Reviewed today: Bail Out, I Take Bribes, Phill Jupitus, Pointless Anger Righteous Ire 2: Back In The Habit, Richard Sandling's Perfect Movie.
Ince has been all over the Fringe like a bad suit for the past few years, doing several shows a day as part of PBH's Free Fringe. You may remember my brief discussion of one of his shows on Monday (Carl Sagan Is My God, Oh And Richard Feynman Too), and how its secret ticket allocation policy resulted in my wasting a morning. It's just the sort of petty annoyance that forms the basis of the one show for which he charges an entrance fee: Pointless Anger, Righteous Ire, a double-header with Michael Legge. If I'd had the balls - or, perhaps more accurately, if I hadn't been rendered docile by a rather nice pre-gig lunch at No 12 Picardy Place - I could have told him to his face that the thing that had annoyed me the most this week was him. But I couldn't be bothered, really. In retrospect, now that's annoying me.
Pointless Anger has the feel of a couple of comics just mucking about while waiting for their regular show to start, which is a bit unusual when you consider that for Ince, this technically is his regular show. It's a mishmash of variations on a theme: it starts with Ince and Legge pestering the audience to find out if anyone can get them a job on television, continues with both the comedians and audience analysing the things that irritate them, and includes Ince doing one of his usual book readings from the autobiography of someone else angry (in this case, the very, very angry Klaus Kinski).
It's an entertaining enough hour, with some big laughs (mostly when they go off-script), but there's a wee bit of an air of self-indulgence to it. Far too much of the show is based around in-jokes relating to Ince, Legge, or one of their comedy pals. The image of Josie Long writing Government education policy in magnetic letters on the side of a fridge (because it's more whimsical than using crayons) and wheeling the result around is a lovely one, but probably means nothing to anyone outside of a very small Fringe bubble. They're aware of this, and continually refer to it, but it's probably not going to be much fun for you if you're not already part of the gang.
What are the big wanky trends in theatre this year? The one that's been prevalent at Edinburgh for some time now is site-specific performance: the new variation on the theme that's just starting to emerge is a site-specific performance that requires the attendees to listen to a soundtrack via headphones, allowing them to observe a show in a crowded area that innocent bystanders might not even be aware is going on. This sort of thing costs money, and I'd imagine that a fair few sets of wireless headphones go missing any time someone tries to put on one of these shows.
(g)Host City is a fascinating attempt to do this sort of thing on the cheap, because it requires the audience to bring their own equipment. On the website you can find a dozen or more shows listed, each of which has an MP3 file attached which can be purchased from Amazon for 79p. You load the file onto your audio player, take it to a specified Edinburgh location, turn it on and see what happens.
In the absence of any late afternoon events that we're interested in, we download a couple of the (g)Host City performances, picking them purely because their sites are on the route between the Stand (our earlier venue) and the Cameo Cinema (our next one). The first piece is an abstract soundscape by Christopher Collier, entitled Bail Out. The requirement is to listen to it in St Andrew Square, where the headquarters of both Bank Of Scotland and the Royal Bank Of Scotland can be found. The theory is that it will generate some sort of resonance between the glorious history of these buildings, and the tawdry state they find themselves in now.
It doesn't really work, for a number of reasons. All Collier really achieves is a background of doomy chords which contrast against the supposed grandeur of the architecture, which is the sort of trick that every documentary on the financial crisis has pulled since 2008. There are various spoken word samples that fade in and out of the music, which might possibly add something to the theme of the piece: unfortunately, as I'm attempting to listen to it at the height of rush hour on a Friday night, any such subtlety goes out the window.
It strikes me after listening to Bail Out that if (g)Host City is going to work, it will be with pieces that are a) pure spoken word rather than music based, and b) made to be listened to somewhere quiet. Happily, our second selection fits the bill precisely. I Take Bribes is a short story written and read by Alan Bissett, set inside the graveyard of St Cuthbert's Church, just far enough off the Lothian Road for the traffic to no longer be an issue. We have to settle for our second choice spot of listening location within the churchyard, as the best looking bench is currently occupied by a small party of people with cans of Tennent's Super. (We don't look to see if they've also got headphones.)
I Take Bribes tells the story of a chance meeting between a young girl (killing time at St Cuthbert's before a gig at the Usher Hall) and a mysterious older woman. There's an air of quiet menace which means you're never quite sure whether or not it's going turn into some sort of nasty situation, and I'm certainly not going to answer that question here. But the setting definitely adds to the telling of the story: Bissett refers to landmarks, atmospheres, even individual graves that you may have seen as you walk around the location. If the story had included a reference to the squirrels that seem to have infested the churchyard this summer, it would have been perfect.
