Another August, another trip to Edinburgh to view many forms of entertainment. I went to the Edinburgh fringe for the first time two years ago, and again last year, and I now basically consider Edinburgh during August to be my spiritual home. It’s full of comedians and fire-eaters and artists and places that are prepared to sell you a chocolate and banana crepe. And I like all those things. Very much.*
We were in Edinburgh for about 4 and a half days this time and packed in 23 shows. They were… Andrew Doyle, Mark Steele, Extreme Broadcasting, Mitch Benn. Thrones!, Wendy Wason, Shappi Khorsandi, Pippa Evans, Matt Forde, Showstoppers, Jess Robinson, Austentatious, Ed Gamble, Katy Brand, Sarah Kendall, Mark Watson, Set List, Crosstentatious, Kirsty Newton, Funny for a Grrrl, Cambridge Footlights, Mary Lunn Rajskub, and Shitfaced Shakespeare.
Now I’m not going to review 23 shows. That would be a very long blogpost. For the completists amongst you though here’s a picture of the official Edinburgh 2016 Napkin of Record that shows my score for every show and EngineerBoy’s score as well for good measure. I had assumed that all fringe attendees maintained an official Napkin of Record but we showed ours to a random bloke we met on the last day and he reacted as if it was a bit odd. He was, of course, mistaken. The Napkin of Record is special and good and definitely normal.
As you can see there were no total duffers in this year’s selection. There were three perfect 10s (or technically perfect 20s) amongst the standup comedians – Shappi Khorsandi, Mark Watson and Ed Gamble. All three were fantastic. I’ve seen Shappi Khorsandi and Mark Watson live before and both were every bit as good as expected. Ed Gamble gets a hint of a bonus mark for being slightly less of a known quantity and being entirely brilliant with a set that was definitely absolutely not solely about cauliflower. Overall though I’d say Mark Watson was the best standup we saw this year. Go and see him if you get chance. He’s very funny indeed.
The other perfect 20s were for Austentatious and Showstoppers. Both are sort of fringe institutions and both are entirely made up on the spot. Showstoppers is an improvised musical set in a location of the audience’s choosing and featuring songs in styles called out by the audience. Austentatious is a play in the style of Jane Austen improvised in response to a title picked at random from those suggested by the audience. Both are brilliant. EngineerBoy reckoned he slightly preferred Austentatious – indeed we liked them so much we went back later the same day to see them do it all again with women dressed as men and vice versa. Despite that I’m refusing to separate these two. They are both brilliant and you should all go and see them both, possibly many many times. That’s the beauty of improvised shows – you can just keep going back. Both have shows coming up around the country after Edinburgh so you can all go. Lucky lucky you.
I feel that Mitch Benn, Matt Forde, Pippa Evans and Sarah Kendall can rightly feel a little hard done by amongst the comedians, as can the casts of Thrones! and Shitfaced Shakespeare. They all scored in the 9 to 9.5 range and could easily have been 10s if the chairs had been more comfortable or the blood-alcohol level more amenable to not needing to pee during their shows. All very very good indeed.
Shitfaced Shakespeare deserve a special honourable mention. The concept is simple; it’s a Shakespeare play (this year it’s Measure for Measure) but one random member of the cast spends the 4 hours before the performance getting completely hammered. The results are v funny, unless you’re the person in the front row who’s made to hold the emergency bucket. In that case I imagine it’s quite nerve-wracking. In the performance we saw the drunk performer had a really quite endearing tendency to correct her colleagues and make them do bits again if she thought they hadn’t gone right. She also kept explaining what she was supposed to be doing to the audience, and did a lovely monologue in the middle – entirely unrelated to the play – about contraceptive choices. Very very daft but very very funny.
So that was our Edinburgh Fringe 2016. There were at least another 100 shows we could have seen quite happily and I really want to go back already. *sigh*
* Apart from fire-eaters to be honest. They make me a tiny bit nervous.
