The Edinburgh fringe organisers have caused massive upset this year by charging an additional 80p per ticket booking charge no matter where you buy your tickets from (in previous years booking fee charges were limited to online bookings) and although the booking fee is capped for multiple ticket purchases to £4.80 it still makes ticket buying expensive when most shows are between £15 and £25. This certainly may drive some visitor to spend more time at the Free Fringe events where there is no entrance fee and you pay what you like at the end of the show.
The free Fringe is not to be ignored with over 680 free shows and over 9000 performances over the month and Edinburgh Fringe is bigger than ever with 53,232 performances planned this year (3000 more than in 2016).
The first show of the weekend was the Thursday night showcase hosted by Radio Forth whereby for £21 you can get to see 12 of the Fringes best acts (in theory) in a brilliant two and a half hour show. Highlight on the Friday were comedians Jason Byrne, Andrew Maxwell, Tiff Stevenson and Tom Allen all who have been on Live at the Apollo on TV and were fantastic. Lesser known comics were Peter & Bambi Heaven and Myra Dubios who didn’t make me laugh so fell short of the six laughs test (Hello to Jason Isaacs).
It wasn’t all comedy there was the wonderful Sowetto Gospel Choir, amazing mind reader Colin Cloud and the superb voice of Camille O’Sullivan who suffered by having an ego maniac guitarist who played a solo so loud that nothing else could be heard until he finished and so completely spoilt her performance which was a shame.
My first full day at the Fringe began with Bone Wars as part of the Free Fringe which is a new comic play by Keiron Nicholson and Nicholas Cooke, at The Counting House on from August 3rd to 13th 2017 start time 11am.
The premise is that in America 1863, two scientists discovered dinosaurs then go mad and destroys each other and we are asked to witness history’s greatest feud. The play stars Nicholas Cooke, Keiron Nicholson and Michelle Wormleighton and isn’t very good. It’s a good idea badly executed and just isn’t funny although there was someone laughing at the back of the room which was very irritating as no one else was joining her.
Luckily the next show I went to was brilliantly funny, so much so I went back on the Monday and that was Trevor Lock’s Community Circle, this was the show without any jokes and no real content Trevor informed us that the show is for the strong and for those of us who decide for ourselves when to laugh. And there seem to be many of us in the room because we all laugh a lot.
Then, at the end of his hour, he apologised for not having been able to do the show at all. Which has been entirely our fault, apparently but what we get is an absolute masterclass in comedy performance. The traverse layout of the seating leaves the audience facing each other rather than the stage and Lock’s schoolmasterish onstage persona is perfectly judged to fit his total control of his audience.
According the Trevor we are exploring reality and whether there is such a thing as objective reality. It is a social experiment, and it is both fascinating and hilarious. Several people in the audience are given notepad and pen and instructed to write down what is happening as they see it: block capitals, full sentences. From time to time, Trevor checks on their work. This sounds slight, but it creates brilliant comic intercourse from these readings. His manipulation of the audience is fantastic and this must be the funnies show on the Fringe,
Other shows that come a close second to Trevor's Community Circle were Jimmy McGhie’s Tribal Gathering, Bec Hill’s Out of Order and Sophie Willan show Branded all worthy of the booking fee.
I only got to see one music group over the weekend and that was Wereldband. A Dutch five-piece band who are multi-talented musicians performing a range of instruments, they are also knock-about clowns, in a similar vein to Laurel and Hardy, Chaplin and Harold Lloyd.
Dressed in vaguely scruffy 1930s gentleman's chic with assorted novelty facial hair, the show Slapstick emphasises their talent as clowns in a series of meticulously timed routines and running gags that are interspersed with an eclectic musical set list.
Chaplin's Smile is mournfully belched out on a tuba and front-man Rogier Bosman leads a barbershop quartet negotiating Uptown Funk in Dutch. One minute they are playing instruments such as the double-bass, trombone or mandolin with remarkable dexterity, the next, they are slapsticks, whacking each other over the head with all the frenzy of a Tom and Jerry cartoon.
A fairground theme is explored as Jon Bittman reels off the patter of a hawker, while wheeling out games for the audience to try their luck. There may be more than a hint of nostalgia about Slapstick, but the show is fresh and family friendly and garnered a standing ovation the evening I was there.
The other standing ovation of the opening weekend of the Fringe was for Education, Education, Education a brilliant play set in 1997 where it's the last week of term at the local secondary school, New Labour has just been elected, Miss Haines has lost the mock exam papers, the Year 11s have put a Renault 5 on the school roof and the video player has broken. Things can only get better. The play explores power, responsibility, and change through the eyes of a hapless group of schoolteachers trying to make it through the day, it’s a fantastic piece of work by Bristol based theatre company Wardrobe Ensemble .
All too soon it was time for the train back to York but I’ll be back again next year for the pilgrimage that is The Edinburgh Fringe Festival
Ian J Cole