Edinburgh is a fabulous city to visit anytime of the year, but August is extra special. This is when the Scottish capital grows a comedy extension to further embellish its already huge popularity.
I first visited the Fringe in the late ’90s and laughed out load to the likes of Johnny Vegas, Milton Jones Richard Herring. My latest visit was my first in five years and the first time that I had appreciated the vast array of free fare on offer alongside the likes of well known comic genius Frankie Boyle (brilliant) and Reginald D Hunter (a little disappointing).
If it’s free, it can’t be that great, right? With time on the side of my mate and I, we decided to chance our arm. After all, what did we have to lose?
Dressed like a library dweller, he then proceeded to extol the virtues of use of ‘interesting later in the alphabet’ letters, implore the would be writer to start their novel politely to make the reader want to continue and hilariously reading extracts from the well known dinosaur book, PENGUIN THE SAURUS.
With plain daft audience participation, humorous quips and endearing anecdotes, Chris more than managed to demonstrate that gratis can be great. A very commendable 7/10 performance.
Next up came something completely different in the same venue, in the same room in fact.
Composer Laurence Owen and his comedian other half , Lyndsay Sharman and their ’50s radio musical portrayal of HG Wells classic sci-fi tale, The Time Machine.
Owen played all characters with impressive post war aplomb in this extremely well delivered rendition, whilst Sharman played his horsey radio producer and added inventive sound effects, many courtesy of a morning shop at the local greengrocers.
Owen’s Russian & Austrian accents were top notch, his songs jolly good fun and his story-telling faultless, as he stayed true to the book and made us all feel ever so sad for his loss of his faithful Eloi companion Weena.
Not the sort of thing I probably would have paid to see or gone out of my way to find, but I am very glad I did on this occasion. 7.5/10.
Next up came political comic Chris Coltrane with a show called ‘Make Love And Smash Fascism‘ and his take on obvious targets Theresa May, The Donald, Brexit and the tabloid press.
Chris is an obviously nice guy, committed socialist and passionate humanist and his show was well delivered and chuckle funny, without quite hitting the heights for me. Still well worthy of an hour of your time and a few quid in the collection bucket, you can catch Chris at the Cinema Room at The Banshee Labyrinth. 6/10 for me though my buddy Chris rated the show a point higher.
We then moved up the hill to Irish pub Finnegans Wake and their back room to take in a set performed by Jordan Brookes doing his ‘Body of Work’.
The next hour was just weird as Jordan gave us a series of contorted facial expressions and revolting imagery alongside his tribute to his late beloved nan.
It was very funny in a Little Britain/League of Gentlemen sort of way. 7/10.
So far so good with two more to go.
All this time my friend and I wondered what the motivation was for the varied entertainers who clearly invest a lot of time, effort and money, into putting on a free show.
Gaining a following, setting the scene for ticketed shows in the future, getting noticed by a talent scout? All possibilities for sure, however the overwhelming feeling was that they were doing it for the love of it and we loved them back for it.
The next act we saw I will not name to be fair to the chap and lady who delivered 25 minutes each of stand-up.
They tried hard but pretty much died on their feet. In their defence they were on at pre-beer midday in a cramped basement room barely bigger than a broom cupboard and their meagre audience may have had an average age about thirty years above their optimum attendee age.
It was pretty dreadful and laugh free. I managed to plaster a smile on my face for the duration, a frozen feature that I had to slap off afterwards to get going again. 2/10 for bravery and giving it a go.
Our last free show was a magician by the name of Chris Cook. Neither of us had high expectations. Brought up on a magic diet of Paul Daniels and the lovely Debbie McGee, “that’s magic” was OK but not something you would pay much to see.
We were very pleasantly surprised. The tricks in ‘Control‘ were slick, the dialogue topical and the ruses very well crafted. Yours truly even had to go on stage for ten minutes to play junior assistant to some very impressive conjuring.
The show was well worthy of a note donation at the end, together with a tweeted recommendation. Chris played in the very pleasant ballroom at the Voodoo Rooms. A fine location for a fine performance. 8/10.
Sadly it was then time for me to depart via a swift pint and recall of all we had viewed, at the splendid Guildford Arms around the corner.
I will be back next year, free as a bird.