I’ve just got home from my holidays. I went to Scotland – first to the highlands where there are red squirrels and pine martens and reindeer and dolphins, and second to Edinburgh where there is much festivalication and fringesomeness. And, as I did last year, I thought I’d share some thoughts on the Edinburgh Fringe shows we saw, along with some recommendations. And I thought I’d use graphs.*
So let’s start with the rundown of which shows EngineerBoy and myself managed to get along to:
So that’s quite a mix. Shall we have a look at precisely what sort of a mix. Yes. Yes. We shall.
So that shows a bit of a bias towards stand-up comedy, which becomes more marked if you factor in the ‘Comedy +’ events. But comedy is marvellous, and we got in some talks by proper scientists with Professor in front of their names as well, so it’s all good.
So, I hear you ask, how did you rate the shows you saw? Well, gentle reader, I rated them like this:
My top scorers there are the impressively eclectic pairing of the Festival of the Spoken Nerd and Showstopper! The Improvised Musical. Both of those shows were fantastic. The first is Helen Arney, Steve Mould and Matt Parker who do comedy about science and maths, and set fire to stuff. The second is an entirely improvised musical. One of them included an entirely brilliant pastiche of a song from Wicked! and it’s not the one you’d expect.
But, I hear you mutter, that’s a only one person’s opinion. Can’t you find some way to broaden your data set? Well yes. I can. As mentioned above, I took EngineerBoy to Edinburgh with me for this very purpose. Here are his scores:
It’s no surprise that EngineerBoy also liked the Spoken Nerds. He wore his ‘Stand back – I’m going to try science’ t-shirt most of the time we were in Edinburgh so going to see the nerds was really a trip to his personal EngineerBoy happy place. He also gave perfect scores to Andrew Maxwell and Alex Horne. Andrew Maxwell probably suffered slightly on my list because he was one of my favourite acts of the fringe last year, and so expectations were very very high. He was very very good, but I expected him to be, so didn’t have the thrill you get when a performer exceeds expectations. That was probably deeply unfair scoring on my part, but it’s my blog, so tough.
We saw Alex Horne performing his Monsieur Butterfly show in which he… well he sort of… well it involves…. erm… well you should definitely go and see it if you get the chance. It was brilliant. Weird. But brilliant.
I notice, looking back at my scores, that I gave Alex Horne 9.5, whereas EngineerBoy didn’t give any half points at all. This smacks of weak-mindedness and a lack of decisiveness on my part. If I’d stuck to a whole integer scoring system Alex Horne may well have snuck a perfect 10 from me too. I’ve given quite a few half points actually. I’m disappointed in myself. If half points suggest indecisiveness here’s how indecisive I am:
Anyway, I digressed. I imagine that what you’d really like to see now is the cumulative scores from both judges ranked from worst to best. At least I hope that’s what you’d like to see, because that’s what you’re going to get. Here it is:
So there you go. The Festival of the Spoken Nerd are officially and indisputably the best show of the fringe 2015. Good to have that cleared up.
A quick mention as well for the two acts tied in fifth place on the overall chart. Matt Forde is a political comedian and impressionist who does a hysterical Ed Miliband impression – see him now before we all forget who Ed Miliband is. And Nathan Caton was probably the act who most exceeded expectations, I’ve seen/heard him a couple of times on TV and radio and thought he was ok, but live he was very good indeed – relaxed, consistently funny and with a particular point of view that differentiated him from the mass of stand-ups we saw over the four days at the fringe.
There’s also a couple of acts on there that I think can feel a bit hard done by to not make the top 5 – Jess Robinson probably really deserved a 9 from me for her impression of Nicki Minaj singing nursery rhymes alone, and Richard Wiseman deserved more than an 8 from EngineerBoy but he’s a tough judge, and I’m just reporting the results – it would be Very Wrong for me to go about changing his scores just because he hasn’t done them right.**
So that’s my experience of this year’s Edinburgh Fringe in graphs (with thanks to the Festival of the Spoken Nerd for graphly inspiration.)
And as ever now you finished being blogged at, you could consider buying a book. Sweet Nothing is out in paperback now you know, and it involves comedy, romance and maths, so is potentially pleasing to nerds and non-nerds alike.
*Technically mainly charts. Yes. I know.
** ‘Right’ – ie. how I think they should have been.