Edinburgh Fringe 2013: Get with the programme

A promo for Sex Guru at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2013. Picture: Comp
A promo for Sex Guru at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2013. Picture: Comp
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The 2013 Edinburgh Fringe brochure was launched last week. Arts editor Andrew Eaton-Lewis offers a few first impressions…

It’s bigger

Again. One day, surely, the Fringe must pop like an overinflated balloon or contract into a terrifying black hole like an overinflated universe. Meanwhile, there are 176 more shows than last year – although, counterintuitively, 100 fewer free shows, fewer venues and slightly less comedy. The Spoken Word section is noticeably bigger, and has bigger names too – Phill Jupitus, Jeanette Winterson, David Schneider of Alan Partridge fame, George Galloway of George Galloway fame, and lots of journalists (Simon Hoggart, Polly Toynbee, Jon Ronson, Jay Rayner). Is Spoken Word the new Free Fringe? Could be. Look, Robin Ince – ahead of the curve when it came to established names doing free shows – is in it.

Lots of comedians are called Chris

During this bigger than ever Fringe, spare a thought for stand-up comic Chris Martin (above), who – by necessity – built his 2011 Fringe debut, No, Not That One, around the fact that he’s not Chris Martin from Coldplay. Now, just as this fact has been reasonably well established, he faces competition from at least a dozen other comedians called Chris (Coltrane, Dangerfield, Fitchew, Griffin, Henry, Kendall, Kent, Mayo, Ramsey, Stokes… you get the picture) There are also 12 Daves. If you think this isn’t a problem, bear in mind that some audiences still get Jason Byrne mixed up with Ed Byrne.

Nobody is interested in the independence referendum

In the Traverse’s new musical, I’m With The Band, the independence debate plays out as an argument between four band members – a Welshman, an Englishman, a northern Irishman and a Scottish guitarist who wants to leave the group. It’s the sort of thing that should provide a quirky alternative to more straightforward explorations of the issue. Actually though – unless I’ve missed something – it’s about the only show on the Fringe that addresses this potentially momentous historical event at all. And it’s written by a Welshman. Is everyone waiting until next year?

There are quite a few shows about sex…

Admittedly, there are always lots of Fringe shows about sex, but it does seem to be a bit of a “theme” this year. Sex Lives Of Others, Bonk! Phone Whore, Jack Spencer: Sex Addict, Sex Drugs And Toilet Rolls, Sexual Freaky Friday, Sex With Animals and Sex Guru (above) … and these are just the ones whose sexual content is obviously signalled by the title. But tutting prudes please note: this is a festival in which more than 2,871 shows are competing for attention. Since explicit sexual content is a screamingly obvious way to get that attention, the fact I’ve only spotted around 30 shows using sex as their principal selling point suggests most Fringe performers are, in fact, even less interested in sex than in the independence referendum.

…but not that much burlesque

Feel free to write in and prove me wrong, but burlesque seems to have gone a little quiet this year. Briefs is back, Assembly has a Best of Burlesque show, Laughing Horse has a Blues and Burlesque Speakeasy, but it doesn’t dominate the programme the way it did at the height of its revival. Even in the cabaret section, women are more likely to be found doing sassy singing shows (Lady Rizo, pictured left, Lady Carol, Ali McGregor, Isabelle Georges) than stripping. I think this is a good thing, by the way.

Five stars is the new four stars…

At the Traverse programme launch on Thursday, executive producer Linda Crooks pointed out that the venue got 42 five-star reviews last year. Star ratings still matter, in other words. But perhaps only if you get five. The sheer number of mostly amateur reviewers means that these days, if you don’t manage to get at least one four-star review, you’re in trouble. Increasingly, audiences are indifferent even to posters sporting four-star reviews. A rash of fives, though, is harder to ignore – inexperienced but fair-minded critics have been known to award four stars just to avoid looking foolish (giving an obviously decent show less suggests you think there’s something wrong with it, an argument you’d need to back up). Five stars involves sticking your neck out.

…but one star might not be a bad result either

My favourite comedy concept this year: Shit of the Fringe, a late-night showcase on the Cowgate “for all the great comedians who have got bad reviews, and deserve more!” Ah, but do they mean “deserve more bad reviews”? (In which case you should heckle them, Late N Live style). Or do they mean “deserve better reviews”? (In which case you should be nice, maybe.) Either way, it’s a great idea, although perhaps one that could only apply to comedy. Can you imagine how tragic a late night show called Shit Burlesque or Shit Improv would be? I can. I’ve been to both. They just didn’t call them that.

Favourite old venues are back, only different

Spare another thought for the Forest Fringe (right), which spent years building up an award-winning reputation as a showcase for experimental theatre, only to be turfed out of the building that gave it its name when the owners went bankrupt. This year, Forest Fringe has moved to Out of the Blue on Leith Walk. It’s a risky Fringe venue, being so far off the main drag, but Andy Field and his team are hoping to lure audiences with a particularly strong programme, built around established names like Tim Crouch (creator of The Author, An Oak Tree and England) – all of which is free. The much-missed Aurora Nova also makes a welcome return this year, but with Northern Stage now resident in its old home at St Stephen’s, it’s offering a programme spread over several venues.

Some performers should maybe get other people to write their Fringe brochure blurbs (particularly those in the dance & physical theatre section)

“When the human condition is conceived as fragmented and haunted by an unavoidable sense of solitude, the body becomes a site of transformation, a liminal space where the borders between in and out, subject and object are blurred.” A Google search reveals that the show in question (In-be-tween, left) features a beautiful naked lady pouring what appears to be powdered chocolate on to a bright pink vibrator. Which sounds much more fun. To be fair, perhaps Dance Base is just trying not to attract the wrong sort of audience (leery men being known to glaze over at the word ‘liminal’). But what excuse does Mr R at theSpace have? “Investigates the existence of individuals and the variations of humanity. Multiple subjects from the virtual character Mr R are produced through inner entanglements and competitions.” That sort of thing just makes me want to give up and go see Jason Byrne. Or Ed Byrne. And I LIKE live art. «

Twitter: @aeatonlewis

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe runs from 2 to 26 August. www.edfringe.com