Kate Copstick: Brief return of live comedy is a reminder that online shows are no substitute

Local performers have struggled to fill the gap even though the field is wide open this month, writes Kate Copstick

The personable Charmian Hughes.

To be honest, when outdoor venues were OK’d by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon for performances from 24 August, I expected a rush of pent-up comedy energy, especially from local Free Fringe and Free Festival performers, who do a fair amount of whining each year about not getting the coverage they should because of all the “incomers”.

This is about as good a chance as chances get: all the focus would be on anything that happens in this final week. Local comics would rule Edinburgh.

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And what happened was Nathan Cassidy, who was on holiday near Carlisle and thought, “Why not?” Why not indeed. I am sure everyone else has their reasons for not doing so. But I am more than a little disappointed. And worried: it would seem that a live comedy Fringe is easier to kill than I had hoped. Certainly Cassidy’s lone comedy Lazurus got much less support than it merited.

In lieu of actual live performances, the PBH Free Fringe is putting on two full days of programming this weekend from the Voodoo Rooms. There’s no audience in the venue, it’s just a live streaming, but they are there. Peter Buckley Hill kicked things off in 1996 with Peter Buckley Hill and Some Comedians. Well, online at least, some comedians are still here: Obie and Silky, Tom Little and The Creative Martyrs, Laurie Black’s Space Cadette plus Mr Meredith (a glorious experience for fans of silly songs) and Walter deForest’s magical Van Gogh Find Yourself. The latter is one of the most surprising, engrossing and delighting experiences I have ever had on the Fringe. I have no idea how it will translate to the stream. But if performance ever lives again, do try to see it.

Most exciting of all, Peter Buckley Hill himself is scheduled to make at least a long-distance cyber-appearance, and if his now regular online Sunday night appearances are anything to go by, he will be worth logging on for.I have plans to watch the adorable (apologies if that sounds patronising, but it is the adjective which eternally springs to mind) Charmian Hughes in her 2020 offering She, part of the Free Festival’s online programme. The combination of this diminutive, delightful lady comic and Rider Haggard’s legendary, merciless temptress is almost as irresistible as Ayesha was herself. But the great charm of Charmian is the woman herself, in warmly personable person. So I shall save myself and see her in the flesh. She currently tops my list for Fringe 2021.

Meanwhile, this week saw an important performance from the aforementioned Nathan Cassidy, standard-bearer for comedy, live performance and the 2020 Fringe, alone on stage in a chilly Three Sisters Courtyard (which is, it transpires, really quite lovely minus the Fringe crowds).

The show is a sort of a comedy puzzle, resolved, in song, at the end, by Paul Simon. No-one except Twonkey has tied more convoluted loops into their comedy thread than does Nathan. It is an extraordinary (and basically true) story richly accessorised with laughter, life lessons and even a little bottle tossing.

There is quite a cast, and there is a marvellous itch in the hour – every time Nathan drops in another odd little comedy detour, you feel that it is a clue to something bigger. But not till Paul (and Nathan, positively tunefully) bursts into song at the end does it all make sense.

You can feel the whole courtyard “get” it at once. And that is a lovely, communal, comedy moment. And there are not many of those around at the moment. So thank you Nathan Cassidy for the best live comedy I have seen this August.

To find out more about PBH’s Free Fringe Voodoo Rooms online shows, visit www.thevoodoorooms.com/live.php. The Free Festival’s 2020 online programme runs until 30 August at www.freefestival.co.uk

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