Edinburgh Festival Preview 2018: We Will Deep Fry Your Kebab
The rules are simple. If x is the number of a year after 1994, and (x+1)/3 is an integer, then x is a year when I'm not going to the Edinburgh Festival. Like this year, for example.
This doesn't stop Spank's Pals from going up there without me, of course. And so a secondary tradition has emerged over the decades: every three years, even though I have no intention of seeing any of the shows, I read through all of the Edinburgh programmes - International, Fringe and Book Festivals - and still come up with a list of possible recommendations.
They're primarily aimed at Nick and the crew going up there this year on August 11th–18th, so I'm not recommending anything outside of that week. But if the rest of you want to use these suggestions for your own purposes, feel free. All links go directly to the ticket booking pages for the shows, with one or two exceptions where appropriate. Here we go...
Cabaret and Variety: This was the category set up a couple of years ago to cope with the sudden eruption of slightly mucky burlesque shows. There's still a bit of that going on, the most egregious example being Bubble Show for Adults Only, and the most Ronseal being Dirty Tattooed Circus Bastards. But the category seems a lot cosier and safer than it used to be. You've got old favourites from the telly recounting their showbiz stories, such as Esther Rantzen, Maureen Lipman and Jason Donovan. You've got traditional variety acts who are hiding from the nasty boys in the Comedy section, like Mark Watson: Man Of Mischief, whose main bit of mischief appears to be having the same name as the more famous Mark Watson. But it's nice to see some names I remember from the 1980s cabaret scene coming back, like Adele Anderson (on her own again after a few years back with Fascinating Aida) and John & Claire Lenahan (my favourite magician from the early days of the Comedy Store, back in Edinburgh after a 25 year absence and working alongside his niece).
Children’s Shows: John Robertson's been doing his interactive adventure gameshow The Dark Room for several years now: having finally seen it late last year, I'd be fascinated to discover how The Dark Room (For Kids!) has been adapted to make it suitable. (Assuming it has been, of course.) And speaking of uncertain suitability, I have some, let's say, morbid curiosity over Nutty Noah: You Might Die!, in which the UK Family Entertainer Of The Year 2018 takes a look at the lighter side of death.
Comedy: As ever, there are too many acts to get your head around in a single reading of the programme: literally the first one and a half pages of the section are made up of shows whose titles start with at least two consecutive A's to get them at the top of the listings. (Okay, maybe Aatif Nawaz deserves to be there.) Of the usual favourites, I'd probably make a beeline for Andy Zaltzman, Brendon Burns, Jerry Sadowitz, Limmy's Vines and Simon Munnery. With the multi-act shows, you generally can't go wrong with Mervyn Stutter's Pick Of The Fringe or The Stand Late Club - it should be noted that the latter is only happening on Friday and Saturday nights, and it's just been announced that Daniel Kitson will be filling the venue's remaining midnight slots, with tickets going on sale July 9th. (He's doing some 'exploratory shows' in preparation, according to his mailing list: "I’m saying 'exploratory shows' because the phrase 'work in progress' makes two particular promises I may be unable to keep.") One of my favourites from last year, Dad's Army Radio Hour, is coming back as a show-plus-Prue-Leith-meal-deal in versions for Lunch, Afternoon Tea and Dinner, for some reason or other. Nick and the Pals may want to catch Helen Lederer, because I think Charmian knew her personally once, though I couldn't swear to it. Lost Voice Guy booked himself into the Turret room at the Gilded Balloon for a month and then won Britain's Got Talent, so you probably haven't a hope in hell of seeing him now. Finally, if you're a fan of terrible show titles, then Glenn Moore's Glenn Glenn Glenn, How Do You Like It, How Do You Like It is probably making Joe Lycett wonder how he missed that one.
Dance, Physical Theatre and Circus: To be honest, there isn't all that much that leaps out in this year's selections: as far as dance goes, it looks like the International Festival has more of interest to the casual watcher than the Fringe does. The best I can find - and when I say 'best', I'm not suggesting I'd pay money to see either, you understand - are the intercategory mashup of Guru Dudu’s Silent Disco Walking Tours and the struggling-to-find-adjectives-here Mindful Disco, the latter offering you positive dance vibes on three randomly chosen weekday mornings.
Events: The catchall category for stuff that won't fit in anywhere else, and this year a lot of it seems to involve booze. You can choose between beer (Barney’s Brewery Tours or Edinburgh Beer Factory's Brewery Tour), whisky (A Dram Is Worth A Thousand Words) or gin (Edinburgh Gin Safari), with the latter offering you the modern variant of Locked In Edinburgh: Escape The Distillery. Alternatively, go for the more civilised option of afternoon Tea With 'Mr Jenners'. Meanwhile, over at the National Library, The Edinburgh Festival on Film has a continuous loop of old newsreels depicting the Festival in 1955 and 1970. Sadly, they've already cancelled the most interesting walking tour in this section, the stroll around Edinburgh's old whoring hotspots they were going to call Ladies Of Pleasure.
