Well I finally made it up to Edinburgh Fringe (as a punter) this year after threatening to do so for 10 years or more. Everyone in the arts industry seems to be obsessed with Fringe festivals – in particular with Edinburgh – heck, I want to write a show and do the Fringe circuit myself next year. But is it really worth cramming yourself into an overcrowded city (and paying over the odds for everything) and pitting yourself against thousands of other performers – who may be fortunate enough to have a better time slot/venue/production team than you (as my good friend, comedian @David_Ephgrave can attest to)? As a consumer, overall, it would definitely be a resounding “yes, it was well worth it” from me. It is a beautiful city in it’s own right, but with the variety of performances and performers that the Fringe has to offer it really becomes a vibrant place to be.
I went with my wife and two children, so we were limited as to the types of show we were able to attend, but there was still plenty of choice for high quality family shows. My son is not yet 10 months old and my daughter has autism so we decided not to overwhelm them with show after show (it would have been very easy to do so with performances being on from 10 am into the early hours of the morning). I think we saw three in total – two of which were very good (“Paddinton’s First Concert” @JessicaMescall and “Bear” @pinsandneedles0), and one of which had a really nice premise, but was a bit over our 12 year old daughter’s head (@AnimAlphabet).
We also watched some family friendly circus acts – two amazing shows (“Chores”@choreshooplaclique and @CircusAbyssinia), and passed a countless number of weird and wonderful street performers, so there was seldom a dull moment.
As a performer I think it’s a bit of a catch 22 as to whether the cost, time, effort and subsequent stress of the Edinburgh Fringe is actually worth it – particularly if you have a slot so early that you struggle to get bums in seats (let alone reviewers in). On the one hand you get to pilot new work, trial new ideas and basically hone your craft – you are in complete control, so you can essentially just polish your work until it’s exactly as you envisaged it. That’s all well and good, but I ask again – is it really worth it if you don’t have a good team actively promoting the show; resulting in very few people actually getting to see this polished masterpiece? I was fortunate enough to catch “My Part in his Downfall” – @David_Ephgrave at Just the Tonic, the Caves at midday on 25th August while my wife entertained the children.
While it was a very good show (I include my review below), with only an audience of 5 in attendance, I think David Ephgrave has subsequently pondered the aforementioned question himself numerous times since. I think for me, even after weighing the pros and cons – the answer would still be “yes”. As cliched as it may sound, I perform for the sheer love of it, whether that be to an audience of 200 or 2 I still get something out of it and I usually find out something about myself in the process. That’s got to be worth something, surely? So as long as you can walk away from the Fringe, feeling that the experience has bettered you in someway; be that as a performer/writer/director/promoter or as a person in general, then I think it’s definitely worth it. That’s my two-pence worth anyway. Would love to hear your thoughts if you have performed there yourself.
My Part in his Downfall
Depression and mental-health – David Ephgrave focuses on some serious issues in this 50 minute “self-character assassination”. On first glance this might make for a bleak hour of comedy but it is done in such an upbeat manner and with an appropriate blend of music, media clips, drama and some jokes thrown in for good measure, that it balances out nicely. In a striking contrast to the core subject matter, David’s general demeanour is very positive, encouraging the small but enthused audience not to sweat the small stuff, both in this ‘business we call show’ (such as bad reviewers that don’t bother proof reading, fact checking and give away all of the punchlines in their review) and in life in general. The background to this is his mental health issues; but being the sort of person to put a positive spin on things, he uses his talent for observational comedy to highlight the unexpected humour that arises from such issues. Some examples include the countless inappropriate songs that he has been subjected to in the hospital waiting room thanks to Jazz fm – a radio station whose sole purpose seems to be to toy with individuals tittering on the edge of sanity, giving them a metaphorical shove off the deep end. David uses his drama school training here, doing some excellent eyebrow acting (and a bit of dancing) to demonstrate his own inner turmoil of being subjected to such torture time and time again in Stevenage Hospital mental health unit or as he calls it “the most depressing place on earth”. His rapport with the audience proves to be his biggest asset, being quick witted when he engages and creating an instantly relaxed atmosphere. He spends a lot of time “off book” because, as he admits himself – he can’t let anything go and so he often rambles in an endless running commentary on the goings on around him. This isn’t a criticism though, in fact some of the biggest laughs came from these audience interactions – such as the squeaking chair, the rustling bag of chips and the suggestion that we all hide when a member of the audience nipped off to the loo. He also shows himself to be a good all rounder, playing 4 self-penned, ridiculously catchy songs that aptly reflect his state of mind at various low points of his life, effectively adding another layer of depth to a taboo subject matter that for some reason still seems to have a certain stigma attached to it. There are some lighter moments of silliness (no spoilers included), like his Alexander Armstrong jingle and the myspace throwaway comment, but these aren’t jarring, nor do they feel out of place in his show. ‘My Part in his Downfall’ is a funny, but very real and touching show, drawing on the formative moments of life that can ultimately make or break you. Disecting that innate overwhelming need one has to hit the self-destruct button particularly when life is going well – something I’m sure everyone can relate to. David’s own examples offer some interesting insights into his family life while demonstrating his natural storytelling skills – such as the story of his father’s hernia, which unfortunately he had to cut short due to a late start. Having to cut 10 minutes out (through no fault of his own) due to the late start was somewhat disappointing – I was very curious to hear the stories that went with the slides he quickly skipped over, but nevertheless, it was a very enjoyable 50 minutes and a thoroughly good time was had by all.