I’ve just had my annual visit up to Edinburgh to see some of the Fringe. I was going to write about every show I’d seen, but I managed to fit 22 shows in (plus an exhibition) and the idea of writing about them all seems pretty exhausting. So, here’s my tips if you’re heading up to Edinburgh during August:
I’d never seen Jerry Sadowitz before, even though he’s quietly become something of a legend in comedy circles. His reputation as an incredibly bitter, offensive misanthropist goes before him, and it only takes about two minutes to realise that it’s a reputation that’s well deserved. There’s something here to offend absolutely everyone, and the room is pretty divided between being helpless with laughter and sharply drawing in breath. None of the jokes are repeatable (not only because of the constant swearing but also because most of them are libellous) but it’s impossible not to be swept along in this hour of misanthropy. When he’s not libelling all and sundry, he’s performing some card tricks which are genuinely astonishing. I’d hesitate to recommend Sadowitz as he’s pretty much comedy Marmite, but it’s certainly an experience.
Anyone who knows me knows I’m a massive Kitson fan, I’ve been lucky enough to see him three or four times a year over the last fifteen years – tickets for his run at The Stand are like gold-dust, but if you get there an hour before the doors open, you may get some last minute returns. Good For Glue is billed as one of his ‘stand-up’ shows, but it’s basically Kitson on stage for nearly 2 hours and going off on various tangents. And, as usually, it’s brilliantly exhilarating – at one point, I was clutched double, doing a weird snort laugh, which wasn’t my most attractive look.
I’d never seen Jessie Cave before but heard good things so was keen to catch her third Edinburgh show. This is more of a monologue than a stand-up set, with Cave talking about trying to move on from the break-up of her relationship with fellow comedian Alfie Brown. It’s honest (sometimes uncomfortably so), funny, sad and poignant, and little touches like creating cushions embroided with the faces of her old and new boyfriend, and conducting imaginary conversations between them. This all may seem too kooky and twee, but the performance I saw was almost ridiculous emotional. Towards the end, it all seemed to get too much for her, and she burst into tears before running off stage – which seemed to put half the audience in tears as well. It was genuinely one of the most emotional and startling moments I’ve been witness to. And to make things all rather too weird, we came out of the venue to see Alfie Brown waiting for her with their two kids. This is one of my tips for the Comedy Award which is announced at the end of the Fringe.
I’ve put these two together, as they’re both at the same venue (Summerhall’s lovely if very warm Roundabout theatre), feature the same three-strong cast and are both directed by Stef O’Driscoll. The subject matter is very different though – Vinay Patel’s Sticks And Stones concerns a woman who unwittingly says an offensive word (we never find out what the word is) and the consequences that follow. Island Town, by Simon Longman, meanwhile is about a group of three friends trying to escape their small town. Of the two, I’d say Island Town has the more emotional impact, but Sticks And Stones is clever without being preachy and both productions are brought to life by the three fantastic actors. As the excellent Paines Plough is behind both of these plays, hopefully we’ll see them both touring over the next few months.
We probably don’t need another straight white male’s take on the #MeToo movement and gender politics, but if we do, then let it be Fin Taylor who provides it. Taylor’s stand up is clever and funny, even if you don’t always agree with what he says (for example, his thoughts on Louis CK). But it’s delivered in such a thoughtful and frequently hilarious way that I found it to be one of the highlights of my Fringe.
One of the joys of Edinburgh is going to a late-night stand-up show, with a couple of comedians performing their sets and a compere holding the show together. AAA Stand Up Late is on every night at Pleasance Courtyard, presented by Paul Savage and this year featuring Saskia Preston and George Zach. Of the two, Zach is the more crowd-pleasing, his tales of a Greek immigrant settling in Newcastle getting a lot of laughs. Preston is funny too, in a slightly other-wordly way, while Paul Savage is an excellent compere, interacting well with the audience and keeping the evening moving at a rapid pace. If you find yourself at a loose end in the Courtyard and don’t want an early night, AAA Stand Up is an excellent alternative to bed.
Julie Hesmondhalgh has left Hayley from Coronation Street far behind her these days, and this monologue (written by her husband, Ian Kershaw) only underlines her talent. It’s a tale of true love and time travel (not to spoil things too much) and is funny and enchanting, mostly thanks to Hesmondhalgh’s understated and charming stage presence. At times, it’s reminsicent of Daniel Kitson’s storytelling pieces, and while the little twist at the end is signposted if you look for it, it all comes together beautifully.
Not actually part of the Fringe, but still well worth catching if you have any interest in music. This exhibition at the National Museum Of Scotland details, as the name suggests, the history of Scottish pop music from the 1950s with names like Lonnie Donegan and Lulu, right up to the present day of Young Fathers and Belle & Sebastian.
Almost every Scottish act you can imagine is represented here, and there’s items such as Annie Lennox’s suit, Jack Bruce’s bass guitar and two giant robots that danced onstage during Franz Ferdinand’s set. There’s also an impressively huge mixing desk from the Chemikal Underground label and momentos from the careers of the likes of The Proclaimers, Texas, Deacon Blue, Hue & Cry and Frightened Rabbit. A good alternative if you need to shelter from the rain which suddenly appears in Edinburgh!
Also recommended: Paul Sinha, Lucy Porter, Bethany Black, Richard Wright, Lauren Pattison, Laura Davis