freak. The ensuing story, of Sam playing an English schoolboy with a murderous mother, is somewhat patchy in parts (I think perhaps the woman playing hologram buddy Al could have done more to steer the plot along a more satisfying course), but it is improv after all. A fun and clever idea, with Ed Croft from Jollyboat (I think) making for a charming guest Sam.

The Monkey Queen
Physical Theatre
Shaolin Ladyboys
The Frooty Goose

Back for their third year, the lovely Shaolin Ladyboys this time present their own interpretation of the classic Chinese story Journey to the West, following the priest Tripitaka and magical spirit friends on a quest to recover some lost scrolls. Genderflipping the characters, we get the Monkey Queen, Ladypig and Sandra, though paradoxically Tripitaka is still nominally male. Both beautiful and exceedingly skilled in martial arts, the company put on a dazzling hour of swordfights, punching through bricks and lipsynching to disco anthems. A must see.

Pussy Panic
Dandy Darkly
CC Blooms (a big pub up on Leith Walk)

A bit further north than we've ventured thus far, I've insisted we come to see Dandy Darkly based purely on a brief glimpse of him sauntering up the Royal Mile last year. Dandy is a whitefaced confection of fabulous faggotry, a dandified diva in ruffles, ribbons and top-hat fascinator. What follows is an hour of dark tales celebrating womanhood in various guises. With great rhythm and a voice like the Hooded Claw's camper cousin, Dandy exposes us to a girl with a Fanny of Holding, how the blood goddess Madonna stole skeleton king Michael Jackson's mojo, and a beautiful love story between two gorgeous lesbians in a retirement home. Like Tales of the City bitten by a radioactive Alan Moore. Fabulous.

Reasons to Kill Yourself
Andrew Lawrence
Assembly Rooms

I chose this because I thought we ought to see one well-established solo stand-up show, among all the showcase gigs we've seen as part of the Free Fringe (Joe Bains, Licence to laugh, take a bow). Andrew Lawrence jumped out at me (not literally, that would have been terrifying) from the programme because he does have a bit of an unusual face. He's said as much himself, so I only feel a bit uncomfortable saying that. Plus there's some good clips of him on YouTube. He launches into some great rant routines, barely pausing for breath as he unleashes a stream of inventive which brings Bill Hicks to mind. But it's clear that he's not enjoying himself, neither this gig or the festival as a whole, reminding us several times that he's playing a much smaller venue this year than in better times. A gag that doesn't get much of a giggle serves only to earn the audience his disdain, though I honestly couldn't make out the gabbled punchline and suspect I wasn't alone. His increasing disenchantment with the comedy business and his rancour at lesser lights getting all the breaks ceases to be funny around the 45-minute mark, and the set ends with him more or less announcing his retirement. A downbeat ending to an uncomfortable hour.

We then spend quite some time in the Mitre pub on the Royal Mile, catching some live music. Practically every pub on this stretch, just as down on Grassmarket, has live music playing in the evening. Usually a couple of fellas with guitars knocking out some old rock or folk. The pair playing in the Mitre don't disappoint. I just wish I could remember their names now. I shall have to quiz Herself when she has her wits about her.
UPDATE: She says they're called Pictism. They are good. Look them up.

Ironbark Pumpkin and the Quest for the Lost Pudding Quaich of Ecclefechan
Mulholland and Whitley (Ed and Patrick, or possibly Patrick and Ed)
Free Sisters (which is, like, the Three Sisters but free)

We go to see this because a) we have a free slot at the end of the day, b) it's free and c) they have the longest title in the programme. We venture into the deepest reaches of the Three Sisters and find a broom cupboard called the Staff Room filled with 8 chairs and two young men, one of whom (Ed or possibly Patrick) proceeds to entertain us with his cool looking blue trombone (which may be called Lucy) as we shout out various theme tunes for him. The actual Ironbark show itself eventually follows after some setting up, and the two chaps put on a silly (in the best sense of the word) tale of questing for a cake tin. Or something. It's not very clear, and very much a work in progress by the chaps' own admission, but we end it all off with a rousing rendition of Jerusalem, which I'm sure the residents of the Three Sisters were only too grateful for.

