Sunday 19 August 2007, 18:39
The Edinburgh Fringe continues apace: the pace in question being that of an emphysemic snail. Lots of performers are talking about having 'hit the wall': the combination of fatigue, drink and low-level viral infection have taken their toll. But there's nothing to be done other than necking vitamin C, quaffing Lemsip, strapping a costume to your wheezing chest and bloody getting on stage and doing it, darling.
In the middle of the week, I saw two shows within a fourteen-hour period which seemed to encapsulate the polarity of Fringe experience. The first was Seriously. Pet Shop Boys. Reinterpreted. Billed as musical theatre, this is a sort of revue show that takes bits of various PSB numbers and sticks them together with the intention of forming dramatic scenes â closer to Closer Than Ever than, say, Mamma Mia. However, there's often little apparent logic to the juxtaposition of material, and the fragmentary approach to the original lyrical structure often robs it of any real meaning: chucking a verse of I Want A Dog into the middle of To Speak Is A Sin adds nothing to either piece. However, the cast stride nobly forward into this void of meaningfulness, imbuing every phrase with great, wet, steaming gobbets of meaning. All of the wit, irony, subtlety and charm of the original songs is bulldozed by the smug, precious, overblown delivery. The Pet Shop Boys are sometimes accused that all their songs sound the same: this show, which commits every vacuous clichÃ© of musical theatre, seems intent on proving that myth. I'd have been more willing to forgive the almost wilful misunderstanding of the band's work, had they not had such extensive professional experience, but their impressive CVs and high production values instead led me to ask what the Pet Shop Boys had done to deserve this.
At the other end of the budgetary scale, The Lost Tapes Of Tom Bell is a charming, funny discussion of childhood and adulthood being presented as part of Peter Buckley Hill's Free Fringe. Tickets are by (emphatically non-compulsory) donation, and the show takes place in the grotty, windowless back room of a pub on the Canongate. Audience participation has never been less threatening, as Tom gets one punter to toast crumpets, and lets another do some painting. To describe the humour as 'gentle' doesn't do justice to how funny it is, but this is a genuinely feel-good show with more than enough humanity and wit to make up for the lack of it the previous day.