The Girl with the Edinburgh Tattoo

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Archive for the tag “The Free Fringe”

Dharmander Singh

The show’s full title: Dharmander Singh from Bollywood and Birmingham to Berlin and Brexit is clarified pretty early on in the proceedings. Dharmander shares a name with a Bollywood actor; he originally comes from Birmingham (although he doesn’t have to explain that one – the accent rather gives it away); he now lives in Berlin so obviously Brexit will be mentioned.

However as the show isn’t overtly political the Brexit element is quite low in the pecking order. This is a wise move as Dharmander (or Da – as he helpfully invites us to call him) isn’t your hectoring politico type of comedian but rather the kind who invites you into his world and introduces you to all its quirks and oddities. In Dharmander’s case this means a fair amount of culture-class comedy centering on the Berlin psyche – on one hand avante-garde and anything goes – on the other petrified when the ticket-inspectors board the train. Even if life in Germany in general – and Berlin in particular – isn’t a hot topic for you Dharmander’s mega-watt smile and brilliantly energetic style will win you over. And of course there’s the Brummie accent which adds to the cheeky chappie persona and is always good value in the comedy stakes.

Dharmander is also appearing in two other shows for the whole Fringe run. Hopefully he’ll be able to keep those energy levels up!

(review for 4 August)


Madame Señorita: The Expector

Audience reviews of Madame Senorita: The Expector remind me a bit of the rules of Fight Club. Nobody is prepared to fully disclose what actually goes on. The reviews are effusive though and it has ‘true spirit of the Fringe experience’ written all over it – so good enough for me!

I can understand the reticence to give a complete account because it would rob the performance (I won’t call it a show or an act) of the element of surprise and that is a major element. However without giving too much away – let me share some memorable images. I say images because it is for the most part a visual event with a handful of words uttered.

It starts with Madame Senorita entering the room as if in a funeral procession. Stately, ghostly, veiled – it’s effectively creepy. Once on stage and unveiled we see a face both mask-like and achingly expressive as she searches the audience – for what? We’ll see. The next stage finds Madame becoming an ungainly figure balancing on one leg and stretching out her limbs as if to make herself as big as she can. She greets everything with child-like wonder and a repeated ‘wow!’ She’s like a new-born animal or perhaps the creature from Frankenstein. She searches the audience again for her true love and there’s a marvelous interlude using classic farce techniques. There is more effective imagery to follow – getting a (male) audience member to place a pair of rubber gloves on her hands (handcuffs?) before she obsessively and suggestively scrubs away at a glass. Her face is a picture of tortured disappointment and disillusionment.

It’s about love, loss, beginnings, endings, expectations, gender roles and probably a lot of other things as well. It’s art in the way you can interpret it how you like. It’s entertainment in the way it’s a stunning performance.

Is it theatre, comedy, cabaret? It’s all of those. It’s also of the calibre of an official Edinburgh Festival show but with the added plus of having an intimate setting and therefore the potential for everyone to become part of the action. And if that puts the fear of God into you – please reconsider. We – as an audience – loved it and I’ve rarely heard such natural hearty laughter (and I’ve been to quite a few comedy shows!) from an audience.

Madame – without coming out of character too much – thanked us at the end and suggested that not every night works. So please go and please engage, you’ll be glad you did.

(Review for 18 Aug)

Madame Señorita: The Expector



Luke Benson’s Big Night Out (In the Afternoon)

I usually make it a rule not to go and see people I’ve seen before at the Fringe – however good they were. I broke that rule big-time the other day when I had my Super Tuesday of seeing five shows all featuring tried and trusted performers. I know that sounds a bit like faint praise or the equivalent of slipping on a pair of comfy shoes but sometimes you just want impeccable entertainment and guaranteed good times – don’t you?

It was a couple of years ago when I first saw Luke Benson at the Fringe. And out of the stacks of comedians I’ve seen before or since he was definitely in the handful people  I expected to see on the telly at some point. Then I thought – am I the comedian here? If your only access to comedy is through the medium of TV (and for a lot of people it is) you could be forgiven for thinking there’s only a few big names who are capable of dishing out the laughs. Of course that’s not true. But they may have put in years of hard slog playing to tough crowds and learning their craft. Again, probably – increasingly – not true.It’s criminally tragic how certain comedians don’t get seen by a wider audience. And Luke Benson is one of those certain few.