And then to bed. Eventually.

And now to bed for me too. In the present. This is getting confusing.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

The Chocolate Ocelot's 2014 Fringe - Day Four

Hump day! No, that's not rude. I mean we're already halfway through our week here. Boo and very much hiss.

Herself wants us to go out for breakfast this morning, so again with the highly compressed summary of the day's events.

By crikey I'm tired. I thank Allfather Odin's wisdom that I decided to forego fashionable footwear for the comfortable sporting trainer whilst here. But even so, me pods are aching something frightful so they are.

Once Upon A Nightmare
Box Step Productions
The Counting House (you have no idea how many times I've fatally mistyped one of those words this week)

Excellent stuff from last year's Death Ship 666 people, telling the story of what happens to the young heroes of a children's adventure after they return from misty magic land Somnia. Like TV's Once Upon A Time with dollops of Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore, this is a child friendly adventure with gags for all, lightning costume changes (I'm thinking of Wendy to Amastris particularly) and a terrifying comic relief in the form of Sackface (who sounded distressingly like Old Greg from the Mighty Boosh). A good musical number in the middle and jolly good fun all round.

Bum, that was too long - better slim these down....

10 Films With My Dad
Adrian Goatley I think
Somewhere over by Princes Street

Forgive me, Adrian Goatley I think, I wimped out of the trek across town for your show, though I'm sure it was excellent. The mind was willing but the flesh, oh the feeble flesh.

Instead, we had lunch in a frightfully hot Turkish cafe opposite the BBC festival place that we've never been arsed to visit and then CJ and I went to Forbidden Planet. I bought issues 2, 4 and 5 of Marvel's Original Sin event. The mind was weak too.

The Haunting of Lopham House
Tom Neenan
A bunker under the Pleasance

Well performed one-man ghost story spoofing The Woman In Black and various MR James efforts. Tom Neenan works his clever wordplay into nearly every line of a tale about a chap investigating strange deaths and spooky phenomena in and around the titular house in 1910 Norfolk (I think). The sound effects genuinely made me jump. Splendid stuff.

Knightmare Live: Level 2
The Knightmare Live guys

Hurrah for Knightmare Live! The return of Tregard of Dunshelm, Lord Fear, Binki the goblin and the rest. Granitas (or Olgarth) seems to have got an upgrade this year, and the dragon (spoilers!) was so good it got a massive whoop of applause. Again mixing actual Knightmare-style TV gameplay with a plot steered by the two excellent leads Paul Flannery and Tom Bell with great chemistry, they and we revel in the near panto-like atmosphere, as we cheer satchels and being in a room. My handy dandy Fringe map in its lovely cardboard bogroll tube make a guest appearance as a prop (photo to follow), which affords me the excuse to nip backstage afterward and say hello to Tom Bell. Lovely chaps.

This Shit Just Got Reel
The Clootie Dumplings
The Frooty Goose

And entertaining hour of combined filthy comedy and highland dance from the lively performers of the Clootie Dumplings, students at the Strathclyde College of Proctology. I especially enjoyed their Gay Gordons whilst carrying out a routine prostate examination. A show that will haunt me for some time.

Extreme Humans
The Lazy Susans
Pleasance That (a portakabin round the side)

Quickfire sketches from two very talented performers, this show fills a gap in our schedule left by the much-missed Dog Eared Collective. Interleaved character situations and running gags that call back to each other, suggesting a shared universe. Excellent quick costume changes (and moustache drawing) and well observed characters in performers of such youth. Would love to see more of them and pray that they achieve success without being fed into the production line of BBC3 comedy.

The Dark Room
John Robertson
Underbelly, oh stinky crowded Underbelly

Totally different format to everything else we've seen, John Robertson blacks out the room and moves about us as a disembodied face, as one by one, members of the audience take their chances in the Dark Room. Based on the old text adventures of the 80s and 90s, the player is presented with limited choices which lead either to nowhere, verbal abuse or Death. Or all three. By the end of the show, we are all chanting along with the opening lines of the game, You awake to find yourself in a dark room. Nostalgic and crowd-pleasing. A cult exercise in futility.

