Once upon a time, a day at the Fringe in Edinburgh would have meant at least seven shows, a liquid lunch with a few shots to fortify me into the night and then dancing until dawn. Apart from the years when I had shows there, when it was more like: get up, ignore hangover, check for reviews, staple reviews to flyers, drag company out of bed, head to the Mile, hand out flyers, do some network-y things, talk about show for several hours, go and watch our show, post-show drink (s), then see many, many shows, do a lot of drinking, dance till dawn (including one memorable night at CC Blooms with just the Ladyboys of Bangkok and a few friends).
Times, however, have changed. I go with my husband now and while he does have eclectic tastes, his preference veers more towards comedy than obscure drama. And he likes to have lunch. Actual lunch, with food. And dinner.
So this year, things were a little more restrained. We decided to book our first show and then see what happened when we got there. We were going on the 31st July, which was the first day of previews, so didn’t have much in the way of word-of-mouth to go on, and despite asking for recommendations, I didn’t actually get many. Having failed to convince my husband to see the Georgian version of Animal Farm mid-morning, we agreed to start the day with Lucy Porter at the Stand. Incidentally, we used the Fringe app for the first time and (apart from a double-booking glitch) really found it added to our experience.
I first saw Lucy in Edinburgh what I thought was not a terribly long time ago, when I found her fresh-faced, sweet-looking and wickedly funny. So I was delighted to be going to see her new show ‘Me Time’. I was also a bit disturbed when she revealed that this was her 10th anniversary of being at the Fringe, meaning that I had seen her in 2004 at her Edinburgh debut, when I had my second show in Edinburgh (we were both on at the Underbelly). Lucy had moved on a bit too, with small children and a husband to be doing material on. It was a lovely show, funny and charming, and a great way to start the day. I like to see comedians at the start of a new show, honing and figuring out what works in front of an audience, it’s really interesting.
The plan after that (after a stop in the pub for lunch) was to walk down the Mile and let someone persuade us into a show. I was anticipating a few ropey pitches – after all, it was the first day – but I was a little surprised at how shy people were. Still, early days – I bet by now they’re leaping into people’s faces and dragging them off the street into the theatre. Also, I know when I was getting up early to go flyering I dreamt of being able to afford to rope in the venue’s street team, but now I’m glad we couldn’t stretch to that. It’s so much more personal, so much more interesting, when those invested in the show pitch it to you themselves. A lot of the street team staff are very enthusiastic and lovely people, but it’s not the same.
Anyway, the upshot was, after a prolonged wander down the Mile, we still didn’t have a show to go and see. So I got out my phone, and checked the app to see if there was anything starting soon at the Underbelly, as by that time we were close to the top entrance. Something was starting that sounded rather fun (The Bastard Children of Remington Steele) so we headed towards the box office, but on the way there we were stopped and – finally – given a tremendously fun pitch for zazU: ‘come and be a tourist in a strange world’ – yep, ok. So off we went and joined the people of zazU; an upstanding lot who have to abide by a few strange laws. Fantastically performed by Nick Read, Maddie Rice, Tom Machell and Harrie Hayes, who switched between characters with ease (and the help of the occasional fabulous wig or pile of hats) and directed (and I think written) by Katharine Armitage, it was a tremendously silly and heartily funny way to spend an hour. Follow the bee! www.zazucomedy.com
We chose our next show because my husband rather liked the poster, which seemed as good a way as any to find something we wanted to go to. Circa – Beyond at Underbelly Bristo Square, turned out to be an amazing choice. Anarchic, rough and ready, strange, painful and funny, this show featured a troupe of circus performers who could all be rock stars if they wanted to be; super cool, strong and sexy, they threw themselves around the stage, onto each other and up into the air, sometimes standing on each other’s faces and sometimes dressing as a giant rabbit. Paul O’Keefe did the most incredible duet with a piece of paper – impossible to explain but the thing I most wanted to emulate. Beautiful and deeply odd, I cannot recommend this highly enough – we bounced out into the street, energised and excited. http://circa.org.au/
The final show of the day was my choice, one I’d seen buzz about in London and at Latitude Festival, so it was with some degree of excitement that we waited in the queue at Assembly George Square Gardens. The husky tones of Shania Twain blasted out as we filed in, giggling at the glittery pink ‘Maggie’ sign on stage, and then – there she was. Or as good as. Better. A million times better. A complete rewrite of history gives us Maggie as gay hero, after a bewildered wander through Soho on the eve of the Section 28 vote find her taken in by kind queens and propelled to cabaret stardom. Played by Matt Tedford, who doesn’t so much sing as declaim political speeches to a disco beat, Margaret is a hilarious figure, with a stream of milk-snatching related jokes and a set of sharp one-liners. “Got any spare change?” pleads a homeless man. “Yes, I’ve got lots,” retorts Maggie as she marches on past. More than ably assisted by Robert Cawsey and Ed Yelland, who play a variety of roles including a swaggering and heroic Peter Tatchell and Jill Knight as a sexually supressed pantomime villian, the real genius of this piece is that somehow, in spite of it all, you come out feeling…what? Not sympathetic, exactly, but a certain admiration for the lady. That, and sore from laughing. Simply one of the funniest things I’ve seen on the Fringe, ever. I hope it tours everywhere so everyone can see it. This was co-written and directed by Jon Brittain. Margaret tweets @SohoThatcher