Exhibitions: It's usually the case that whatever's currently running at Edinburgh's main galleries ends up in the Fringe programme by default. However, that doesn't seem to be the case this year. So, having paid a visit to the city back in May, I can recommend that you catch the off-programme Raqib Shaw: Reinventing The Old Masters at the Modern Art Gallery, in which Shaw takes the paintings of the Old Masters and then Bollywoods the living crap out of them, creating 3D effects with enamel paint that simply don't come across in any photos you might see. Elsewhere, Rip It Up is the National Museum's celebration of Scottish pop music through its memorabilia, while Department Of Lost And Found gives you the chance to rummage through a mobile lost property office.
International Festival: I've always insisted that the 11am Queen’s Hall daily concerts are terrifically good value for money, and also allow forgetful people the opportunity to have their novelty ringtones broadcast live on Radio 3. As mentioned earlier, this year's dance section looks particularly strong, including Wayne McGregor's Autobiography and L-E-V Dance Company's two-part Love Cycle. Druid Theatre's production of Waiting For Godot should be worth seeing, and it's probably worth taking a punt on National Theatre of Scotland's Midsummer. The Festival's recent interesting focus on contemporary popular music has largely shifted to the tail end of its run, with the hugely welcome exception of a sudden surprise not-in-the-printed-programme appearance by The Jesus And Mary Chain.
Music: At first glance, there's a dispiriting number of cover bands cluttering up this section (though sight unseen, the only one that really counts is the Scottish tribute to The Police, called The Polis). If it's not covers, then it's whimsical bands of people wielding ukuleles, with Ukulele Death Squad only getting a pass because of their name. Plenty of Fringe favourites are back again, if you missed them on previous visits or just fancy seeing them again: Dean Friedman, John Otway and our old friends the Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers, to name but three. Inevitably, the one everyone will be talking about is Pussy Riot, picking the perfect time in the history of Anglo-Russian relations to make their Fringe debut.
Musicals and Opera: Interesting to note that Green Day's American Idiot has now become part of the canon of amateur musical productions, with two separate groups putting it on this year. It probably won't be too long before someone tries to stage their own version of this year's movie musical hit, but in the meantime you'll have to make do with The Greatest Showman Singalong. (Maybe a few more of you will understand the best tweet I've written so far this year if you see it.) The American High School posse are doing their usual slate of productions, but mostly outside of the week that the Pals will be there: there's an interesting listing in the printed programme for Building Emily Warren: The Story Of The Brooklyn Bridge, but there's ominously no mention of it on the Fringe website as yet. The prize for best/worst premise for a new musical is a tie between Hamilton (Lewis) ("the most successful British F1 driver in history... in no way endorsed by Lin-Manuel Miranda") and Splashback ("a day in the life of a men's toilet").
Spoken Word: A couple of years ago this section suddenly exploded, thanks to the rise in popularity of performance poets. This year, surprisingly, the main show that stands out involves someone I first saw performing here nearly three decades ago, as Attila the Stockbroker: Ancient and Modern documents the rise of the Levellers (not the band). Mind you, Phill Jupitus is of a similar vintage, and his Porky The Poet shows are still going strong. As ever, the Cabaret Of Dangerous Ideas have a long series of provocative discussion events lined up (full schedule here): the production company behind them, Fair Pley, are also hosting an equally long series of In Conversation With... on-stage interviews. Reverend Richard Coles, the man who rocks the description 'former 80s pop star turned vicar and broadcaster' like nobody else, has a chat slot that feels like it could have been bundled into at least three of the other categories we've covered already. Finally, Barry’s Fringe Audio Walking Tour will once again be available for you to download and undertake at the time of your choosing - though I don't know if it'll be the same one he was offering when we did it back in 2013.
Theatre: I'll start with my usual advice - find out what's being talked about at the Traverse and book for it before everyone else does. From previous experience, their Breakfast Plays are always worth a gamble if you're in the area at 9am: meanwhile, the factor of a known quantity will presumably ensure rapid sales for Nigel Slater's Toast, at least until people work out that the title isn't a threat of violence. I can also personally recommend Ken, Terry Johnson and Jeremy Stockwell's loving tribute to the life and work of Fringe regular Ken Campbell, coming to the city after a couple of successful London runs. Picking out old favourite names in much the same way as I did with comedy, I'd probably be first in the queue for Guy Masterson's A Christmas Carol and Mark Thomas' Check Up: Our NHS At 70. The experimental theatre trend of the year appears to be pumping the soundtrack directly into the audience's ears through headphones (binaural audio optional), as heard in A Ghost's Tale, She Taught Me How To Breathe Again, Thrown and User Not Found. If you're looking for a safer bet, they're promising that an unspecified number of your favourite children's TV presenters will be on stage for Once Seen On Blue Peter. Finally, the award for attention-grabbing theatrical title of the year goes to How To Drink Wine Like A Wanker.
But hey, that's just my opinion, and I'm not even going there this year. Read the programmes (don't forget to pick up the little blue one for PBH's Free Fringe for those days when you're strapped for cash), keep an ear to the ground to find out what other people are raving about, and make up your own mind. Hopefully Nick and the crew will be back after the Festival's finished to tell us what they enjoyed. Or didn't, as the case may be.