Let’s Get Ready to Party
Mark Ritchie visits the 2018 Edinburgh Festival Fringe and takes a look at some of the stand-up comedy performers at this 24-day, marathon within the national show business calendar. Mark writes about the Fringe scene generally and then further on in this issue, readers can find a selection of reviews and shows that have received favourable attention from those who wander around Edinburgh, catching shows here and there.
Mark Writes: A stroll along the Royal Mile and then down to the busy St George’s Square area, can prove to be a real eye-opener to Fringe virgins. The Festival’s post war Fringe beginnings in 1947 have spawned hundreds of other such events all over the globe.
Travelling up the hill towards the Royal Mile, from Princes Street, the welcome signs were flashing at The Wash Bar, where my haggis lunch was washed-down with a refreshing pint of pear cider on ice. Suitably replete and refreshed and I plunged into the afternoon Royal Mile throng, where very soon a plethora of leaflets were being proffered, in many cases by the artistes themselves. Within a hundred yards of strolling, I was being asked if I wanted to see a comedy show about the female reproductive system and then, when only a few more seconds had elapsed, I was invited to see a play about drug-dependency, depression and suicide. Hey-Ho, the Fringe isn’t all about comedy. It is about diversity and the performing arts.
There are Fringe Angels, Fringe Patrons and Fringe Best Friends. Sponsors, supporters, talent-spotters and a very helpful press accreditation team, who I duly reported to on arrival. Visitors are invited to leap into the unknown and experience the most concentrated arts and entertainment festival on the planet.
This year’s Fringe marks the most unusual moment I have ever experienced as a member of any kind of audience anywhere in the world. When taking the last seat within a packed house, to see the comedian Larry Dean, I casually glanced to my left, where a woman was breast-feeding a baby. By strange coincidence in the row immediately in front was another mother, bottle-feeding a baby. I thought this nothing more than a coincidence, until I looked to my right, where yet another baby was the recipient of its mother’s milk.
At UK Cabaret we do not have the right kind of qualified staff to cover the entire range of shows on offer. In fact, we have no desire or motivation to cover many of the events, as they don’t fit our criteria regarding the presumed interests of our readership. We are primarily interested in cabaret and comedy. So please take a look on our review pages at some of the shows we saw and some the shows we heard about.
Let’s leap into some of the 2018 unknown in our reviews section, which can be found below online and on pages 32-35 in this issue of our magazine version of UK Cabaret.
Camilla Cleese and Steve Hofsteter
Studio Three- Assembly George Square Studios
Reviewer: Mark Ritchie
This double-bill sounded intriguing, as Hofsteter’s prowess at dealing with hecklers and his political comedy stance is well-known in live comedy circles.
In somewhat gentler mode than I have seen him before, Hofstetner touched on the arid comedy furrow surrounding anti-semitism and the much easier comedy ground concerning the online Twitter antics of one Donald Trump. Hofstetner walks the comedy tightrope between having something worthy and relevant to say and actually getting laughs. He never deviates from his disarming and conversational style.
As for Camilla Cleese, who appeared following a brief warm-up by her co-star, for some reason I was reminded immediately of the American writer and comedian Rita Rudner. The slightly ditsy comedy style and throwaway nature of the material was immediately apparent, as Cleese mocked the impression of nepotism involved in her decision to move into stand-up comedy.
Based in Los Angeles, any 6 feet one-inch daughter of John Cleese is sure to attract much interest. The Cleese body language and her almost apologetic mode of delivery, of what was at times some delightful material left me largely unconvinced.
At least half of this show was quite literally produced by John Cleese, presumably along with one of his many wives of course.
Larry Dean : Bampot
Assembly Checkpoint Venue
Reviewer Mark Ritchie
If there was a prize which could be bestowed by UK Cabaret for the best and funniest comedy show at this year’s Fringe, my personal choice would be Larry Dean and his Bampot show.
Larry Dean is quite simply the funniest of all the new comedians I have ever seen at the Fringe, during many years of attending whilst representing The Stage newspaper between 1997 and 2014.
The entire performance was imbued with an endearing quality, as this likeable Scot regaled us with tales of love, spurned love, long-distance relationship love, filial paternal and maternal complications, love of football and shoes and other such pieces from the apparently bitter sweet pageant of his life.
If all of the last paragraph sounds quirky and intriguing, then I am managing to sum up the performance of a young man, who should grow to be enormous on the international comedy scene, if there is any justice in the world.
Larry Dean represents the canine testicles of modern stand-up comedy. There is nothing harsh or abrasive in the delivery or the line in crowd approach. There is no hard-edged brittleness or cynicism. There isn’t even the merest smidgeon or camp-ness, as Dean described his break-up with long-term partner Luke and produces a comedy ending where many of the capacity audience seemed like me, nit sure whether to laugh or cry.
