EdFringe Day 3 – It’s raining, comics

Aug 10 2012 | By More

Comedy lunch, island tales, a mad doc and a Smiths-inspired monologue

The cast of First Bicycle's The Idiot On The Wall: Tim Barrow, Simon Eilbeck, Lucy Goldie, Angela Milton, Brian Thomson and Elspeth Turner

The cast of First Bicycle’s The Idiot On The Wall – Photo Credit: John Garfield-Roberts

By Thom Dibdin

The first Sunday of the Fringe has become Comedy Sunday, the day when Nika Burns hosts the Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Awards opening lunch for a bunch of industry peeps and journalists.

It has also become the day when, as tradition has it, the heavens open and the rain comes down in buckets. So the pervading smell at the lunch, in Heights at the Apex International hotel on the Grassmarket, is of wet dog.

Burns is a serious bigwig when it comes to comedy and the theatre world. She’s director of the Awards – she bankrolled them the year that they lost their original sponsor – and co-owner of Nimax, the company which runs six London west-end theatres.

She has some serious words to say, too. Her London theatres are feeling the effect of Olympic blight – with takings 20% down. She feels lucky though, as the big iconic London tourist attractions are between 40% and 50% down on income. So she warns that if the Edinburgh fringe’s income is only 5% down on last year, it will have done very well indeed.

An interesting prophecy. Not that the directors of the big four fringe venues, or the heid-yins of the fringe and Festivals Edinburgh are about to pass comment on such predictions.

She runs a quiz for the attendant movers and shakers. This year it is all on the history of the Awards. It’s a riotous affair, with a £600 cash prize to the winning table. Which is won by the table on which the majority of the biggest backroom names on the fringe are sitting. Much to their delight. Perhaps that is their response to her earlier prediction.  See if you can recognise anyone!

“It’s a bonkers kind of a show…”

I had to cut and run before the end of this laugh-fest (and forego the delights of the sponsor’s brew, obviously) to get on my bike and up to the first show of the day.

Edinburgh-based company FirstBicycle are staging the stunning, elegiac and poignant the Idiot at the Wall, at the Bedlam. Not content with having a rather brilliant name, they have also created a rather brilliant show with Elspeth Turner’s debut play directed by Emily Reutlinger.

It’s set on a Hebridean island soon after the end of the First World War, and uses all the power of storytelling to weave its magic. It’s a tale of a family divided by a tragic prediction, a story of classes clashing, of a society which can absorb its misfits but can’t take back in those who have left.

Foster's Comedy Awards Lunch

The happy winners of the £600 cash prize pose with their loot. Photo © Thom Dibdin

There are big performances all round from the cast of Tim Barrow, Gregory Thomson, Lucy Goldie, Angela Milton, Scott Cadenhead and Elspeth Turner. Reutlinger has a real understanding of how to integrate Gaelic and English into a play while remaining both clear and comprehendible to the audience. While a simple but very effective set from Eve Murray will hold the production in very good stead if it manages to go out on tour following the fringe

One pleasing element of the show is the Gaelic songs of the period which Murdo Turner and Tim du Feu have woven into their score. And there is more music down at Summerhall, with the peculiarly titled Dr Quimpugh’s Compendium of Peculiar Afflictions.

This is a chamber opera for three singers – with piano, violin and cello accompaniment. It’s a bonkers kind of a show – great fun, well written and with some fantastic singing – but bonkers all the same.

Suffering from insomnia one night, the psychiatrist Dr Quimpugh comes down to his study, where he proceeds to peruse a big book of all his most famous cases. A pair of nurses watch and note that a drowning man will often see their life flash before their eyes. And then proceed to take the roles of various clients he has had, since diagnosing his parents’ mental aberrations.

There is yet more singing over at the Zoo Southside, where Joseph Murray is performing Alex Broun’s one-man play Half a Person: My Life As Told By The Smiths. Murray is easily good enough to get past my Morrisey intolerance, creating in just-turned-20 goth, William, a true and self-obsessed vision of maudlin youth.

Murray sings a few of the songs to a backing track. They fit into the narrative in a rather clinky-clunky jukebox musical kind of a way, which isn’t too bad, to be honest. There’s a one with a guy called William in it, which is as good a reason for naming your central character as any.

This is a double love-story, though. William meets a dodgy girl in cafe and falls head-over-heels in love. Immediately. And when it all goes wrong – as it invariably does (what would be the point of listening to the Smiths otherwise) – he goes round to his best pal’s house, wails obsessively, listens to the Smiths, drinks gallons of red wine and falls asleep on the sofa to wake up in the morning discovering that he has been all nicely tucked up.

And that’s the problem. Nice performance – great range, proper tears and a strong singing voice too – from Joseph Murray, but the play itself is just too neat. It’s not just had its toes tucked in over the night, but the sofa’s been done out with hospital corners.

The Idiot at the Wall, Bedlam, Venue 49, 15.25 (16.35) www.edfringe.com
Dr Quimpugh’s Compendium of Peculiar Afflictions, Summerhall, Venue 26, 17.00 (18.10) www.edfringe.com
Half a Person: My Life As Told By The Smiths, Zoo Southside, Venue 82, 19.50 (20.45) www.edfringe.com



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