SPANK GOLD: Edinburgh Festival 1992
[Because she asked nicely: the Fringe Programme 92 image used here was originally drawn by Shona Lees, who is now Shona Lenaghan.]
The stats are interesting for this one. (Yes they are, shut up.) In 1992, I saw nothing at all at the Book Festival, only one event in the International Festival (if you don't count the free fireworks), and eight or so movies. Everything else was a rather tediously mainstream selection of Fringe shows - although some of the acts involved didn't make it into the mainstream until a decade or so later. It'd be tempting to suggest that this was the point where I realised that going to Edinburgh every summer could start getting a bit repetitive, and that the odd year off might be useful. But I think I'd already realised that with a Major Birthday coming up in August 1993, I'd need to do something out of the ordinary for that.
As far as accommodation goes, once again I was staying in an out-of-town B&B booked at the last minute - the details are fuzzy, but I remember that Noises Off at Trafalgar Hall was one of the few things I could get to without the use of a bus or taxi. I seem to have kept up a respectable five-show-a-day average, though: it's always good to treat Edinburgh shows like fruit and veg. Here's how my RDA for 1992 panned out.
Saturday August 22nd
2.30pm: Sam Fuller Pitches, BBC Queen Street
6.00pm: Hell Bent Heaven Bound, Assembly Rooms
8.15pm: Les Amants Du Pont-Neuf, Filmhouse
11.00pm: Insomnia, Assembly Rooms
That counts as one hell of a start, I think: a special Film Festival event featuring an actual Hollywood legend in the room with you. Sam Fuller pitched one of his unfilmed story ideas to a small audience, for subsequent transmission on BBC2's Edinburgh Nights. It irritates me that seventeen years later, I can't tell you a damn thing about the story he told (apart from how he came close to overrunning his timeslot and had to abridge wildly in the closing minutes), and somehow failed to tape the show when it was eventually broadcast. It was a pretty spellbinding afternoon apart from that, though. I followed it with a big old pileup of musical Fringe cabaret acts (Christine Collister, Jungr & Parker, and Ian Shaw) joining forces for a cheerful little programme of songs about death. (Most of them got together again the following year for a money-themed sequel, which has just been released on CD for the first time.)
My main Film Festival fix of the day - or at least, the only one that involved a film that actually existed on celluloid - was Les Amants du Pont-Neuf, with director Leos Carax doing his usual cinema du look thing with Juliette Binoche and That Guy From The Stella Adverts. The film's famous for Carax's control freakery coming to the fore, most notably in building a life-size replica of the eponymous bridge to film on: the main thing I remember about it is being surprised at the silhouetted shot of Denis Levant's hugely erect cock. It's at least one more thing than I can remember about Dana Gould's Insomnia, some sort of one-man show about the life of a stand-up comic. It's not listed in the main Fringe programme, so I can only assume it was a last minute choice to fill a time slot: but let's face it, calling your late night show Insomnia is just asking for trouble. He was writing for The Simpsons a decade later, making him the first of several people at this year's Fringe who went on to prime-time TV megastardom (though the rest of them made their names in front of the camera).
Sunday August 23rd
12.45pm: McClaren Animation 3, Filmhouse
2.00pm: Fringe Sunday, Holyrood Park
7.05pm: John Shuttleworth's Guide To Stardom, Pleasance
8.15pm: Alan Parker Urban Warrior, Pleasance
10.30pm: Bob Roberts, Filmhouse
Seven shorts were shown at the first of two Film Festival animation round-ups I attended this week. Only two of them stick: coincidentally, both of them were Aardman productions, in a slightly less slick style than we'd come to associate with the studio. (For the record, they were Jeff Newitt's Loves Me... Loves Me Not, and Louise Spraggon's Never Say Pink Furry Die.) And from there, I dashed off to Holyrood Park for Fringe Sunday, which I've only just realised must have had the same function in my Fringe week that Mervyn Stutter does now (in the show he's been doing since, coincidentally, 1992): a showcase of acts that I wouldn't have considered looking at otherwise, providing possible pointers for things to see later in the week. Did anyone inspiring perform at the '92 Fringe Sunday? No idea. I bet it bloody rained, though.
