Sometimes you get the best out of the Fringe simply by going with the flow. Peter Buckley Hill’s Free Fringe and everything that came in its wake means that we have the opportunity to dip toes in comedy waters all across the city without drowning financially.
I happened to mistime a show and then bumped into the cast of Joe’s NYC Bar, a bit of expertly choreographed, immersive fun. So I go along. We, the audience, are all in the eponymous bar, hanging out. The bar has been created just for this show in the carpark at Assembly George Square and is fully functional – so most of us are drinking. The bar owner welcomes us and initiates a bit of a conversation with some of the customers… and then we see where that takes us.
Bar staff and a couple of regular customers are actors/improvisors and so the conversation/argument never falls flat. Anyone who joins in is very supported by one of the pros in the room. I am lucky to find Lach is their musical guest today and his songs are – as ever – unpredictable and very sharp. We end up talking gender identity, bullying, politics (but not too much) and the power of being nice to each other. It is huge fun. And a genuine “experience”.
One of the actors involved (I get into a bit of a heated debate with him) is Peter Michael Marino, and he flyers me, so the next day I go to his show, Show Up.
It is a wonderful way to pass an hour. Marino is Queen of the One Man Shows – he performs them, he produces them he teaches them – and he creates a whirlwind hour that is part improv, part what stand-ups would call “banter”, part autobiography and quite a lot of audience participation. Such are Marino’s hyper-energetic super-skills in this latter genre that we participate much in the same way that a passenger on a fairground Waltzer turns around. We simply can’t help it. From our confessions, a chair, a table, a box of crazy props and a wall of giant Post-it notes, Marino creates his narrative. A lady in the front row is in charge of the musical interludes, a chap in front of me is stage manager. The rest of us simply provide applause. Which comes naturally. His improvisation skills are a mix of gift and experience, and the tragic tale of the boy cheerleader who was locked in the attic eating only food which could be slid under the door until he swam to New York, found and accidentally killed his long lost grandmother, before making his fortune in Dry Cleaning is wither-wringing and rib-tickling at the same time.
It is wonderful to see a show like this in the hands of a true professional.
I am having a week of senior moments and arrive for Michael Brunstrom just as he is finishing. However, Thom Tuck is drawing his bespoke flyers at the bar and he highly recommends the show that is about to start. So I see Ben Target. This is a load of quasi-incomprehensible fun involving party poppers (did you know you can SMOKE them), balloons, oranges, shaving foam and messages from Ben’s architect brother Hugo, with whom he used to share his bath until the episode of the foreskin and the bath tap. Target is a charismatic performer and never loses the room, albeit the sense of bewilderment is palpable. We form a band – heavy on percussion, pretty much nonexistent on anything else –and have more fun with a load of blow-up bananas than I can remember having since I was about six.
There is always a deliciously dark edge to what Target does. Never explained, just shimmering there like an oil slick on water. And what is not to love about someone who plays the nipple bells and describes coming home from school with his “testicles in tatters” ?
Everything happens in its time here at The Fringe. I last reviewed Ashley Storrie when she was 13 years old. Now, I am horrified to learn, she is 31. She is a glowing, friendly presence onstage. She looks so comfortable and in charge there. More than anything you feel that her comedy comes from her heart and that her heart is pretty great. She is the daughter of Janey Godley so if she couldn’t tell a hair-raising story then we would have to rethink the entire science of genetics, but she is gentler than her mum.
Her hour is personal, it is about her family: her crazy Ma, her autistic Da and her wonderful Granda, who died recently. “My good Granda” she says (the criminal records of the rest of her family tree would paper the Castle esplanade). She loves, she says, to banter. And she loves her family.
Her Ma might be a bit obsessed with calling Tories names on Facebook and her Da definitely gives the worst gifts in the history of Christmas but the love that this crazy family has for each other shines through the show. And the death of her Good Granda has been a shattering experience.
Storrie’s stories of her childhood, her school, her troubles with panic attacks, her worries that there might not be a relationship for her and her tales of her attempt at an adventurous sex life are enthralling. You genuinely could sit all night and laugh and gasp and maybe cry a wee bit. I remember quite well what she was like at 13. But I will always remember how she is at 31.
This has been, I think, a great Fringe, comedy-wise. I cannot remember a year when there were so many super shows. I have had my mind opened and my funny bone tickled. Every time it seems it is all getting too big and too corporate and too commercial, there is another little gem to find if you go looking properly. That’s the beauty of the Fringe.
Joe’s NYC Bar, Assembly George Square Studios, until Monday; Show Up, Laughing Horse @ The Counting House, ends today; Ben Target’s Orangeade; Heroes @ Dragonfly, ends today; Ashley Storrie: Morning Glory, Laugh ing Horse @ The Counting House, ends today