Marcel Lucont Is
Alexis Dubus
Pleasance Dome (that big student union building with the comedy muriel inside in previous years)

Accomplished observations and mild arrogance from France's most laid back raconteur. I genuinely felt my blood pressure lower during the performance. Which is a good thing, I mean. Marcel takes his time, makes us enjoy the pauses and the silence, and methodically works his way through a glass or two of wine as he treats us to poetry and extracts from his autobiography Moi. A bit of Q and A at the end which is a bit of a gamble as it depends on just the right Qs to A, but a most polished show. Make sure you don't get stuck behind Americans with large heads like we did.

Licence To Laugh
Joe Bain, Various
The White horse down the bottom of the Royal Mile

A very late show for us, as we catch up with CJ to see him headlining a stand-up showcase hour hosted by Joe Bain. Herself and I must first apologise to Joe again for accidentally accepting an invitation to take part in one of his earlier shows - oh the perils of a Facebook invite. The show is a mixed bag of monsters, to quote the 1975 Dr Who Monster Book, with highlights for me being a young chap called Rodders, who had quite a way about him, and Mr CJ himself, making the deaf swearing/Alan Bennett/sexual harassment comedy subgenre his very own :)

And so to bed, after dragging a hyper CJ past the comedy bus in the Three Sisters courtyard, where he fancied squeezing in a 1:30am slot. Herself suggested that the two cop cars that had just pulled up outside did not bode well for the quality of the audience.

8 shows tomorrow. Feck.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

The Chocolate Ocelot's 2014 Fringe - Day Three

It's Day Three! Which can only mean it's time for my annual Oh bugger what's the time what do you mean we're going out to our first show in half an hour I've got a blog to write bugger bugger post. This is in no way linked to the unusually late night chez Ocelot, entertaining friends with a few glasses of wines and some witty banter. To draw a discrete veil over the proceedings, I shall refrain from naming exactly who was totally wankered last night, in case their wife back home reads this, after walking their dog Dakota. Suffice to say, the tut was talked, the world was put to rights, and it all ended up with us watching rude songs on YouTube, courtesy of the Socks and K*nt and the Gang (I can't even bring myself to type out the comedy version of the word).

So, straight on with the reviews, for today only rendered in bite-sized nibbles:

Breakfast with Shakespeare
Theatre I guess
No idea
Also no idea

As this was on at like ten in the morning and I had a blog to write, this was one for CJ and Herself only. It was apparently funny, with various Shakespearean characters all bumping into each other. I am told it was both funny and well acted. Plus there were croissants and coffee on offer for breakfast. Herself gives it 9/10.

Lunch with the Literati
Literature or something. Spoken word maybe
Some literary types
Some club in a quite square near the Ghllie Dhu

Never went to this. Another one for Herself and CJ, the artsy fartsy scamps. People talking about Robert Burns. Food may have been on offer. I imagine there was lots of unintelligible Burnsese spoken and great chieftains' o' puddin' clans praised. I sat outside on the steps waiting for them and munching on a stalectable day old cheese sandwich. Herself gives it 6/10.

The Hound of the Buskervilles
Walsall Dramaturge Collective
The Frooty Goose

Entertaining musical update of the classic Holmes tale, built around a walking tour of the Edinburgh streets around the Frooty Goose. The rapping dog was a particular highlight. 8/10.

Les Femmes a Barbe
Institut Francais d'Ecosse

Brilliant half-hour macabre visit to a cabinet of curiosities, tucked away on Randolph Crescent, away from the main Fringe action but well worth the walk. A dispossessed Romanian sister and brother take us through a slightly randomised selection of their grandfather's prized oddities - dwarf skeletons, mummified crocodile babies, spider-rabbits, that sort of thing. Doesn't outstay its welcome, ends brilliantly. Go. 10/10

Potted Sherlock
Dan and Jeff

No idea. It was cancelled due to an 'incident'. Gave us a chance to get food at the Potting Shed on Potterow though. 0/10. Well done again though to the Fringe office for the auto-refund a couple of hours later.

