Let’s start with the low point: ‘Gorgeous George Cabaret’. The compere, diminutive Diane in clumpy shoes, tried valiantly to lift the show (and she coped well with my companion’s heckle!) but it was a losing battle. The opening act was surreal: three Japanese men dressed like giant jelly babies, miming anyone from Marilyn Monroe to ET. So far, so bewildering. As the acts progressed (chronologically, though not always in quality terms) there was nudity, there was sleaze, there was dreadful singing. The highlight was Mabel, the winsome hula hoop woman from the Royal Mile.
But Gorgeous George’s distinct lack of gorgeousness made a perfect foil for the other shows I saw at this year’s Edinburgh fringe festival, which were on the whole excellent (the exception being the enticingly titled ‘Looser Women’, which in the event was lazy and a little dull). ‘The Ginge, The Geordie and The Geek’ put on a highly polished and mostly very funny sketch show with loud music, lots of props and energy levels just to the right side of manic. The format of giving short slots to a variety of acts ups the odds of seeing someone who floats your boat and the Pleasance Courtyard’s ‘Showcase Show’ was an amusing case in point, although the comedians looked depressingly young (except for Fiona O’Loughlin, former heavy drinker from Alice Springs). I particularly warmed to heavy metal comedian Andrew ‘I’m not a goth’ O’Neill.
While the fringe programme is dominated by an overwhelming array of comedy bites, this year I also mixed in a few dance and theatre shows. Ricardo Garcia’s ‘Flamenco! Flamenco!’ thrummed with authentic Latin passion. From my front-row seat I could feel the draughts from the twirls of Aida Gil Garcia’s fringed shawl and the swirling flounces of her dress. Beads of sweat floated in the floodlights as Frederic Gomez pounded the stage with his heels in an ecstatic solo display, his whole body shaking, the audience holding its collective breath. At the end of this moody, intense dance, he slung his jacket cheekily over one shoulder and looked back at the audience flirtatiously as he left the stage. Flamenco-tastic.
Billed as ‘straight fromNew York’, Rasta Thomas’ Bad Boys of Dance show, ‘Rock the Ballet’, was another rousing dance performance, albeit of a very different kind. Authenticity is thrown to the wind here, as a troupe of classically-trained ballet dancers jump, wheel and pump their way through a pop-rock soundtrack. The appeal lies in watching fit, muscled, unfeasibly long-limbed dancers (all male, with the exception of one ballerina, who seemed out-of-place in this testosterone-fuelled extravaganza) bring an effortless grace to moves more familiar to a Beyonce video than toSwanLake. Thumping music, a dazzling light and visual display and the high-octane enjoyment of the dancers made this a delight to watch, though I suspect it was hardly a challenging routine for the Bad Boys. The Newbury Youth Theatre brought enough enthusiasm and creativity to an excitingly staged performance of Gogol’s ‘The Portrait’ to make me want to read it. And ‘Philippa and Will are Now in a Relationship’ was an endearing and surprisingly moving portrayal of a student relationship played out on Facebook – a sort of social media version of ‘Romeo & Juliet’.
Drinking plays a big part in many people’s experiences of the festival. When I couldn’t find the venue for the show I’d booked – ‘Danny and theDeepBlueSea’, which I believe was about two drunkards – my first port of call was the pop-up champagne bar in the imposing Signet Library. A glass of fizz (it has to be said, a stingily small one) took the edge off my wasted ticket. So ‘Thirsty’, an exploration of women’s relationship with alcohol, is an appropriateEdinburghplay. It was impeccably performed by The Paper Birds; my favourite scene was the one in which the girls downed an implausible number of ‘drinks’, progressively drenching themselves and writhing on the chequered floor of the stage in cleverly choreographed drunkenness. It was perhaps slightly over-earnest, with a faint edge of maudlin morality, but any qualms were easily quenched after the show with a stiff drink …
Always a place of grand, dour, grey stone, and often cloaked in drizzle or steeped in a heavy downpour (although my Edinburgh friend disputes this), Edinburgh during the festival is a city charmingly possessed by entertainment. The streets are thronged with tourists, performers and culture vultures buzzing between shows, whatever the weather. I can’t wait for next year.