Luke has played the tough gigs and tales of which were included in the show I first saw him in (Luke Benson Makes Something of Himself). This time round the main theme is alcohol. The beautiful thing about Luke’s material is it’s never one note. There’s no simply – isn’t drink great? – and have I got some drunken escapades for you…  He touches on how drink can change us – for good and bad – but he never abandons the laughs to start on anything remotely resembling a lecture. Luke’s far too good for that. Instead he weaves the personal and the thoughtful in and out of the fantastically funny material which includes stuff about Geordie nights out, awkward family relations and his giant-of-a dad’s propensity for keeping little dogs.

So we’ve got great material brilliantly performed. Is there anything else? Well, Luke seems like a genuinely nice guy and his style is very much like your funniest mate but without the pushed-onto-a-stage-shambles of a performance. He’s stand-up professionalism to his fingertips and knows how to work – and look after – an audience. Maybe he’s too nice to be trampeling over other comedians or has too much self respect to climb the greasy pole and ‘make it big’ but all that aside – if you want fifty or so minutes of guaranteed laughs, good times and a nice little glow that lasts for a while afterwards get yourself along to the Banshee Labyrinth at 16.20.

(Review for 16 Aug)




The Stars Are Out! Welcome to the 2016 Fringe

The greatest show on earth starts on Friday in Brazil  apparently (the Olympics) but we all know it’s Thursday in Edinburgh (the Fringe).

If you can get yourself along here you really must. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll gasp, you may even have your life changed!

Don’t know where to start? Well – my advice is to avoid the (supposed) comedy behemoths charging the you-having-a-laugh? prices and seek out the stuff that won’t insult your intelligence or assault your wallet. What am I talking about? The Free Fringe of course!

Of course it can be a bit of a nightmare deciding who to go and see. So as usual at this time of year I will be selflessly schlepping around the FF venues to seek  out the good, the bad and the downright bonkers!

Keep visiting for top tips and star-free reviews!

Bob Blackman’s Tray

2015BOBBLAC_2ASometimes you will find something different on the Fringe. Sometimes you will be visited by an enigmatic man wearing a pin-stripe jacket and a red balaclava who will sit silently in the corner of the room and use thought-waves to will you to his show. That show will name-check people like Charlie Drake, Bernie Clifton, Roger de Courcey... and will feature the ‘funniest men in Newcastle-under-Lyme’.

Apart from the thought-waves Bob Blackman’s Tray is astonishingly below the radar so the tiny Three/Free Sisters’ Staff Room (fast getting a reputation for class acts) at yesterday lunch-time was sparsely occupied. Never mind – those of us who were there can boast in future about the experience or else wonder if it was some kind of acid-spiked dream.

There’s Richard Drake (wearing the balaclava) who provides segueways of an existential nature – a bit like Peter Cook’s E L Whisty but with a Northern accent. The totally wired component is the other bloke who takes on the guise of Johnny Sorrow – comedian from yesteryear – and Trevor Never – outraged indoor bowls fan with a grudge against Kirklees Borough Council. Physically he’s like a cross between Bez from the Happy Mondays and the ‘Committee’ MC from the Wheel Tappers & Shunters Social Club for those who remember or who have maybe studied UK social history.

I don’t want to give too much away but imagine a working man’s club run by the Theatre of the Absurd or an end-of-the-pier at the end-of-the-world show. It’s like Vic and Bob before they got on the telly but with less props. It’s a glorious vinegar-soaked valentine to northern comedy. It’s Frank Randle, the Crazy Gang and of course – Bob Blackman. It’s delightfully unhinged but never steps outside itself with Johnny providing some cracking lines and Trevor showing how a convincing meltdown should be done.

