To say today was back to back would be an understatement. The day started with a meeting with a Biteback author, and yes I know I am supposed to be on holiday. Strangely it also ended with a Biteback author too. But I’ll come to that later.
My first show of the day, at the Pleasance, was called TONY (BENN’S) LAST TAPE. It was a one man show with the actor Philip Bretherton playing Tony Benn in his twilight days, struggling to cope with the fact that he must now leave the fight to others. It didn’t really work on a number of levels. Bretherton looks nothing like Tony Benn did, which is hardly surprising as I’d guess he was half his age. He also didn’t sound a lot like him. Maybe I am being harsh because I knew Tony Benn and there were quite a few things which I just know Tony Benn would never have thought, let alone said. At 80 minutes it was also twenty minutes too long. That’s not to say that it was unenjoyable, I suppose I was hoping for something a bit more. A bit more emotional. A bit more Bennish.
The next show also involved an actor playing a politician. David Benson is someone I got to know many years ago when we’d both appear on Gyles Brandreth’s LBC radio show on a Sunday afternoon. He rose to fame for his depictions of Kenneth Williams and Frankie Howerd. At Edinburgh he plays Boris Johnson in BORIS: KING OF THE WORLD. By lucky coincience I met Gyles Brandreth and his wife Michele in the queue. Well, more accurately I spotted them in the queue, which enabled me to queue jump! The auditorium was jampacked full, and I was slightly surprised it was so small. David was totally believeable as Boris even though physically and facially he’s nothing like him. He absolutely got his voice and at time it was like listening to Boris himself. It was a very physical performance, sometimes verging on the slapstick. Actually, no. It was slapstick at times. I couldn’t work out at the end how satirical it was meant to be and whether it was meant to serve as a warning as to what a Boris Prime Ministership might entail, or if David Benson was actually being quite affectionate. It was a riproaring hour, and I imagine David lost quite a few pounds as it was incredibly hot, and he was, shall we say, sweating like a pig! If you can get tickets, this is a show not to be missed.
I had only twenty minutes to get to the next venue where I would be seeing UKIP: THE MUSICAL. In some ways this was all rather predictable. Yes, there were funny parts, but the jokes about UKIP being undercover Nazis wore a bit thin after a while. The singing was, however, superb, and it was all very fast moving, with a cast of around a dozen 20-25 year olds. It all got a bit strange when Nigel Farage won a general election but then more or less immediately resigned when he realised that the agenda of his colleaues was to forcibly remove all immigrants from the country. It was called the “Complete Solution”. The only surprise was that the decision wasn’t made at Wannsee. So in some ways it was a very lazy narrative with a lot of easy jokes. I was expecting a little more, to be honest. It was a sellout, though, so they must be doing something right. I deliberately haven’t looked at the reviews for this. Basically, if you’re of a left wing disposition and you think all UKIP supporters live in the past and are closet racists, you’ll probably love this. If you’re on the right or have an open mind, you probably won’t. I didn’t, although it didn’t totally suck.
My next port of call at 5pm was a few minutes walk away in a converted church in Cowgate, where the German comic Christian Schulte-Loh put on a free show. I saw him in Edinburgh on my last visit in 2010 and found him so hilarious that I then booked him to appear at an event I was hosting at that year’s Tory Party conference, where he went down a storm. He was in brilliant form, and if I’m honest, this was the most enjoyable show of the day. He relies on making fun of national stereotypes, not just his own. He picks on members of the audience, but not in an awkward way. This can, however backfire. He told a story of a woman he picked on who, when asked what she did for a living, she said “I work in the Holocaust Centre.” Christian paused for a second, before replying that his Grandfather had done something similar… And that was the last time he performed in Israel. Boom boom. He was also very funny when a member of the audience outed himself as a Greek. Christian told the Greek man not to worry about putting any money in the bucket at the end of the show, as the Germans in the audience would bail him out. If you have a chance, go and see him. He deserves to be a lot more well known than he actually is.
The final event of the evening was back at the Pleasance to see Matt Forde interview Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson. I hadn’t met her before so I was quite keen to see what she’d be like in such an arena. You didn’t have to be a Tory to be impressed by her. Feisty, funny, intelligent, brave. She really wowed the audience and I think convinced everyone that the Tories could be on the verge of a bit of a breakthrough in Scotland. She certainly thinks she can win more seats next May than Labour, and on the current polling you’d have to say she’s not being unrealistic. I liked Matt’s interviewing style, and he managed to tease a lot out of her. This type of event isn’t really designed for a hardhitting political interrogation but it was no the worse for it. It also gave me an idea for an Edinburgh show in future years. I met Ruth for a drink in the bar afterwards and we had a right old gossip with my friend and Biteback author Joe Pike, who’s writing a book (out on September 18th) about the Scottish referendum and the last general election.
It was also good to run into Simon Mayo, Radio 2’s Drivetime host, whose 5 Live show I used to appear on a lot. Lucky devil is broadcasting from the fringe most of this week.
So, tomorrow I’ve got another five events. It’s a bit knackering, this fringe lark!