The Columnist

I've been performing on the Fringe off and on since 1963, but 1994 is the first year in which I was in a venue where the stage manager was in real life a trapeze artist. She was called Sarah-Jean and she was working at the Pleasance and she said she was a trapeze artist, which is the sort of thing you have to take on trust, except that one day I arrived at the Pleasance and saw her dangling from a tree in the adjoining graveyard.
            ‘What are you doing?’ I said.
            ‘Practising ‘, she said.
            A memorable sight. The sound I remember most from the 1994 Fringe is applause and laughter. When Simon Gilman and I arrived each day to do “Bizarre ", our 4.25 pm show at the Pleasance ( pausing only to touch forelocks to Christopher Richardson as he went round the walls of the Pleasance, tapping at the stonework - an odd thing to do, you might think, but he lived in hope of  detecting signs of an empty room or even cupboard he had not yet spotted which might be turned into a venue for 1995 ) we were always greeted by stamping of feet and grand ovations.
            This was not for us but for the previous show in our venue, " Pussy Cats go Grrr ", by Melanie and Sue, who on stage were gritty street level comediennes but who, as they came off-stage at our arrival turned mysteriously, like many another gritty, Cockney comedian, into Cambridge graduates. Our audience was altogether quieter, more thoughtful, less cramped somehow. We preferred it like that and felt sorry for Melanie and Sue having to deal with a room in which people had hardly any room to move.
            Most of the rest of the time I spent going to children's shows. I didn't particularly want to go to children's shows, but my 7-year-old son Adam did.
            He wanted to go every morning, so I found myself going to Purves Puppets and The Tinder Box and Grandpa's Quiet Day and Pendragon and lots of others. Many of them were very bad (though not as bad in my opinion as grown-up shows like "The Hour in Which We Nearly Knew Each Other " ) and Adam loved them all. He always sat in the front row, in case there was any audience participation, and at the first sign of it he was up on his feet.
            He was even thrown off-stage in one play, " The Tinder Box ". When the princess held up the tinder box sadly and said, ‘Oh dear, only the soldier knows how to make this work, and he is not here. I wonder if any boy or girl in the audience can tell me how it works?’, Adam leapt on stage and tried to take it from her, saying: ‘Here, let me show you!’. She flinched and said faintly, ‘No, just go back to your seat and tell me... '.
            My feet were kept firmly on the ground at the Fringe by living in an area at the top of Easter Road where nobody was interested in the slightest
in any aspect of the Festival. The local newsagent was longing for it to end, so that her husband's driving school could get back on the road. The local takeway shop said that when you had catered for a Hibs v Hearts match, the Festival seemed very small beer. And in the hotel next to my house there were fifty or more travellers arriving and departing every day, getting in and out of big coaches, who had absolutely no interest in the Festival. You could see them at breakfast, all eating their cereal in unison, You could see them in the evening, soup spoons raised in unison. Their coaches all came from England, and in the last five days, one driver told me, they had done the Lake District and the West Coast and the Isle of Mull and the Trossachs and now they were doing Edinburgh.
            ‘Anything festive?’ I asked.
            ‘The Tattoo,’ he said.
            ‘Nothing else in the Festival?’
            ‘Laddy, to them that is the festival.’
            As my lip prepared to curl, it occurred to me that I am equally vindictively selective. I always go to far too many comedians, not enough drama. I never go to the Tattoo. I have not been to anything in the Festival proper, outwith the Fringe, for many years (except the Hour In Which We Walked Up and Down Meaningfully and Didn't Say Anything ).  I promise to go to far too many shows which I don't get to....
            Still, at least I saw somebody banned from going to a show, which I hadn't seen in Edinburgh before. It was my son Adam, actually, I am proud to say. The show was " Bizarre ", the thing based on the Fortean Times  I was doing with Simon Gilman every day at the Pleasance at 4.25 ( my God, do you notice the compulsion to advertise the show even now, nearly a year later? ), when Simon came to me and said: ‘Look, Adam knows the show by heart by now and he is reciting the funny bits out loud in the audience and it is getting to me’, so we banned him from the show.

Festival Fringe magazine 1994



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