Alternotive a Capella
Oxford Alternotives

Good songs, nice choreography. Some of the solo lead voices drowned out by the backing singers. I prefer it when they adapt well known pop songs to a capella (i.e. I didn't recognise some of the slower ones or the ones made popular in the last 5 years). The beat box chap was especially good. 6/10

Canterbury Tales Remixed
Comedy (I'd have said Song)
Baba Brinkman
Under Belly Cowbarn

One man plus his mate on the mixing desk retelling three of the classic tales, Eminem style. Brilliant. Reminded me of Mitch Benn's Macbeth. Education with a beat. Not so bothered about the scratchy mixy interlude, but I imagine American Brinkman needed to give his throat a rest from rapping solidly for half an hour. Bought his CD. 8/10

The Generation of Z
Royale Productions
Assembly George Theatre (mainly the underground car park)

Fantastic interactive zombie apocalypse experience from New Zealand. Dark, spooky, firearms, body parts, swearing. Awesome performances from all the actors - grunts, zoms and civilians alike. Also splendid aerobic exercise at the end. Too many people in the audience though for the peril to feel real - too much queueing when we should have been running for our lives. I got to do a bit at one point, being on comms with the other squad, though I really wanted to go on a scavenging run with mohawked Private Moose. Awesome stuff. Go Moose! Go Frosty! Lots of fun photo ops at the end. 11/10

Lord of the Dance Settee
Richard Herring
Assembly George Theatre

Feel good stuff from Ocelot favourite Herring. Lighter material than in previous years with no especial theme, unless you go with his suggestions of inertia vs mobility :) There are sombreros and dancing around on a settee. Mr Herring is looking fitter than he has in years. Well done to him. 8/10

Then stayed up late. So late.

Monday, 4 August 2014

The Chocolate Ocelot's 2014 Fringe - Day Two

Well, yesterday's attempt at brevity didn't go so well, did it? Is there such a condition as chronically verbose? Can I claim benefit for it, or maybe wear some sort of rubber band about my wrist to show my awareness of the very real pain and heartache it can cause for sufferers (by which, dear reader, I mean you)? I fear not.

Right, on with Day Two. Which is now yesterday. I'm writing this up on the morning of Day Three in the vain hope that a night's sleep will have caused the day's events to have faded sufficiently to result in a briefer write-up. So far, so not good. Maybe I need to get properly into the Fringe spirit and drink more (i.e. at all) and blank out all this extra memory that's clogging up my head.

Which leads me nicely on to the subject of ear-worms, or 'tunes you can't get out of your head'. I currently have three in my head, none of which, ironically, featured in Andrew O'Neill's Now That's What I Call Ear-Worms routine from Day Two (more later). Having one in your head on a constant fricking loop is bad enough, but I have not only the first two lines of I'm A Sock from The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre's opening number (also more later), but also (ironically) Andrew O'Neill's Man From Kent routine and my very own contribution to the world of ear-wormery True Detective of Thrones, which is essentially me singing (may be putting it too strongly) the title of the recent popular cop series to the tune of Game of Thrones; it really is very catchy.

Three ear worms battling for supremacy inside my head. It's a wonder true detective true detective I can get anything out you can wear me on your feet not on your cock and onto the keyboard with all this 'ere 'e is, Pythagoras going on, it really is. On the plus side, it does make for an awesome telepathic shield. The combined mental powers of Professor X, Alfred Bester's psi-cops and them freaky blond kids from Village of the Damned couldn't get a thought out of me.

Some further tips on getting the most out of your Fringe. My handy-dandy daily gig map is proving to be invaluable. No more working out where we are, what the name off that road over there is and figuring out the best route across town to the next venue. Now we simply unfurl my awesome map, complete with my lovely Visio 2010 transparency 50% arrow overlays (surely the only vector diagramming tool for the professional planner (Microsoft take note - I am happy to whore myself out for your product)). Many are the impressed gasps of admiration from the performers and fellow audience members as we peruse our mighty map. Doubtless you could get the same result with one your apps on your modern mobile phones, but none of the romance.

Thus the maps, in concert with our timetable t-shirts and laminated day planners, continue to draw the admiration of all we meet. I'm pretty sure it's admiration. A lot of these people are trained actors. They could be masking their shock that we've been allowed out without supervision behind a polite word and a bemused expression, the deceitful dogs.

