As the festival grows, the good acts are harder to find and the prices keep rising to meet the throngs of showbiz refugees who surge north in the belief that the glory, this year, will be theirs. Arriving at my one-star hovel (no breakfast, no towels, shared bathroom), I was given a security key and a disc of see-through soap that I could have hidden beneath a tea-bag. The bill, payable in advance, was a third higher than last year. Glory in this city belongs to the landlord.
Marcel Lucont’s Whine List is performed by a suave, self-adoring Frenchman who starts by asking if anyone in the crowd is new to his act. ‘Lucky bastards. What I would give to see myself for the first time.’ His ‘snotty Frog’ routine is perfectly crafted but what’s amazing is that the audience seems to enjoy being patronised by a sneering, egoistical loafer, quaffing red wine. Lucont targets middle-class habits. He calls glamping ‘a portmanteau word meaning “I’m glad I’m not camping”’. The French like holidaying under canvas, he says, just not at festivals. ‘What would you rather wake up to? The cool waters of the Loire? The distant Alpine peaks? Or a drunk woman dressed as a banana being fingered in a hedge?’ He’s a quality act but a hard one to market because he appeals to a tiny portion of the cultural bandwidth.
Quarter-Life Crisis is a medley of songs and jokes about Generation Rent. Katie Brennan, 29, forged her act in London, not Edinburgh, but the locals tittered politely as she cracked jokes about the Tube in a venue 400 miles from the nearest station. Her effervescent lyrics, at their best, are as ingenious and inventive as Noël Coward’s. They’re also explicitly filthy. This narrows their appeal. Popular erotic songs are suggestive and never frank. The viewer likes to make the connections himself and not to be kneed in the knackers with them.
Pip Utton is a Maggie impersonator who answers questions from the crowd. Utton bears an alarming physical resemblance to his subject’s spin-doctor, Bernard Ingham. His costume looks a bit Oxfam and his vocal impersonation is barely so-so. But his feel for Mrs Thatcher’s character and his grasp of her political career are masterful. With no prior warning, he gives plausible responses on subjects as diverse as the Belgrano, Hillsborough, Orgreave, Section 28, the formation of the Liberal Democrats and Indira Gandhi. Some of his answers are probably scripted. ‘Any regrets?’ someone asks. ‘Choosing John Major as my successor.’ Another reliable routine involves him praising a ‘brave’ (i.e., impertinent) questioner. ‘You have a lot of spine. The trouble is, it’s not connected to your brain.’ But some of his off-the-cuff rejoinders sound exactly like ‘her’. ‘What advice would you offer Britain’s second female prime minister?’ ‘Try to be as good as Britain’s first.’ I wanted this show twice its length.
Olaf Falafel is an amazingly mad Swede who delivers a stream of metaphysical one-liners. ‘We should move to an eight-day week to fit in with Kellogg’s variety packs.’ ‘If you have a fear of heights and you develop a fear of widths you automatically have a fear of volume.’ He varies his show with a portfolio of six-second videos which have had 75 million hits already.
Hamlet in Bed follows two actors in a production of the play whose lives neatly parallel the plot. I wanted less about them and more about the text. When they discussed whether ‘aslant’ or ‘askant’ is a likelier adverb to precede ‘a brook’ in Gertrude’s lament for Ophelia I was completely gripped. But such moments were rare. Worth a look, though. Annette O’Toole is great to watch as a boozy violent actress with a horrific secret.
Geoff Norcott is a recovering teacher who now votes Tory. He was raised in a council flat by a single mum and a one-armed dad (motorbike accident). Dad never claimed disability allowance. ‘I can walk, can’t I?’ He loathed the Paralympics and watched it in fits of fury while stabbing at the TV with the forefinger of his remaining hand. ‘What’s wrong with that one? What’s wrong with that one?’
Norcott abandoned teaching when he realised that schools were failure factories. He was obliged to offer emotional counselling to kids with imaginary traumas. One teen confessed that he was having a breakdown because a sibling had been granted access to his computer. Norcott led the boy to the classroom window and pointed towards the school boundary. ‘Beyond that fence are seven billion people who couldn’t give a toss about your problems. I’m one of them.’ A refreshingly brilliant new voice. Beeb censorship will impede his ascent. See him live.