Monday the 1st
Up at a frankly undignified hour to catch the 7.30am out of Kings Cross, accompanied by the sleeping Desmond O'Connor. It seems this train is a little too early to be full of the usual collection of performers/twats on their way to make their name at the fringe, although midway through the journey I do see two student actors attempting to carry an office chair down the length of the train. Kids, they have office chairs in Scotland. Get one when you get there.
Once arrived in town, we all start to meet up at my producers flat. Mr.B, the gentleman rhymer, is already there, so we exchange the secret cabaret handshake and inspect each others flyers. OK, so there is no secret cabaret handshake, but since this year is the first year that cabaret has been included as a genre in the fringe, I feel it's a good move to create as much mystique as possible around it. Also “Inspect each others flyers” is not a euphemism. Also, we should totally invent a secret cabaret handshake.
Off to see my venue for the first time while we tech “The Bitch Doctors”, which I'm also in. It's totally lovely – a little old ballroom with dancefloor, gorgeous ceiling good sized stage and MIRRORBALL. What's not to like? Bearing in mind that the arched ceiling of last years venue was so low, that there were parts of the stage where I couldn't stand because I would get stuck between the roof and the floor, I'm very happy with this years room.
I get settled in at my digs, and then head out to meet Kirsty – otherwise known as burlesque satirist Honey Wilde. She's up here performing and running the sound on a bunch of shows, and we're both away from our other halves so have decided to be festival buddies and keep each other sane. A good starting point is a visit to Mammas Pizza on grassmarket, where Kirsty pours scorn on my choice of cheese, tomato, banana, sweetcorn, pineapple and baked beans pizza. Until she tastes it, at which point she very grudgingly concedes that I know what I'm doing.
Tuesday the 2nd
I got up today intending to do a street show on the Royal Mile, but ended up buying an umbrella. You can divine all you need to know about Edinburgh right there. Oh, and by the time of writing this, I have – of course – lost the fucking umbrella.
Teched my show today. During the morning I was feeling a little wobbly, but after running parts of the show, sorting out a lighting state or two, getting the music tracks working and using the MIRRORBALL, I felt pretty good about everything.
Arranged to meet a bunch of stand-up comedians to go see Captain America, which was an awful film, but a fun time. Me, Stuart Goldsmith and Rob Deering all agreed that after our techs we were all feeling positive and excited about our shows. Something is sure to go wrong. Afterwards, we were all walking across the little piazza outside the cinema when what looked like 5 bucketfuls of water dropped out of the sky and landed a few inches in front of Stu. No idea where it came from. Empty sky. We all stood around staring at it for a while. Strange.
Then off to the Pear Tree – via somewhere where me and Kirsty could purchase chips (with cheese in her case, with mushy peas in mine, 'cos that's one of my five a day, right?) - to meet filth hurricane Lizzie Roper. One of the great things about Edinburgh is that everyone is seemingly everywhere, so although we'd gone to hang out with Roper, we also ended up hanging out with Hardeep Singh Kohli, Rhiann and Ben from Tricity Vogue's show, and Art Maliks daughters. Funs. There was talk of getting Honey Wilde to do her Mrs. Thatcher burlesque act on Neil & Christine Hamilton's chat show, which would be awesome.
One more late drinkie with Roper, and then I'm back in my bed. Nervous but confident about tomorrows first nights.
Wandered up to the royal mile to see which street performers were around, and arrived just in time to see my old double act partner Dave starting a show. Had a fun time sitting in the front row watching Dave throw clubs around and be silly. If you see a tall, lumpy blonde fellow in an ill-fitting tuxedo on the street during the festival, give him half an hour of your day, you won't regret it. The last time I'd seen Dave was earlier in the year when we took the old double act to a festival in Fremantle, Australia, so we caught up over a baked potato during which I received a call telling me I'd been booked for another show today. Which made four. Four opening nights in one evening. Go hard or go home.
Bitch Doctors was first – partly improvised comedy based around sorting out the problems, woes and ailments (via twitter #BitchDoctors, or submitted live) of the Edinburgh festival folk. I'm on with Des O'Connor and Helen Arney, who are both great. I feel slightly out of my depth, which can only be a good thing. Comfort zones, and stuff. Bearing in mind we'd never done it before, it was actually pretty good – great in places, and will only get better.
Then it was a guest spot in The Voodoo Revue – small audience, but lovely. And then it was the big one, my one man show.. and...it was fine. I think I struck the right level in that I was happy with it, but I can see places where I can tweak it and make it a little more theatrical and stylish.
Finally a demented dash to the Pleasance to do a spot in Vive Le Cabaret, alongside Marcel Le Cont, Piff the magic dragon, Rayguns look real enough and similarly great acts. Another lovely audience, and I'm done. Knackered, but contented. I walk back to my digs munching on a samosa filled with vegetarian haggis. Just have to do all that another 24 times.
Same four shows today. It's only the second preview, so I perform “Three Balls..” to six people. Hilariously, I'd been told the there was a reviewer in tonight, and while usually it's a challenge working out who the reviewer in the crowd is, when the audience consists of two friends, the girlfriend of a friend, a couple, and a single guy, the game is easy. There's a part of the show where I ask the audience to name a famous comedian, and when the reviewer suggested Harry Lauder – a scottish music hall legend – I had an inkling he might be my kind of person.
