The Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2015 began Friday 7 August and I went the first weekend and the first Wednesday to see a few of the many thousand shows. Here are the votes of the Dane’s jury:
Friday 14 August 2015
We did not get inside to the The Outsider at first. Technical problems delayed the start. Eventually inside, The Outsider was as Finnish as possible: Technical and mute, – and involving a mobile phone. A silent otherworldly clown character enters and starts interacting with two man-sized vertical flatscreens showing prerecorded video of the clown himself as twin copies with the “real” clown “entering” the video and appearing in another part of the set. This interaction between the live theatre performance and the prerecorded video requires very precise timing and only a couple of times was the performer, Janne Raudaskoski, half a second late. It shows what preciseness can be achieved with careful planning and rehearsal. The recording and the live were similar lit. On the stage you could see the difference between live and video, but in a recording from 2011 which conveys aspects of the show well it will not be clear to you what is the live character and what is the precorded character. Indeed an interesting concept, the story of the show, however, was meager, the overall message I got was: just do soap bubbles and everything will be ok.
Milton Jones, apparently a name in the UK with some TV appearance, performed at a large venue with the audience queueing early and filling the seats. That means if you queue up late you will get a seat quite far from the performer. While Jones can pour many-a-good absurd one-liners the show was a bit too UK-centric for my liking. I was behind in laughs compared to the rest of the audience. A problem with UK comedians is their reliance on British or English-speaking topics for some of the jokes. I did not know the word spinky/slinky so a joke on Milton Jones’ depressed uncle was lost on me. Last year I saw a British-Pakistani female comedian, Shazia Mirza, that was marked ‘U’ for a universal audience and even that stand-up show contained some UK-centric material. Perhaps it is a good recommendation for an international audience to steer free of big UK acts. At 18.50 Pounds the Milton Jones ticket was also the most expensive one. On the other hand if you are a connoisseur of absurd one-liners and a good word pun Milton is worth considering.
Céilidh Friday night yielded a sweaty two-hour journey back to Rosenkilde School of Dancing in Ørum. Totur til Vejle (Two-trip to Vejle) and the popular Trekant (Triangle) is what I remember. They were popular and requested more than the “traditional” Quickstep, English Waltz, Foxtrot or Chachacha. Blending in his own jokes, some kind to his wife Bente, blackmailing us with candy, our dancing instructor made a popular appearance each Friday in the Winter months. I recently googled Rosenkilde and found him still alive near 90. He lately have been mentioned in news media after heading a request for a monument for one of the leading men of the Danish resistance movement during the Second World War: Tholdstrup. Rosenkilde himself was as a young man member of the resistance.
Why is traditional dancing not more widespread in Denmark now? For the Scottish ceilidh the room was so full that both an inner and an outer circles had to be made to accommodate all dancers and there was a good age range. The old dance melodies seems more appreciated here than in Denmark.
Saturday 15 August 2015
“Old Jewish Jokes” was a collection of good classic jokes delivered without a microphone and wrapped with a small personal story by Ivor Dembina. As such he distinguishes himself from the classic stand-up comedian where the jokes are autofictional. The stories told where often set in the Jewish family (husband/wife, mother/son) with a misanthropic or at least pessimistic mood. Almost all where new to me. I have heard one in a non-Jewish setting before. Dembina modulated his voice well almost whispering at times and with no microphone he could gesticulate freely. The microphone-free approach did, however, had a back side. The venue was a closed room in the back-end of a bar and the noise from the bar and his at times low voice could make it strenuous to hear some parts.
Ivor Dembina’s act was at the Free Fringe, that is, the part for the Fringe where there is no entrance fee. I was not completely aware of what that meant, so I thought it better to buy a beer at the bar in case that was expected of me. In the end Dembina would tell us what Free Fringe meant: You pay a courteous exit fee with an amount of your own liking. Dembina was kind enough to let us know what an appropriate amount would be: He was looking for a “silent contribution” – that is to say “no coins”. Wonderful Jewish humour. He got 5 Pounds from me. The fully packed room had an audiences of 43 with a few standing. With three weeks and working 7 days a week an average of 5 Pounds will only make around 4’500 Pounds. Not much. He practically have to live on the street in August’s Edinburgh to afford the Caledonian Sleeper back home to London.
