Edinburgh fringe

What a joke

The award for the funniest joke at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe was won by Lorna Rose Treen, with this: ‘I started dating a zookeeper, but it turned out he was a cheetah.’ There you go. It’s hard to know where to begin, isn’t it? Maybe with the fact that the joke doesn’t really work. Why would a zookeeper be a cheetah? Just because his work may involve looking after them? There’s no sense to it: the bloke just works in a zoo. If she’d said ‘I started dating a big cat – turned out he was a cheetah’, then that still wouldn’t be terribly funny but it would at least

Trump, Diogenes, the Mitfords and Malaysian comedy: Edinburgh Fringe round-up

The Mitfords is a superb one-woman show by Emma Wilkinson Wright who focuses her attention on Unity, Diana and Jessica. In the early 1930s, Unity became Hitler’s lover and she lived in a luxurious Munich apartment confiscated from a wealthy Jewish family. The Führer, whom she nicknamed ‘Wolfie’, gave her the pearl-handled revolver with which she shot herself in the head shortly after Britain’s declaration of war. To carry out this bizarre act of self-sacrifice she chose a favourite spot in Munich’s English Garden where she used to sunbathe naked. In wartime Britain, Diana was held in Holloway prison and she complained bitterly about being separated from her baby boy,

Rizal Van Geyzel races through his 60-minute set peppering the material with snatches of Chinese, Tamil and Malay
Lloyd Evans

Mind your language | 16 August 2018

David Greig has written the international festival’s flagship drama, Midsummer. This farcical romance is performed as a party piece by four actors supported by a plinky-plonky band playing satirical ballads. We meet two boozy drifters, Bob and Helena, who enjoy a night of rampant sex aftera chance encounter in an Edinburgh pub. Will their affair live or die? Well, since the show starts with two older actors reminiscing about the characters’ past we knowin advance how it all ends. An odd way to kill suspense. The lovers have little in common apart from alcoholism and the madcap plot sends them hurtling through a set of mishaps and scrapes as their

Has the Edinburgh Fringe lost its edge?

Every August, thousands of comedians make the pilgrimage to Scotland for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. By the end of the month, those who manage to stand out in this crowded field (and it is a very crowded field) might have Live at the Apollo or Netflix calling, or maybe even a sitcom commission. But this year, with performers facing hefty registration fees, rent more expensive than a luxury foreign holiday and exorbitant marketing campaigns, all in the midst of a cost of living crisis, more and more are asking: has the Fringe lost its edge? As the festival kicks off for its 75th year, comedian Vittorio Angelone says its culture seems

Why TikTok reels are reshaping comedy

Bella Hull started standup six years ago. Back then, she lived in fear of a bad set being uploaded to YouTube, where a shaky camera and lacklustre crowd might stain any Google search of her forever. Now, due to the rise of video ‘reels’, popularised by TikTok, Instagram and YouTube during the pandemic, for Bella and other digital savvy comedians, creating online video is a necessity for reaching fresh, young, and more global audiences. Bella has been publishing funny short-form videos in portrait (AKA TikTok reels) for one year and has amassed over 888k likes on the platform. For a lot of circuit comedians, lockdown forced them to put down

How I prepare for the Edinburgh Fringe

I am going to the Edinburgh Festival this August. That declaration could be said in a number of ways. Celebratory (unlikely). Showing off (possibly). Self-promotion (in there somewhere). However, I’ve been in comedy a while and have reached what my wife recently called ‘solid middle-age’, so announcing I’m going to the Fringe is more of an incantation: a chant designed to steel myself for a taxing endeavour. Not that there will be much tax owing afterwards, I’m not likely to make much money. No-one in Edinburgh does as well out of the Fringe as some bloke called ‘Josh’ who rents you his airing cupboard for six grand. I’m assured this

Edinburgh Festival is in ruins – but there’s one gem amid the rubble

The virus has broken Edinburgh. The shattered remnants of the festival are visible on the internet. Here’s what happened. The international festival has been reduced to one filmed theatre commission and a handful of videoed musical offerings. The Fringe has survived but in a horribly mutilated form. Two of its most prestigious brands, the Pleasance and the Assembly Rooms (which host hundreds of shows between them every year), have pulled out entirely. They’re so well established that they’ll have no difficulty restarting in 12 months’ time. Another big name, the Gilded Balloon, is offering a few online shows and some recorded highlights from previous years. Lesser-known outfits such as the-SpaceUK

