The Return of the Fringe

It’s August in Edinburgh, and I’ve found myself seeing more Fringe shows than I’ve been able to in a decade; last year (or was it 2019?) I caught Tony Law one lunchtime, and one or two Free Fringe shows with pals, and before that it was only one or two family-oriented shows a year when the kids were younger. I did okay in 2012, with a handful of adult-oriented comedy shows and more, but this was by far my busiest year since 2006, seeing shows with friends, the whole family, my son, and on my own. The Fringe has shaken off the pandemic (there weren’t many masks in most audiences); and even a bin strike, which turned the city centre into a heaving mass of litter and overflowing skips within 48 hours and is still going over a week later, didn’t dampen the mood in the sweaty venues themselves.

Underbelly, George Square
Underbelly, George Square, 5 August. Click through for more.

It wasn’t all comedy—I caught Herbie Hancock at the Edinburgh Playhouse as part of the main festival on Sunday 7 August (started solidly and built to an excellent finale and encore of “Cantaloupe Island” and “Chameleon”), and a couple of shows involving two of my son’s music teachers midway through the month. But as always, comedy was the main attraction…

Luke Oseland, Drunk Magic ***

A late-night show which lived up to its title: the audience were all pretty drunk, and his tricks were pretty magic. Good patter in between, too. I saw this with some friends who do the Free Fringe every year, and we didn’t regret it. Laughing Horse at The Counting House, 5.8.22

Eleanor Morton Has Peaked ****½

One of two shows I was determined to see this year, thanks to following her excellent impressions of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien on Twitter, not to mention Craig the apathetic Edinburgh tour guide. I had half-expected them to appear in this show, but instead we got some straightforward stand-up about Morton’s experiences of lockdown and memories of a Scottish childhood. I was one of the few members of the lunchtime audience who could relate to her tales of school camp at Benmore, not because I’ve been there but because both of my kids have. Great stuff. Monkey Barrel at Carnivore, 11.8.22

Bella Hull, Babycakes ***

I took a punt on this show because I liked her blurb in the Fringe guide, and found a young and confident stand-up with some decent jokes and an overall theme that I couldn’t relate to at all, not being a young twenty-something woman who is looking for someone to support her in luxury without having to work. Not that luxury and not having to work wouldn’t be nice. Fifty-something men weren’t really her target audience, which I’m finding is true of most Fringe shows; something has changed in the fifteen years since I last did much Fringe, I can’t quite tell what. Pleasance Courtyard, 11.8.22

Alasdair Beckett-King, Nevermore *****

While his Twitter-competitor Eleanor Morton is a Scottish woman who sounds English, Beckett-King is an Englishman who looks Scottish, and spins that into some good gags at the outset. Beckett-King was another confident stand-up with excellent tales of his childhood, in this case on the northeastern coast of England. He supplemented these with some very funny video clips and animations, which gave rise to my biggest laugh of the Fringe, around his observations on eighteenth-century English livestock portraiture. I would have posted about his show sooner, but the entire run was already sold out, and I was lucky to get this ticket to a late-night extra show. Pleasance Courtyard, 12.8.22

David O’Doherty, Whoa is Me ****

There was plenty of room for O’Doherty’s post-lockdown show in the Gordon Aikman Theatre of Edinburgh University, but it was still packed out, as you’d expect for a big name from TV. I’ve seen O’Doherty before, at the Book Festival for his Danger is Everywhere kids’ books in 2016, but had only seen him do his regular stand-up and musical interludes on TV. I’ve always enjoyed those, and this was no exception, with very funny material about the Atlantic weather on the west coast of Ireland, spending longer than planned with his parents in lockdown, and sad middle-aged meet-ups outdoors during lockdown. Assembly George Square, 19.8.22

Sam Lake, Cake ***½

Another stand-up I knew nothing about beforehand, and a good find, with an endearing tale of the lead-up to his wedding, which was planned for and then rudely interrupted by 2020. The show was almost stolen by his real-life clips of telling his friends about his engagement, which was a sign of its generosity of spirit. Lake is on social media as @mrsamlake and not, as a past audience member had wondered, Mrs Amlaké. Pleasance Courtyard, 20.8.22

Starship Improvise ****

My family loves The Goes Wrong Show—our last night at the theatre before lockdown was Peter Pan Goes Wrong in February 2020—so when my son and I were flyered outside the Pleasance Dome for this hour of improv featuring some of its cast, I was determined to make it along to the final performance. We loved it—Henry Shields, Dave Hearn and Henry Lewis from Goes Wrong were all excellent, as were the remaining cast members from Showstopper. The overall structure was clearly predetermined, and done well, but the moments of obvious improv were genuinely funny and endearing, and it really did feel like an episode of an old science-fiction TV show. Pleasance Dome, 21.8.22

The Cambridge Footlights International Tour Show 2022, Are We There Yet? ***½

I took my son along to see what all the fuss is about, and realised that this was the first Footlights tour show I’d seen in thirty years. It felt familiar, with its sketches about student concerns: parents, job interviews, inflight announcements and political correctness (or as the Youth of Today call it, being woke). They were engaging performers, though, and I expect we’ll be seeing some of them again. Pleasance Dome, 21.8.22

Daniel Muggleton, Oh, More Mr White Guy? ****

A Free Fringe show from a Sydney stand-up with sharp observations on parenthood, bogan culture (which he explained for the Edinburgh audience as “people who think that knowing stuff is gay”), China’s genocide of the Uighurs, and the sorry state of the world in general. More fun than that sounds. Laughing Horse at The Counting House, 21.8.22

Alice Fraser, Chronos ****

Fraser is another Australian stand-up, with a sideline in banjo, and more clever observations, deriving from her attempt to write an entire show on the train between London and Glasgow just before the pandemic hit. Doing this material after two years have elapsed meant we got some good postscripts that put new twists on her 2020 material. Fraser has a strong reputation back home, and this show stood up to it. Gilded Balloon Teviot, 21.8.22

Lauren Pattison, It Is What It Is ****½

On Wednesday I caught some buzz on Twitter about Pattison’s inclusion among the Edinburgh Comedy Awards nominees, and quickly grabbed a ticket for the next day, getting in before the rest of her run sold out. I’m glad I did: this was an excellent and original show, despite its by now familiar theme of the impact of lockdown on her life and career. Pattison comes from Newcastle, and returned there in 2020 to a job in Morrisons, in stark contrast with so many comedians with middle-class resources to cushion the blow of being out of work over the pandemic. An excellent story-teller with pointed things to say about class and regionalism in Britain, she never lost the thread of humour throughout; her nomination was well-deserved. Monkey Barrel, 25.8.22

Roast Battle Edinburgh **

Another Free Fringe show that I attended with pals, but wouldn’t have if I’d been on my own; I’ve never seen the appeal of comedy roasts, which just seem like a licence to be pointlessly mean. This one was true to form, with four pairs of comics roasting each other in turn. Out of the eight, only three managed to get some consistent laughs… hence the 3/8 of five stars here. Laughing Horse at The Three Sisters, 26.8.22

Roger Swift’s Machine Pun, Reloaded ***

Another Free Fringe show on Friday night. Swift kept warning the audience (of a dozen or so) that it was going to be a whole hour of his relentless punning, and that they should leave now if that bothered them… which some did in the first 15 minutes, including some of our group. I don’t mind puns, though, and some of his were very clever—and when they weren’t, there was another along right after it. His endearing homemade props helped, as did being old enough to get all his dated pop culture references. As he pointed out, Tim Vine does the same thing—minus the adult stuff—at twenty quid a head. Laughing Horse at City Cafe, 26.8.22

28 August 2022 · Comedy