“Can I start again Please” was a two-actor piece by Sue MacLaine running in the Summerhall venue where the art-sy theatre plays run. Having a first row in the remote Red Lecture Theatre gave a relief from the bar noise of Dembina, – necessary as half of the play was silent with one of the actors – Nadia Nadarajah – doing her lines in sign language. The other actor was Sue MacLaine herself speaking with a distinct clear voice, – a trained actor I thought. From the notes in the Fringe program it was not clear what the play was about and on the surface level it appeared as a discussion on Ludwig Wittgenstein’s philosophy particular criticizing his quotation “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” Another concept put up for commentary was “silence means consent“. Obviously these statements are highly questionable if you cannot speak because of a handicap. Unfortunately, another issue that went over my head during the play was silence in connection with childhood trauma. We were given the clue after the play. I think it may give the audience a better appreciation of the play if the clue was given in advance. I saw the play as mostly a learned critique of Wittgenstein. Given that I am already a bit of anti-philosophic and think not highly of Wittgenstein I did not see that the play added much.
I am thinking that MacLaine perhaps did not want the audience to know the “solution” to the play in advance but keep the secret as a meta-comment to the play itself: the play remains silent about its own core content and reveals only the surface plot.
I am reading “Forensics: The anatomy of crime” by Val McDermid. In this true crime book McDermid tells the story about a 14-year-old girl allegedly abused by her father (I am reluctantly using the word “allegedly” here) and recording it on video. On page 185 McDermid tells us that the jury went with “not guilty” “because they didn’t believe the girl – she hadn’t cried enough”! Surely, it seems that the behaviour of children experiencing trauma may be seriously misunderstood, whether the child does not cry or – as put forward by MacLaine – remains silent.
Devoted Westlife fan Danish London-based Sofie Hagen had her ‘Bubblewrap‘ Fringe show premier at the Saturday night. Something went wrong with the venue and the dates so people had apparently met up Friday for her show and the venue wasn’t finished. She got booked in a comparatively large venue that according to rumour could seat 500 people for a rock concert. I suppose that Sofie Hagen was afraid that she would be playing in a large mostly empty room. One day in the Fringe 2013 she performed for just two people according to her excellent Danish report on the Fringe. For the Saturday opening there was no problem and her show was quite well-attended with the room that didn’t feel too big. And with a five-star review rolling in on the show from Skinny and four-and-a-half from Chortle (though a mingy Scotsman only find three stars) it shouldn’t be a problem getting people to the venue.
Sofie Hagen has been spinning jokes around her physical appearance for some time, indeed she is a self-declared body activist according to a Danish news paper interview. Now she is moving on to her teenage years as an insecure boyband fan. For those who think that she just made it all up she has been keen on uploading an old tv-program showing her as an all-absorbed teenage fan and a recent radio Westlife encounter. You’ll also be able to find radio interviews about it from British Comedy Guide. I leave it as an exercise for the reader to find some of her Westlife fan fiction. I still haven’t been able to find the juicy fan fiction presented in Bubblewrap. Her time as a Westlife fan provides her with unique material that she effortless recounts with the punchlines well-timed and well-wrapping callbacks. There is more personal storytelling than quickly forgotten one-liners. Westlife will be proud of their fan and Denmark has yet another Sofie making a mark in Edinburgh. (the first one being Sofie Gråbøl’s theatre performance in Edinburgh last year). Sofie Hagen got 10 Pounds from me. The show is surely worth it, not just for the comedy but also as a document of teenage fandom. The best comedy I have seen so far at my two years on the Fringe.
It is recommended that you should only do 4 shows a day, so the last show I saw Saturday was too much. A puppet show around tv-crime (yes the Sarah Lund sweater was there) sounded funny and was at times. At other times I was behind in laughs compared to the other audiences. The puppeteer did a good job but the material was too thine for my liking. The banter may cater to a UK audience, but this Dane was too tired.
