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.

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