John Shuttleworth's Guide To Stardom was my first exposure to the man, I think (barring my ownership of the 7" single of Jilted John). I've always been impressed by Shuttleworth's accumulating backstory over the years, with an entire offstage cast of supporting characters: the eight page programme accompanying the show is full of the sort of lovingly anal detail that he does best. ("I have concentrated on writing songs at home on my Yamaha organ - sometimes on the headphones, if my wife's watching telly, and occasionally through our Amstrad hifi with bass boost on.") Plus he did Pigeons In Flight, which is always a bonus. More character comedy to follow with Simon Munnery, giving Alan Parker - "from the NME!", according to the ads - a full hour-long show, with Patrick Marber in some sort of unspecified supporting role. Not that this meant Parker had sold out, of course - in fact, he was so enraged by the Pleasance's profiteering that he dedicated five minutes of the show to handing us all 50p refunds from a bucket. The day finished up with the film that Tim Robbins would like to imagine got Bill Clinton elected, though I'm not sure how Bob Roberts' parodic right-wing folk singer would hold up now that we're in a time where Glenn Beck is taken seriously.
Monday August 24th
2.30pm: Studs, Assembly Rooms
5.00pm: Yeltsin Trotsky And The Betting Shop, Gilded Balloon
6.30pm: Cohen The Barbarian, Chaplaincy Centre
8.00pm: Eddie Izzard, Gilded Balloon
9.30pm: Doug Anthony Allstars, Pleasance
11.30pm: Savage II – The Return, Assembly
I have a 16 page A4 sized programme for Studs, and I still couldn't tell you much about it even after reading it, except that Passion Machine's production of Paul Mercer's play has something to do with football. Oh, and cast member Mikel Murfi (you don't forget a spelling like that) was back here fifteen years later directing The Walworth Farce. Yeltsin was Mark Steel's first attempt (I think) at moving away from gag-driven shows towards something more structured and historically themed, an approach that's subsequently worked well for him on both radio and TV. This show was based around the Russian Revolution, with a cast of characters helpfully given potted biographies in the accompanying programme. ("Stalin: ruler of Russia after Lenin, terrible temper.") Fellow standup Dave Cohen has more or less vanished from the scene nowadays, occasionally popping up in unexpected places as a writer. The climactic song of his show is still relevant, though: "Bruce Forsyth, Bruce Forsyth / he's reasonably okay / he sometimes says the kinds of things / that funny people say."
And yet more standup from Eddie Izzard. In 1991 he was performing in some sort of broom cupboard at the Counting House: in 1992, he was on the main stage at the Gilded Balloon, the established home of Edinburgh comedy right up to the point where it burned to the ground. Six months later, he'd be doing a three month run in London's West End, and so it goes on. Meanwhile, it would appear that I still hadn't got fed up of seeing the Doug Anthony Allstars in Edinburgh, even though you could catch them most weeks in a comedy club somewhere or other in London. Still, you can't deny that DAAS always pulled out the stops for their Edinburgh shows: I believe this is the one which ended up with the whole audience being led out into the Pleasance courtyard and forced to dance in celebration of Satan. After that, it was almost relaxing to spend a late night with Scouse drag queen Lily Savage, although none of us could have guessed at the time where he'd end up.