For all those who thought cult comedy had disappeared – don’t despair Bob Blackman’s Tray is here. Well, in Edinburgh until tomorrow…

Not Disabled… Enough! – Romina Puma

2015NOTDISA_J8There’s no doubt about the contingent of Italian comedians being an absolute revelation at the Free Fringe this year. By yesterday I had already caught the (both brilliant) shows of Giada Garofalo and Luca Cupani. Could the third person in the triumvirate really be a triumph? No worries – Romina Puma absolutely was!

Romina describes herself as ‘work in progress disabled’. She has muscular dystrophy, a progressive condition which means – as she tells us – things she can physically do now she probably won’t be able to do in a years time. So while Romina is recognised as being disabled by some parts of ‘the system’ for others parts she’s ‘not disabled enough’. A prime example being the government’s disability test which she describes in all its farcical detail – ‘sorry, muscular dystrophy isn’t on the system!’

The running theme of ‘not being… enough’ is well done with Romina taking us back to her teenage years and thinking herself ‘not pretty enough’ and then up to more recent times with an unsuccessful attempt at becoming an ‘undateable’ on the Channel 4 series. Yikes!!

The show really flies however when Romina expresses her wishes and desires – yes, usually of a sexual nature. Her tales of attempting to disguise her disability when trying to pull a guy is gloriously funny. And her piece about smear tests and vajazzles is comedy gold (I won’t spoil her punchline – you’ll have to go hear!)

Beautifully liberating stuff from a naturally funny woman. And for all those repressed people who have problems with themes like these being explored or perhaps you have a condition which limits your mobility or your outlook – you should take the opportunity to see Romina’s show – it will change your attitude and may even change your life!

Daphna Baram – Something to Declare

2015SOMETHI_AUEHere’s the way I’d deal with immigration at The Fringe – I’d definitely limit the influx of white blokes in their 30s going on about not getting a girlfriend/domestic life does the funniest things. Instead I’d welcome with open arms savvy, ballsy, wonderfully witty women like Daphna Baram.

People who’ve seen the Divine Miss D before will have already checked and passed her comedy credentials. What’s great is that she never tries to smuggle in any dodgy old material. What she’s declaring this year is her take on becoming a British Citizen and taking the required test. Cue extracts from the test and doing a Q&A with the audience which is good fun and pretty eye-opening as far as the questions go. The whole exploration of British-ness thing is hackneyed-free with a really good routine about comparing a typically inept social invitation from an Englishman (‘did he actually invite me… ?’) to a no-doubt-about-it demand from a Jewish momma (‘you will come to dinner’).

We also get something in the way of personal disclosure with a very intriguing tale – about a potential marriage of convenience with a feckless, floppy-haired member of the English upper class – which has a jaw-dropping denoument. If it’s true – and I have no reason to doubt Daphna – it’s staggering stuff. Also heart-rending and blackly comic is her recollection of her very first client as a human rights lawyer in Israel – an inept terrorist who repeatedly failed in his attempts to blow up a bus-stop.

Well paced and well balanced – with the Q&A’s serving as light to the darker humour shade. Not that Daphna ever lets it stray into a laughter-free zone. On the basis of my visit I would stamp Daphna’s passport comedy approved with unlimited leave to stay!

Lighten Up!

SalmondeffigyI hope the Sussex Police didn’t have any serious crimes to investigate yesterday when they found themselves to be the latest cast members in the never-ending soap opera known as ‘We Wuz Robbed!’

Seemingly the papier-mache versions of Alex Salmond were thought – by some – to be disrespectful and insulting. Personally speaking – I thought it was fitting that the English had a turn of putting up with the giant Bawheid for a change when we’ve had to suffer the real thing for the last few years.

Some commented that ‘how would people feel if it had been an effigy of David Cameron?’ Well, I guess the vast majority would have been quite happy and even the minority – who count themselves as fans (are there such people…?) – would understand it’s joke, it’s a laugh. And what’s probably worse than not having a sense of humour is not having a grasp of basic facts or news stories that happen beyond the end of your road – David Cameron (along with a mini Nick Clegg) was the Lewes Guy of choice back in 2010… FYI.