I must also stress the importance of sturdy and comfortable footwear if you're intending to tromp back and forth across the town to venues. Edinburgh is far from flat and a tidy step away from uncobbled. The sight of tottering young ladies failing to negotiate the rough terrain (reduce to 50% Move) and very nearly going A over T is entertaining but potentially injurious. Wise up and slip on a nice pair of Silver Shadows; they are, to quote my dad, like putting your feet inside clouds. I get all my words from him.

One last tip. Tired of being flyered wherever you go by performers and crew? Sick of being handed postcards with hastily stapled-on Kate Copstick reviews every 12 feet down the Royal Mile? Then simply follow this simple tip to render yourself invisible! Print yourself out a fake ID, get it laminated and hang it round your neck. To the casual eye, you'll look like another weary performer or crew member yourself, on your way to a gig or back to your digs. The flyerers will see you as one of their own and ignore you. Like when Rick and the other covered themselves in decomposing zombie goo in The Walking Dead. Try it. It really works, we hardly got any flyers yesterday. One of us, one of us...

On with the reviews.

Ellie Taylor
Counting House

Like all (I think) the shows at the Counting House and the Blind Poet next door, this is a free show. And it seems that like the increasing norm for free shows, it's also unticketed. Meaning you get in on a first-come first-served basis. We did not come first, nor second nor even twentieth, thus we failed to get in to see Ellie Taylor off of Snog Marry Avoid. Which is great for her but less so for us. Curse her for being so blimin' popular. I blame whoever gave her those rave reviews last year.

So, what to do, what to do...

But wait! Who's that on the stair of the Counting House waiting to perform? Why, it's Mr CJ Hooper and Marjorie, about to do a turn on Shit of the Fringe!

Shit of the Fringe
Counting House

The premise is that a variety of folks who've had crap reviews talk about their experience of getting reviews, what it's like doing the Fringe, and also showcase a bit of their act, MCed by the charming Dave Chawner, who has his own show Over It about anorexia. we are treated to short sets from Italian Londoner and opera lover Giacinto Palmieri, Iranian-Brit and Mufasa from The Lion King impersonator Sahar Mahadi, long-time Fringer performer and fellow lover all things geek Rob Deb, and of course Mr CJ Hooper who treated us to a masterclass in sign language swearing and how to recognise the 5 stages of sexual harassment.

All of this took place in the attic of the Counting House, and small triangular black space who's crampedness is equalled only by its hotness. The performers have to crane forward so as not to brain themselves on the eves of the roof and even then Sahar Mahadi (not the tallest of women) managed to bonk her head on the back at one point. I hope she hasn't got any lasting dents.

Christian Cagigal

Yes, I know there's no official Magic category in the Fringe, but I don't care. In point of fact, Obscura is close-up magic. Close up card magic at that. Hailing from San Francisco, Christian Cagigal is most charming, with deft hands and a lovely storyteller's voice. With the aid of a small card table, a cigar box of tiny props, an overhead camera and a large screen, he brings us a series of tricksy tales of gamblers, curses, and deals with the Devil. Even when he selects members of the small but enthralled audience to help him onstage (including Herself) with a trick he is solicitous and inclusive. A joy to watch and listen to. I hope he does well here at his first Fringe.

Also the loos and seating area at the Gryphon (conference centre out west) were most acceptable.

Winter Is Coming
Backwards Anorak
Gilded Balloon

When the show starts with an ensemble a capella rendition of the Game of Thrones theme tune, I know I'm going to enjoy this. What follows is a highly entertaining musical presentation of George RR Martin's fantasy phenomenon, filtered through the increasingly frictional antics of a small dramatic company, dominated by the divo Vince, who absolutely must play Khaleesi Daenerys, despite having a physique more suited to Khal Drogo.

Some great musical numbers here, and good use of minimal props (wolfhead hats, blond wigs and so forth). as the storyline is repeatedly mixed up with Narnia, LotR and even Harry Potter. Some rewarding shout-outs for genre fans including a decent Tyrion speech mashup, and well choreographed dance numbers.

Sadly a couple of guys in the very front middle of the audience, immediately in front of us in fact, didn't seem to get it. They had their heads down even writing or texting, throughout. Rude. Who pays good money for a show and then ignores it, right at the front? Must have been complementary tickets I guess.

