Reviewed today: Johnny Candon: One Careless Lady Owner, On The Waterfront, The Standard.
You know what Saturday mornings here are like: the usual mad rush to check out of our Napier flats by the 10am deadline, tempered this year by a general feeling that as they weren't ready for us when we checked in last Saturday, they can afford to wait a few minutes. (Which of course has a knock-on effect on the people checking in later on today, but let's not think about that right now.) By 10.15 the keys have been handed back, and we're all heading off in various directions. As for The Belated Birthday Girl and myself, we're heading off to the Standard on Howe Street (spotted during our visit to the Philippe Starck exhibition at Inhouse) for a terrific breakfast.
Similarly, our penultimate show of Edinburgh 2008 is inspired by another accidental discovery earlier in the week: Johnny Candon, who guested at Robin Ince's Book Club on Monday. He was only playing a character back then, rather than doing his normal stand-up set, but seemed funny enough to be worth a punt even in the hellish slot of 12.15pm. Plus, I feel a bit guilty about calling him Johnny Camden on here for two days before discovering how his name was really spelt.
Candon's show is called One Careless Lady Owner, and discusses his life as an adopted child. The son of a couple of very young students in Ireland, after birth he was handed over to a convent, where his adopted parents picked him up ("nuns are like eBay, you can get anything from them"). He chats about his continual fear that he'll be taken away again from his new parents, which manifests itself in two very different ways: a terror of spiders, and the need to have a tin of beans handy at all times. He also reflects on how his upbringing has had an effect on how he feels about recently becoming a father himself.
The Stand 2 is a funny old venue: a tiny SNP meeting hall decorated like William Wallace's teenage bedroom. It must be a tricky one for a comic to play, because even at the best of times - which 12.15pm isn't - you'll never have more than a few dozen people in there. Candon plays it perfectly, however: bounding onto the stage with the sort of energy that you'd need for an audience of a couple of hundred, but happy to stop frequently to just chat to people. He comes across as a perfectly charming bloke, but with plenty of gags to hand so that he's not just coasting on that charm. The adoption theme turns out to be a splendid framework for both an interesting story and a series of entertaining digressions.
It's during one of those digressions that he talks about visiting Australia, and a quick show of hands reveals that The BBG and I are the only other people in the room who've been there. Candon asks us if we've been to Manly Beach, and thanks to a mishearing on my part I end up saying 'no' while The BBG says 'yes'. (What with that and the whole Camden/Candon business, I need to get my ears syringed when I get back to London.) Candon takes our disagreement as being evidence of us being "a typical married couple" - which we're not, but it's somehow charming that he thinks that, so we've decided that we like him a lot. The show teeters on the brink of sentimentality when he starts tying it in with the birth of his own child, but he manages to use that to pull off an excellent punchline to the entire show.
To finish off Edinburgh 2008, we head off to the cavernous Pleasance Grand for Steven Berkoff's adaptation of On The Waterfront. Berkoff, as I've discussed here previously, was one of the titans of the Fringe when I first started coming here two decades ago: nowadays, not so much. But it's interesting to see the approach he's been taking over the past couple of years: he still comes to the Fringe, but he no longer advertises in the programme, preferring to announce his shows late and relying on word of mouth to get the message across. And it seems to work: this is one of the main productions that people seem to be talking about, and the Grand is packed to the rafters.
It helps, of course, that there are two huge things that will attract people to the show: Berkoff's own reputation, and our memories of the classic film it's based on. In an interview on the play's website, he admits that Elia Kazan's film is a tough act to follow, and that all he can do is stage it in such a way that he can give people things that the film couldn't. Sticking pretty closely to Budd Schulberg's original script (but with some of the previously cut swearing put back), he uses all the physical theatre techniques that we've come to associate with Berkoff over the years. All we have on stage are twelve people and twelve chairs, with Mike Robertson's expressionistic lighting compressing this huge stage to a single spot or a crossing of paths. They may well be techniques that have become Berkoff cliches, but they're used entirely to drive the story, and they do so magnificently.
