Arts Blog: Oliver Lansley tells why he keept returning to the Fringe

Frisky and Mannish
Frisky and Mannish
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This year marks my 11th consecutive Edinburgh with my company Les Enfants Terribles, and it’s got me thinking… why do I keep coming back? I mean, it’s cold, it’s wet, there are so many hills, and sooo many actors.

Every year it does its best to break me, financially, emotionally, physically and yet, ever since my first experience, (West at Assembly in 2002) I’ve been unable to resist her call… why?

I guess there’s just something about the Fringe that gets under your skin. The Edinburgh Fringe is the biggest fringe festival on the planet. I’ve been fortunate enough to have performed at both the second largest (Adelaide), and the third (Brighton) – and while they both have their own individual charms (sun and beaches being high on that list) they just aren’t comparable in terms of scale.

EdFringe is all consuming. There’s nothing else like it in the world, nowhere you can drink for so many hours at so many bars, speak to so many strange people and see so much… stuff.

I use the word “stuff” as I can’t think of one word to describe it. Over the years I’ve been blown away by such treats as Steven Berkoff’s powerhouse performance in Requiem for Ground Zero, had my heart broken by Camille O’Sullivan’s husky rendition of Rock and Roll Suicide, been clambered over by a sweaty, naked Phil Nichol, been wrapped in the majesty of Daniel Kitson’s story-telling, rained on at Fuerzabruta, been sworn at by puppets, had my ears pounded by beatboxers, boogied in spiegeltents, partied in lofts and libraries and purple cows. Where else in the world could I do all these things?

I love the Edinburgh Fringe. We’ve even invented our own LET award to try and help new theatre companies find their way up here. So let’s celebrate her with all our hearts, or at least until the end of August, by which time we’ll never want to see the bloody bitch again…

• The Trench, the new show from Les Enfants Terribles, is at the Pleasance Courtyard, 1:10pm, until 27 August.

Matthew Jones of Frisky and Mannish tries something a little bit differnt

THIS year is my eighth Edinburgh Fringe. My first, in 2004, was in a student sketch show called I Can’t Believe It’s Not Better – unfortunately, the skits weren’t as self-aware as the title.

In 2005, it was a cutesy kids’ show called I Was a Rat, for which my flyering duties consisted of breakdancing on the Royal Mile in a rat costume. In 2006, I had a monologue about rebel Babylonians in a dreary Racine tragedy alongside nine other actors who often outnumbered the audience. Then in 2008, I came with my friend to try out a few parody songs at varied bill nights. At long last, we had a willing Fringe audience begging us for flyers, and we didn’t even have a sodding show. So we came back in 2009 with Frisky and Mannish’s School of Pop, and experienced that most elusive thing – a bona fide Fringe “hit”.

Now, Frisky and Mannish are on their fifth Fringe, playing a mix of vintage and box-fresh material at the 740-seater Assembly Hall for just eight shows. One comic said to us, “Ah! So you’ve already made it to the victory lap stage?” We laughed, and were secretly pleased. But it’s not true. We made a purposeful decision not to do another whole new concept show.

It’s great to feel established after our trilogy, but we also suspect that people may have written us off as only doing one thing – prancing around singing Kate Nash tunes. Now’s the time to throw in a curveball.

So, alongside our “victory lap show”, we’re doing a darker, more experimental cabaret piece, based on the 27 Club. Anyone who finds our usual fare too frothy should check it out. It’s well deep an’ that.

Alongside all this, I am appearing in a new play at the Underbelly called Punch, an entirely different beast again. It’s a bleak two-hander, a very black comedy about comedy, and I get to try and be many things that Mannish is not – a stand-up comedian who is male, straight, Cockney and dangerous. It’s an amazing piece of writing that I’m privileged to be in, and there’s a big juicy twist.

In an ideal Fringe, all three would be smash hits. In reality, I’ll settle for one hit, one audacious experiment, and one Marmite show.

• Punch, Underbelly Cowgate, 3:40pm until 26 August. Frisky and Mannish: Extra-Curricular Activities, Assembly Hall, 7:30pm until 26 August. Frisky and Mannish: 27 Club, Assembly George Square, 11:45pm 20-22 August.