Here’s a funny thing though – if those strange people who’ve got nothing better to do than make crank calls to the emergency services had managed to get along to sample some of the many shows on the Edinburgh Fringe back in August – they would have heard joke after joke being made about Alex Salmond – from both sides of the debate. One of the funniest routines was centered on the notion that Big ‘Eck should ‘take one for the team’ and die before the referendum thus ensuring a victory for the Yes campaign. And yes, this was from a Yes supporter!

So please, please – lighten up (I don’t mean that literally – don’t call the Fire Service – I’m sure they have enough to do with their time…) and get out more. There’s nothing worse than being a parochial small-mind – apart from not having a sense of humour… but I guess that goes with the territory.

Money and Hegemony at the Edinburgh Fringe

How about that for a snappy title? I must still be under the influence of all these politically aware (leftie) comedians I’ve been going to see. Though, out of all them, no-one as yet has mentioned the most striking element of Edinburgh’s current visual landscape – the huge, monolith-like ad-boards strapped to every lamp-post, traffic-light-post and available garden railing in the city centre; on them the gods of yesteryear – Alan Davies, Frank Skinner and the rest – gaze down on us flanked by comments like ‘the funniest thing you will ever see’ and ‘life-changing’. It’s proper old school propaganda – don’t bother with the new wee guys – we’re the real deal. Don’t believe them! Get yourselves out to the Free Fringe and discover the brilliant new talent that is out there.

That’s the hegemony, now the money. You’ve heard the old chestnut – that Tory scandals are always to do with sex and Labour/socialist ones are always about money? Socialists are obsessed with money maybe because we (yes, I do include myself) don’t start out with much of it. Keeping that in mind we’ve devised a little game to be played at the Free Fringe: when the show ends and the inevitable happens – ‘This is the Free Fringe, but… ‘ and the bucket is produced, try and guess what will be said next. In the vast majority of cases the performer will be charming and funny and say ‘give what you can / what you think it was worth’. However, in my experience, any show that is of a political or leftie nature (I haven’t actually seen any right-wing political stuff as yet) they will always – always – put a price on it. ‘Shows up the road are charging £15, so…’; ‘A drink costs £4, so give me the price of a drink’ ‘; ‘What can you buy for £10 these days?’ I guess they probably expect their audiences to be the well-heeled middle-classes and whilst they may have the interests of the poor and downtrodden at heart, it’s like they don’t actually expect them to be at a Fringe show. Seriously though and that aside if you see a Free Fringe show and the performers don’t seriously piss you off and you don’t get into a fight with anyone, always try and give something. And if you’re really on the breadline – just tell the performer you liked the show (if you did!) and say you’ll recommend them through the usual channels. Going back to my initial point, maybe it’s just as well right-wing nut-jobs don’t tend to put on shows as I can guess what their lines would be like – ‘Don’t worry about the money, my dear – you can pay me in kind… ‘

Talking of money – Aaaargh! It’s the Monster Stand-up show (until 24th Aug, 15.00 @ Jekyll & Hyde pub) is terrific value. Five comedians in one hour hosted by your genial – if slightly wasted – host Masai Graham – who brings you the equally value-for-money Aaaaargh! 101 Jokes in 30 minutes (see my earlier review) at the same venue later that day.

First off was Jon Pearson – imagine going to see your bank manager and he starts telling you about his marriage break-down; not in a melt-down kind of way but matter-of-fact interspersed with twisted little barbs of petty revenge. Coupled with tales of going to weight-watchers and starting to date again – it’s perfect fare for anyone who has ever split up with anyone. For the full story you’ll have to see him at WNCLUB on George Street @ 12.30, until 23rd Aug.

Next up was Nicole Henriksen – whimsical, charming and slightly bonkers – her show is called Rainbow Rabbits with Rabies (Bar 50 @ 23.00 until 11th Aug); which kinda gives a ‘something nasty lurking in the sugar-bowl’ impression… interesting. Potentially risky abortion joke ending – bold!

Freddie Farrell is also appearing the same venue immediately after this show as well as The Counting House (22.30 until 24th Aug). Name, looks and voice all have good comedy potential; reminded me a bit of Johnny Vegas but with actual comedy material! Effective routines including a tale about remonstrating with would-be gangsters.

