Fringe Batch #... Where are we at?

Alan Hindle | Tuesday 14 August, 2012 20:13

Divinely Bette
The Divine Miss M struts, shimmies, belts out torches and ruminates on the subject of big tits. The ideal recipe for a Fringe show! Creator Kim Sheard certainly loves her subject (though apparently had to come round to it) and not only bears a striking resemblance but has the bubbly balance of ego and self deprecation down pat. Sheard is a superb comedienne and nails Midler’s comedy routines and cheap gags of lovely filth. Yet somehow the energy and pathos of Midler is allowed only a few moments to truly shine. It isn’t until halfway through, with the joyous murder romp of Madam is Unable to Dine Today that divinity graces the stage. It isn’t until the end, with Wind Beneath My Wings, that her emotional rawness seeps through.

With a slightly bigger budget for a couple costume changes and and a few more breakout routines like Madam or Otto Titzling (based on the spoof history by Wallace Reyburn), or perhaps more on the life of Bette Midler and this show might do justice to its iconic hero. As is it falls just short of heavenly.

My Life on Television
On a recent Dispatches, a journalist went undercover with a hidden camera to expose an online ticket tout agency posing as a Fan2Fan site. Tickets bought in bulk clandestinely were being jacked up many times in value, but leaving dozens of seats empty on the night. Meanwhile, the staff of the touting agency were paid so little they could barely afford sandwiches for lunch. Yet in the bouncy musical My Life On Television our villain is the nasty, conniving, underhanded, greedy journalist. The British love of the scrappy little guy on the make, the wide boy, the Del Trotters of the world means our heroes here are the folks doing the ripping off. And the hapless love-schmuck of an intern who blabbered everything through a blurred face.

Maybe it’s because I’m not a Londoner, (or maybe because I’m part of the media empire) but this seems an odd moral. Perhaps I misunderstood, but Dispatches seemed to reveal that a ticket for three nights of shows at the Albert Hall was being sold for £1590. This is okay, I guess (?) because the show organisers got a sold-out house and if people want to pay a fortune it’s their right. But is the reporter so awful for getting paid to do her job exposing a lie? Should the public not be allowed to know this is happening? On the other hand, the songs are excellent, the singing mostly brilliant and the lyrics generally very funny. There is a hint of amateurishness to My Life on Television, the sense of a bunch of talented friends throwing together a show, but it all works so very well. It’s only a shame the show is so short (And started late). Hopefully it will be expanded upon and mounted somewhere else. The ethics may seem screwy to me but the quality of the show is straightforward.

10 Days Earlier
Zombies are inevitable. We’re halfway there already. Just the other day I saw somebody on the tube absentmindedly gnawing another passenger’s head before sheepishly admitting they hadn’t been sleeping lately and aren’t brains an ignored source of protein? I might have imagined the whole thing. I woke from dozing at the end of the line with several hairs in my teeth, so maybe it was all a dream. But, zombies are definitely coming.

In 10 Days Earlier, Harold Grimhold has used his scientific mind to deduce not only that the apocalypse is coming but the exact date: Ten days from whenever you happen to see the show. And because his mind is so huge and scientifically tasty, he fears he will be breakfast on the last day. So he has made a video document explaining how to survive for future survivors to watch. 10 Days has many great gags, but it is really about the unraveling of Harold, who was never too stable in the first place. The problem is that while his frantic demeanour is central to the premise it is also irritating, distracting, kills jokes faster than an outbreak of Rage at a Boxing Day sale, weakens the narrative and thins the darkness at the show’s heart. Speaking afterwards with writer/director Lizzie Milton from Sheffield Comedy Revue there is a radioplay sequel planned with an even stronger idea behind it. But this show needs to be reworked first.

Chris O’Neil: Lifetime Achievement
Chris O’Neil, who resembles a queer Donald Pleasance in stylish glasses, gives a work-in-progress rough draft of life since a break-up from his true love a year ago. It’s an occasionally plodding build-up to comical reflections on suicide, with plenty of name-dropping (O’Neil is best known for his appearances on Radio 4’s Just a Minute). Then suddenly the show notches up several gears into a hilarious expose of Battersea Dogs Home, and his sexual rediscovery as a ‘bear’. And like so many comics O’Neil is funnier improvising with the audience. Obviously new material needs to be tried out. Routines need to be built up and the only way this can be done is in front of a like audience. However, it’s hard to see, from what’s presented in Lifetime Achievement, how he will eventually marry his wit to his misery to create a show which is marbled light and dark and not split into two halves.

(I Know It Smells Like the Inside of Dead People But) Will You Hold My Hand?
Tim Goose, basically a giant nine year-old with a beard, pumped full of chocolate cake and let loose to run about squealing joyously, and his comedy partner/exhausted babysitter Richard Blackbeard attempt to expose the dubious side of an 18th century hero of medical science, Dr. John Hunter. Hunter is one of the fathers of modern surgery, but also the inspiration for the Robert Louis Stevenson’s Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I say attempt because Goose can only concentrate for several seconds at a time before his brain wanders off to chase butterflies and pick their legs off in the inflatable vivisection chamber of his mind. Following one particular song about fisting himself he interrupted Blackbeard to express his satisfaction in seeing his dainty French mother sat in the audience singing along. That’s a cool family!

Full of gorgeous tunes- We Are Goose specialise in Folk Metal- and gleefully dispensed ‘facts’. Will You Hold My Hand is exuberant, loud, stupidly brilliant, and surprisingly tuneful. They’re off next to Edinburgh, so if you’re up that way you’d be well advised to catch their show.

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Alan Hindle

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Alan Hindle

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