A mere 10 days at the Edinburgh Fringe for me this year but plenty to savour.
I’ve already written up Panti Bliss’s pro-weird welcome address here and collected my first 10 Scotsman reviews and some other recommendations here. (Another dozen Scotsman reviews are yet to run – I’ll collate those in due course too.)
Below is a jumble of other semi-reviews and stand-out moments compiled on the train back to London. I’ve misleadingly framed them as awards cos that’s where the cultural capital’s at. Details for all shows can be found at the Fringe website – look em up there, you’ve got fingers.
Best opening number:
Anyone taking a punt on a free show in the expectation of a bit of unchallenging entertainment will spit out their gin at the glorious rendition of Lovin’ You that opens Betty Grumble: Love and Anger. It’s all about the eyes. And the arse. And other things.
Best topical song:
The Creative Martyrs‘ Is it Okay to Punch a Nazi? was a superbly needling, ambivalent number even before Charlottesville. I can only assume the on-the-spot engagement it provokes changes by the day.
(On the other hand, I’m genuinely curious how Hans: Mein Camp is dealing with the US resurgence in neo-Nazi activity, if at all. The show as I saw it basically trivialised fascism as a superficial peg from which to hang a singalong knees-up.)
Best take-down of stultifying, reactionary discourse through industrial-scale toilet humour:
Wild Bore, from Ursula Martinez, Adrienne Truscott and Zoe Coombs Marr, has fairly been billed as an attack on critics, with the trio reading passages from hostile reviews out of their very arses. That’s just the start of a hilarious show that devotes fantastic amounts of imagination and resources to extrapolating the mindset underpinning reactionary, often misogynistic responses to these artists’ work. To me, though, it was less about criticism per se than about the damaging cultural effects of discourse that is predetermined, circular or uninterested in difference. But maybe that’s just me covering my back.
It’s testament to Matthew Floyd Jones’s talent that the night I saw Richard Carpenter is Close to You many things apparently went wrong but you genuinely couldn’t tell. It probably helped that it’s a show about unmet expectations, with MFJ inhabiting RC as he dismally tries to launch a solo career and escape Karen’s shadow. It combines the expert pop pastiche that MFJ and Laura Corcoran delivered as Frisky & Mannish with the more uncanny and unnerving neurotic introspection that has marked Floyd Jones’s recent solo projects. The result is powerful, entertaining and empowering, and bloody funny.
Best takedown of queer Muslim oppression through a Whitney Houston/Alicia Keys mash-up:
The stand-out moment of powerhouse alt-drag girl-group showcase Denim: World Tour comes from troupe leader Glamrou, in the form of a deeply personal, fiercely political, roof-raising survey of the oppressions and insecurities that come with being a queer Iraqi Muslim. This one goes out to Daddy Mohameddy.
Best Theremin solo:
Not to detract from the actual star of Carla Lippis – Cast a Dark Shadow, whose formidable talent makes for a cinematic and intoxicating hour. But musical director Vicky Falconer-Pritchard (EastEnd Cabaret’s Victor Victoria in another life) rocking out on the oscillators is also a sight – and sound – to behold in its own right.
Cross Fit is pretty good in itself as the title of a show by Jesus reimagined as a gay gym bunny. But the name of the place it’s set takes the wafer: Jehovah’s Fitness.
Most provocative disruption of hypocritical normative expectations of monogamy through clowning:
Few performers generate quite the mix of carnivalesque laughter and awkward personal implication as this one. Red Bastard: Lie With Me sees the demon-cockerel-clown take aim at lazy and hypocritical cultural expectations around monogamy. I saw a preview version that could have benefited from making space for audience experiences outside the norm – something I understand has taken place in subsequent shows, which should only add to the frisson in the room.
Best use of a ship’s wheel of knickers:
For the sixth year running, it’s Twonkey’s Christmas in the Jungle, now with added cannibal Santa, bestselling recipe book Cooking with Pills and a sturdy red nylon narrative thread. Twonkey’s on-stage agent assures him “nobody wants that shit anymore. It’s too imaginative, too weird.” Nonsense. Keep it coming.
Best radical feminist reclamation of a classic stage-magic routine unconsciously rooted in patriarchal appropriation of menstrual ritual power:
Thanks to Dr Carnesky’s Incredible Bleeding Woman, sawing a woman in half will never seem quite the same again. Nor will lipstick, Medusa or oesophegeal swelling. Also wins the award for cutest cast member.
Best use of a power drill-egg whisk combo:
It has to be George Egg: DIY Chef. Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Give him a hot-air gun, a wallpaper stripper and a blowtorch and he’ll make a delicious three-course meal and share it with the audience with a side-order of tasty, groan-worthy gags.
Best molestation of straight white men:
There’s a good bit of competition here, which is awesome, and the runners are all Aussies. The clear winners have to be Hot Brown Honey, whose stunning revolutionary intersectional vaudeville remains an absolute high point of the Fringe. Busty Beatz humungous boozombas are unavoidably front and centre – for some punters even more unavoidably than others.
