SPEED of Light won’t be the only festival show taking place on Arthur’s Seat this August. Working on a rather more modest scale, veteran Fringe comedian Barry Ferns, 35, is performing a free stand-up show on the summit of the iconic hill right through the month.
With a PA strapped to his back and a microphone tucked in his pocket, he is scaling the iconic 251m volcanic plug every day at 1pm and performing a half-hour set for anyone who feels like joining him. He’s also carrying a supply of bin bags in case the heavens open and members of his audience suddenly find themselves in need of Glastonbury-style waterproofs.
“The show is partly an explanation of what Arthur’s Seat is, the geology of it, and also a celebration of how spectacular it is,” Ferns says. “And of course I talk a bit about people’s efforts to get up there, too. The people who have made it up there will have invested a lot of time and energy, but they’ll also be a bit fitter – this is the only gig in Edinburgh to actually increase your life expectancy. It’ll make you laugh and improve your cardio-vascular fitness.”
Ferns estimates he’s carrying as much as 15kg of kit up and down the hill every day, so he trained hard in preparation. He’s not too worried about his fitness, but he reckons wear and tear on his joints might become an issue later in the month because all the extra stuff he’ll be carrying will make him “weigh the same as a big guy rather than a small guy”.
Given the effort involved in accessing his high-altitude venue, Ferns expects audiences for his shows to be modest, but if the weather is particularly inclement – as it often is in Edinburgh in August – there may be a day when he reaches the top of the Seat at 1pm to discover he doesn’t have an audience at all. What then?
“I’m expecting that to happen a few times,” he says, “but I’ll always be up there for 15 minutes, from 1pm to 1.15pm, just in case there are any latecomers. If it gets to 1.14pm and somebody’s climbed all the way up to see your show in the rain and then you’re not there – well, that’s just beyond insult, isn’t it?”
Ferns has been putting on one-off Fringe shows on Arthur’s Seat since 2007, when he played a pioneering al fresco gig to an audience of 40. In 2008, with emerging talent Josie Long on the bill, the audience swelled to around 150, and then in 2010, after a year off in 2009, a show featuring Ferns, Long and Rich Fulcher drew a crowd of over 200. Last year’s Arthur’s Seat show boasted the talents of Long again, battling to stop the wind from blowing her skirt up over her head while insisting she wasn’t a burlesque act, and the hugely likeable Joel Dommett, and it also featured a brief cameo appearance from a frightened rabbit, flushed out of the long grass by an excitable Alsatian puppy. Again, it drew a crowd of around 200.
Ferns’s previous Arthur’s Seat gigs have all taken place in the natural amphitheatre just to the east of the summit, with audience members sprawled out on the grass (he’s been uncannily lucky with the weather with his Seat gigs to date), but his 2012 shows are on the rocky outcrop at the very top – a less comfortable place to perch, perhaps, but much more dramatic, and the slightly surreal feeling of seeing a comedian performing without all the usual trappings of a purpose-built venue is still much the same:
“I think people like the transparency of it,” says Ferns. “People are sitting there watching you setting up, putting the PA together and everything, so there’s that spirit of ‘OK, this has all been created in front of us’ – there’s no ‘those guys over there’ making it. There’s a sense that we’re all in it together.”
Ferns has a long history of staging attention-grabbing Fringe pranks. In 2007 he changed his name to Lionel Richie by deed poll so he could call his sketch show This Sketch Show Belongs to Lionel Richie – a riff on reports that the Dancing on the Ceiling singer would go on extravagant shopping sprees and, rather than buying the things he wanted in the usual way, simply attach stickers to them that said: “This Belongs To Lionel Richie”.
The gag continues this year: Ferns’s Arthur’s Seat gig is called This Arthur’s Seat Belongs to Lionel Richie, and he is also performing a conventional stand-up show at Alternative Fringe@The Hive, This Barry Ferns Belongs to Lionel Richie, and a comedy flash mob event at the Scott Monument, This Comedy Mob Belongs to Lionel Richie. He’s made a free-to-download walking tour of the Fringe, too, This Audio Tour Belongs to Lionel Richie, and on 18 August he’ll be hosting a one-off gala comedy performance on Arthur’s Seat entitled This Arthur’s Seat Gala Belongs to Lionel Richie. Star performer Arthur Smith will be carried to the top of the hill in a sedan chair.
Presumably, if it’s raining, some sort of bin-bag canopy will be erected over his head.
• This Arthur’s Seat Belongs to Lionel Richie, Arthur’s Seat, until 27 August. Today 1pm. www.barryferns.com
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Friday 24 May 2013
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