Last week I went to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for the first time. It was a birthday present for Mrs B to let us to spend a couple of days at a festival without wading through mud soup as I did at Glastonbury and we did as a family at the sodden Kendal Calling at the beginning of the month (which was my birthday treat).
It was a flying visit, mid afternoon to mid afternoon Monday to Wednesday but we managed to see a lot of different acts in that time, aided by the excellent Fringe app which allowed us to book tickets and have them printed out while we waited for our bag at the carousel at Edinburgh Airport and also to find ad hoc free shows to go to near wherever we happened to be between the ones we had booked (not to mention then showing on a map where the shows actually were). It was certainly a lot more useful than the frankly overwhelming paper festival programme.
We also had time to have a fantastic dinner at Martin Wishart‘s Michelin-starred restaurant in Leith (sadly cold drizzle rather than sunshine over Leith for us). A sign of how good the food was is that I, as someone who normally finds that the thing which would make a vegetarian meal better would be the addition of some meat, tremendously enjoyed the vegetarian tasting menu. I chose it as the classic tasting menu had a lot of fish and seafood (which I don’t eat) but didn’t miss the flesh! However, above even the food, the service and atmosphere were remarkable. It is unusual for formal silver service dining staff to be anything other than formal but at Martin Wishart, the largely French waiting staff were extremely friendly and keen to engage in conversation and to extol the virtues not only of the food and wine but also of Edinburgh.
So, who did we go and see?
Hardeep Singh Kohli – talking about love and romance in middle age. A lot more engaging than the execrable R4 series Fags, Mags and Bags even if the title of the show was even more groan-inducing (“Hardeep is Your Love” – complete with intro music of the Bee Gees). The high point was when he asked an audience member he’d spoken to earlier in the show what she thought of an observation he had made only to be told by her fiance that she had gone and then helpfully added “cystitis”. That left everyone momentarily speechless until, as if on cue, she returned, somewhat bemused to find the spotlight on her.
Sara Pascoe – engaging, informative and funny. We learned that comedians have a drink on stage to allow them to milk longer laughs but that eating a bag of crisps was probably taking it too far. And that she imagined her boyfriend’s beer belly as containing their child he was carrying.
Thinking Drinker’s Guide to the Legends of Liquor – not the most amazing comedy but good fun and helped by the copious amounts of free booze handed out to accompany the genuinely educational content about the history of alcoholic drinks. Yes, that is one of them dressed as Jesus, turning water into beer (NOT wine).
Harriet Kemsley – a young comedian just starting out, playing in a room seating 35 at the top of a pub. The material was a bit disjointed as is to be expected from an experimental set and the delivery was charming enough. It is probably a bit of a drawback in doing observational humour if you haven’t experienced much adult life.
Jamie McCarney – Spermologist. That means, apparently, a collector of trivia. We went by accident as the door was open and we were otherwise standing around while finishing drinks. Best part of the part of the show we stayed for was not being heckled for sneaking out of the sparsely populated audience mid-set to go to see Sara Pascoe. Who also talked about sperm.
Richard Herring – “I am the Lord of the Dance Settee”. I’m sure I and everyone else who went to infant school in the late 70s came up with that joke. Herring was somewhat shoutier than I remember from his TV series with Stewart Lee and the set was deceptively rambling but then the various strands were tied together. I enjoyed the story of him and his friends, aged 16, arranging to go and heckle Ted Rogers of 3-2-1 fame and the contrast between the amount of commitment needed to be an arsehole in public in our youth compared to today with Twitter. He then went on to tell about how he had taken on himself the task of going to every single person who had taken the opportunity of International Women’s Day to moan about how there wasn’t an International Men’s Day to tell them there was and it was on November 19th. But, not being satisfied with just going for the ones who had got the grammar of their tweets right he also went through every incorrect but plausible grammatical variant to catch the less literate ranters. Apart from dancing on the settee you can see in the photo below we were also fortunate enough to see him die on stage.
Stewart Lee – I didn’t get to see Stewart Lee as his show was sold out. We queued up unsuccessfully for returns on Tuesday and came back on Wednesday morning to find that there was a single ticket available. As it was Mrs B’s birthday on Wednesday it was only right that she had the ticket. I queued up for a return, again, unsuccessfully but did have a nice chat with a Harry Hill lookalike and with Fergus from the ticket office who said that they’d all been rooting for me to get a spare after watching our efforts to get tickets. Apparently he was brilliant (and now Mrs B is hooked on watching him on YouTube). Even if he was once rude to my mate, Martin, when he was a cashier at Barclays on Leicester Square.
Virginia Ironside – gently amusing OAP comedy from someone who had clearly been rather naughty in the 50s and 60s and still had a twinkle in their eye.
10 Films with my Dad – a journey through a 40-something’s childhood bonding with his dad through watching films with recreations of clips from Jaws etc made starring a dog with a cardboard fin on Brighton beach. Somewhat like Be Kind Rewind narrated by the Comic Store Guy from The Simpsons. But nicer.
The 3rd Sector – a mildly amusing play about the ethics of charities and the people who work in them. It went on a little too long and would have been more challenging 10 years ago when charities were in the process of taking over contracts for public services.
Altogether, a great couple of days and it would have been nice to have spent longer in Edinburgh and seen more shows, particularly ones where the artists were touting their wares on the streets. It would also have been interesting to have seen some of the events linked to the Scots Independence Referendum campaigns (as OMB remarked after our ski trip to Scotland in the spring, I agree it would be a shame if the Scots vote for independence). Apart from the plethora of free events even the paid for ones were all very reasonably priced at around £10 a ticket so our total outlay on tickets was less than what we’d paid for Miranda Hart’s slightly underwhelming show at Leeds Arena earlier in the year. I also enjoyed taking the tram to and from the airport even if it wasn’t a lot quicker than the bus.