Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Edinburgh Fringe - Day Two

Saturday kicked off with a lunchtime date with John Hegley (Beyond our Kennel). This was definitely one of the treats of the weekend. Hegley affects the stern persona of the driest, most deadpan teacher you ever had (step forward Mr Fenlon of Holy Cross, Chorley) and delivers his witty and inventive poems and songs with ironic sombre conviction. I’ve enjoyed his work on the page for years, but hadn’t previously seen him live (though I met him a couple of years ago when Wifey was nominated for a mental health charity’s annual journalism prize, and I can confirm that he’s a very pleasant chap). He really should be more of a National Treasure than he already is.

After that we had a special super bonus show – having enjoyed our taste of Adams and Rea at the Nicholas Parsons show the previous day, we flung ourselves into their early-afternoon gig. Musical comedy is a tricky thing, but armed with a variety of guitars, banjos and ukeleles, they plunked and strummed their way through a an entertaining set, drawing inspiration from the sad loss of Animal Hospital, the abundance of other people’s pubes in cheap hotel rooms, and the difficulties Abu Hamza would face as a balloon sculptor. I’m still not exactly sure how it happened, but during a bit of audience participation I ended up as Leisa Rea’s boyfriend. Fortunately Wifey seems OK about my new long-distance relationship.

Then it was time for a dash across town and a change of gear – the play Surviving Spike, starring Michael Barrymore as Spike Milligan and Jill Halfpenny as his PA-turned-manager Norma Farnes. Based on Norma’s published memoir, the play takes a fairly accelerated look at their relationship over a number of decades. While the amount of ground to be covered meant that the play was pacy and constantly stimulating, it also meant that – as other reviewers have pointed out – we got little sense of Spike’s constant, prolific and varied creativity. Jill Halfpenny gives a very natural and engaging performance, while Michael Barrymore really comes into his own as Spike becomes older and more burnt-out. His depiction of the frail comedian on the brink of defeat at the end of his life is highly moving.

Then for something completely different – Jerry Sadowitz. Even with prior knowledge of his sociopathic stage persona, it’s hard not to be shocked by the venomous energy of his various rants – in favour of paedophilia, murderous dictators and the Holocaust, and against the McCanns, Muslims, the Chinese and (naturally) the English. However, even though nearly everything he says is thoroughly reprehensible, there’s something thrilling – almost exhilarating – about the glee with which he baits the crowd and seeks out and annihilates even the most sacred taboos. On top of all this, his close-up magic is absolutely exemplary; he can do some amazing things with a pack of cards.

Staggering out into the night, I once again though how exciting it would be to lose my guesthouse key. But, once again, I decided to save that treat for another time…

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