The Edinburgh Fringe
This month we take a look at the fringe and all that goes with it, as the decision makers in TV land trawl the festival for new faces. Our own managing editor Mark Ritchie takes in what is to many an annual pilgrimage and a monumental party.
Arriving on a Sunday afternoon, after a four hour drive up to Edinburgh from my native Yorkshire, I was soon walking up the steps in the area known as The Mound and heading around straight into the action, on the Royal Mile.
My late evening intention was to catch Festival regular Steve Mc Lean and his latest offering.
Steve McLean’s Rambunctious Reading room.
Canon’s Gait pub
Duration 1 hr
Downstairs at The Canon’s Gait pub and Mr McLean was soon out on stage, warming up a friendly first night audience. Although English, Steve tells us that he lives in Dumbarton, where glass is both a noun and a verb. The show is all about drunk people talking sarcastically about books and the irony within the title of an old literary offering by Rolf Harris, plus the subjects of Operation Yewtree and Incest were explored.
Steve’s three guests were only referred to by their forenames. David talked on the subject of Panda’s and a presumably quite old book, entitled, A woman’s guide to wedding etiquette. David, whatever his surname was, looked by far the most experienced of Mr McLean’s guests and was highly accomplished and very funny.
Rosie spoke about tenuous links between the author Charles Dickens and various dictators of the world. Rosie had some great material and could turn into a true stand-up talent, once she learns to perform the material and listen to the ebb and flow of audience reaction.
Chris was the final speaker. He turned up to be a travel-writer called Chris Atkin. As with Rosie before him, Chris’s contribution could have been better performed, as the whole experience became more of a talk than anything else.
An interesting experience here and a novel idea, presumably from the comedy mind of Steve McLean.
Another day and a high noon show a venue called 48 below, slightly off the fringe throng in Broughton Street. The venue is in fact the cellar of a pub called The Phoenix and comedian Noel Brodie was on stage.
Noel Brodie- Ninky Nonks and Bear Haters
The Laughing Horse @ 48 below
Duration 1 hour
Here we have a London comedian, now based in the West Country, who is a genuine and highly accomplished gag-man. This is Mr Brodie’s first Fringe, after initially struggling to find a venue.
Clever, wordy comedy here, from a funny man with ambition, who is not afraid to put his own life experiences on the line and hold himself up to ridicule. A cringe-worthy commentary on the subject of vasectomy totally the hit the mark. Some efforts at examining youth culture and an inspired skit on modern day dialects/ gangster rap influences proved beyond all reasonable doubt that Mr Brodie deserves to be seen and seen quickly by the telly bods. In my view Noel Brodie and a bit of telly would welcome each other with open arms.
To feel the true Fringe experience, I spent some time on the streets, handing out leaflets on the Noel Brodie show. To some free fringe performers, leafleting must be an even tougher gig than playing to small fringe audiences. The competition is fierce and the pitches of those out there dragging in the patrons, seem to become ever more desperate as show time comes nearer.
The evening saw another show, this time the venue was the imposing and atmospheric assembly building. I have long been an ardent admirer of Mark Steel on television. I like his attitude and his point of view, now here was an opportunity to get up close to Steel in a live situation.
Mark Steel in the Toon
Rainy Hall, The Assembly
Duration 1 hr 40 minutes approx
Straying away from the Free Fringe, I joined a queue that snaked down the mound, for one of the big, sell-out Fringe attractions.
Mark Steel came out to tumultuous applause from a capacity audience, who like me have negotiated their way through the labyrinth of badly lit corridors, into the Rainy Hall. The room, a sort of lecture theatre wreaking of academia, seemed hugely apposite for what was to follow.
The surroundings may have been Gothic, but the opening routine was anything but. According to Mr Steel, the EU vote wasn’t entirely the fault of jingoistic old people….but apparently it was ‘mainly’. The tone of the material was received with a lukewarm reaction, by an audience in which the age group was mixed. The Farage bashing was predictable, but funny nonetheless.
Things picked up immeasurably with an inspired bit of observation on the subject of Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher on Sky TV. A long and completely pant-wetting routine on technology and youth culture followed.
Mr Steel turns out to be quite adept at spotting local accents and the whole show was illustrated with photos on a big screen, taken from his travels around the UK, from Dorset to far flung Orkney and Shetland.
The front row of the audience was so close to Mr Steel they were practically touching his sober black blazer jacket. As a performer myself, I would find this off-putting, but not even the fireworks from the Edinburgh tattoo, just up the road, were able to throw this engaging and wildly funny performer too far away from continuing to plough his comedy furrow.
There was a strong element of revealing the quirks of different areas of the UK Mr Steel has visited. Much of the content was like listening to a sort of comedy history teacher.
Mark Steel is a massive Fringe favourite and in terms of audience reaction, the reason is obvious. This is high comedy stand-up, with a broad aim being taken. Not exactly a scattergun approach here, as I suspect the script was stuck to quite rigidly.
Mark Steel is just plain likeable. Even if many of us in the audience will not always go along with his politics and, in my view, his often simplistic view of the world, many love to hear him do his thing nonetheless. After all, perhaps quantifying the plain lunacy of the way the capitalist path the world has taken is sure to be rich ground for someone like Mark Steel to explore.