Tuesday August 25th
11.00am: Top Girls, Overseas House
2.30pm: Fuente Ovejuna, Assembly Hall
4.30pm: Cyrano De Bergerac, Traverse
7.30pm: Wax Acts, Playhouse
10.45pm: Comedy Zone, Pleasance
Speaking of which: it's one thing to remember that you saw famous people ages before they became famous, it's another to only realise it seventeen years later. Take, for example, Oxford University's production of Caryl Churchill's splendid all-women play Top Girls. It wasn't until I dragged out the programme to write this piece that I discovered I'd caught a couple of future stars in their drama student days: Sally Phillips as lead yuppie Marlene, and Emily Mortimer as the Japanese Emperor's courtesan Lady Nijo. (I'm not going to explain that sentence for anyone who hasn't seen the play before.) It was the start of a pretty terrific day for Edinburgh theatre, although Lope de Vega's Fuente Ovejuna (my one major production from the International Festival) was a known quantity, as I'd already seen this National Theatre production during its London run. It still wowed me as much second time around, though, and I never understood why Rachel Joyce didn't become a major star off the back of it. (It looks like she's primarily writing for radio these days.)
Communicado's Cyrano de Bergerac made it three for three: easily my favourite thing from the entire Festival this year, helped by being the first thing I ever saw in the Traverse's sexy new theatre building. The production's USP was Edwin Morgan's translation, reworking Rostand's prose into broad Scots while staying in iambic pentameter. With Gerry Mulgrew's fast paced production and Tom Mannion's full-on lead performance, it really couldn't fail. After that, Ruby Wax's one-woman show was a bit of a let-down (at the time she was another comic who was all over the London circuit like a bad rash, so God knows why I felt I had to see 90 minutes of just her). But things perked up dramatically with Comedy Zone, the show where each year comedy agency Avalon take a few of their unknown acts and put them on a single bill to see if any of them are any good. In 1992, those unknown acts were as follows: Andre Vincent compering, Brenda Gilhooly doing her Page 3 spoof character Gayle Tuesday, Al Murray doing vocal impersonations of WW2 artillery, and Harry Hill saying any old nonsense that came into his head. It's fun imagining a future episode of Comedy Connections springing from this one lineup: Murray would debut his Pub Landlord character on Hill's Edinburgh show two years later, while Gilhooly is on the writing team for TV Burp to this day.
Wednesday August 26th
12.00pm: More Jam Tomorrow, Assembly Rooms
2.00pm: John Hegley, Assembly Rooms
4.00pm: Misogynist, Assembly Rooms
6.00pm: Man To Man, Filmhouse
8.00pm: Rob Newman & David Baddiel, Playhouse
I remembered that More Jam Tomorrow was primarily a Neil Innes show, but couldn't have told you (until I had a quick peek at the programme) that Andy Roberts was on stage with him. Still, Innes has always been good value whenever he comes up to Edinburgh, and was still good value a decade later. As is the case with John Hegley, here presenting The Tattoo O'Clock Poetry Club. I'd imagine with a title like that, he must have done his Tattoo poem at one point. Misogynist was a one-man show by Tom Hickey that rings precisely zero bells: unlike Tilda Swinton in male drag for John Maybury's TV film of Man To Man, with the eye-popping image of Tilda smacking her prosthetic cock against a table top as she yelled "ICH! BIN! EIN! DEUTSCHE! MANN!"
Now here's a reason for me to take the 1992 version of myself outside for a good kicking. As I mentioned earlier, I somehow failed to tape Sam Fuller Pitches when it was shown on the telly, even though there was an outside chance you could have seen me in the audience. I do, however, still own a video recording of this Newman and Baddiel gig, one that I paid actual cash money for. This was a year or so before the overblown Wembley Arena show that started off that whole Comedy Is The New Rock 'N' Roll nonsense. This particular performance was mostly made up of lazily sweared-up versions of things they'd already done on The Mary Whitehouse Experience (both comics use the phrase "I know this was on telly last night, but..." at least once apiece). Rewatching the video in 2009, it all looks terribly dated now, with a rampant homophobic streak that I just don't recall from back then. My key memory of the gig was that the sound blew out embarrassingly at the start of the History Today climax, which suggests that there was some naughty post-production work done on the video. I'd imagine the Rob Newman who nowadays makes earnest programmes about the oil industry would look back on this and feel slightly ashamed. On the other hand, the David Baddiel who nowadays... no, wait, I'm sure it'll come to me...
