Sunday, 26 June 2016

Edinburgh at The Castle

Three months ago various comedians were asking if I was running Edinburgh previews again this year after the success of the series of shows I ran at Pub on the Park in 2015 under the banner of "From E8 to Edinburgh". Experience taught me that though preview shows are often excellent it's hell to get regular people in to watch them.

"Hi, would you like to watch someone you've never heard of talk for an hour whilst occasionally glancing at notes in the expectation they might make you laugh?"

"Hmmmm, let me think about that....."

What regular people like is a sense of occasion. Something that appears greater than the sum of its parts. Which is why I came to be running my first all day micro-festival upstairs at The Castle yesterday.

The first show kicked off at 1pm with Ian Miller, Matt Wills and about 15 audience members mainly made up of people they knew. Consequently the show was fun, relaxed, genuinely entertaining and useful to the guys in shaping their August run.

The next few shows, Mirthquake included, had less people watching but maintained the optimistic energy of a festival. Eleanor Conway modelled Tinder interactions with me and made the lone Meet-Up attendee laugh throughout. Ariane Sherine's songs about fascist bikini waxes and left wing political love affairs offended the sensibilities of my dad's partner. And my one year old nephew invaded the stage midway through my own set and obviously completely upstaged me.

One of the most popular shows of the day then lead us into the evening segment. Wrapped in a Twister mat ,David McIver (pictured) brought us thirty minutes of the surreal and silly. I predict he'll be a big hit with the Edinburgh crowds as it's not only smart in it's ridiculousness but anyone from a primary child to a pensioner will be able to access it.

David was followed by Declan Kennedy who kept the buoyant mood of the crowd going. The transition from physical surrealism to overtly educated observation was miraculously smooth with particular members of the audience jumping onto material based on Ancient Greece with unbridled enthusiasm. We came back down the ivory tower eventually though with a genius bit of audience interaction involving singing and dancing. 

The room was again busy for Benji Waterstones and Jake Baker's hour with the former doing a solid thirty which had the room laughing throughout. From my point of view it's always nice to see the sporadic tens I've seen a performer do all year come together and make sense like a verbal jigsaw puzzle. Jake Baker's delivery was more erratic but entertaining none-the-less.

Sophie Henderson and Haran X took the penultimate hour and the verbal jigsaw puzzles came together once again. Haran's laminated diagram and chart metaphors for the age of consent and immigration turning initial bafflement into genuine amusement for the crowd. For Sophie, however, I shall give her own paragraphs.

Anyone who's spoken to me about comedy for long enough knows I'm a committed Sophie fan so you're not going to get anything but praise from this end about her set. It was during her set though that it struck me that whilst many female comedians I've seen (and love) tend to perform material that, though framed in the female context, still lean towards the male expectation of what women talk about. It's very rare to see a woman on stage whose set isn't made up entirely of one or more of the following: body image, diet, sex, babies or fashion. 

Sophie, conversely, has material that genuinely makes a connection with women but can still be enjoyed by men. Essentially mainstream comedy in reverse - a Leave/Remain, 52%/48%, Women/Men gender balance. Her material on hen do's is an example that is completely exclusive to the rights of passage for women yet is funny enough in itself to be appreciated by those of us forever destined to be paint balling and pub crawling rather than being accosted by themed strip-o-grams. Not to say her whole set goes down this path but it's refreshing to see it when it does. It's a genuine talent and is probably the foundation for a really decent article written by someone more capable than myself.

Anyway, enough with the lavish praise. Steve Mclean and his array of pound shop props topped off proceedings to an enthusiastic full room. A proper found-objects observational set with music and plenty of audience chat, Steve filled the room with his larger than life personality. How a show largely based on cost conscious sex paraphernalia will work at 3pm when he's up in Edinburgh is anyone's guess but if there's one man who can pull it off (sexual euphemism intended) it's definitely him.

By 10.30 the shows were done, I was full of lager and takeaway Korean food (thanks friends!) and it all seemed like it was all over much too quickly. Certainly this is something I'd be happy to repeat in the future.

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