There’s No Festival Like Edinburgh

13 Aug

Royal MileWords by Rosalind Romer

There has been a lot of animosity towards the Festival this year. The curmudgeons complain every year and the bubble has supposedly been about to burst for decades, but this year seems to have gone up a gear. There is enough vitriol at the moment. Like many others, I am stressed out and fearful because of Trump, Johnson, Brexit, climate deadlines getting closer… the list goes on. The Festival has let me breathe. I see that other people feel the same way, performers are processing and reflecting those fears through art and starting conversations which could change the world. Views are being challenged and minds are being opened.

Enter Bonnie Prince Bob and his rant that’s gone viral. I have tried to ignore him like a troll, hoping it would go away but people are still repeating his opinions. It has got to me, tipped over the edge by an Edinburgh taxi driver who after various lazy comments about how awful the Festival is (despite being his busiest month for making a living) proudly announced that he has never seen a show during the Festival. He also said that I had a “well-trained” partner because he took some time off work to spend time with our one-year-old and enable me to work during the Festival. A snarl came out of my mouth and he started talking about the weather.

So. Bonnie Prince Bob. I have risen to your clickbait so here goes.

One point I totally agree with is the spike in rent in August. The only people who benefit are greedy property owners. This is an unfortunate by-product of the success of the Festival, but it’s supply and demand. As long as human beings can get away with it, they will. So legislate. Cap the rent. Maybe some of the figureheads of the Festival can help with this, so appeal to them, don’t write them off.

Harry Potter and shops selling tat on the Royal Mile? Yup, it’s tacky. It’s got nothing to do with the Festival. It’s tacky all year round. Speak to the Council.

The Festival does not help every single person in Edinburgh, but does anything? Many people in poorer areas do find it prohibitively expensive to come into town. But that’s not the Festival’s fault and again, it happens all year round. Appeal to Edinburgh Council and Lothian buses to make journeys more affordable. Speak to the Scottish Government and Westminster to stop poverty in our ridiculously wealthy country. Stopping the Festival will not eradicate poverty. Should we shut down the museums in the centre of town while we’re at it? No, that would be crazy. Many all-year-round attractions and Festival events are free, and the provision for free children’s entertainment has grown in recent years.

And what about the mini-Wimbledon accusation? Many of the food stalls are from Edinburgh, and many of the consumers are not. So bringing money into local businesses is a good thing, isn’t it? As for the locals or those staying in a flat for a month, you can bring a sandwich and a lot of bars put a jug of tap water on the bar for you to help yourself. As for the “Etonian Oligarchy”, I can only assume you mean Ed and Charlie from Underbelly. The percentage of Etonians at the Edinburgh Festival is miniscule compared to the Conservative Government. Is it not better to overcharge people for drinks in a gorgeous beer garden (and yes, take some of the profits back to London, but they do have an office in Edinburgh all year round) than to systematically fuck up the country like their schoolmates? Plus they have some excellent shows to open your mind or even escape from reality for a little while. And if you really can’t stomach it, there are hundreds of other venues. Loads of venues have events and bars in Edinburgh all year so go and support them if you prefer. It’s your choice. As far as I am concerned, people from the rest of the UK and people from abroad are all welcome.

Another criticism over the last few years has been the exploitation of workers, which makes a bit of sense from the outside. However, many venue workers get accommodation and a venue pass, as well as their pay in a lot of cases. For the people who would spend every last penny on shows, this is worth thousands of pounds (see accommodation above). The festivals support over 2500 jobs in Edinburgh, which can only be a good thing. You need experience to get a job, but you need a job to get experience. It’s the chicken and egg situation all over again. Yes, the Living Wage is an admirable aim, and supermarket giants can afford it, even if they don’t pay it. Yes, 6-month unpaid internships with no accommodation are exploitation, and can only be taken up by the wealthy. Flyering for one month and seeing a ton of free shows you wanted to see anyway is hardly the same thing.

The festivals can’t afford to pay more, and already rely heavily on rapidly reducing arts funding and corporate sponsorship (which also comes under fire in Bonny Prince Bob’s rant). Living wage would break them. The big venues come under fire for the huge percentage of ticket sales they take (usually 40%) but it’s not like they are spending it on cigars and lobster (well, maybe at the lobster van on Bristo Square). The costs of running a venue, including marketing, staff, often building theatres from scratch, sound and lighting equipment and health and safety are colossal. The Free Fringe operates on a bucket system so it’s possible to make a bit of money (or lose less once accommodation is taken into account), but you may or may not be in a rowdy pub with bright lights and pub furniture spoiling sightlines. There are pros and cons for each but that’s for another time.

