Well, not actual Ebola but certainly the equivalent in terms of entertainment: comedy! It’s everywhere – in-yer-face stand-up, gentle comic observational stuff, groan-worthy puns, smart one-liners, character pieces, political, retro, surreal, old-school, nu-school, silly, clever, Scottish, Irish, Jewish, German, Swedish… aaaaargh! (a much-used Fringe show prefix). It’s great though… if you choose wisely (keep visiting for top tips).
Even so, I find that my ribs can only undergo so much tickling and I start to tire of the comedy-audience-interview (where are you from? what’s your name?) Aaaaargh! So…. it’s nice to seek out something different. Though I wouldn’t insult Wil Hodgson by saying that was my reason for going to see his new show (You Will be Taken From This Place), after all I don’t have to be convinced of his toweringly brilliant and completely unique talent. But a show on capital punishment with an emphasis on the particularly British mode of dispatch – hanging? And not a general trip through the history and the ethics (although these do feature) but a forensic account of every mundane detail and grisly outcome of this method, making it appear as both a science and an art. I suppose most reviewers would use the word dispassionate to describe Mr Hodgson – which is fair enough for a first impression but after five minutes in his company you realise that is just the veneer on a multi-layered experience. He always reminds me of a resident storyteller sitting in the corner of a windswept-Moors-pub whose forefathers would have done much the same but perhaps in a highwayman’s tavern or a medieval mead-hall. You know the character – you’ve no sooner said ‘who’s this guy?’ then you’re sucked into his weird and wonderful world, transfixed and ultimately left chilled to the bone.
The location (downstairs at Cabaret Voltaire @ 12.00 until 23rd Aug) is perfect, having the appearance of a subterranean torture chamber or perhaps an execution observation room. The material itself is expertly constructed starting with a (black) humorous account of the crime that implicated the last two men to be hanged in the UK (more bunglers than burglars), but soon we’re subsumed into the whole sad and sordid history of the hangman. We learn it was a way to achieve social status and – less surprisingly – that it was a career choice particularly prone to alcoholism, madness and suicide. It’s 50 years since the last hanging took place in the UK – 13 August to be exact – so various programmes and articles will be available but if you find yourself in Edinburgh, get along and hear the full and shocking real-life tale told as only Wil Hodgson can.