Monday, August 20, 2007

The Fringe!

Had an utterly fantastic weekend at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, despite it actually pouring down on us nonstop all day Saturday. Umbrella has never gotten more use and my ballet pumps were threatening to literally fall apart, but they held on (just) for many traipses up and down the Royal Mile, rushing between shows. What we could see of Edinburgh between the rain was gorgeous, all beautiful old houses and quirky architecture, Cambridge on a grander and darker Scottish scale, and I am definitely going to have to go back to actually see the city!

We arrived late on Friday night and wandered out for a meal (the best we could find was a chippie, but they did very good fish'n'chips, and I'm sure their fried mars bars must have been a gourmet's delight), then sat ourselves down in a pub to try and sort out way through the >200 page Fringe Guide. With around 10 shows listed on every single page of this guide this was a bit overwhelming at first, but eventually by means of enough random flipping (flip flip flip say when... say when.. .stop!) we found some choice ones that we booked online back at the hotel...

Saturday morning we walked around in the rain, visited the farmer's market where we had porridge (not salted, mind you, but brown sugar and cream, yum!) and a hog roast bun in the rain, visited the Edinburgh Book Festival in the rain, walked through a shopping street north of Princes Street in the rain, took pictures of the castle in the rain, tried to go to a contemporary/break dance performance only to find out it was sold out in the rain...

3:40pm: Flanders and Swann: at the Drop of a Hippopotamus. My sister is a proper Flanders and Swann fan so we absolutely had to go to this. Two blokes singing the best of their comic songs in a very enjoyable manner. I particularly enjoyed Ill Wind, sung to Mozart's Horn Concerto in E Flat Major (see the wikipedia article for an excerpt), The Gnu and of course, The Hippopotamus. Mud, mud, glorious mud/There's nothing quite like it for cooling the blood... Time was everyone and the Queen could all sing this! We felt slightly embarrassed that we were quite clearly the youngest people in the show, children dragged along by their parents notwithstanding. Not a new phenomenon however.

5:10pm: Nicholas Parsons' Happy Hour! Mr Parsons hosts Radio 4's Just a Minute, and happily, did exactly what he does best, by bringing in guests and chatting to them about their acts. Aussie comedian Adam Hills regaled us with stories of that wonderful Scottish energy drink Irn Bru and showed us his appendicitis scar and his prosthetic foot, prompting the entire audience to "ooo" like wide-eyed schoolchildren. An amazing a capella group called The Magnets also did a few songs -- they call their music "a capella for the rock and pop generation", and they pulled it off totally with such showmanship and the sharpest suits this side of Milan. Not so much barbershop as Mika and the Scissor Sisters with a beatboxer. We enjoyed it so much we decided to go to see them again later that evening.

7:15pm: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. This was a group of mainly Cambridge musical theatre people and as I had a friend and some acquaintances in it I was really looking forward to it. Again, fantastic -- much as I like the big old Rodgers and Hammerstein style, I also love the more modern musicals that have something darker and meatier to them. In this case, the meat being human flesh, conveniently provided by the rather obsessive barber's neat throat slitting of his customers, who then slid conveniently down to the pie shop below his barbershop where his partner Mrs Lovett made them into truly delicious meat pies for the ravenous public. Macabre, chilling, darkly humorous, lovely tunes, with a great twist at the end, and all done in a stripped down and thoroughly effective manner.

10:20pm: Reduced Edinburgh Fringe Improvised Comedy (or some such). These were a really quite enjoyable improv troupe, complete with improvised songs (an Adolf Hitler in Scunthorpe with a dream of being a professional golfer), spooky stories about deaths on the Royal Mile (revolving around a donkey in a chip van), and pithy mimes ("Liverpool" is apparently universally understood by a 5 second sketch of some unsuspecting guy having his wallet pickpocketed).

12am: Adam, Jason and Friends. On the strength of Nicholas Parsons' introduction earlier in the day we got tickets to see this, which turned out to be in a huge lovely venue up near the castle and was even being filmed. Adam Hill's laidback Aussie chatting style played off really well against Irishman Jason Byrne's absolutely insane antics -- Catholic jokes layered over a stand up style that meant that he never actually ever stood still because he was too busy floating away in bubbles and pulling men around the stage in giant cardboard boxes. Again they had several guests, but the highlight of the night must have been their Punch and Judy act got up to interview Nina Conti's Monkey (a totally foul mouthed little ventriloquist puppet), which surely could have had no better ending than Jason's attempts to pick up his interview questions with his mouth through the puppetry screen causing the entire edifice to collapse... you had to be there. The Magnets rounded it all off a few of their songs, including a repeat of the Jackson 5's "Blame it on the Boogie" which is their big finale piece where they get everyone up and dancing. The fact that we had already been taught the moves that afternoon didn't stop us from enjoying it!

Sunday morning we didn't quite make it out of bed till halfway through it. We thankfully found a wonderful little Mediterranean cafe in the Old Town where we had our first real meal since getting to Edinburgh (apparently everybody loses weight at the Festival running up and down between shows, never having time to eat, and sweating in claustrophobic venues heated by hundreds of human bodies), and very lovely it was too. Finally we headed to our last show of the weekend (boohoo), one of the many "showcases" where they get many different acts from Fringe to come on and do excerpts. Many of these were fantastic, including an American duo who did a hilarious spoof of a particular brand of Christian evangelist (dorks singing "Team Jesus" with a 2-note xylophone accompaniment), Japanese mime artists Gamarjobat who, identified by one guy's red mohican and the other's yellow mohican, do the physical comedy thing in a truly awesome way. And for the finale of this whirlwind tour through the Fringe, we had, to our rather bemused surprise (or not)... The Magnets! and the familiar strains of Blame it on the Boogie. (Although the Sunday 1pm crowd wasn't quite as dancey as twelve hours earlier at Sunday 1am!)

Don't know why I haven't been before, it is possibly one of the most enjoyable ways to spend a weekend ever, seeing act after polished act (most of whom want to make you laugh) for about five to ten quid each and traipsing the streets of a truly wonderful city in between. It's definitely going on the August calendar for as many years to come as possible!