Yes, town is busy and it takes ages to get to work. It’s annoying, I know. But it’s one month of the year and it shouldn’t be a surprise by now. And hey, maybe you’ll even have some fun or learn or feel something watching a show. For me the highs far outweigh the irritations.

If you don’t like the Festival, fine, but don’t ruin everyone else’s fun. I am one of the two thirds of locals who have seen Festival shows in the last two years, so don’t you dare speak for us when you say there’s no Edinburgh at the Edinburgh Festival.

And breathe. Let me describe some of my Festival experiences in the last two weeks.

I have roared with laughter at Jessica Fostekew’s Hench until my whole body ached, along with everyone else in the audience. That group of people will never be together again but we shared a sense of camaraderie that day. Jessica made me realise that the pain of childbirth wasn’t my fault, that somehow if I’d breathed “better” it wouldn’t have ripped me apart, physically and emotionally. Thank you, Jessica Fostekew, for letting me see how ridiculous that idea was.

I have sobbed my eyes out in the Pleasance Courtyard after seeing the incredibly powerful show by Bryony Kimmings, I’m a Phoenix, Bitch. Her show is about a trauma and subsequent recovery. As I mentioned, I have a one-year-old, who happened to be getting a routine check-up at the hospital that night. If you’ve seen the show you’ll get the significance. He’s fine and was always going to be fine that evening, which is why I went to see a show, but I sat with an excruciating amount of guilt, which by the end of the show was released forever from somewhere deep inside. Thank you, Bryony Kimmings.

Before the Fringe, I did a series of questions for my favourite comedians. One question asked who or what each act would like to have waiting for them after the show. Amy Matthews had answered with a very specific beer and it was too tempting to resist. I put a big red shiny bow on the can of beer and presented it to her after the show. The look of excitement, confusion and joy on Amy’s face was wonderful. I know I technically gave you the present, but thank you, Amy Matthews. Your reaction made me so happy.

Yesterday I ended up seeing an amazing sold-out show because I bumped into a friend whose brother (who I had never met) had a spare ticket. We watched the show like we were old friends.

I realise these mean far more to me than you, but they are examples of the interaction you can enjoy if you embrace the spirit of the Fringe. It’s the deeply personal nature of the shows and human interaction that make the Festival so magical for me. Edinburgh hosts the greatest arts festival in the world and it is something we should all be immensely proud of.

To the taxi driver, thank you for making me realise that your opinion doesn’t change my experience. This Festival matters to me and to thousands of others. And to everyone who says they don’t like the Festival, maybe it’s time you gave it a try rather than churning out old clichés. And if it’s really not your thing, let the rest of us have some fun.

Punchline recommends Sam Taunton: It’s Nice, It’s Modern

13 Aug

Sam TauntonWords by Suzy Romer

For a lovely, friendly hour of feel-good comedy from a new name at the Fringe, look no further than Sam Taunton. He is warm, charming and self-depreciating, perhaps a little too self-depreciating but he is young and will one day stop using his ex’s words to describe himself. There’s a reason why she’s an ex!

Sam fills the show with smart observations and great stories which include all the extra flyaway comments that turn giggles into belly laughs. He covers a good mix of subjects including family, drugs and gigging in Australia. From the sound of it, he is more used to playing to boisterous crowds in Australian bars than to quiet, attentive Edinburgh audiences in converted university spaces but he adapts beautifully and ad-libs with poise and style.

Sam Taunton has good, solid material and the standard is consistently high. Look out for his name in the future.

Buy tickets for Sam Taunton: It’s Nice, It’s Modern here

7.40pm | Assembly George Square | Until 25 Aug

Punchline recommends Tom Parry: Parryoke!

12 Aug

Words by Suzy Romer

If Tom Parry’s name is attached to any show as a writer, director or performer, you can guarantee it will be a great laugh. Parryoke! is a fantastic opportunity to enjoy an hour in the vibrant, effervescent company of the Renaissance man of comedy.

This is his most strictly stand-up show so far, even more so than his last solo show. He tells some memorable anecdotes, shows us some unforgettable photos and connects with us through ever-so-gentle audience participation which even the most entrenched introvert will love. There are plenty of ‘nineties references which, far from being simply nostalgic, are tied into an exploration of wider themes, and he provides new laughs on the subject of Christmas presents, weddings and football. Then there’s the actual singing (never too much and always funny) and the richest comedy material about karaoke I have ever heard.

This is smart, sparkling feel-good comedy which is deliberately presented with no dark side; perfect for anyone who wants the comedy equivalent of a good pub with no TV news screens. Our multi-talented host knows exactly how to use his arts to bring us together for an hour of non-stop fun, and there are smiles and laughs all round.