Thursday August 27th
1.00pm: Ned Sherrin, George Square Theatre
4.00pm: Piano Circus, Assembly At The Meadows
6.00pm: The Bogie Man + Ballad Of Kid Divine, Filmhouse
8.30pm: Harry Hill, Festival Club
10.00pm: Trev & Simon, Assembly Rooms
11.00pm: Glenlivet Fireworks Concert, Ross Bandstand
Ah, lovely old Ned Sherrin. The programme suggests that this was a lunchtime chat show affair with celebrity guests - "DIANA RIGG, NIGEL HAWTHORNE, JOANNA LUMLEY, RICHARD STILGOE... (subject to availability)." Damned if I can remember who was there on the day, though. I do know it was followed by the musical highlight of my Fringe year - sitting in the Spiegeltent in the middle of the Meadows, a pint of Boddingtons in my hand, feeling slightly pissed and listening to the lovely sound that six pianos make when you play them all at the same time. Piano Circus' programme had just two items on it - Terry Riley's In C, and Graham Fitkin's trilogy Log/Line/Loud - but I fell in love with the latter very hard indeed, and nearly bit my local record shop owner's hand off when it was released on CD a few months later.
John Wagner and Alan Grant's comic The Bogie Man was a favourite of mine at the time, so the Scottish premiere of the TV version was always going to be of interest. I've still got it on video - it's also on YouTube in bits if you're curious - and looking at it now, they made a right bollocks of it. Wagner and Grant's original story was purely concerned with creating laughs out of its dodgy situation: an escaped Glaswegian mental patient, Francis Forbes Clunie, who causes havoc through his persistent delusion that he's in a Humphrey Bogart film. But Paul Pender's adaptation messes up the simple purity of Clunie's warped psyche by giving him multiple personalities, so that lead actor Robbie Coltrane can throw in impersonations of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sean Connery for the kids who don't know Bogart. Because a mere comedy isn't good enough for all involved, Clunie's given emotional depth, a childhood trauma to be resolved, and - most unforgivably - closure at the end. Plus, the gags don't work either, thanks to a cast who bludgeon them to death on the screen: with one surprising exception in Midge Ure as the quietly menacing crime boss. "You know, I'm not a violent man. But Archie here... he is a violent man. A very, very violent man. I was there the night he gubbed his wife. And he loves her. He doesn't even like you."
Harry Hill again, after that: a booking inspired by his Comedy Zone performance earlier in the week. It wasn't his first time in Edinburgh - turns out as far back as 1989, he was performing under his real name Matthew Hall in a play co-written with Andrew Collins called President Kennedy's Big Night Out. But this was his first solo outing, albeit with some support from adopted son Little Alan. The main thing I remember was Harry's entrance: there was a large laundry basket in the middle of the room as the audience entered, and it eventually transpired he'd been hiding inside it the whole time. (I don't believe he does that in his live shows these days, so hopefully I haven't spoiled anything for you.) More fun followed with Trev and Simon, who were at the peak of their popularity as children's entertainers on whatever you kids had instead of Swap Shop back in 1992. Inevitably, their audience demographic also took in adults, especially students - earlier that year I'd been training some new graduate recruits at work, and by the end of the course they'd indoctrinated me into the ways of Pot Fish and pants swinging. Trev and Simon's Edinburgh show included all the old favourite characters without going down the predictable route of corrupting them for a grown-up audience. They could have gone on to be as big as PJ and Duncan, but nowadays they seem to be happy mucking about doing podcasts. I was back on the street in time for the International Festival's big open-air fireworks concert, featuring percussive grenades loud enough to set off every car alarm in the city.