Honourable mentions also go to Reuben Kaye, whose table-turning audience invasions play out like Jurassic Park with lashes, and Tomás Ford, whose taming of a boozy bunch of lads through a fuck-you-very-much up-close-and-personal rendition of YMCA was just delicious. Put your pride on the shelf, indeed.
Another toughie. Meow Meow is unassailable on this front and must take the crown but Tomás Ford can get that party started pretty much anywhere and Pollyanna host Pollyfilla gets points for doing it as Theresa May.
Best animal costume:
Who else would take being gobbled up by a lion with the gracious magnanimity of the unprepossessing Mamoru Iriguchi? In delightful children’s show Eaten, Mamoru uses an ingeniously designed costume to simultaneously play himself and the lion in question. Cue some lovely disquisitions on eating thoughtfully and a quietly queer single-body romance between diner and dinner.
Best critique of structural misogyny with a fake tache:
There’s another, very different case of two characters in one performer’s body in Claudia Jefferies’s Syd and Sylvia. Set in a 1980s working men’s club, it sees Jefferies playing both spouses in an abusive marriage, combining groanworthy puns and spangly standards with deeply unsettling anecdotes and enactments of silencing of and violence against women. It’s uncomfortable, uncompromising stuff.
Best dealing with a walk-out:
Walk-outs keep a performer humble but even Myra DuBois was almost lost for words when a couple of punters literally shouldered past her en route to the exit as she stood performing in the aisle. Generated fab material for the rest of the show though.
Best closing number:
Depending on a given day’s audience, Tomás Ford: Craptacular must feel for the performer like either a joyous group playtime or a Herculean effort in obstreperous cat-wrangling. Even the toughest crowd, though, is putty in Ford’s hands by the time of his ecstatic Enrique Iglesias finale.
Forest Fringe is no longer producing a festival at Edinburgh but in Forest Fringe: The Last Waltz, they delivered a send-off party at the Cameo cinema with wit, élan and loads of weird sex stuff. Ira Brand, Louise Orwin and H Giles all offered different spoken-word accounts of sex in these strange times, from online awkwardness to submissive desire to the fusion of queer theory and Scottish failure. Plus unicorn strap-ons from tongue-in-cheek live-art riot-grrrls Double Pussy Clit Fuck. Then everyone trooped down to the old FF venue (now Assembly Checkpoint), lit sparklers, sang Love Will Tear Us Apart and went and got drunk.
A couple of personal thank yous. I ran a couple of editions of Cabaret Chinwag at Fringe Central again. Guests at the first one were Denim’s Glamrou, Hot Brown Honey’s Busty Beatz and Offa, and the Creative Martyrs (pictured). We talked about cabaret as a technology of subversion and resistance and had some beautiful songs. At the second one, we had a bit of a queer-Jew-in with Marisa Carnesky, Reuben Kaye and myself, plus the awesome MisSa Blue. We talked about how chin-scratching live art and jazz-handy variety can benefit from collaboration and had fabulous lo-fi turns from the guests.
And I was also honoured to be invited to speak at Rainbow Soapbox, the Monday morning queer political cabaret put on at the Traverse by the brilliant Miss Annabel Sings, Agent Cooper and the rest of the Dive Queer Party gang. I watched FK Alexander smash up a laptop and Tom Marshman take down a Tinder fuckboy through a Britney song, and told everyone why I think fun is worth taking seriously.
They recorded my spiel so if you’re interested and you’ve got six minutes, here it is:
Rainbow Soap Box live
Posted by Dive Queer Party on Monday, August 7, 2017
And finally, if you’re still reading, here’s a batch of might-have-beens – the Edinburgh 2017 shows that got away:
Here are four shows I’ve seen before this year’s festival and heartily recommend – details at the Fringe website:
Eggs Collective Get a Round
Figs in Wigs: Often Onstage
How to Win Against History
Michael Griffiths: Sweet Dreams
And here are 29 shows I didn’t get to see but wanted to – details at the Fringe website:
A Girl and a Gun
A Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad)
Ada Campe and the Psychic Duck
Blueswater Presents: Cat Loud
Boris & Sergey’s One Man Extravaganza
Carol Coates: Lady Carol
Desiree Burch: Unf*ckable
Elf Lyons: Swan
Fancy Glitter Faniciulla on Tour without the Band
Frank Lavender: Fragile Masculinity
Gloria Hole presents: The Clinic
Helga – Life of a Diva Extraordinaire
Otto & Astrid: Eurosmash! (Die Roten Punkte)
Perhaps Perhaps Quizas
Queen of the F*cking World
Sasquatch: The Opera
Seven Crazy Bitches
The Roads I Didn’t Take
Un Poyo Rojo
Wank Bank Masterclass
Click through to read…