Comedy blog

Knightmares and talking sharks

Laugh Out London’s Tom Meek shares his diary of the Edinburgh Fringe 2014

cow cafe underbelly

Joz Norris dressed as a shark at the Underbelly Cow Cafe

It’s 8.30am on Thursday July 31 and I’ve just arrived in Edinburgh after a 10 hour trip on the National Express bus to see the exciting sites of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. And also to ask for salt ‘n’ sauce on my chips and not feel like a weirdo.

I won’t bore you with the details of my journey, although there were about 15 fluorescent-clad 17-year-old lads chaperoned by two scared looking women.

Was the journey worth it? Of course it was. Here’s what I saw on my first full Fringe day:

Beta Males Sessions: Adam and Guy, 2.30pm, Free Sisters on Cowgate

The first show I saw was a split venture between Adam Blampied and Guy Kelly of the Beta Males – a sketch group firmly established as Fringe favourites. It can be a risk to try material away from the comfort of a group that already has a solid fanbase and Fringe legacy, but the likes of Liam Williams (Sheeps) and Matthew Crosby (Pappy’s) have shown it can be done.

Both Guy and Adam look on their way to that status too, although in very different versions. Adam is a confident, enthusiastic story-teller, performing his own children’s stories that have a slightly darker twist than usual. It’s the same mix of the hilarious, the macabre and the emotional we’ve come to expect in the Betas and hopefully Adam will pursue this line of performance with equal success.

Guy shares the same wicked outlook as Adam, but uses it to tell stories from his own life. He introduces to his strange sounding uncle and his fancy for contraptions, while his relationship with his dad emerges as the strongest theme in a set of tales that complements Adam’s efforts.

The Grandees BaBoom, 4pm, Underbelly Cowgate

The Grandees are the latest in a long line of fantastic narrative sketch artists, who put as much work into the performances as the jokes. In this show, they perform three short, surreal plays featuring some very strange and wonderful characters, each outfitted in an imaginative array of props, wigs and costumes. Some slight sound issues on this showing would have thrown off less accomplished performers, but this trio breezed past the technical difficulties and kept the atmosphere consistently fun and anarchic. Worth going just to see Marny Godden as a singing spider.

Knightmare Live: Level 2, 5.30pm, Pleasance Courtayrd

The recreation of the children’s was a hit last year and has since toured around the UK. It’s only got bigger and better, with more props, characters and a proper story. On this occasion, our hero was Paul, who, helped by comedian Alexis Dubus, navigated a dungeon full of witches, goblins and dragons with the help of some hand sanitiser and a Commonwealth Games mascot. There can be few experiences more fun at the Fringe this year.

Alfie Brown, 11pm, Pleasance Courtyard

It’s only day one and I’m already struggling to see how anything can top Alfie Brown’s late night showing at the Pleasance. I’ve seen Alfie before do shorter sets in London, which maybe don’t quite fit in with a mixed bill night of comedy. But watch him for an hour (or an hour and 20 minutes on this occasion) and it becomes something special.

He’s built a reputation on being uncompromising, over confident and controversial, but the most striking thing about this show is it’s honesty. Alfie gives the impression of a fearless performer, but when the walkouts happen (and I imagine there will be many throughout this run), the performer becomes human. Just a man in a room speaking to people. His subjects (his divorce, one-night-stands, the age of consent, a particular ‘n’ word) are controversial on the surface, but Alfie doesn’t choose these topics to annoy or outrage; he’s genuinely interested in what he’s talking about and wants to provoke discussion and serious contemplation. You won’t come out of many shows truly questioning the way the world works.

There are some moments that are horribly uncomfortable, and some lines that do need clarity, and there are definitely points of view I’d challenge and ideas I don’t agree with (presumptions on sex being a particular one). But that’s what the show is about: stepping out of a comfort zone and being open to discussion. And maybe laughing a few times along the way too. A very intense show by a very powerful performer.

Cow Cafe, midnight, Underbelly Cowgate

To close my first day I ventured to the Cow Cafe at the Underbelly where the great Tessa Waters is curating a free cabaret each evening between midnight and 2am. On this occasion, there was a great mix of stand-up, characters, music, shouting, poetry, space, and beer, with the highlight being Joz Norris dressed as shark recreating a lost episode of Home and Away. Once you’ve seen all the shows you want to see in one day, this is the place to come back to late at night and keep the Fringe party going.

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