Express Fringe visit is a revelation
Aug 17 2009 by Karen Wilson, The Journal
EDINBURGH Festival virgin Karen Wilson discovers a mixed bag of comedy – and some real gems – at this year's Fringe.
I’VE been known to dither when faced with a choice of Chinese, Indian or pizza, so you can imagine my bewilderment with 2,098 shows to choose from at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
While some performers will get their big break (as Geordie comedian Sarah Millican did last year, winning best newcomer) many more will lose money by staging their shows.
But the recession – or the torrential rain when I visited – hasn’t deterred the 18,901 performers from following their dream. In fact 109 more of them will be showing up this August.
The atmosphere on the streets would even cheer up the most curmudgeonly of stick-in-the- muds. On our right an all-female choir bursts into song as we walk past. To the left there’s a free taster performance of a Sherlock Holmes play. Then a man wearing only underpants thrusts a leaflet into my hand. It’s all part of the Edinburgh experience.
Although the world’s largest arts festival is only three hours from Newcastle and now in its 63rd year, I’d never been before.
So with only half an afternoon and one evening to cram in as much as possible, I decided to focus on comedy, which makes up 35% of the programme.
There are an astonishing 265 venues of varying sizes, from a small confessional booth in the Pleasance courtyard, where you can pay £2 to be the only audience member for a 10-minute show, to the Edinburgh Playhouse, where you can see the likes of Ricky Gervais and Jerry Sadowitz.
Many, like The Pleasance, have spawned mini off-shoot venues that are dotted around nearby streets, so a day to get your bearings is certainly recommended.
After a drink in The Pleasance courtyard (where we spy comedian Lucy Porter having a pint), our first show beckons, Cambridge Footlights in Wishful Thinking at Over the Road 2.
With the ghosts of past alumni hanging heavy in the theatre (Peter Cooke, John Cleese, Stephen Fry and David Mitchell – so no pressure) it’s easy to forget that this is only a student show after all.
The performers are incredibly self-assured, given their youth, and all have a pretty good grasp of comic timing, but the material is very hit and miss.
Their simple sketches are better, such as a two-hander featuring rival beachcombers or the bizarre song featuring a creepy nursery rhyme character. Others, such as the farce set at a wedding reception, are just too long and convoluted.