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Joz Norris

  • Tape 111: Here Comes The Fringe Again

Shhh. Can you hear it? Put down your cups and pens and saucers, and put your ear to the wall. Do you hear the rumbling? Coming up from the earth? It’s almost that time again. The Edinburgh Fringe is coming.

Yes, in a week’s time artists around the world are bundling off to Edinburgh to share the latest product of their imagination and hard work at the world’s largest arts festival. I won’t beat around the bush, I’ve not been overly positive or celebratory about the Fringe in the pages of this newsletter over the last few months, and I thought perhaps it was time I redressed the balance by talking a bit about some of the great shows I’ve worked on this year that are heading to the festival, as well as some of my other top picks and recommendations outside of the shows I’ve personally worked on.

A quick recap for those newer readers who don’t know the full backstory – I made solo shows for the Fringe on and off most years from 2013 until 2019 (took a year off to do a play in amongst those), then missed a couple of years due to the pandemic, then returned last year with another show and, for the first time in my years of going, came away thinking “I’m not sure why I do this any more.” Not because the show hadn’t done well, because I was really proud of everything we achieved in its run, but because for the first time the realities of the exhaustion and the mental burnout and the lack of financial reward even when things go well and you sell out most of your run really hit home. As a result, this year I’ve tried to be a bit more outspoken about some of the systemic problems that make the Fringe exhausting, draining and inaccessible for artists, in the hope that increased conversation about those things might gradually incubate positive change.

But underneath all my grumbling and my fervent hopes that the powers-that-be will pay attention to all the things that aren’t working about it, it remains true that the Fringe is the place that taught me most of my creative values, gave me my sense of community and identity and, in 2019 when I had finally worked out how to make a show with critical and commercial appeal, handed me my career (it would be difficult to call the things I was doing before that show a “career” in any meaningful sense, a lot of it involved chucking old biscuits at babies for minimum wage). I had initially planned to have very little involvement in this year’s Fringe, but as the offers came in for me to look at people’s shows and give my feedback and guidance, and those offers slowly morphed into more of a full-blown consultancy/dramaturgy practice, I’ve ended up feeling really proud of having been able to use my experience to help shape and steer some really brilliant shows by some wonderful acts, and this week I’d love to tell you a bit more about which shows those are!

My old comrade-in-arms Ben Target got Miranda Holms and I in as outside eyes/note-givers at the first and final stages of his beautiful theatre show, about care and death and pranks. I think it’ll be a show you’ll hear a lot about.

Abby Vicky-Russell’s Gush is an amazing blend of character comedy, confessional theatre and drag. Some of the work we did on it involved hiding some of the show’s true meaning within its form, so I won’t say too much! But it is fantastic.

Ted Hill is taking the biggest and most terrifying issue of the cultural moment and treating it with the silliness we need in the world right now. This is a brilliantly daft multimedia extravaganza.

Rosalie Minnitt’s character creation is bold, riotous and ridiculous, and her show is a delightful rollercoaster ride. It’s exploring the societal pressure surrounding relationships, but it’s also just really good fun.

Lulu Popplewell is a brilliant stand-up with a great eye for the ridiculous. Her show explores addiction, recovery and public shaming through the lens of everyone’s favourite terrible film.

I did a session with Jaz Mattu on his kaleidoscopically inventive one-man show extravaganza. It’s bursting with ideas and I enjoyed helping to explore the story and persona at its centre.

I’m really proud and impressed by what this talented bunch have made, and have loved watching it come together! BUT! But but but! Would you believe it, there is actually some stuff on at the Fringe which I DIDN’T work on and which is somehow ALSO GOING TO BE REALLY GOOD!!? (“Whaaaat?” I hear you cry. But it’s true!) Here is a generous handful (because really, I could go on and on, but there is too much) of other shows I know will be brilliant and that I wish I could see if I were up there:

Adam Riches Is The Guys Who – The master of audience interaction and character comedy returns with a new cast of idiotic characters.

Bilal Zafar: Imposter – Had a really fun time playing Bilal’s lectern earlier this year. Don’t think his new show has a lectern in it, but he’s so funny he doesn’t even need a lectern.

Chloe Petts: If You Can’t Say Anything Nice – I saw half of this at ARG and it’s fantastic. Chloe is a really, really brilliant comedian, and I think this show will be even better than her first.

An Evening With Christopher Bliss – I love Christopher Bliss, he’s such a delightfully stupid character. I’d gladly spend a week with the guy. A month, fuck it!

Crizards: This Means War – One of the best new sketch acts of last year return to bring their trademark relaxed, semi-comatose style to that most laid-back of topics, war.

Egg: Absolutely Fine – Saw this at Machynlleth and really loved it. Such good performers, such silly sketches, but there’s also a narrative through-line with real heart.

Foxdog Studios: Robo Bingo – I love everything Foxdog come up with, they are true pioneers. This will be the only show this year where you can, and are encouraged to, play bingo against a robot on your phone.

