ED2010 BEST BITS: Financial Times columnist Mrs Moneypenny is in Edinburgh this August performing at the Fringe. She documents the experience and makes some show recommendations for ThreeWeeks.
OK, so whose idea was it to bring their whole family to Edinburgh for a month? Mine? Really? And so, now we are here – husband, three kids, our best man, my best friend, her nine year old son Samuel. How am I going to occupy everyone?
The novelty of living in a student flat, complete with erratic appliances, within walking distance of the city centre will keep the older ones amused for a while, so for my first two days here I focus on keeping the younger ones entertained: that’s my own Cost Centre #3 (11) and the aforementioned Samuel (9).
Fortunately there’s a festival or two on in the city, and plenty of shows for younger audiences. First stop was ‘Sleeping Beauty And The Timelords’ (Spotlites); CC#3 pronounced this “a bit young for us” but praised its audience interaction (everyone who wanted to was able to join in). Moneypenny verdict? Best for 8 and under, or anyone who likes jelly beans (which were distributed at the end).
We went straight on to ‘List Operators For Kids’ (Pleasance Courtyard), which got a five star review from both #3 – “a lot of toilet humour” – and Samuel – “very, very funny” – one being a result of the other. Less audience participation but #3 found himself on stage doing sound effects, cleverly mixed up to make everyone laugh as he pressed buttons deliberately designed to set off the wrong noise. Moneypenny verdict? The blurb – which says it is for people from “5 to 500 million” – is spot on.
‘James Campbell’s Comedy & Songs For Kids’ at Assembly @ George Street got the #3 award for ‘the best toilet humour of all’, although he found the song about omelettes and shoes “a bit weird”. Moneypenny verdict? – 5 to 12 year olds, I would say, and boys will especially enjoy it. And at 2.30pm a great way to spend the afternoon with kids.
The 5pm slot we set aside for ‘Hamlet! The Musical’ at the Pleasance Courtyard, which really is for people from 5 to 500.
Fantastic songs, very funny, tragedy with slapstick, this romp through the court of Elsinore takes 75 minutes and is the perfect introduction to the Shakespeare play for Hamlet virgins. (Let’s face it, the real thing takes four hours, is full of soliloquies and has no catchy tunes – not great for any age). Moneypenny verdict – don’t miss it, even if you don’t have kids. #3′s verdict? “Very funny – I love the part where the ghost is revealed as Elvis Presley”.
Samuel has now gone home and #3 is reduced to occasional appearances in my own show, on at 12.30 daily at Assembly @ AGA. I asked him what he thought of it – reviewers are often young at the Fringe, but not usually as young as 11. “The humour is a bit adult, but you do get something to eat, and the meringues are yummy”. Not that he will be eating many of them, as we have now sold out until the 20th and, anyway, he has found the best place for 11 year old boys in Edinburgh.
No, it’s not a show, it’s nothing to do with the Fringe – it is the Games Workshop shop on the Royal Mile where #3 has been painting model soldiers in every waking moment.
The shop staff seem delighted to have children there (# 3: “Mummy, they are more like friends than shop staff”; my response: I hope they have been CRB checked) and I am delighted to have found such effective child care. They have painting workshops on Sunday and Tuesdays…….
Next week: Breaking teenagers into obscure comedy and whacky bands.
I think I’ve got a pretty unique show in a pretty unique venue but even so, I have found shows at the Fringe that are similar in some respects. I cook in my show, and so do the absolutely dazzling performers in ‘Chef!’ (Assembly @ George Street). (Moneypenny verdict – inspirational Korean breakdancing while ostensibly cooking cabbage beats even my efforts at multitasking). But some of the best cooking on stage in the Fringe is to be seen in ‘Chat Masala’, Hardeep Singh Kohli’s live festival chat show at Gilded Balloon Teviot.
I was a guest on this show last week and found myself sandwiched between Nina Conti, ventriloquist extraordinaire, and Gyles Brandreth. Hardeep, a Glaswegian Sikh who went to a Roman Catholic secondary school and studied law at university (how confused must he be?) is a comic and a raconteur, as well as a cook (Moneypenny verdict – he doesn’t need guests, he is more than entertaining enough in his own right, go and see the show for Hardeep alone).
Gyles Brandreth, on the other hand, doesn’t need a performance slot, he is a one-man comedy show in his own right. Nina Conti is jaw-droppingly beautiful. So I was already feeling a bit uncomfortable, and then just to top the situation, the musical number that always concludes Hardeep’s show was provided that day by Michael Topping, who sang a song about how he would like to shag David Miliband. The curry, however, was sensational.
