Comedy: You’ll read more about this in a few days, but for now take this as a basic heads-up that The BBG and I are treating 2023 as one of our Edinburgh gap years. We're not missing out completely, thanks to the low-price preview shows that many comics run in London during July, so that their sets will be in tip-top form by the start of the festival. How this is going to apply to Daniel Kitson’s new show, First Thing, God only knows: he admitted during his preview at the Cockpit theatre that he’d finished writing the show at around 11.30 that morning, just three days before the start of its run at Summerhall. Part of the joy of the show is finding out in its first minute exactly what it is, and I’m not going to spoil that joy for anyone who might be planning to see it in August. But my oft-quoted (by me) theory that the best things I’ve ever seen in Edinburgh have been a conspiracy between performer and audience absolutely applies here. There’s a huge sense of danger in its structure – all it would take is for a couple of people to refuse to play ball and the whole thing could collapse. But you suspect that danger is something Kitson enjoys playing with. Anyway, there’s an hour of solidly constructed fun to be had, particularly if you’re a fan of Kitson and buy into the mythology he’s constructed around himself over the years. Yes, I know the Edinburgh run sold out months ago, but I believe returns may be available on the day, and if you’re up there it’s a chance worth taking.
Music: Help settle an argument for me. As you may know, The BBG is in the middle of a year long project to see a dozen live concerts without knowing anything in advance about the music to be performed. So does it count if the artist in question is Kiefer Sutherland, seeing as we know him from movies and TV but have no previous experience of his music? I say yes, she says no, and it’s her project so that’s that. But when we went to his gig at Dingwalls, we didn’t even know what genre to expect: for all we knew, he was about to pull out a laptop and hit us with some slick dancefloor grooves. Since that show, we’ve checked out an album or two of his, and it looks like he’s self-identifying as a country artist. Having said that, on the night he cranked up the guitars and turned into nothing so much as a solid London pub rock singer from the mid 1980s – maybe playing at Dingwalls just does that to people. The BBG and I agreed afterwards that if we’d stumbled across a band like this back then, we’d have considered it a perfectly decent night out: nowadays, it gives you a warm feeling of nostalgia, specifically for the days when a gig like this didn’t cost you thirty five quid plus booking fees.
Theatre: It takes a while to work out exactly what Dear England - at the National Theatre until August 11th - is. On paper, James Graham's play seems simple enough: the story of Gareth Southgate (played by Joseph Fiennes) and his management of the England football team from 2016 to the present day, with a brief pre-credits flashback to 1990 to give us some added psychological subtext. But for the first ten or fifteen minutes, its tone is tricky to nail down: is it a serious retelling of the rebuilding of one of the foundation stones of the English character, or a casebook showing how much trouble Southgate had implementing his touchy-feely training methods, or a satirical retelling of a story most of us know? After a bit, you realise that it could actually be all of these at the same time, so you can relax and enjoy the ride. The approach is best illustrated by the portrayal of Harry Kane, whose pitch perfect impersonation (by Will Close) and limited vocabulary means every line of his gets a laugh, right up to the point where it doesn’t. The staging is ridiculously imaginative: Es Devlin’s video projections don’t do as much of the heavy lifting as you’d expect, frequently acting more as a scoreboard than anything else. This leads us to the most astonishing thing about Dear England – director Rupert Goold has found a way to dramatise penalty shootouts on stage, and do it so effectively that the young lad in front of me was covering his eyes because he was too scared of them missing. It’s a play that exploits the National’s considerable technical resources to the max, but you’d hope a play with this amount of popular appeal will have a life outside the Southbank.
In the meantime, your Simian Substitute Site for August 2023 is Junk Monkey, which is the show that comes out top when you search on the word ‘monkey’ on the Edinburgh Fringe site. Here’s the blurb: “Olivia just met the love of her life on a train. If only she can find her again. And if only her own stupid boyfriend would stop calling her. In a shameless account of 12 hours of sheer desperation, this is a new solo show about missed connections, crushing obsession, and the power of a single day. She's not insane. She's just in love. Properly, this time. For sure.” Written and performed by Olivia McLeod, it’s on at the Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose from August 2nd to 27th at 5.00pm. (Contains scenes of a sexual nature, strong language/swearing. But don’t we all?)
As I said: we’re not going to Edinburgh this year. But Nick, Cha and a subset of the Pals are, so The BBG and I have given the festival programmes a quick skim, and you should be seeing our recommendations very soon. And also – a bit later than scheduled – I’ll get started on telling you about our recent post-nuptial trip to Italy, which is probably going to be a five post monster of a piece. So that’s what you’ve got to look forward to. Comments welcome below, as ever.