Over the Vive Le Cabaret after my show, as per usual, and then we were all rolling down to perform at The List's launch party, where we were doing cabaret in the old operating theatre – one of those victorian lecture theatre cum surgeries – an amazing room with fold out wooden benches in the steepest rakes I have ever seen, and amazing acoustics – when Ed cracked his whip is echoed for days. Packed house, and another lovely show.
I caught a taxi back to my digs, and the driver had me pegged:
“Just seen a show or just done one?”, he asked
“Just done one”
“Are you funny or a play?”
“Observational or surreal?”
“Um. Observational, with juggling”
First official day of the fringe, and I get myself down to the street performers draw. Lovely to see so many old street performer friends. Lots of people I haven't seen since this time last year, who travel from the corners of the world to do shows in this high street in this week. It's also a year since I last worked the street properly, so I have to make sure to take it easy or my throat will up and leave me on day one.
As I'm having breakfast my phone pings and google alerts tell me that The Glasgow Herald has published a review of my show. I'm not confident – hard to get an atmosphere in a venue with only 6 people there, and although they were attentive and appreciative last night, the laughs didn't really roll. I look up the review and and stunned to see that they loved it. “Brilliantly written and consummately performed”. I get five stars. Knocked out by this. To get such a glowing review on the first official day of my show is about as good as it could possibly get. It sounds shallow to be so encouraged by something like this, but the truth is that there are just so many shows at the fringe that it's impossible for punters to choose what to go and see without a little guidance. For someone like me, fairly unknown outside of my little pond, a couple of great reviews make a massive and tangible difference.
Also luck has gone my way in the street show draw and I have a show scheduled for 1.15 on the high street. It's been a while, but I'm in a giggly mood, so I get myself into the crazy throng that is the Royal Mile and knock out a nice show. Following up the show with the traditional cheese and beans potato, and then I'm ready to yomp down to my venue and do what will become my regular set of shows: Bitch Doctors (which as we start to work it in is rapidly becoming quite great), Voodoo revue, Three Balls and a New Suit, and Vive Le Cabaret. Five shows today.
I'm a little disappointed to find that even with the review and my flyering of my street show audience, I'm working to 6 people again in my solo show. Most of it is story telling, which is fine with a small audience, but some of the routines are really helped by atmosphere, and feel – at least to me – emptier when the laughs are sparser.
My mood dips a little, but not for long. However crappy any of my days at the fringe turn out to be, every night I'm headlining Vive Le Cabaret which is turning out to be a peach of a show – great core cast and brilliant special guest spots. I'm stunned and honoured that I'm closing this show every night, and Des O'Connor's astonishingly great compering assures that I always bounce on stage feeling like a star. 6 people or not.
The only reasonable way to round off a five show day at the fringe is, of course, with drink, so I put a little call out on twitter for people to come a hang out in the courtyard and have a lovely night in the company of Honey Wilde, Eastend Cabaret, Ed and Amelie, Cherry Loco and various other brilliant cabaret wierdos.
Bearing in mind that in Edinburgh (a) all the streets are on hills and (b) It's always bloody raining, I'm not sure why there isn't one part of town – the part where all the hills end – that just fills with water every day and drowns everyone there.
Comparitively slow day today – only three shows – and due to the drinking last night, it's well into the morning before I stir. Next door to my venue there is a good looking little cafe – all cramped tables and steamed up windows - and yesterday Kirsty, our fabulously enthusiastic stage manager, was raving about it, so I figure it's time for a nice big fry-up. The menu options are:
Big veggie breakfast
Bigger veggie breakfast
Biggest veggie breakfast
I opt for the biggest, and then add extra eggs and toast. It's great, and it's a pleasure to see a “Tattie scone” on my plate for the first time in a year. But then, beautiful tragedy: I am still hungry. Fuck it. I order macaroni cheese and chips as a chaser. Mmmm carbs.
Bitch Doctors today is great, really tightening up while still allowing for improv. I always love working with Des, but it's a huge treat to be sharing a stage with Helen Arney every night. She's just completely brilliant. A smart, silly and elegant performer, and gorgeous musically. If you don't know her stuff, seek her out.
I'm having a day off from the Voodoo revue today, which means I can crack open a can of Relentless and sit at the back to watch. Halfway through the show, my producer taps my on the shoulder and whispers in my ear that one of the acts hasn't turned up, so could I do a spot. One hurried set-up later and I'm back on stage.
And then it's time for my solo show again – I'm hoping that I get at least seven in tonight, and am very happy to discover that I'm in the low twenties. That still might not sound like much, but it makes all the difference and or the first time this fringe I get to feel how the show should feel. Afterwards I cruise over to The Pleasance for Vive Le Cabaret in the pouring rain, with a big shiny grin on my face.
And who's on at Vive but the brilliant Norman Lovett, who you might know as Holly the computer from Red Dwarf. He's been going for ever, and is a wonderful stand-up. An act full of craft and art. Gentle, clever, thoughtful and silly. We go for a drink after the show – the last time I shared a bill with him was nearly 25 years ago in a tiny little London cabaret club – and he's a mensch. So great to be able to chat to him. This is one of the things that makes the fringe such a seductive and intoxicating place to be.