Day 2 was less eventful, although it was more packed than the previous day. I believe Frank and I have hit cruising speed for the Fringe. I will probably come to regret saying that. Our first show of the day was “Last Christmas” by Dirty Protest. A one man show about returning home after the loss of his father we entered the small, intimate space to find the actor already on stage pacing a few feet from us. This was theatre at its most minimal, stripped down to almost nothing. No props, no set, no music, just an actor, a black stage and some words. My goodness though. What words. Lurching from funny, to awful, to blackly comic, to awkward to pure, naked emotion and always, always expertly delivered. A real kick up the bum for those who might think they need a huge amount of money to deliver something memorable and beautiful. You just need some words, someone to speak, and someone to listen. That’s fuckin’ art man. I’ve been hearing a lot about Dirty Protest and they are most certainly a company to keep an eye on in Wales.
My next show I attended alone because there was only one ticket available when we showed up and Frank very generously let me have it. Oliver Meech’s “When Magic and Science Collide” was my first real Fringe disappointment, although not for reasons you might think. Meech is a charming, breezy stage presence, revelling in the lo-fi naffness of his venue and urging the audience to trust him because if we do he’ll make sure we have fun. And fun we did have, his slights of hand and feats of mentalism were delivered briskly and effortlessly, giving room for his personality and banter. Meech is undeniably a skilled and likable magician. My disappointment came solely from his show title. After Baba Brinkman’s “Off The Top” so effortlessly married science with rap I was hungry for further exploration of scientific concepts using uncommon delivery tools. What I got was a lot of expertly performed classic magic tricks dressed up in a science garb. By which I mean Meech wore a lab-coat and his assistant was at one point, a robotic arm. So an absolutely lovely, charming magic show that was tempered by my own expectations from the title. Sorry Oliver!
The Nualas are a Fringe institution and absolutely dominated the place a decade ago. Sell-out shows, buzzing word of mouth etc etc. And they walked away to have families and live their lives. They reformed in 2011 and this is their first Fringe show since. When I say I had expectations for the show I mean it. I never got to saw them the first time round but grew up listening to the cassette every day as mum drove me to school. So I was hyped. “So what are The Nualas?” I hear you cry. Well first I’d wonder how you’re reading this online without the ability to google them but whatever. But then, then I’d say. “Gather close, friend, and I’ll tell you a tale. The Nualas are a quirky, comedy musical act from Ireland”. It’s a short tale. Fringe traffic meant we arrived partway in to the first song “I Bought A Baby On Ebay” but we quickly settled down for the next hour. Songs about, amongst other things, seductive Spanish men, unrequited love, affairs with farmers and many many more were played. They have lovely voices, making great use of harmonies and back-up vocals to not only add richness to the music but also punchlines. It’s a great time and I hope their return to the Fringe is a triumphant one.
Next up we saw “Shame” John Berkavitch’s spoken word piece about, well, the five worst things he’s done in his life. A marked contrast to the stripped down “Last Christmas” this was a show of bells and whistles. Well laptops and projectors actually, but whatever. Accompanied by original music, animation, art and 3 exceptionally talented break dancers/physical performers John performed a piece of storytelling that used spoken word poetry for emphasis and power. I think this technique worked incredibly well spoken word has such a unique cadence and rhythm that an endless length of it would cause one to tune out; likewise simple story telling can do the same. By combining the two it created a natural set of peaks and troughs, guiding and directing the audience’s attention and anticipation. The use of the dancers to represent his brain/subconscious was tastefully done, it could have felt a bit overwrought, but they had a Clockwork Orange swagger to them which gave them command of the stage and John without any lines. In particular I loved their depiction of a coffee-machine. John himself is a natural story-teller, a confidence in his voice and his spoken word work is effortlessly clever. Despite being a show about how terrible he is he comes off as likeable, vulnerable and ultimately very human.
The final show Frank and I attended was a total shot in the dark. A free fringe performance entitled “Imaginary Girlfriend” performed by Danny Mullins. We had no idea what to expect, the poster had a psychedelic background and a cat in a red wig. What we got was, essentially, indoor busking. This sounds like a put down but it’s really not. Danny is originally a street performer; indeed he has a song about it. His set consisted mostly of his own songs, the type of stuff you’d be humming 5 minutes after you walk past him on Rose Street. What the indoor venue allowed him was the opportunity to interact with his crowd a bit more. I genuinely think this is something he should do more of. He’s brilliant at it, witty, likable, able to incorporate them in to his songs with clever improvisation and even invited other performers in attendance to show a bit of their work. There was even a rap battle. He got a bit flustered when a man at the back wouldn't stop talking, but the man did look like “the face of heroin abuse in Scotland” so who can blame him. I would have been terrified. There I am judging by appearance again. Sorry dude. For all I know you’re a brilliant guy, but you talked through a free performance. If you don’t like it then leave. You’re not wasting any money!
Anyway, back on topic Danny, for me, represented what locals call “the spirit of the Fringe”. A few pints and any local will start going on about how much better and less commercial the Fringe was ten years ago. And ten years ago they probably said it about ten years before that. But the Fringe, to me, used to be about the up and comers, the interesting things that people just wanted to be seen, to work on their art and show it. So a lot of shows were free with a wee bucket passed round the end and you chucked in what you had on you, or more if you thought it was worth more. People took more chances, went to more shows; more interesting work was seen and made. And as I’ve heard many a time that artists don’t make any money anyway so surely this model is better? I think it says a great deal that there is now an alternative part of the Fringe called “Free Fringe Festival”. Let that sink in. Think of the definition of the word Fringe. We now need an alternative to the alternative and to me that suggests that maybe, just maybe, it’s lost its way a little. Let me know your thoughts.
Once again a massive shout out to NTW TEAM for making this all possible, getting me up here, letting me see such a lot of interesting stuff and giving me a platform to post my ramblings. Cheers guys, you’re the best!
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