It’s the first day of the annual warm-up for the Edinburgh Fringe
Festival – the press launch parade – and already it feels as if it has
been going forever.
I’m standing in the Pleasance Dome, another university building that
for the next four weeks will be home to dozens of comics, actors,
dancers and musicians, all hoping to stand out from the army of
performers that has descended on the city. The press is out in force,
milling around chatting to producers, performers and PR people, on the
hunt for the scandal, the gossip and the rumours that will fill the
weekend entertainment sections.
After a brief and bitter coffee
to keep me awake, I’m ushered into a small theatre for a quick-fire
round of acts, ranging from a comic orchestra through a satanic puppet
show to some flamenco dancing.
While it’s all very entertaining,
it’s a bit disappointing to find that there’s nothing quite as
controversial as last year’s top launch act, when a 10-minute section
of the show XXX, performed by Spanish act La Fura del Baus, had a
member of the crowd hauled on stage and molested in front of a stunned
There’s plenty of controversy to be found elsewhere
however, not least a return to the fringe of the gay Jesus play Corpus
Christi, which led to the writer having a fatwa declared on him the
last time it was in town.
The day passes in a blur of taxis and
launches, with snapshots of the shows playing across the city revealing
that Burlesque is the hottest ticket in town, with different acts
appearing at each of the big venues.
And in the grand tradition
of the fringe, hard-hitting topics such as the London bombings and
paedophilia seem to be the main preoccupation of a large number of acts.
nearly 12 hours on the festival circuit I’m already beginning to wonder
when it will all end – and it doesn’t even start in earnest until
Another day, another round of launches, and I don’t know if I’ll ever get back to the office to actually write any of it up.
The day starts in typical Festival style. After trying to get to the
bar for five minutes to get a coffee before the start of the day’s
first – and at 10am, the festival’s earliest – launch, the bartender
turns out to be a comic. An Australian comic who specialises in
Englishman, Irishman and Scotsman jokes.
But sadly doesn’t
specialise in serving coffee while doing his act. And after he’s done,
the crowd moves into the dingy dungeon that is the Smirnoff Underbelly,
the kind of cramped venue that really draws the audience into the
experience, whether they like it or not.
Special mention to the
presenters for the show, the fantastic faux-French duo of PrioritÃ© a
GauchÃ©, who make sure everyone is wide awake for another mixed bag of
stand-up, theatre and music.
Twenty minutes later I’m at the C
Venue with a stiff drink, being accosted by a woman in a beard, a guy
in a green monster suit and a woman pushing tickets for a theatrical
production of Snoopy. The variety of acts is mind-boggling. I often
wonder whether acting in a show with only three people watching is
really what some of them expected.
Still, they can’t be a faulted
for effort, and every company does its bit to appear fresh, original
and daring. So here we have a disturbing play about parents coping with
the realisation that their son is a paedophile and a light-hearted look
at presidential assassination in Lee Harvey Oswald The Musical.
on the Royal Mile, promoters are thrusting fliers for their shows into
the hands of the dazed-looking crowd, while magicians, acrobats and
street theatre goes on all around them. This is one of the main focal
points for the festival and proves that some of the best entertainment
can still be found out on the streets.
Sleep is always something of a luxury at this time of year: there’s simply too much to be done to take a break.
The Film Festival announces plans to screen classic movies under the
stars in the centre of Edinburgh as part of the build-up to the launch
the following week.
It’s either a stroke of genius or sheer
folly. The weather will decide which, but optimistic organisers insist
the show will go on regardless, with plans to hand out free waterproof
ponchos to the assembled crowds in the event of a sudden downpour.
first full fringe show of the year is ironically about journalism and
the story of the faked photos of British soldiers abusing Iraqi
prisoners. It’s powerful stuff, even if the idea that the blame for the
pictures belongs with a devious careermad journalist and not the
paper’s editor seems a little wide of the mark.
The show is being produced by actor Art Malik’s daughter and he kindly agrees to pose for a few snaps afterwards.
With another festival reporter taking over for the next few days,
I’m back on the news beat, and even though that means a 7am start, I’m
almost glad to be getting a break from the fringe.
A few hours later as I try not to slip into a coma while reading
planning minutes, I remember why I signed up for the fringe job in the
I’m also hunting down figures on the mumps epidemic that has gripped the nation for more than a year now.
Another early morning, another gift of a story in the silly season,
as news breaks that the Countess of Wessex is pregnant again. All the
papers have to go on are sources and a picture of the Countess with a
slight bump showing in her swimsuit, but the Palace isn’t denying it,
so it seems congratulations are in order.
Back in Edinburgh, the late Robin Cook’s second wife has extended
the hand of friendship to his first wife by inviting her to the
funeral, meaning just about the only person who won’t be there is Tony
My day is once again taken up with festival stories,
finishing off an interview with maverick writer/director Paul Schrader.
He’s in town with his troubled movie Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist,
part of the film festival line-up. It’s never been seen in Britain
before and Schrader is clearly still miffed at the fact that it was
shelved and then completely remade by Renny Harlin. I was told he’s
under contract not to talk about the other movie, but he can’t resist a
sly dig. “They used a lot of smoke and lights to get atmosphere,” he
“It’s a bit more cheesy than my film.”