Buy tickets for Tom Parry: Parryoke here

6pm | Pleasance Courtyard | Until 26 Aug (not 13)

Punchline recommends Josie Long: Tender

11 Aug

Josie LongWords by Suzy Romer

Josie Long has been pretty busy with a baby for the last 13 months but this Fringe she is back in comedy and has a great show at the ready. She has that marvellous standing in comedy now which creates a warm atmosphere even before she comes on stage because everyone is anticipating her arrival and knows she will be brilliant. We’ve missed her!

She greets us with a delightful song (which she claims is not a skill but it really is) before sharing some ideas about baby-related sleep deprivation which make us roar with laughter and fix any lingering bother in those of us who remember that phase with discomfort. Josie has an amazing conversational style where you almost forget you aren’t taking part in the monologue. She treats big and small subjects with the analysis and humour they deserve and boldly faces fears about politics and climate change with admirable power and perception.

Josie doesn’t simplify topics for the sake of a quick joke because her comedy comes from a deeper, more complex outlook. Life isn’t always easy and neither is her material but her dynamic ability to find the best bits and revel in them with us is a welcome pick-me-up to us all.

Buy any remaining tickets for Josie Long: Tender here

8.20pm | The Stand | Until 25 Aug

Punchline Recommends Jayde Adams: The Ballad of Kylie Jenner’s Old Face

7 Aug

JaydeAdams2019

Words by Iain McLaren

I first saw Jayde Adams 2 years ago. First as part of the Pleasance Opening Gala with her iconic Pavarotti on the bus routine then her full show from the same year. I was struck by her power and her stage presence. She was brilliant. Adams is best known for her bright flamboyant shows with lots of dancing and singing. This year she has taken the potentially risky tactic of stepping out of her comfort zone and delivers more of a stand up based show.

After reflecting on her career to date, Adams has brought to the Fringe a show which looks at modern day feminism from her own viewpoint where her family household was run as matriarchy. Is Adams the new hero for this generation’s young women? Maybe not but she explains how her own journey led her to many discoveries and how it has shaped her own opinion of 4th wave feminism.

While this might be a more serious show from Adams, it lacks none of her humour or forceful nature which she is known and loved for. She might have stepped out of her comfort zone, but she walked right into another brilliant show and amazing performance.

This show is selling fast, if you want to see one of the best performers at the Fringe get your tickets now!

 

Buy tickets for Jayde Adams: The Ballad of Kylie Jenner’s Old Face here

9.30pm | Pleasance Courtyard | Until 25 Aug

Punchline recommends Nick Helm: Phoenix from the Flames

6 Aug

Nick HelmWords by Suzy Romer

When I picked up my ticket for Phoenix from the Flames I was promised (OK… warned about) audience participation, swearing and nudity but the actual show is so much better than the sum of the parts. The glorious gruff superstar is back for his full Edinburgh run for the first time since 2013 and God it is good to see him again.

Many of his classic show highlights are present in their best versions. We enjoy some great songs that simultaneously transport and tantalise us because they are not available to listen again. We feast our eyes on a uniquely inventive stage costume that only Nick Helm could have designed with his own particular combination of mirth and majesty. His props are delightful and the big screen makes everything larger, funnier and more glamorous. As always, Nick’s material deftly balances light and dark, but this time in his bravest and most vulnerable moments, he has replaced his traditional poems with arresting truths about his most recent experiences with depression. Here we really see the skill and experience of a true comedy expert because he can take difficult material and give us the benefit his rich comic observations with some carefully chosen, lightly scattered gems of wisdom.

Nick Helm is one of a few wonderful men in comedy who dare to incorporate genuinely taboo subjects into their material and “find the funny” in a way that works brilliantly. It puts me in mind of Rob Delaney’s autobiography Mother Wife Sister.. (which deals with alcoholism) and Rhod Gilbert’s show The Book of John (which deals with IVF). In the age of debate about whether you can genuinely make jokes about any subject however hard, Nick Helm has started in the right place, with himself. If any of the jokes sound easy, it is because he has chosen to present them that way and there isn’t a lazy quip in sight. His comedy comes from a place of courage, not cowardice and that makes all the difference.

Buy tickets for Nick Helm: Phoenix from the Flames here

5.40pm | Pleasance Dome | Until 24 Aug (not 12)

See our original recommendation for Nick Helm here

Punchline recommends Ciarán Dowd: Padre Rodolfo

5 Aug

Ciaran DowdWords by Suzy Romer

If you met Don Rodolfo last year, great. If you didn’t then now’s your chance. Last year Ciarán’s show was so complete and satisfying that it got him the Best Newcomer Award but the 2019 show is somehow even better. It shoots way beyond any particular parody and takes on a life of its own to align with its own unique glory.