Sunday 16 August 2015
The Danish Bagpipe Comedian Claus Reiss delves into a classic Danish act scheme of one man, one musical instrument and some jokes. Internationally recognized Victor Borge and one of the best Danish sit-down comedians Niels Hausgaard have excelled in this scheme. Claus was scheduled early and this should tell you something about the ambitions in the show. I had my expectations set low and they were fulfilled. He is an excellent piper, but his stand-up material and delivery was not fully in shape. His interaction with the audience was at times somewhat out of tune. One should think that a bit of technical comedy consultancy from Sofie Hagen could benefit. Hagen recounts that she was given advice from a fellow comedian who did not like her show: to film all her gigs. That might help on Reiss’ movements on stage which seemed both unplanned and staged. An indication that his material probably stems from a Danish show was an explanation of a Danish word pun, that had to be translated back and forth to English, – all too elaborate. Reiss is on the Free Fringe so there is no harm in watching his show. After all, Pipe’n’comedy could be a classical Edinburgh mixture bound to be a success if he hit the right comedy note. He already handles his instrument effortless. He got 5 Pounds from me.
A sidenote: I do hope that the firemen look into the venues and no Danish comedian gets burned alive. It seem to me that particular Espionage was a labyrinthine maze of rooms and walkways with a complex escape route. And what appeared to me to be an emergency exit seemed locked.
“Tubular Bells for Two” had made it all the way from Australia, – again. It is a well-established act on the Fringe. On YouTube you find good and not so good renditions of Mike Oldfield music. As a follower of the music of Mike Oldfield I was interested in this, but had not set that high expectations for the performance. In a packed room in the venue at Pleasance with perhaps 400 audiences the performance was not at all bad. They managed to render Mike Oldfield’s classic quite close to the original album and the rock part on side two was a powerful performance. They supported themselves with loop machines and a mouth piece that I hadn’t seen before. It seemed that they deliberately made it look hard, – probably because it was hard. Well done, Aussies. Surely a must for an Oldfield fan.
BLAM! provided no intellectualism but a quite start on a bad day at the office. Packed with 500 to 1000 (or more?) audiences with a broad age range, the wordless but not noiseless drama built steadily up to a grand great finale. Quite a physical feat I was genuinely afraid that they might hurt themselves and wondering whether their stage will survive to the end of August. The performance has minimal story but that hardly matters in this physical theatre play’s joyful application of non-pretentious theatre violence. Here is a toast for the fine entertainment and a hope for the survival of the four actors. If you missed it this year it will probably be there next year.
Wednesday 12 August 2015
The classic play, The Cherry Orchard, from the beginning of the 20th Century was shaken up by 3 young women from South Korea. Taking the parts of the mother Lyubov and the two daughters Anya and Varya they made a highly stylised and physical performance. The pretentious, abrupt, extreme and peculiar acting repeating lines made my think to music videos such as Psy’s videos, – one of my very few references in Korean culture. Or a talkative modernisation of pantomime. Good and Artsy. More South Korean than Russian.
Ivor Dembina had two shows on the Fringe 2015 and based on the his show Saturday I wanted to see his second show, New Jewish Jokes, which was billed at the The Stand, – but I came late. Last year I saw a good ol’ fashion late night stand-up show in what I remember to be The Stand. This was a bar where there was no problem for a late-comer blending in once you paid the entrance fee and grabbed a beer. But The Stand has multiple venues along the street and at this particular venue with Ivor the Jew it seemed inappropriate to late-come.
Standing in the street outside The Stand I was handed over a small flyer for Silky, an entertainer with a guitar, a singing voice and a pack of humorous anecdotes. Professional but also somewhat casual entertainment in a small room with perhaps 40 seats and with an audience of 25. Apparently, he changes his show every evening. He straightforwardly interacts with the audience adding their names to his songs. Friendly entertaining which seems to have no high aspirations. I cannot help comparing him with the Danish guitar-playing Niels Hausgaard. Hausgaard seems better at establishing a stage persona and establishing expectations in the audience as the show goes along.
With the title Scotland’s Pick at the Fringe you should think that you got the creme de la creme of Scotland’s stand-up comedians at the Beehive in Grassmarket. I spend some time trying to buy a ticket to the show, but this was only possible at the door. The second floor around 50-seater room had perhaps an audience of 30 lending an ear to four stand-up comedians and Gus the presenter. The ‘pick’ seems to have been just a random one with a varying quality, – one on open mic level or just having a bad day. The UK-centric issue was not that much of a problem. A Welsh young women was perhaps the best although relying on somewhat stereotypical stand-up material.