Nevertheless, there are some pretty big shoes to fill here. Simon Merrells can never hope to reach the heights that Marlon Brando did in the role of Terry Malloy: he can't quite pull off the vulnerability that the film centred around (the reason why everyone remembers that scene). But he takes a damn good shot at all the other aspects of the role, and pulls them off just fine. Vincenzo Nicoli's portrayal of Father Barry also brings back memories of the film, simply because he resembles Karl Malden's original so much, or perhaps (as The BBG suggests) he's been hit in the face several times with a similar shovel to Karl Malden. The rest of the cast works just fine, and as in Berkoff's best work they're a tight ensemble: working an unloading line with slow-motion military precision, or making the scene in the pigeon coop one of the comic highlights. This may be a Fringe where domination by big names is causing some controversy, but in this case it's nice to have Berkoff back.
It's a short walk from the Pleasance to Waverley station, and the train back to London. Theoretically, the four-and-three-quarter hour train journey should be where I take advantage of the free wi-fi and get Friday's diary online: but this is the point where all the late nights of the week hit me simultaneously, and all I can do is stare out of the window drooling for the duration of the trip. Which is why Friday's diary doesn't appear on the web till Sunday, and Saturday's appears on Monday.
Nevertheless, something important needs to be noted here: the journey actually does take four and three quarter hours, running to schedule with zero delays and no screwups worth noting. So, to answer a question I set at the start of the week: no, National Express East Coast rail did not muck up our journeys either to Edinburgh or back home to London. Everything ran on time, and the trains were perfectly lovely. (As opposed to the National Express trains The BBG and I used to travel to and from Glasgow a couple of weeks earlier, where the trains ran on time but all their toilets packed up around three hours into the journey.) Thanks, National Express: we think you're great. For now.
As for the other two questions I posed at the start of the week? Well, we didn't suffer at the hands of the Fringe box office despite all their problems. But things still seem to be going from bad to worse for them. I'm writing this on the Bank Holiday Monday that's officially the last day of the Fringe, when in a well-publicised move they were planning on offering thousands of tickets in two-for-one deals. They sent an email to everyone on their mailing list yesterday evening to say that this deal was now cancelled. Way to make friends with an aggrieved customer base, guys. Meanwhile, the software company behind the whole box office debacle, Pivotal Integration, has gone into administration, meaning that the Fringe probably has to go back to square one for a box office system for 2009.
And the final question - "Can I get away with leeching off the Filmhouse's free wi-fi all week without seeing a single film there?" Well, it doesn't apply, because I never set foot inside the Filmhouse all week. The cafe bar looked dead the one time I peeked in through the window, and what with the reasonably priced broadband available within our Napier flats there didn't seem to be any real need to spend any time there. I don't actively wish the Film Festival ill for moving its dates outside of our normal visiting period, but I feel I should be allowed a brief snigger at the Filmhouse's one attempt at engaging with the main Festivals this year. At presumably great expense, they've purchased advertising space in the International Festival programmes (see image above), hoping to display their love of film to the world. EXCEPT THEY CAN'T FUCKING SPELL 'WORLD' PROPERLY.
Still, on the whole it's been a good Festival, if not a great one. Three shows stand out head and shoulders above the crowd: Terminus is just a great piece of theatre, while Robin Ince's Book Club and The Honourable Men Of Art avoid the usual cliches of standup to involve their audiences in an event of the sort you couldn't experience anywhere else. And the various organisations on the Free Fringe have shown that in the middle of the fights between the different tiers of paid venues, there just might be another way to go. Nevertheless, I'm still going to take my usual three-yearly break from Edinburgh in 2009, though I hope that what I have planned instead can eclipse even the greatest arts festival in the world. Being a monkey, and all.
Notes From Spank's Pals
The Belated Birthday Girl - Our last day at the Edinburgh Festival for this year was got off to a very good start with breakfast at The Standard. Both the full Scottish (which Spank had) and the vegetarian alternative were substantial and high quality. Both included fried egg, potato cake, hash browns, mushrooms, tomato and toast. The vegetarian option had three veggie sausages (of the obviously-made-from-vegetables type, rather than the fake-meat type) and vegetarian haggis, in place of the square sausage pattie, bacon, haggis and black pudding of the meaty option. Everything was quite delicious, and kept us satisfied through our final Festival day. Tea or coffee and orange juice included 'as standard', as they say.
Note that it opened at 11am, not 10am as we'd seen mentioned elsewhere, although the staff were happy for us to sit in the bar and wait while they got ready. If the quality of the breakfasts is anything to go by, this would be a place well worth grabbing a meal at, if you can live with the sports TV screens. For us, it worked out just fine, and meant we caught a bit of the Olympic Girls' Kicking.
[Final thoughts from Spank's Pals can be found in the 2008 Postscript]