I saw three of the cast later in the day, and they brought the subject up, so it must have affected them (though the performance hadn't suffered as far as I could tell). I assured them that those guys were just wankers.

Go see.

Andrew O'Neill

A damn fine quality free gig downstairs at this pub near the Tron. Always a pleasure to watch Andrew O'Neill work, and since we couldn't massage the timetable enough to squeeze in his History of Heavy Metal show, it's handy we can catch this presentation of his more accessible material.

What I like about Andrew is his engaging manner and nonsequitur format, switching back and forth between 3 or 4 different comedy threads with a wink and a chirpy Sarf London twang. It is at this show that I am infected with Man From Kent, and am also treated to obscure Zygon and Horror of Fang Rock shout-outs.

He seems to recognise me afterward and gives me a hug. We're like friends now. If he was involved in car crash near my remote wintry cabin, I would almost certainly pull him from the wreckage and nurse him back to a semblance of health, with only minor hobbling.

Looking forward to seeing him and the rest of The Men Who Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing playing later in the year.

Also I like his Plague of the Zombies tattoo.

Improlapsed Catholics
St Aldhelm's Comedy Players
The Frooty Goose

Because you have to see at least cheap-ass show with an impro pun in the title right? This crowd of failed priests, monks and nuns put on several shows every day, to coincide with the canonical hours of worship. Obviously there was no way we were going to catch their Matins performance, but Vespers was highly entertaining, with various quick-fire sketches being devised on the spot, usually based on a lesson from the Bible, a 'which freak monster from Revelations has just turned up to the party?' game and a 'guess the form of martyrdom' sketch. I understand the Compline show later on has the game 'I'm So Mortified!', in which one of the performers castigates himself in a manner of the audience's choosing whilst devising a comedy narrative around a household object, literary genre and a catchphrase. Worth keeping an eye on. 

Zombie Science: Brain of the Dead
Zombie Institute for Theoretical Science
C on Chambers Street

Presented by Glaswegian scientist Dr Austin, this lecture on zombie brain physiology is in fact only partly comedy spoof. A lot of it is based in real medical fact, with proper parts of the brain and actual medical condition and everything, all of which Herself approves. There are a number of good experiments using the audience and a pleasantly comedic slideshow. At the end of the show, Dr Austin is happy to take questions from the audience and is able to field a number of zombie-based queries with a mixture of actual science knowledge and zombie genre geekery, displaying an appreciation of the Walking Dead, 28 Days Later and the Romero oeuvre. Decent stuff and nicely presented, and oddly child-friendly.

What Do You Mean
Ego Actus
Spotlites @ Merchant Hall

A small enthusiastic American troupe puts on a play about a play about a play. I think. It's very very meta, with the writer writing the procurer's lines, the designer taking over the keyboard, and the intern taking time-outs to explain various theatrical concepts such as Blocking to the audience. It may have been just a bit too meta, as I think we struggled to follow the various levels of the plot as it broke the fourth wall, rewrote itself and skipped over dialogue. I wish them good luck in their run here.

And So Am I
The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre
Gilded Balloon

What's not to love about the Socks? One man, two socks, one ricketty tartan puppet stand, an increasingly croaking squeaky voice, some double act schtick and a few songs. No better way to end the day. Well done Mr Kev Sutherland and hopefully see you in your comic artist guise at the Lakes Comic Art Festival later in the year.

Herself and CJ nip off for a post-midnight Ghost Stories session courtesy of Will Seaward and I treat myself to my second crepe of the day (I like to keep regular) at the Gilded Balloon. And so to bed. Until the buggers stagger in drunk an hour later.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

The Chocolate Ocelot's 2014 Fringe - Day One

Hello! How are you? You alright? No, yeah, I'm good. Been up to much? Yeah? Cool, cool. Anyway, back on me.

Greetings once again from Edinburgh, the Athens of the North, where thousands of performers and tens of thousands of punters from all over the world have gathered for the annual Fringe festival. For the month of August the city's conference centres, student union buildings and back rooms of pubs are transformed into venues for comedy, theatre, music and all sorts of other entertaining activities, as well as expressive dance installations.