As soon as the lights go up we are swept up into Padre Rodolfo’s delicious, dramatic, delirious world of superstar priesting, sword fights and outrageous filth that shouldn’t be sexy but definitely is. His ridiculous stories are packed with extravagant nonsense and they are utterly compelling. We long to hear what happens next and our host knows it because he quietly suspended our disbelief while we were watching the massive opening number. We are teased and rewarded, shocked and wooed with irresistible unpredictability that combines master storytelling and an ingenious collage of joyous live experiences. Music, lighting, and technical stage brilliance of all kinds go right through the production and the number and variety of jokes per minute is truly astounding. The invincible energy creates a momentum that carries us through from beginning to end.

This is a show that wraps up all the best Fringe experiences together and then lets you tear off the paper and revel in it all at once. Forget all your other stuff for an hour and just enjoy this. It’s a rollicking, riotous, romp of a show, just Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!

Buy tickets for Ciaran Dowd: Padre Rodolfo here

9.45 | Pleasance Courtyard|Until 25 Aug (not 14)

Punchline Recommends Lou Sanders: Say Hello to Your New Step-Mummy

3 Aug

Lou SandersWords by Iain McLaren

Lou Sanders just keeps getting better and better. Her all round comedy performance and amazing material hits new highs this year with Say Hello to Your New Step-Mummy. Hot off the back of her brilliant Taskmaster triumph, Lou shares a self-reflective look at her past relationships, sex life and conversations with her “healer” who is trying to help clean Lou’s “chakras” and of course it also wouldn’t be Lou if we didn’t have bit of a chat about her labia!

Her open and inclusive style brings everyone together in a way that makes her stories come alive. Starting in her childhood and running us through to current day, she explains just why she feels maybe ready to be a mother, or possibly step-mum, to some lucky little munchkin all while making some choice “your Dad” jokes.

Lou is all set for a great Fringe so grab your tickets now and join in the fun, while she enjoys your Dad! (that one isn’t in the show). The show is pay-what-you-want however it is better to buy tickets in advance to reserve your seat as she is selling out fast.

Buy tickets for Lou Sanders: Say Hello to Your New Step-Mummy, here

3.15pm | Monkey Barrel 3 | Until 25 Aug (not 14)

See our original recommendation for Lou Sanders, here

Punchline recommends Jessica Fostekew: Hench

2 Aug

2019JESSICA_BRRWords by Iain McLaren

Massive belly laughs. I like a good old-fashioned belly laugh when I see a comedy show. Enter Jessica Fostekew with her new show, Hench. From start to glorious chanting finish this show provides belly laughs aplenty.

Fostekew explores various themes such as self-image and how those around us see us, birth and parenthood, all delivered with the raw power of a comedian able to command the audience and provide them with a cathartic experience like only she can. She shares her story in best possible stand-up fashion, finding big nuggets of comedy gold even in the most personal of experiences. It felt like everyone in the room could genuinely find something in common with her tales of a modern-day woman and parent looking outward and inward for strength, grace and wisdom and finding… well you’ll have to see the show to find that out.

This show will cure what ails you or at least keep you laughing long enough to mark it as one of the best you’ll see this Fringe. It’s pay-what-you-want or what you think it deserves and given you’ll see shows this Fringe which cost more than £10 but are nowhere near as good, I honestly believe it’s worth at least that.

Buy tickets for Jessica Fostekew : Hench, here

1.30pm | Monkey Barrel 4 | Until 25 Aug (not 12)

Punchline recommends Phil Wang: Philly Philly Wang Wang

1 Aug

Phil WangWords by Suzy Romer

Every Fringe has a few golden tickets for sell-out shows so this recommendation is really to tell you to just buy Phil Wang tickets on sight if you get the chance. I thought I was too late myself but I got lucky at the public box office on the night so maybe you can too.

Phil has a comfortable star quality that makes the audience take to him instantly and we know we are in safe hands because he has every part of what makes a great show under control. His material is absolutely up to the minute (he laughs at himself for daring to make jokes about 2018) and he offers a perspective beyond his years, all the better because he is one of the youngest people in the room on this occasion. He covers everything from farts to philosophy, and takes on virtually every current controversial topic with a response that cuts through two-sided arguments with big surprises and brand new comedy angles. He even succeeds in dealing with moral outrage without engaging in it and the result is Philly Philly funny. You can feel bits of your brain tingle that haven’t been used for a while and it’s such a blessed relief that our laughter rocks the room.

There is only one heckle, and Phil’s response is a comedy world cup goal. He allows the guy a laugh then immediately dwarfs it by an infinitely superior ad lib of his own. He follows up with a soft power warning not to take up any more time and then tops off with a flipping call back. These are the magic moments that comedy lovers spend their lives chasing. Beautifully played, sir.

Buy tickets for Phil Wang: Philly Philly Wang Wang, if you can here

8pm | Pleasance Courtyard | Until 25 Aug (not 12)

 

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