Edinburgh: Week One


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It's the end of the first week of the Edinburgh Fringe. It's been overcast, with sunny intervals and rain in places. I'm writing this in a drizzly Pitlochry, having sneaked away from the capital for a couple of days to get on with some writing for a deadline at the end of the month. Last night we watched bats flying around over the river Tummel, and reflected on how inconsequential most of our concerns about our shows felt once we'd escaped the febrile atmosphere of the performers' bar at the Pleasance.

I have yet to see a really excellent piece of theatre at this year's Fringe. The plays that I have seen often suffered from being based on received ideas of what might make good theatre, rather than being based on something in the real world that got under the writer's skin. Frequently, too, the naturalistic staging and performance style chosen made the fundamental lack of reality all the more apparent.

I've had a better time in the best of the comedy shows, although as ever there's no shortage of patchy sketch acts making lazy jokes about hackneyed targets. But there's also Johnson and Boswell: Late But Live at the Traverse, which brings the relationship between the eighteenth century diarist and his biographer right into the present day, using it to satirise today's Scotland in what feels like a genuinely risky way.

Having co-written and directed Bill Hicks: Slight Return, which plays one final Edinburgh show next week, I've often been asked which current comedians are keeping Hicks' legacy alive. There's never a shortage of reviews which compare his work to that of new acts: it's usually a shorthand for angry nihilism. But watching the brilliant Josie Long the other day I was struck by how her show – neither angry nor nihilistic – has the same purity and drive for truth that informed Hicks' later work. Unusually for a comic, she celebrates things she likes rather than derides what she hates. And like Hicks, it somehow becomes more than just stand-up: there's a genuine attempt to answer the question, how should we live our lives? It's a mile away from the easy cliché and tired stereotype of much of the rest of the comedy on the Fringe.

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