Watching Stephen Fry was like being in the presence of a god

Stephen Fry lies prone on an empty stage. A red ball rolls in from the wings and bashes him in the face. He stands up and introduces himself as Odysseus, stranded on an island-kingdom as he makes his way home after the Trojan War. The ball had escaped from the hands of a clumsy maidservant who was playing on the beach with a local princess. Now Fry, as Odysseus, begs her help and asks for a petticoat to cover his nakedness. This tale comes from Homer’s Odyssey, Book Six, but Fry doesn’t quote the reference he merely plunges on with the story. Odysseus shows up at the palace of the

Tony Slattery is still a miraculously gifted comedian

Some of the marketing efforts by amateur impresarios up in Edinburgh are extraordinary. I was handed a leaflet for a poetry show called Don’t Bother. I didn’t. Tony Slattery appears in Slattery Will Get You Nowhere (a good pun that advertises the content), in which the ageing comic takes the audience back to the 1990s. In those days he was a handsome, clever, charismatic wag who suffered from an excess of self-regard. Now he’s a grizzled, ramshackle presence, jowly and ill-shaven, like a forgetful pensioner on his way to the day centre. He starts his show with a lot of banter about wine but he doesn’t drink on stage. Alongside

Shooting star | 15 August 2019

Only one thing makes Frank Skinner nervous. ‘Water. Water scares me. I don’t get nervous on stage. Just in swimming pools. I didn’t learn to swim until 2013. Avoiding water is easier if you live in Birmingham.’ The stand-up comedian’s image is plastered across the centre of Edinburgh on six-foot placards to advertise the dates of his national tour. ‘SOLD OUT’ is blazoned across the top. This seems a weird strategy — promoting a product that’s no longer available — and I ask him about it when we meet at a quietly expensive hotel near Bristo Square. ‘I’ve sold out the Edinburgh run but there are tickets available for the

Lloyd Evans

Best of the Fringe

Clive Anderson’s show about Macbeth, ‘the greatest drama ever written’, offers us an hour of polished comedy loosely themed around the Scottish play. Shakespeare’s material is still topical, he says, ‘a clever Scot with a rampantly ambitious wife, like Michael Gove and Sarah Vine’. He prefers Macbeth to Hamlet which is ‘about some bloke who can’t make up his mind, like a three-and-a-half-hour interview with Jeremy Corbyn’. The act’s centrepiece is Anderson’s memory of his infamous encounter with the Bee Gees who stormed out of his TV chat show in 1996. He’d been encouraged to mock pop stars by Sting who enjoyed being teased about his stage name. ‘Sting is

Edinburgh Notebook | 15 August 2019

I’ve been coming to the Edinburgh Fringe for five years, but this is the first time I’ve dipped my toe into the stormy waters of performing. My show Iain Dale All Talk is a series of 24 interviews with politicians, media personalities and, er, Christopher Biggins. As I write this, I’ve just compèred the last show of the run and can look back on 12 days of variety, headline-making, insight and laughs. What do I remember? Nicola Sturgeon in fits of laughter describing what it’s like talking to the Maybot; Jess Phillips telling me she’d run to succeed Jeremy Corbyn and forming her cabinet live on stage; and Dr David

John Bercow picks his favourite parliamentarian of all time: himself

John Bercow addressed a packed crowd at the Edinburgh festival yesterday. He was gently quizzed by Susan Morrison who hailed him as ‘a grown-up in charge of the nursery’ at Parliament. She asked why he decided to swap the Speaker’s ‘full wig, stockings and buckled shoes’ for a business suit and a plain academic gown. ‘Out of date and passe’, said Bercow. He claimed that ‘young people’ had expressed keen support for his ‘approachable’ new costume. The togs may be modern but Bercow’s language belongs to the 18th century. ‘Nay’ is a favourite. ‘The Speaker is asked, nay, instructed to assume the chair.’ He calls debates ‘contestations’. He talks of

‘I merge into the background, me’