Dane Baptiste was probably the slickest member of the line-up with a ticketed show (17.30 @ The Pleasance) and numerous telly appearances. Assured routines about friends and their pretentious pronunciation of McDonalds meals (‘feelay of fish’). Good stuff.

Last up was Jay Handley; looks like Jesus; slightly sad-sack style with tales of folding his business to pursue his dream of doing stand-up. Nice laid-back style with sketches of everyday scenarios where paranoia creeps in (bus seat etiquette). Catch him at The Dragonfly @ 22.10 until 23rd Aug.

Caught Kate Smurthwaite in her new show Lefite Cock Womble (I’ll let her explain the title at Viva Mexico every day at 17.00 until 23rd Aug (not 12th)). Now, I support pretty much everything Kate stands for but when I go to see her I feel like I’m stuck in one of those middle-class dinner parties that used to feature in Bremner, Bird and Fortune. I also want to subvert the Voltaire quote: ‘I agree with everything you have to say but probably wouldn’t feel the need to defend you’. The show starts, as usual with Kate, with the ‘who’s got a nice job and who’s got an evil job?’ routine. Fair enough, but I get the feeling if I came out as a non-skilled minimum wage earner there would have been an embarrassed silence followed by being given the address of the nearest food-bank. As it was, the show I was at had Kate’s super-fan in the front row and a nice chat about his nice job ensued, so that was – nice. Come to think of it he may have been the same guy from the day before at The Michael Gove Expose but I can’t be sure… I’m sorry if this is sounding a bit mean – I like Kate and her bold defence of important issues like feminism, socialism, freedom of speech – but shows like this are always going to be a bit of a leftie love-in. However Kate does get my daily ‘most brazen appeal for inflated remuneration by a socialist performer’ award by saying ‘you would pay ten or fifteen pounds for a show like this… ‘ yeah, okay, have heard that one before – then ‘if you’re unemployed or really struggling for money… let’s call it two pounds!’ I wouldn’t have minded but this was following on from her detailed description of a particular lobster-guzzling, all-expenses-paid TV gig that she received as the regular go-to-girl for a leftie quote. Move over Tony Blair – that’s all I can say!


Misplacing the Zeigeist

ImageAs the Free Fringe (FF) gets bigger and bigger and continues to grab the ‘Official’ Fringe (OF) by the scruff of its neck and give it a good kick up the arse, it’s interesting to see the ‘official’ print media arriving a bit late to the party. For the last couple of weeks they’ve steadfastly ignored the FF concentrating on reviews of shows on the ‘other one’. But as we head into the last week and we enlightened people – and we are many – have laughed, cried, marvelled and generally felt smug at picking out the-next-big-thing, and probably the most beautiful thing being is that we can post up comments and reviews as soon as – giving an instant tasting guide to the vast smorgasbord that is the FF. We haven’t felt the need to pick up anything as Dickensian as a magazine or a newspaper. Such is their irrelevance they are giving them away for free now. So how do they make their money? Well, from advertising of course – ads for established comedians playing the OF, ads for OF venue sponsors. Fair enough if it’s a full page ad for something like Aperol (although that is not a classic Spritz recipe – post to follow) we know where we are but when we stray into ‘infomercial’ territory with interviews and articles about David Baddiel (oh, I’m famous – look at me, don’t look at me..)or the latest YouTube phenomenon that Avalon have staked their pension fund on – it all looks a bit sad and tired. “I know”, say these guys, “Why don’t we review the Free Fringe? I believe it’s very popular and we may just be able to find ‘the-next-big-thing’!” Some chance guys – you wouldn’t know the zeitgeist if it came up and gave you the old leather-glove-double-slap!

p.s. Here’s a good example of being out of touch – a (free) copy of The (festival) List gave the mind blowing piece of advice to visit Leith for general feeding and watering respite from the Festival. So far, so good – but while they recommend the nobbier and more expensive watering-holes down at The Front I pride myself on already having given you tips on eating and drinking cheaply and well mainly on and around The Walk. Please refer to my earlier Edinburgh Guide posts. Slainte!

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