And here's another site-specific show for you: Richard Sandling's Perfect Movie, a film-based comedy hour playing in screen 3 of the Cameo Cinema. (It's not like they've got a Film Festival or anything like that to worry about at this time of year.) In an amusingly self-aggrandising video introduction, it's stated that Sandling "only plays festivals or events that Robin Ince curates," which is the point where I realise I've seen him before, geeking out over his collection of VHS tapes at Ince's Book Club show in 2008.
Perfect Movie has the baggy feel of an Ince-curated show itself. Sandling establishes his geek credentials early on, slipping in a reference to something being more like LA Takedown than Heat, just to see who laughs. (Of course I did.) He talks to audience members about their favourite films, plays some video sketches about current hits - The Belated Birthday Girl roars with recognition at his statement that the baddie in all the recent Marvel films is a bigger, more evil version of the hero - and brings on a couple of mates to perform short sets of film-buff-friendly comedy. Wil Hodgson laments how pub arguments about movie trivia have been killed by the advent of hand-held internet devices: Dan Schreiber simply recounts the plot of DTV atrocity Titanic 2.
The big finish features a selection of the Perfect Movie shorts that Sandling's been putting online for the past few years, in which he recreates scenes from classic movies with a bunch of moderately famous mates in their back gardens for no money. The audience gets to pick their favourites from a shortlist, and an accident of democracy means that we get two back-to-back featuring the members of Pappy's, performing the opening of Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels and the T-Rex attack from Jurassic Park. And we wrap up with Sandling and Jim Bob from Carter USM doing the final scene from Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, which ends up being curiously moving. It's all very silly, but it's pure catnip to movie fans of Sandling's vintage, which is pretty much my vintage. Now, how about doing it in Screen 1 next time?
We're well into day seven of eight: let's make a bold statement. There was a quote from an Observer reviewer I mentioned on Sunday that went like this: "the... Fringe fan could do much worse than block-book everything that's on at the Traverse". Based on the evidence of this year in particular, I think we could now replace the words 'Fringe' with 'comedy', and 'Traverse' with 'Stand', and the quote would still work.
The Stand is now the established home of comedy on the Fringe, to the extent that we've not been anywhere near the Underbelly, Gilded Balloon or Caves venues at all this year. It has a great reputation with comics, possibly down to its fairer payment policy: the two late shows we've caught there this year have had dozens of big names in the audience, or drifting in and out of the backstage areas. The staff are friendly and well-trained, recommending alternatives if your first choice of show is sold out (unlike, to take an example I've encountered this week, the Pleasance). The Stand audience, as noted by Paul Provenza at RHEFP on Thursday, is one of the most comedy-literate out there - they're here to listen to comedy, not to just get drunk. (But on the subject of getting drunk, both The BBG and I have become seriously addicted to BrewDog's 5am Saint during our various visits to the Stand bar this week.)
Yeah, I like the Stand. And so does Phill Jupitus: he watched people like Stewart Lee and Simon Munnery play the main room last year, and it was enough to lure him out of a ten-year retirement from stand-up comedy so he could do a show here. He also had a fair bit of encouragement from Eddie Izzard, who Jupitus curiously resembles a bit now that he's lost a few stone. (His impersonation of Izzard just might be the single funniest thing I've experienced this Fringe.)
His comeback show takes advantage of the huge age demographic he covers. There are old people who remember him from the 80s, when he was supporting Billy Bragg as Porky The Poet: and there are kids who know him from Never Mind The Buzzcocks or his time on 6 Music. Jupitus uses this as a jumping-off point for breaking the audience down into age brackets and castigating them for the mistakes that he made at that age, or the ones he suspects he'll make in the future.
It's a enjoyable hour of comedy, with Jupitus happily bantering with various people in the audience, flirting with the women and then having to pull back sharpish when he realises that the three he's been focussing on are a lady in her fifties and her twin teenage daughters. The emphasis on sex turns a little queasy as he gradually segues from his personal shag wishlist (Ian Paisley probably being the most terrifying entry) to discussing how he feels as a father now that he knows his own daughter is starting to sleep with boys. But his cheekiness and charm means that it never gets nasty, although I hope to God that his daughter had some degree of approval on him telling that final story.
We've burned out enough of our livers on late comedy shows this week - we find out just too late that Daniel Kitson is doing a last minute midnight show with the Political Animal crew, which sold out within minutes of its announcement this morning - so we decide to take it easy for the rest of the night with a posh fish supper at Fishers In The City. Which doesn't really explain how we ended up afterwards at the BrewDog pub at Cowgate, but there you go...