That's enough of the bollocksy scene-setting. If you want that sort of idiot's guide you can tune in (though who tunes in these days?) to a late night BBC2 arts show with that long-faced Scottish woman (I'm going to assume she's a Kirsty). Suffice to say, Herself and I are again staying here for a week, cramming in as many shows as we can, with the usual mix of shows big and small, good and 'brave'.

And as before, I've stupidly committed myself to writing our adventures up every day, devoting a couple of hours each morning sitting on the bed with my laptop trying to give you an informative but entertaining, nay infotaining (enterformative sounds vaguely invasive) picture of life at the Fringe and shows and performers we've seen. In years gone by, I've spent far too long each day on this task, painfully adding in links to production websites, fact-checking performer names and scrupulously going over each comment for inadvertent (and sometimes just maliciously vertent) slurs, to avoid needless cruelty. This has proven (rhymes with woven, like the legal term, though it might be just proved. Oh, whatever) in the past to be a massive drain on my time and strain on my lower back (I'm hunched over my laptop on the bed), so for this year, I'm just going to bang out a few observations and knee-jerk reactions on the spot, then frantically rewrite the bugger later on and hope nobody notices. It will also be riddled with typos, I can promise you.

A quick note on our party this year: where once we were two, we are now three. We are joined by up and coming comedy performer person CJ Hooper; the Huggy to our Starsky and Hutch, the Barbara to our Bruce and Dick, the Poochie to our Itchy and Scratchy. He'll be doing various slots around the festival during our stay, affording us an exciting insight into the world of the jobbing stand-up cum musical impro poet type person on the Free Fringe. As and when, I'll be putting in a link to his side of the story here like a comedy version of Rashomon.

And as ever we'll be catching up with our fellow Fringers Dr Foot and his heterosexual Fringemate Mitch, playing phone-tag and comparing notes on shows.

Enough with the intros; on with the reviews.

Ah, no, not quite just yet. A short word on the Fringers' Survival Kit. This year, our levels of obsessive preparedness have been honed to an even greater degree. Once again we have the t-shirts printed with our timetable of shows, and handy laminated quick reference cards dangling stylishly (though with distressingly sharp corners) from our waistbands. But this year I have added an invaluable extra item to the kit: a daily map of the city with arrows directing us from venue to venue, stored with a sturdy tube in my backpack. You can imagine the envious stares of others as they stand in the middle of Chambers Street unable to remember where Venue 45 is amongst the cramped map covered in tiny numbers on the back page of the official Fringe programme (which, I might add, has rubbishly incomplete grid references around the edge. Unlike mine, which is better). Oh, and we also have laminated ID badges on lanyards bearing the word PUNTER (Herself) and BLOGGER (me). We are quite the sight.

Ok now, now, on with the reviews.

Casting the Runes
Box Tale Soup
The Space on the Mile

Two person (and one big spooky puppet) adaptation of the MR James classic (and not one of his rubbish, disappointing vaguely scary ghost stories). The one with the bloke who gets cursed by a black magician with the magic slip of paper and (in the fillum) the excellent monster at the end. Minimal props (a door, some suitcases, some papers), stylised costumes with 

(Sorry, brief pause there to stretch the legs - been sitting cross-legged on the bed for too long. Ow.)

strips of text sewn in, and some music. Excellent acting from both performers, and very effective puppet work of the terrifying man-size Karswell in his black trilby and piercing blue eyes. His expression did remind me of the disapproving Sam the Eagle. The scene shifts were accompanied by odd little song and percussion numbers which felt slightly out of the genre, almost folky, but that's a minor thing. Oh, and there's some clever little bits of stage magic; sleight of hand and trick props like a spooky drawing of a dark figure menacing the hero and a door handle moving on its own. It's all jolly good stuff.