Frankie Thompson & Liv Ello: Body Show – The details of quite what this show is are being carefully kept under wraps, other than that it’s a conceptual theatre show about body image. Frankie and Liv are two of the most authentic and original artists working across theatre and comedy at the moment, and this will be one of the big shows people talk about this year.

The Gargle: Live – Live editions of Alice Fraser’s brilliant silly good-news podcast! What’s not to like?

Jazz Emu: You Shouldn’t Have – A universally acclaimed show from one of the funniest and most inventive new acts of recent years. You’re being a fool if you miss this.

John Kearns: The Varnishing Days – John needs no recommendation from me and never has, but he will always get one because he is my favourite comedian.

Johnny White Really-Really: Catland – Johnny is one of the most distinctive voices in comedy, full stop. Listening to him talk feels like dreaming. He’s an absolute wonder.

Josh Glanc: Collections 2023 – Josh’s show last year was maybe the funniest I saw. He’s a total doofus and he will make your sides ache and your jaw hurt.

Lachlan Werner: Voices Of Evil – Lachlan has an argument for being the most talented new act this year, because he’s been honing a genuinely hugely impressive skill since he was about five or something. As well as being a phenomenal ventriloquist, he’s also really funny.

Lorna Rose Treen: Skin Pigeon – Saw this at ARG and Lorna deserves all the hype swirling around her. She’s very funny and ridiculous.

Mat Ewins: Mr TikTok – Mat consistently makes shows that rank in my absolute favourites every year. This one is about him trying to become a viral superstar, which I’m sure will provoke enjoyable levels of his trademark outrage.

Patti Harrison: My Huge Tits Huge Because They Are Infected Not Fake! – Saw a work-in-progress of this at Soho Theatre and she’s such a naturally funny person. Fans of I Think You Should Leave should grab the chance to see one of its best guest actors live because she’s fantastic.

Rob Auton: The Rob Auton Show – Rob is another one of those curious beasts who sit in my favourite imaginative space, the one that straddles comedy and theatre. I always love his work.

Rosie Holt: That’s Politainment! – Another batch of self-deluding, craven characters from the queen of satire, this time looking at the overlap between politics and showbiz.

Sian Docksey: Pole Yourself Together! – Sian combines the twin arts of stand-up comedy and pole-dancing, disciplines that have remained forever distinct until now. Will a new genre be born? Don’t know, but it’ll be fun finding out!

Sooz Kempner: Y2K Woman – Sooz goes back to the turn of the millennium to revel in all its wonders. Think there’s a bunch of Alanis Morissette in this show, so I’m sold.

String v SPITTA – Ed MacArthur and Kiell Smith-Bynoe’s double act of feuding children’s entertainers is, by all accounts, brilliant, and sure to be one of the big breakout shows this year.

Tarot: Hive Mind – Tarot made my favourite sketch show of last year, and this year they’re back with an inventive new gameshow format! Points mean prizes!

Geoff Sobelle: Food – Finally, hop across from the Fringe to the Edinburgh International Festival and you’ll find the show I’m most gutted to miss out on this year, a new exploration of our relationship with food from American performance artist Geoff Sobelle, who comes over every five years or so with a new show, then disappears off round the world again. Sobelle’s The Object Lesson in 2014 genuinely changed the course of my life, and his Home in 2018 was also astonishing, so I feel genuinely very sad to be missing this. Please go and see it for me.

A Cool New Thing In Comedy – I’m going to skip this section this week, because I’ve given you more than enough cool things in comedy to be getting on with and sifting through and I don’t want to dilute their impact further with another thing! Get on and go see ALL THOSE SHOWS, please!

What’s Made Me Laugh The Most – Saw this brilliant animated short at Mr Tibbs last week and the punchline is amazing.

Book Of The Week – The Creative Tarot: A Modern Guide To An Inspired Life by Jessa Crispin. Yeah, I’m really into tarot now. I have arrived at the stage of life where I actively enjoy studying tarot. Sorry, everyone.

Album Of The Week – Outside Problems by Andrew Bird. This is a sort-of-sequel to Bird’s Inside Problems last year, and consists solely of improvised instrumentals he recorded outdoors. As ever with his improvised instrumental albums, they’re really beautiful and incredibly skilful.

Film Of The Week – Barbie. This is an interesting one – I think it has flaws but those flaws don’t change how much fun I had watching it. It’s kind of trying to do too much and loses sight of its point on the way and the story marginalises Barbie to the extent that it becomes hard to work out whose story it really is. But I can’t deny that I just had so much fun watching it. It’s a really good time of a movie, but maybe suffers a bit from the fact that we’d all worked ourselves up into a frenzy expecting a masterpiece. I think it’s not quite a masterpiece, but I did love it.

That’s all for this week! As ever, let me know what you think, and if you enjoy the newsletter enough to feel like sending it to a friend or encouraging others to subscribe, I’d hugely appreciate it! Take care of yourselves until next time, and all the best in the meantime,

Joz xx

PS I seem to have not taken any interesting pictures of anything this week, so here’s Bruce Springsteen in Hyde Park a few weeks ago:

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