So I had looked into cooking shows, what about shows about money? Rachel Bridge’s show ‘How To Make A Million Before Lunch’ (Pleasance Courtyard) is on at exactly the same time as mine, so I couldn’t see that. ‘Righteous Money’, however, a single handed powerful drama written and performance by Michael Yates Crowley, is on at 11pm each night (Pleasance Courtyard), and will speak to the souls of those who believe that people who make obscene amounts of money in the financial markets must inevitably have blood on their hands. (Moneypenny verdict – Crowley is too young to be convincing as a conscience-free hedge fund manager, but his writing is outstanding).
Finally, what about another one-woman-first-time-at-the-Fringe show? I am not going to be the next Sarah Millican, but I thought that Sara Pascoe (Pleasance Courtyard) might be, so went along to watch this beautiful young girl (29 and looking uncannily like a young Pamela Stephenson). After Michael Topping’s singing I was much better able to cope with jokes comparing marmite to anal sex (go and see it, I am not spelling it out in a family paper). Moneypenny verdict? Too much fiddling with her blue M&S cardigan for my liking, clearly nervous and not yet able to ‘own’ the stage as much as she needs to, but she has a lovely singing voice and is funny. One to watch! Plus I love the matching bra and Converse in fluorescent orange.
New to the Fringe this year? So are lots of the visitors coming and going to and from our flat (originally rented as a family home but long since turned into a general dosshouse as more and more friends and relations have descended on Edinburgh as the month has gone on). Last night we slept 12 – a handy reminder to me that we would need more loo paper on the next supermarket run.
We have tried to guide our visitors through the maze of comedy at the Fringe, and as many of them have been Australian (as is Mr M), we started with that. Jim Jefferies left us wondering how often he might need to go to the shrink, but despite that (and multiple uses of the C word) he manages to be funny, tragic and provocative, all at the same time. Moneypenny verdict? The best swearing I have heard for years, and his performance will leave you feeling hugely moved.
Dave Thornton is another Australian comic who flyered us personally outside the Gilded Balloon, and was so engaging that we bought tickets on the spot. Moneypenny verdict? A version of Jim Carrey, possessing a hugely expressive face and rapier quick wit, and adept at audience interaction. The only man I have met who can make a series of running gags out of typefaces.
Male visitors of every age have been taken along to see Jennifer Coolidge. Like me, she is not really a stand up, she just tells funny stories and anecdotes, in her case about life in Hollywood. The difference is that she does all this while displaying what Mr M calls ‘cleavage city’ (I already give out free food and champagne in my show, people are not going to get cleavage as well). Moneypenny verdict? The best take-off of Penelope Cruz you will ever see.
The Moneypenny household and many of its visitors are cricket-obsessed, and watched agog as England managed to lose the Oval test match to Pakistan despite a century from Alistair Cook. So we have all been to see Miles Jupp deliver his tightly crafted, highly polished script centring on his attempt to be a cricket journalist. Moneypenny verdict? A much better actor than he was a sports journalist; excellent viewing for cricketers (who will appreciate his mastery of statistics) and non-cricketers alike.
Our continental visitors have been amazed at the number of comedians on the Fringe for whom English is not a first language. We have been taking them to see Henning Wehn – that most unlikely of things – a German comedian, the self-styled ‘German Comedy Ambassador to the UK’ in fact. His show is entitled ‘My Struggle’ which as he says, won’t make it easy to get a book deal in Germany. No subject that might have caused friction between Germany and the UK is sacred, including football and the Second World War. Moneypenny verdict? You will laugh and laugh and then be amazed that Germans can be so funny.
Our final stop on the comedy tour for visitors has been Paul Foot’s show at the Underbelly, not because it’s on late (it isn’t, it’s on at 7.40pm) but because it is so alternative. Foot doesn’t need to use crude language to make you laugh, he is just so wacky (the result, I suspect, of an overeducated mind) that anything from shire horses to golliwogs (yes, a golliwog appears, apparently a sneak preview of next year’s show) is funny. Moneypenny verdict? The final set piece, set to Rachmaninoff’s ‘Isle Of The Dead’, complete with an explanation (for those without a classical education) of the River Styx, will remind everyone why they came to Edinburgh – to see things that they will never see elsewhere.
Mrs Moneypenny’s show ‘At Home With’ was performed at Assembly @ AGA Showroom during Fringe 2010.