Friday August 28th
10.15am: Noises Off, Trafalgar Hall
12.45pm: McClaren Animation 4, Filmhouse
3.00pm: Encyclopaedia Poetica, Pleasance
4.15pm: Gone With Noakes, Pleasance
6.00pm: Richard Thompson, Assembly Rooms
9.00pm: The Comedy Store Players, Assembly Rooms
10.30pm: Mac, Filmhouse
As I said at the start, this year's show choices seem a bit dull now: lots of people from the telly, several acts and shows I'd seen before in London, and largely focussed around the main Fringe venues. So it's nice to note that occasionally I made the effort to see smaller shows out of town. Foad Theatre Company - really? Really? - were at Trafalgar Hall with a production of Michael Frayn's comedy Noises Off. It's a farce constructed around a theatre company's disastrous performance of a farce, so it requires even more hair-trigger timing and precision than the genre normally demands. Foad weren't quite up to the task technically, but enthusiasm can paper over a hell of a lot of cracks. The second of the week's McLaren programmes was again a bit thin, with only Tim Webb's award-winning A Is For Autism really standing out. A couple of one-man shows followed: looking up Encyclopaedia Poetica, it turns out to have been a poetry show by Henry Normal, which is weird because even though I'm vaguely aware of his work I don't remember ever being in the same room as him. Ben Miller (in his pre-Armstrong days) was more successful with Gone With Noakes, a sure-fire mix of personal confession and the easy nostalgia that former Blue Peter presenters inspire in people of a certain age.
Folk legend Richard Thompson was on the big stage at the Assembly Rooms: I'm pretty sure he was good, but can't give you much more detail than that. The Comedy Store Players were in the same building later on, doing their usual improv thing - again, I could have got that at home, so I'm not sure why I was so desperate to catch them here. Finally, I wrapped up my film festival with John Turturro's disappointing directorial debut, Mac - its heart was in the right place, but its message about The Dignity Of The Working Man was delivered in an incredibly dull fashion. Still, to be fair, dull is probably good in comparison to the utter rage that his Romance And Cigarettes would inspire over a decade later.
Saturday August 29th
11.00am: Thunderbirds FAB, George Square Theatre
1.00pm: Willie Rushton & Simon Rae, George Square Theatre
August 29th being what it is, this was always going to be a day for straightforward comfort viewing, albeit one truncated by the requirement to get the 1535 back from Waverley to London. But it still seems shameful nowadays that I spent part of my final Festival day watching a play I'd already seen in London three years earlier. Nevertheless, Gavin Robertson and Andrew Dawson's two-man stage version of Thunderbirds was always a 24-carat crowd pleaser, and I'm sure it did the job. The same may well apply to comic legend Willie Rushton and satirical poet Simon Rae, who joined forces for my last show of the year, but again I can't remember too much about it. The free glass of wine mentioned in the programme listing may be a contributing factor.
So that was Edinburgh 1992. Retrospective high points: catching people like Paul O'Grady, Al Murray, Harry Hill and Ben Miller years before they became TV stars. But at the time, I remember feeling a bit disillusioned that my Festival-going was getting into a bit of a rut. So in 1993, I took a year off, with the hope that by the time the 1994 Festival came round I'd be re-energised all over again. And I'm going to make you wait two months to find out if that worked or not. Being a monkey, and all.
A good and worthy buy.
Posted by: gold for cash | March 04, 2011 at 11:23 AM
I'm surprised that it's taken cockends like you two whole years to spot all those pages with the word GOLD in the title.
Posted by: SpankTM | March 04, 2011 at 08:18 PM
Hi,it's Shona Lenaghan (nee Lees) the illustrator of the Edinburgh Fringe Programme Cover 1992. I noticed that you are using my illustration and wondered if you could add my name next to the illustration and a link to work on my website www.shonalenaghanart.com
Posted by: Shona Lenaghan (nee) Lees | June 22, 2011 at 08:50 PM
Posted by: SpankTM | June 27, 2011 at 01:53 PM