Other People’s Shows at the Edinburgh Fringe

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Performing a show at the Edinburgh Fringe presents many challenges, including—and this is an important one—finding the time to see other people’s shows. So far, we’ve managed to get to four shows in between putting on ‘Wretch,’ handing out flyers for ‘Wretch,’ posting and tweeting about ‘Wretch,’ hanging up posters for ‘Wretch,’ attending workshops on how to better promote ‘Wretch,’ and on occasion, actually eating a meal together. (Future posts will include a blog on the colorful eating establishments here in Edinburgh, including a place called ‘Frankenstein’s,’ which is pretty much what it sounds like).

‘The Complete History of Comedy (abridged),’ by the Reduced Shakespeare Company (one of the primary writers and producers of which is my friend Reed Martin), is getting its European debut here at the festival, after having its virgin run back home in Northern California. This November, the show will appear in Mill Valley at the Marin Theatre Company. Playing in the large theater at Pleasance Courtyard, the show is what it purports to be: a “history” of comedy, from the first caveman joke to a puppet-powered send-up of modern political humor. Presented as a theatrical summary of the long-lost, twelve-chapter book The Art of Comedy (the other half of the The Art of War, this ancient companion piece is, sadly, missing its all-important thirteenth chapter), the show skips through an homage to the old chicken-crossing-the-road joke, the mechanics of slapstick, a few shout-outs to the funniest people of all time (and the least funny; sorry, Adam Sandler), a bit on the history of clowns (including, of course, scary clowns), and a very funny ukulele-backed song in which co-writer Austin Tichenor named-drops nearly a hundred of the most significant comics, comedians, and comedy groups of all time. Then there’s some stuff about the mythic clown Rambozo (part Emmet Kelly and part Sylvester Stallone), who just might hold the secret to the missing thirteenth chapter of The Art of Comedy. Cleverly written, often incredibly funny, and even just a tad moving (how’s they do that?), The Complete History of comedy (abridged)’ runs the gamut from tasty to tasteless, but actually has something to say beneath all the pie-throwing and fart jokes.

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Shit-faced Shakespeare, playing at the concurrently running Underbelly sub-festival, features a troupe of classically trained actors performing ‘Two Gentleman of Verona,’ with the added element of one cast member appearing on stage totally hammered. Wondering whether or not the “randomly selected” member of the troupe was actually smashed or just faking it is part of the audience experience with this Ren-Faire-like stunt-performance, and the charm of the performers is pretty hard to escape. The high concept idea is played for humor, emphasizing the silly side of inebriation over the darker possibilities, and in the end, alls well that ends without anyone needing to use the on-stage barf-bucket.

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Heavy consumption of alcohol seems to be a key part of the Edinburgh Fringe, especially at the late-night shows, and though the on-stage boozing may be a bit exaggerated and under control, there’s no way to control how much drinking has been going on amongst the theater goers here. (NOTE: suddenly, Team Wretch is very happy to performing at 11:40 in the a.m., long before most attendees have hit the pub). 

Which brings us to Jesus and the Devil.

As an improvisational show, ‘Come Heckle Christ’ is a bold, inventive, funny, and fairly gutsy idea: comic Josh Ladgrove, who does look a lot like Jesus, banters with the audience while perched on the cross. On the night I saw the show, “Jesus” was in a whimsical, philosophical mood, answering a question about the dinosaurs by saying he’d eaten them all, one by one, going on to answer a question about whether he supports Israel or Palestine with the one word reply ‘Peace.” What might have developed into a truly fascinating, even enlightening bit of untraditional comedy-theater was marred, unfortunately, by a boozing foursome of bullies (recognizing they were actually pretty guys), who essentially took over the show, shouting mostly idiotic questions (“Can I put beer on your beard and then suck it out again?”), rarely allowing Josh-as-Jesus to actually answer someone else’s question. Josh did an admirable job of trying to keep things in check, but a show like this, dependent on so much audience participation, rises and falls on the quality of the people watching at any moment, and the night I saw it, the bullies won. I’d love to see this show again, to get a chance at seeing what this truly creative, spontaneous, insightful and brave comedy show is capable of being under the right circumstances.

 

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Similarly hampered by inebriated audience members (who seemed think snickering and talking loudly to each other is appropriate during a theater piece), ‘Rebranding Beelzebub’ still ends up winning, turing out to be a wicked pleasure from beginning to end. Another late-night show, this one by storyteller-writer Time Ralphs, it takes place in a perfectly suited (if somewhat noisy) environment: an underground tomb-like room at Banshee’s Labyrinth (“Edinburgh’s most haunted pub,” says the sign upstairs). The show, performed by Ralphs with remarkable charm and a strong undercurrent of smart, sinister glee, is simple: a series of stories about the Devil, wrapped up in a larger story that includes Ralphs’ deal-with-the-Devil path to end up at the Edinburgh Fringe. This is a no-frills storytelling show, its power rising solely on the beautiful language and sly, sometimes breathtaking humor of its writer performer. From an ancient tale of a mother who sells her soul to make her fiddler son successful, to Moth-like tale about disposing of a defrosted mummy, to a delightfully chilling final piece about a man pitted against the Devil in an epic game of Scrabble, these tales are clever, unpredictable, and crammed from end to end with the sheer, irresistible pleasure of language beautifully crafted, all in the service of stories that—whether the Devil wins out in the end or not—are miraculously well told.
 
The fun of Edinburgh, of course, is getting to perform alongside such an array of theatrical entertainments, and so far, ‘Wretch Like Me’ has appeared to be in pretty good company. I shall report on other shows we see as we see them.

 
 
 
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