Fringe, Part One

The Fringe is well underway, so I should say a few words on the dozen shows we’ve seen so far. A few is about right: I’ve been doing those four-word reviews for The Times where they send out a text after the show and you text back your review. It’s surprisingly difficult to say much in four words; again and again I’ve wanted at least five or six, if only to include a “but”. Here are the ones I’ve sent them over the past week, with ratings from 1-5...

Tim Brooke-Taylor and Graeme Garden, The Goodies Still Rule OK! **

Nostalgic but erratic. Having grown up with the Goodies I had to see this, but even I had to admit that as a show in its own right this wasn’t very satisfying. It was of course fun to see Tim and Graeme on stage, and the chemistry between them is still strong (they still work together on radio), but they interrupted it too often for clips from their old shows and pre-recorded inserts of Bill. I’d hoped at least some of the clips would be from episodes that weren’t yet on DVD, but no such luck—so not only did I know all the material backwards from my childhood, but I’d seen it all again in the past couple of years. I have no idea what non-fans would have made of it all. At twice the price of the less famous acts around the Fringe, this sadly didn’t feel like good value. 4.8.06

Wil Anderson, I Am the Wilrus ****

Aussie on top form. Anderson asked how many Aussies were in the audience, and the place seemed to be packed with them (us), but even though his routine was heavily Oz-centric he made a decent stab at explaining it all for the non-Aussies. His central themes of family foibles and religion are pretty universal, after all. Outside the Triple J studio he proves to be a fast and friendly stand-up, and the show had all the makings of a hit. He even got me to stand up at one point, telling everyone I was “Harry Potter in five years.” (I was a bit disappointed he didn’t say Postman Pat.) 4.8.06

Jason Byrne, Sheep For Feet and Rams For Hands *****

Amazingly funny. Missed the chance to use an extra two words in that review, but where to begin? Byrne had us gasping for breath at his impression of a rabbit dying of heatstroke, and when he told us about his six-year old son’s crowning moment of father-taunting I thought I was going to follow it to the floor. The best kind of high-energy, high-audience-interaction stand-up there is, as long as bad language doesn’t bother you (and if it does, why are you in Scotland?). 5.8.06

Robin Ince’s Book Club ***

Variable but amusing bibliomania. A crummy Underbelly venue, but a good variety show taking the piss out of bad books. Robin Ince’s compering is stronger than his solo performances to my mind, and he’s hit on the perfect format. Some of his collaborators were real assets, including an accordionist doing Prince’s “Kiss” and Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love”, and a lanky Aussie doing improvised jazz dance to Danielle Steel’s godawful poetry. A few other Fringe acts did five minute spots, which weren’t always great; but Josie Long was so intriguing that I’ve bought tickets to her show as well. 6.8.06

Justin Edwards, Unaccompanied As I Am ***

Clever and genial songs. (“Genial”? Told you this was hard.) After his triumphant performance as Jeremy Lion last year I tried to keep my expectations in check, and this show matched them—Edwards’s solo songs were half brilliant, half okay. His best ones started out chipper before sliding into depravity; the weaker ones involved singing along to backing videos, which slowed down the pace and undercut the freshness of the rest. I’d have preferred an hour of all-live performance, but still went away happy. 6.8.06

Tim Minchin, So Rock *****

So rock it’s unbelievable! Ouch, what a crap review—but what a fantastic show. We missed him last year, so this was our chance to see what all the fuss was about, and Minchin lived up to it. Great songs, great patter between songs, and a fascinatingly weird stage presence. The music reminded me of Ben Folds, the lyrics of a witty 1920s lyricist updated for the cynical 2000s. So rock and so good that I succumbed to his merchandising plug and bought a CD of the show afterwards to study the lyrics more closely. 6.8.06

