Friday, August 17, 2007

The Story So Far

Usually by this stage in the Festival you can get some feeling for possible award nominees, but this year it's difficult to see who is really getting the "buzz" - at least from this distance. By looking at the reviews, all that comes across is wild inconsistency, with several acts getting a slating in one paper, only to be praised to the rafters in another. Plus the lazier reviewers just seem to enjoy giving away the act's best jokes, which does nobody any favours.

Mark Watson seems to be one of the few acts to be universally praised - is the world finally waking up to his talents? Apart from a few lacklustre performaces on Mock The Week he's not really famous yet, but you do get the sense he's about to be. Could this be his year? The same could apply to any number of the "nearly famous" - Michael McIntyre, Adam Hills, Reginald D Hunter, Nina Conti, Lucy Porter - all getting decent notices, all regulars on the panel show circuit, none of them yet famous enough to be excluded from the awards roster.

What of the relative unknowns? Stephen Grant, Nick Doody, Steve Day, Izy Sutie, numerous interchangable angry Australians - all are getting reasonable write-ups, but nothing really leaps out as this year's "must-see". At least, not yet. Traditionally the pace picks up around now, and the If.Comeddie nominations are announced on Wednesday next week, so expect the promoters to really wheel out the big guns in the next few days.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Fringe Survival Guide part two

2. Plan Carefully.

To see everything you want is impossible, but with a bit of thought and planning you can see most things on your wish-list. It also helps if you're ever-so-slightly anal.

Some shows will sell out quickly: special offers, well-known comics, acts who did well the previous year. These will often be "known quantities", so should be a fair guarantee of enjoyment. Book up at least one evening of this sort of thing in advance. Then wait until the festival actually starts, read some reviews, sense who the buzz is about - and book up further shows then. Finally, always leave at least one evening unplanned until you get up there - some of the best shows you will see will be following the recommendation of someone you met in a queue.

When planning an evening of shows, take the city's geography into account. Try to book things on the same night at the same venue, if possible. You don't want to be tearing all over the city to get to your next show - you want to be gently supping a beer in the Pleasance Courtyard, acting all cultural and saying things like, "ooh look, it's Richard Herring."

Pace yourself too - leave time to chat, eat, drink and do all the things you would do in normal polite society. Shows will run late - leave at least half an hour between them.

Be democratic. It's best to go in a big group, so you will need to take everybody's views into account. Unless they suggest going to see Jimmy Carr, in which case ignore them by all means.

Vary what you see. You will quickly develop stand-up fatigue - the same jokes will start to appear, and you may even start to speak in the rhythms of the comic. Should this happen, either get someone to hit you (there should be an orderly queue forming amongst your party), or do something else for a bit. If all you like is comedy, see some sketch shows. Otherwise, see a play, see some art, even see some "physical theatre" (at some point every Fringe-goer must see some incomprehensible Polish interpretive dance - no-one will take you seriously otherwise).

And above all, relax. It's not worth getting too stressed about it all. If all else fails, you can just turn up at a venue and see the next thing going. If it's the worst thing you've ever seen, sit in a bar with your group and rant about exactly how shit it was. Some of my fondest Fringe memories are of doing precisely that.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

The Fringe Survival Guide part one

It's Sunday, it's early August and that can only mean one thing: The Edinburgh International Festival opens today. Rejoice! The rest of the country may be headed for the beaches, but the prospect of three weeks of non-stop comedy, theatre and general cultural hi-jinks renders The Distractor so excitable that it borders on the embarrassing. And anyway, the sun hurts our skin.

So, as part of the build-up to actually going up there (at which time things may well go quiet on this page - well, there are other things to do), we present some top tips for making your Festival experience as rewarding as possible. Starting with:

1. Avoid the big names.

It goes against the whole ethos of the festival. Surely it's better to see an eager newcomer with plenty to prove in an intimate dark room, rather than someone coasting to the converted in a cavernous, atmosphere-free enormo-venue? What would you rather tell people - that you paid seven quid to see a star of tomorrow in a sweaty bar, or that you paid thirty-seven quid to see a past-it fat bloke trot out his "ironic" unpleasantries in a castle? Yes Gervais, I'm looking at you.

The thought process goes something like this: "Do I really need to write a whole new show and flog it for the whole three weeks to forty people a night - or can I get away with three shows of recycled old stuff at the EICC?" If their answer is yes, then they've lost all respect for their audience and they have officially lost it. From that point on, you can easily catch them fronting TV panel shows, developing their sitcom or appearing in building society adverts, so don't bother wasting an hour on them at the Fringe. Your time is precious enough.