The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is one of those venerable institutions I always meant to visit but somehow never got around to, like a test match at Lords, or like my granddad in his nursing home. But this year I finally made the time, and spent a long weekend wondering why on earth I’d never taken the trip sooner. Apart from the cost. And the time away. And my other commitments. And the inevitable liver damage.
Given that the festival’s over, it seems slightly late to put up reviews of things I enjoyed. But in no particular order, the following things were good or great, and I’d recommend seeing them if they’re touring:
Alex Horne: Monsieur Butterfly. Inspired clevernonsense. He spent an hour building a giant mousetrap-style machine that filled the stage, involving the audience and keeping up a stream of anecdote and interaction that came together beautifully at the end. Possibly the most purely enjoyable thing we saw.
James Acaster: Represent. Same stage, directly after Alex Horne, perfect counterpoint. Once the DIY was tidied away James Acaster gave us an hour of cleverly structured standup with different strands weaving in together around a story of jury service, secret santa, Christingle and log flumes. The sort of show that demands the audience pay attention and rewards them for it. Fantastic stuff, was nominated once again for the main comedy award, well deserved, shame he didn’t win.
Tom Binns: The Club Sets. This probably had more proper belly laughs than anything else we saw. His Ivan Brackenbury character has been around forever but the idea’s great and like a lot of music-based acts you can watch it multiple times. Ian D Montfort is strong enough as a character he could do a show with no tricks and a show with no jokes and both would still be worth watching. And his new ventriloquist act finding increasingly desperate reasons for his puppets’ speech impediments was one of the funniest 20 minutes we saw.
Piff the Magic Dragon: Breakfast at Piffany’s. Great character, impressive tricks, esentially it’s a Jack Dee-type figure but dressed in a spangly dragon suit doing world-weary card tricks and hating his audience. We saw it early in the run, when a couple of set pieces are tightened up it’ll have become even better.
Tiff Stevenson: Mad Man. Strong hour of standup, some topics felt a bit familiar but she always found a new angle on them. The bit on Jack Daniels marketing itself with nostalgia for the slave-owning Deep South was especially good.
Brendon Burns. he seems determined to hide away from view these days, if he ever came across this post he’d probably hate the very fact it’s been written. But I caught his free standup show and it was very good, and he seems to be loving the freedom of a lower profile. He’s still a great stage presence and a master at a kind of extremist logic, taking you step by step to a conclusion you’d not have expected to agree with but without there being any obvious flaws in the argument. With good jokes.
Liberi Di: Something. very enjoyable circusy show, very impressive acrobatics on what looked like a relatively low budget. Surprisingly funny slapstick routines in there as well, and I usually have very little time for clowning.
Clowntown. Very nice little gig in a yurt at the Free Sisters. Good selection of acts the day I was there in a friendly venue, despite the football blaring at a million decibels in the courtyard outside. No actual clowns, to everybody’s relief.
Alun Cochrane: A Show With A Man In It. An hour of really strong conversational standup. Managed to skip from observational bits about life’s minutiae (such as the accidental eating of apple stickers) to flights of fancy about keeping people locked in his basement ‘just to help out around the house’. Perfect for the intimacy of the Stand.
Marcus Brigstocke: Why the Long Face? Another really strong show, a blend of his political stuff and the more confessional stuff of the last few years. It felt like it was shoehorned into an hour a bit – it overran and still felt like a few bits were truncated rather than being allowed full reign. Good enough to want to see a longer, toured version though. A couple of really good set pieces too, he always seems to have a cracking ending to his shows.
Edinburgh’s a great place to visit any time of year, but especially so during the festival. There’s something about the fact that most of the stages are smallish, and there aren’t really any VIP areas that gives the whole thing an extra intimacy compared to the big music festivals. We met and chatted to a load of people who were performing, bumped into people we knew who were up to see the festival, and tried not to trip over the hundreds of jugglers and buskers lining the streets. Only regret is not having taken a few more risks and seen more shows that might have been terrible rather than largely sticking to safe bets. But seeing how much stuff there is on for kids, I’ve no excuse for leaving it so long before visiting again.