As Larry Dean walked on stage I liked him straight away. During the franker and more forthright moments in the middle of his stand-up, I winced a little, but still liked his style. As he left the stage to tumultuous applause, my feelings had changed from just liking and enjoying the performance, to loving and admiring the jarring honesty of the performer.
After seeing Larry Dean, it may be time for me to retire as a comedy performer, as I just tell good jokes to be funny. Larry Dean is very funny and actually has something enriching and life-affirming to convey to any audience and you can’t say fairer than that!
Sara Mason- A Beginners Guide to Bondage
Hollywood Room at City Café
Reviewer: Mark Ritchie
As a predominantly (no pun intended) male audience packed into this room, we beheld Sara Mason. This dominatrix and bondage queen looked like hell on toast to a ‘vanilla sex’ person such as myself, but was probably a massive turn-on for an audience seemingly comprised of assorted dominant and submissive folk, along with those who had apparently attended out of sheer curiosity and a certain puzzled and occasionally perplexed show reviewer.
Whips, paddles and animal masks were on offer to try, for those keen on audience participation, whilst lines were illustrated with still photos and diagrams, displayed on a television screen. A selection of phones rang on cue and Sara Mason answered in her most stern and business-like dominatrix voice. The content of the telephone calls was of course worked into the script.
As was the case many years ago, when I worked on an after-dinner show with the late Cynthia Payne, Miss Mason’s real voice seemed somehow at odds and rather comical, in comparison to her on-duty dominatrix timbre.
Sara Mason promises to return to the Fringe next year for the Intermediates Guide to Bondage. When the Fringe comes around in 2019, I am sure I personally may still be in the beginner’s category, but there is an oddly endearing quality to this rubber and leather clad one-woman curiosity who, for reasons best known to herself, chose to extoll the virtues and merits of Britain’s membership of the EU, rather than sticking to the bizarre subject in hand. It seems that Brexiteers are in for a real bashing if they find themselves in Ms Mason’s company.
Chris Kent: Looking Up
Studio Four- Assembly George Square Studios
Reviewer: Mark Ritchie
I had been given a strong tip-off, from someone who’s opinion on stand-up comedy I respect, that I really should go and see Chris Kent. This Irishman, now living in England, should perhaps have given his stand-up show a strapline Chris Kent- An Exercise in Comedy Exasperation.
Much of his performance consisted of a monologue surroundings his family troubles and traveller’s tales with a pushchair, whilst passing through an airport. Missed flights and other such misfortunes seems to locate the collective funny bone of what was a very appreciate Fringe audience.
The material seemed quite loosely delivered and rather random and scattergun in nature at times throughout the entire performance. At first the impression coming across was one of a comedian, who chose to simply going off on the occasional tangent or rant, with comedy digressions and meaningless corrections thrown in for good measure. The fact that Kent’s strictly timed hour-long slot overran and had to be wound-up by a concerned sound and light operator probably speaks volumes.
Chris Kent is a committed and witty comedy performer, who has taken a lot of time thinking about what he is capable of doing on a stage. On the other hand, clever insertions of quick gag or two in between the sincere dialogue would, in my view, have helped his cause immeasurably.
Special Merit Section
The list below is comprised of shows that we believe deserve special merit, either for performance, originality or marketing skills.
Joe Rowntree- Is a Bit of a Character, Banshee Labyrinth Cinema Room
Alexander Bennett- Housewives Favourite, Waverley Bar
Dragtime- Things Live, The Space@ Niddry Street
Hunt& Murphy- Two-Faced Bitching. PQA venue 2
Damian Clark- The Gilded Balloon- Teviot
Andrew Maxwell-Shake A Leg. Assembly George Square
Dilruk Jayasinha- The Art of the Dil. Assembly George Square
Glittery Glittery- A Consensual Party. Assembly Roxy
Tom Stade- I Swear To….. Gilded Balloon, Rose Theatre
Chris Washington- You Beauty. Pleasance Courtyard
The Moa Show by Craig Geenty & Jamie McCaskill- Gilded Balloon, Teviot.
Kevin Precious- Unholier Than Thou. Laughing Horse@ Bar 50.
Torts- Untamed and Intolerable. Clootie Dumpling Room one.
Perhaps this taste of life at this year’s Fringe may just have whetted your appetite either to attend, or even to take part. For more information take a look at edfringe.com/takepart where you will find downloadable guides on how to get involved in 2019.
If you have a story to tell and a venue to host you, the Fringe stage is yours.