Company Gavin Robertson

Unofficial parody of James Bond by the excellent Gavin Robertson. Another of his one-man shows spoofing a well-loved genre, following on from his hits like Thunderbirds FAB, Fantastical Voyage (my favourite) and Spittoon. His skills at mime remain undiminished, needing only three simple metal door frames as props to create an office, a motorcycle and the classic 'Bond shoots the screen' shot. His spoof of an archetypal musical Bond title sequence, with ladies dancing provocatively and guns going off, is spot on, synching his choreography to the music perfectly. You could argue that the plot is a bit patchy here and there and the laughs a little thin, but this is affectionate pastiche perhaps, rather than outright parody. There are rather too many shower scenes (though he does do a good lady in shower) and a couple of bits like the matchbox car chase could be much shorter but I always have time for Mr Robertson's physical work - nobody else can mime a villain picking his way through a web of lasers quite like him.

The Merchant of Venice - In Space!
Walsall Dramaturge Collective
The Frooty Goose

It wouldn't be the Fringe without several lazy Shakespeare reskins, and this production sadly fits the bill perfectly. Transplanting the action from 16th century Italy to the terraformed asteroid Venice-3 in the year 2169, and decking the cast out in cheap shiny 'spacesuits', is little substitute for witty dialogue and crisp acting, both of which are missing from this comedy-cum-tragedy.

And the casting of Shylock as a money-grubbing Ferengi is both anti-Semitic and an insult to those two greats of theatre - Shakespeare and Roddenberry. Avoid.

One Dissection
Some guys who didn't turn up
C Nova

Well. We sat patiently in one of the C venues (one of the multi-level rotunda buildings that Edinburgh seems to have an embarrassment of) for a good 15 minutes past the start time of the medical a capella group before summoning the nerve to ask an official person (i.e. a student in a C t-shirt and headset) if we'd missed the show. No, they said, it's been cancelled. Why, asks I. They just didn't show up, says the official person. 

Well. And tch. You just can't rely on singing doctors these days. Honestly. I like to think they had a medical emergency which required a close harmony rendition of Life on Mars.

On the plus side, the Fringe office were already on the case and refunded our tickets without me even having to ask. I got a nice email and phone message from a nice (I'm assuming she's nice. She gave me my money back, which is nice in my book) woman called Katie.

Also on the plusser side, this gave us a chance to catch up with CJ 

(sorry, another break to see CJ off - he's off to do a morning podcast. It's all very showbiz)

after his first gig down at the Blind Poet, accompanied by his guitar Marjorie (who I like to think is named after the Fry and Laurie character). Over pizza and falafel at that triangular wedge of a cafe by Wee Bobby's statue, we exchange notes and convince him to come on down with us to the Gilded Balloon for our last show of the day.

Voices in your Head
Deborah Frances-White
Gilded Balloon

Once more unto the Billiard Room dear friends, once more. Why are so many of the Gilded Balloons shows we see over the years in this room? I think it must love us. I am brave and sit us in the first row, as I've seen the show before and know that there's no unpleasant audience interaction awaiting. Or as Deborah (the Voice) herself puts it, 'I'm not going to mock you for having a job'. She actually comes out on stage this time round (last time she really was just a disembodied voice on the speaker system) and spends a good 10 minutes priming the audience with props, personal items and mass audio cues (chanting 'Mother') with which to disturb and wrong-foot tonight's participants.

As with last year, it's really good show - I'd describe it as 'directed improv'. So none of your lazy 'give us a genre, a household item and hopefully a really brilliant funny situation' requests for the audience - the Voice directs each of the four performers through little improvised scenes: a silkworm who's lived too long (Sara Pascoe), a murderous bird (Andre Vincent), a violent toothfairy (Jonny Lennard) and a woman at a nightclub (Milo McCabe). 

Herself and CJ have been appointed as proper wranglers for a brain in a jar, and CJ presents it to Mr Vincent with understated aplomb. Good brainporting. Milo McCabe has an excellent moustache and splendid 40's trousers. He looks like a younger Jean Dujardin.

And we're done for Day One.

All that remains is to shout down the phone at Dr Foot and effect a surprisingly successful rendezvous with him and Mitch in the no-man's land between the Gilded Balloon and Assembly. We swap notes (they recommend reliable standards Frank Skinner and Richard Herring), CJ spots some of his fabulous showbiz pals on the street for a chinwag, and Herself and I pass judgement on the hordes of ridiculous young ladies tottering past in vertiginous heels and several metres of naked leg. Ah, Edinburgh on a Saturday night.