‘I live completely anonymously,’ whispers Jim Broadbent down the phone from Lincolnshire. Nonsense, I counter. You’re one of the most recognisable actors in this united luvviedom. ‘Am I?’ he asks gently. Oh come on. You’re Bridget Jones’s dad, Del Boy’s arch-enemy Roy Slater, Lord Longford campaigning for Myra Hindley’s parole, dotty antiques-shop owner Samuel Gruber in the Paddington films, Game of Thrones’s Archmaester Ebrose, testy but lovable W.S. Gilbert in Mike Leigh’s Topsy-Turvy, and the blackmailer who unacceptably shakes down Maggie Smith’s eponymous Lady in the Van. I best know Broadbent as Prince Albert in Blackadder’s Christmas Carol (1988), trying to go incognito among the commoners by passing himself off

Edinburgh round-up | 9 August 2018

Trump Lear is a chaotically enjoyable one-man show with a complicated premise. David Carl, an American satirist, has arrived on stage to perform King Lear when Donald Trump’s voice interrupts him from the wings. The President threatens to kill him unless he delivers an accessible version of the Shakespeare classic ‘that isn’t boring’. With improvised puppets, Carl rattles through the play while Trump interrupts and offers directorial notes. Something weird happens. A curious mutual admiration springs up between the artist and his patron. Despite its messy presentation, the show works because Carl is a superb impressionist and his wide-ranging gags hit the mark more often than not. The action is

Bring up the bodies | 9 November 2017

The moment you invite friends to some new ‘cutting-edge’ disability theatre or film, most swallow paroxysms of social anxiety. What if it’s dull? Am I allowed to yawn? What if I hate it? How interminably politically correct will it be? Do I want to think about ‘disability’ on a fun night out? While most objections can be overcome by a convincing performance, it is interesting to ask whether disability makes a difference to art, or does art transcend disability? If the current crop of plays and films, not to mention disability production companies, is anything to go by, the answer is yes to both, and we should want more of

Hit and miss | 24 August 2017

Truman Capote should have been called Truman Persons. His father, Archulus, abbreviated his first name and introduced himself as Arch Persons. ‘And that,’ scoffed his son, ‘sounded like a flock of bishops.’ The young scribbler was thrilled when his divorced mother married a rich Cuban, Joseph Capote, whose zippy and eccentric name he gladly adopted. He got a job at the New Yorker and found the magazine’s celebrated wits, including Dorothy Parker and James Thurber, were embittered molluscs who hated each other. Capote’s literary life, as related by Bob Kingdom, is a parade of inspired bitchiness. He had the knack of getting to a character’s core problem. For Gore Vidal

The many sides of satire

Brexit the Musical is a peppy satire written by Chris Bryant (not the MP, he’s a lawyer). Musically the show is excellent and the impressions of Boris and Dave are amusing enough, but the storyline doesn’t work and the script moves in for the kill with blunted weapons. Everyone is forgiven as soon as they enter. Boris swans around Bunterishly, Dave oozes charm, Theresa May frowns and pouts in her leather trousers, and nice Michael Gove tries terribly hard to be terribly friendly. Andrea Leadsom, known to the public as a furtive and calculating blonde, is played by a sensational actress who belts out soul numbers while tap-dancing in high

London calling | 10 August 2017

What is the Edinburgh Fringe? It’s a sabbatical, a pit stop, a pause-and-check-the-map opportunity for actors who don’t quite know where to go next. Alison Skilbeck has written a ‘serio-comic celebration’ of Shakespeare and her performance attracts a decent crowd for a show that starts at noon. She plays a fruity-voiced thesp, Artemis Turret, who delivers lectures about the Bard’s older females to groups of layabout pensioners gathered in a scout hut. It’s pure Joyce Grenfell. Good fun, too, but without much potential beyond the fringe. Dominic Holland’s show, Eclipsed, is about his life as a fallen comedy god. In the 1990s he was on telly all the time and

The Spectator Podcast: Macron’s vanity fair

On this week’s episode we discuss whether Macron is losing his gloss, ask if the Brexit talks are heading in the right direction, and recommend how to get the best out of the Edinburgh festival. First, it’s been just over two months since Emmanuel Macron became President of France, and already cracks are starting to show. Swept into the Elysee Palace by a sea of young voters rejecting Marine Le Pen and the National Front, those same voters are beginning to turn on the centrist former banker who they reluctantly championed. So says Gavin Mortimer in this week’s magazine, where he laments the new President’s vanity, and he joins the podcast from Paris along