Laughing around the Edinburgh Fringe: Day Three…

Aug 9 2011 | By More

Futureproof, Comedy lunch, Sans Hotel and the World According to Bertie

Christopher Richardson at the Edinburgh Comedy Awards Lunch

By Thom Dibdin

Edinburgh was laughing on Sunday. It laughed in the rain, still streaming down, it laughed with the comedy mob, it laughed with the locals and with the visitors and it reserved its biggest laugh for the theatre.

It was the day of the Fosters Edinburgh Comedy Awards annual lunch, a day which started in hardcore style with a 10am show at the Traverse, and went on after the lunch to a piece of theatre so experimental that it had audience members leaving within ten minutes – wusses. And it ended at a version of Alexander McCall Smith’s Edinburgh-set 44 Scotland Street novels with an introduction to the lovely Corrie, playing the faithful dog Cyril.

Comedy might not be on my agenda, but having missed all the venue launches, the Edinburgh Comedy Awards lunch is chance to get an informal chat with a bunch of industry types, producers, venue high-heidyins, press peeps, and to catch up on a bit of the politics of the Fringe Society.

The result of his endeavors

The big news on the fringe comedy circuit this year, at least according to Nica Burns, is the Free Fringe which has pushed the number of shows eligible for the awards up to 505. Last year there were 430 eligible shows – and when she took over the running of the awards in 1984 as the Perrier there were a mere 40.

That must be an utter nightmare to programme… There’s just the ten judges, so that’s 50 shows each to see then. Not too bad, though, they don’t have to write a review from each one and they have until the 24th to see them. They should try working on The Stage’s beat – the same number of shows to see before the 18th.

Nica Burns is quite rightly proud of the impact that recent graduates of the awards have made it into the heart of some of the major British cultural institutions. Recent winners Tom Basden, Daniel Kitson and Tim Minchin were amongst those mentioned who move in elevated circles.

Meanwhile one-time Pleasance boss Christopher Richardson was inspired by the elevated position of the venue – Heights Restaurant at the Apex International – to bring out his water-colours, drawing pad and brushes. While all around were desperately networking and trying to complete the easy-easy comedy crossword in under five minutes, Richardson set to work drawing the scenery.


First play was the opening of Lynda Radley’s Futureproof at the Traverse – directed by Dominic Hill in his final show as artistic director of the company. A slightly sprawling tale of the dying days of a fairground freak show in the early part of the 20th century, it has some great comedic performances and Colin Richmond’s design uses all sorts of tricks of the light and illusions to create its darkly oppressive set.

Radley’s script shows how unusual people, the freaks of Riley’s Odditorium, have been integrated into society. Once they had their own place – as objects to be looked at, marvels to be wondered at or magical beings to be feared – but by the end of the play, as science and religion play with people’s guilts, they become homogenised into society.

Nicola Gunn, At the Sans Hotel

At the Sans Hotel

Really freaky, but in a totally different way, was At the Sans Hotel, up in Assembly on the Mound. If the visceral Polish theatre of Turandot pushed the boundaries of theatre in one way, Nicola Gunn is pushing them in a completely different direction.

This is a solo show which might be – but probably isn’t – about schizophrenia. Maybe its about self and eccentricity. Or maybe it is about the sweet taste of marshmallows and fresh cream, of standing in public with your high heels on and feeling the eyes of the passers by on your stockinged legs. Perhaps it is just about a young French girl who wants to make friends, or a lost German woman who walked out of her hotel room one day, had a psychotic episode, lost her passport and ended up incarcerated as a suspected illegal immigrant.

What ever it is, there is nothing I can say to prepare you for Gunn’s fascinating event which will, if you stay as close to the end as you can, leave you with the inkling that perhaps she is the audience and you are the performer. Fascinating, challenging theatre which defies any kind of criticism.

The World According to Bertie

There is nothing too challenging about The World According to Bertie. It is quite simply the episodic adaptation of Sandy McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street novels. If you’ve read any of them, you’ll recognise the characters of this, the fifth of the series.

Not all the characters are as you might have imagined them, though. Bertie himself, played by Clark Devlin looks disturbingly like a young Keith Chegwin. His overbearing mother is a pretty hideous character, but no matter how hard she goes at it, Rachel Ogilvy just can’t make her as pushy, vicious and terminally vile as she is in the books.

Corrie, star of The World According to Bertie

It’s a large cast with a big but frothy treatment that is perfect for the inconsequential, episodic structure of the novels. Both Margaret Fraser as Domenica Macdonald and Edward Fulton as Angus Lordie are very much as you would imagine them.

Star of the show has to be Corrie, the 12 year-old border collie brought in to play Angus’s faithful hound, Cyril. She is a lovely dog but sadly she wasn’t very good at sitting still as she posed for a picture with her master, Nigel Harvey, after the show. Her performance in the show, however, was spot on.

Futureproof: Traverse theatre, to 28 August:

At the Sans Hotel: Assembly on the Mound to 28 August:

The World Accoding to Bertie: C Soco to 29 August:


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