Gamarjobat ***

Good, but flagged halfway. Not the wittiest of reviews, but tells it like it was. With my recent fascination for all things Japan I expected to like this punk magic/mime/comedy duo more. For the first twenty minutes I did, but after their initial magic routine the show took an abrupt left turn into a wordless tale of cops, robbers, and blind flower-girls which, while good, started to drag halfway through. A good show, but might have been better as 45 minutes. 7.8.06

Danny Bhoy ****

Got better and better. Wow, did Bhoy get a roasting from Metro on Friday. Tired old jokes from the 1970s, they reckoned. If I’d only seen the first twenty minutes I might have agreed, but Bhoy did get better as he went along, and in the end this felt like a strong show to me. Perhaps you had to be a cat person to enjoy the hip-hop-as-hairball bit. We’d never made it to Bhoy’s shows before, and it was good to see a Scottish stand-up at the Fringe for a change. 7.8.06

Mark Watson, I’m Worried That I’m Starting to Hate Almost Everyone in the World ****

Non-stop infectious energy. We were terrified that the loud woman in front of us in the queue was going to screech with laughter all through this show and ruin it, but mercifully she turned out to have no sense of humour, or at least not Mark Watson’s sense of humour, and was quiet throughout. (The fact that he doused her heckling early on may have helped.) The rest of the audience loved him, though, and so did we. Watson is the most energetic performer I’ve seen this Fringe after Jason Byrne, so you can’t help but love him. It helps that the material is good, too, and that he’s so quick with an improvised comeback. The show was about the seven deadly sins, but really, who cares what it’s about—it’s a pleasure just to be in his company for an hour. 7.8.06

Dylan Moran, Like, Totally... *****

Five unsmoked cigs’ worth. Trying to get a bit more creative with my four words there, with a reference to the cigarettes Moran had in his mouth when he came onstage—unlit, of course, thanks to the Scottish smoking ban. As a result we got only one hacking cough, but in all other respects he was the same curmudgeonly Irish persona we all know from Black Books—and what a very funny persona that is. I didn’t realise he lives in the New Town (which would explain why we saw him in Ottakar’s once), but it meant we got some pointed Edinburgh jokes as a bonus, along with weird and wise observations about flying, children, and... well, everything, it seemed. A big show in a huge venue (Usher Hall) which had everyone around us laughing more or less continuously. 9.8.06

Paul Merton and his Impro Chums ***

Impressive impro, chums. You wouldn’t believe how long it took me to come up with that three-word review; it’s clearly too long since I’ve done any improv of my own. Having done some myself, I was perhaps expecting too much of this star-driven show. It wasn’t Theatresports rules, because the performers often said no to things, which ruled out some promising directions, but there were still some good moments here. Merton himself missed a trick as the Tourette’s burglar, but the hour ended well with a run through Shakespeare’s lost play “The Whinger’s Tale”. Solid, if not great. 10.8.06

Bill Bailey, Steampunk ****

Das hokey-kokey kaiser. A reference to his big finish, a Kraftwerk version of “The Hokey Cokey”, which was a highlight of the show. The rest was good too, but I must admit that Bailey’s schtick of funny takes on familiar songs suffered a little by comparison with Tim Minchin’s all-originals. Perhaps his style is a bit too familiar to me now, or perhaps the big venue didn’t help—we were too far away to see his expressions, which add a lot to his comedy. But the jokes are always funny, and his new show is worth seeing, especially if you haven’t seen him on stage before. 12.8.06

13 August 2006 · Comedy

OK, now I want to see Tim Minchin. (We're seeing Bill Bailey on Saturday, and may take binoculars...)

You used to do impro? I didn't know that... It's one of the talents I'd most like to possess, but don't.

Added by K on 14 August 2006.

If I’ve convinced one more person to see a great show, my work is done...

Yep, I did Theatresports for a while in 1998, as recounted here:


Would have done more if I hadn’t moved. I thought about getting involved here, but never quite got my act together.

Added by Rory on 15 August 2006.

Now I'm even more impressed (not that I've ever actually seen a Footlights show, but I am the sort of person who knows what Adams-Smith-Adams was).

Added by K on 16 August 2006.

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