That Was The Fringe That Was - 2018 Edition
Well, that was nice. Bit of a different Fringe for me this year. I've gone over this on this blog plenty over the last few months, but just for clarity - I was all set to not do the Fringe this year, then just as I was beginning to realise that I was actually going to feel a bit jealous and left out if I didn't go at all, the amazing Roxy Dunn got in touch with a brilliant script for a play called TIMMY asking if I would play the title role. It was such a great script, really funny, really real, really heartfelt, and said so much about the difficulty people have in really communicating with each other, in really sharing what's inside their heads and how that feels, which has always been the main theme at the centre of my own work too, so I was delighted to accept the role. In the end, doing the Fringe principally as an actor rather than a comic or a writer-performer was exactly what I needed this year. It meant I got to be up at the Fringe for the entire month and watch dozens of brilliant, imaginative, inspiring shows by my friends and peers and even by new artists I'd not seen before, but I was able to sort of manage my own ego this time. Rather than spending the whole month thinking mostly about myself and worrying about my show and panicking about whether the run was going well, and always comparing myself unfavourably to everybody else, I was able to reframe my experience by remembering that I wasn't in a show that was all about me, and my entire purpose of being at the Fringe was to be one part of somebody else's show, to be a part of something bigger than me and to help fulfil somebody else's vision rather than just indulge my own. Don't get me wrong, I love making my own shows and will almost certainly be back with a full solo show next year, but this Fringe reminded me how to keep the uglier elements of what the Fringe represents at arm's length and to focus on an experience that felt more communal and less isolating, and I'm hopeful that I can remember that next year and never again have a Fringe that leaves me slightly exhausted by myself.
TIMMY had a really great run, playing mostly to sold-out or nearly-full rooms, and got a whole bunch of lovely 4-star reviews, and I was so proud to be part of something that got such an enthusiastic response. I also staged 3 performances of a solo show which functioned as a sort of work-in-progress mish-mash of all my live ideas from the last year, with a view towards developing it into a proper show next year. It was built around my stupid, paper-thin, irritating character Mr Fruit Salad and sort of used him to gently explore anxiety, self-care and grief, and I was fairly convinced I would do these performances and think "Phew, I got away with that, I'll have to really work on it for next year though." I was very surprised that I ended up doing these performances to sold-out crowds who said it was one of the funniest, silliest, most interesting and thought-provoking shows they saw this Fringe, and it actually felt like a genuinely well-crafted, interesting show with some promising ideas and themes in it. There are certainly bits of it that need plenty of development, and bits of filler that will probably just fall by the wayside in the coming year, but I was surprised to come away from this Fringe already feeling like I have a show in my back pocket which is a really solid basis to develop something really great out of in the coming months. I've not come away from the Fringe feeling excited and ready to start developing a new live show in years, it's usually taken me months to rediscover that impulse, so I think the approach of just staging a couple of work-in-progresses and trying to find a new show organically rather than forcing myself to churn one out has really paid off. There'll be more from Mr Fruit Salad next year, I think.
Outside of these two shows that absorbed most of my focus this month, I was involved in a bunch of other creative projects which were a real delight. I performed at or co-hosted about ten ACMS's over the month, where I got to play with a load of stupid ideas, and also to develop some running jokes and characters over the month thanks to that gig's repeat audience, who are just the loveliest, most devoted bunch of silly people to perform to in the world (several of the ACMS regulars even came to see TIMMY, which was really lovely. I felt quite proud to be able to persuade die-hard avant-garde comedy fans to come and see something more theatrical and that operates in a very different genre to what I usually do, and it meant the world that lots of people who like my work were willing to come and take that journey with me and see what I was up to). I played some very small cameo roles in Adam Larter's Boogie Knights every three days or so, which was just such a joyful, brilliant, ridiculous show. Being part of Adam's shows for the last couple of years have been some of the highlights of my Fringes, and a part of me was sad I wasn't able to do it this year, as for most of the year I thought I wouldn't be in Edinburgh at all. Those small cameos were so much fun and made me feel really glad I got to be a small part of the show after all.
I staged a one-off conceptual comedy show called Mr Fruit Salad's Saturday Kitchen, with support from Adam, Helen Duff, Matthew Highton and Ali Brice, which, considering we put the whole thing together in about 2 days, contained a surprising amount of genuinely funny ideas alongside a lot of confusing nonsense; I did a couple of guest spots at things like Grainne Maguire's topical news show What Has The News Ever Done For Me?; I played a Dragonborn Arcane Trickster alongside Rachel Parris's druid and Tom Neenan's goblin in a Dungeons & Dragons mission to steal a skull from a theatre in Paul Foxcroft's insanely fun D&D improv show Questing Time; and it was my pleasure to tech and do a few cameos in Marny Godden's wonderful Marny Town every day, which was such a fun, silly, communal show which grew and grew every day and which bonded its audiences together into such a warm, happy family of people. It was my absolute pleasure to watch it develop over the month, and I can't wait to see where it takes Marny next, as watching her perform as herself for the first time was a real revelation. I even got to work on a film project up here too, as the wonderful Elise Bramich decided she wanted to make a short, silly documentary about Mr Fruit Salad for which we did a bunch of filming up there, with guest turns from Lucy Pearman and Marny. We've got some extra bits to film back in London, but hopefully it'll be out in the next couple of months. Oh, and I got to be a contributor to one of the most ridiculous shows at the Fringe this year, John-Luke Roberts' Terrible Wonderful Adaptations, in which a bunch of idiots staged live adaptations of unadaptable texts. I sang about apples over a funk guitar jam for an adaptation of the iTunes Terms & Conditions and, for a mashup of Ulysses and A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu, I co-hosted with John-Luke as a French end-of-the-pier double-act called Alan Recherche and Tom Perdu. Both were ridiculously fun. Finally, I got to play a tiny guest role in Sam Nicoresti's Bedtime, one of the most imaginative, silly, horrifying shows this Fringe, and I got to perform at Sean Morley's The Glang Show, which is the most anarchic, over-the-top, ridiculous live experience I've had in years. So much fun.
I'm sure I've forgotten loads, but I think that's pretty much all I got up to this year. I also had plenty of time to watch loads of brilliant shows, and was particularly blown away by Paul Currie, Sean Morley, Lou Sanders, Harriet Kemsley, Ali Brice, Luke McQueen, John-Luke Roberts, Helen Duff, Matthew Highton and by Geoff Sobelle's Home, technically not a Fringe show but still the most mind-blowingly brilliant thing I've seen in four years, since Geoff Sobelle's The Object Lesson, in fact. Finally, a huge thank you to everybody who helped make my Fringe such a lovely one - to Bob and Lucy and all the amazing family of people at Heroes who hosted me and Mr Fruit Salad, to Hollie for all her hard work and support in enabling me to do the Fringe slightly differently this year, to all my friends for being kind and supportive and being so much fun and keeping me sane, to Isabelle and John-Luke and Thom and Beth for making ACMS such a wonderful creative space to play in, and most of all to the team who made TIMMY not only such a success but also such a wonderful experience for me on a personal level. To our tech Rose, our producer Robin, our director Hanna and, of course, to the amazing Roxy for having the faith in me to do something so different and for being such a wonderful friend to share this month with. I've loved every minute of it, except for those two days where I was really sad because I'd fallen out with my friend. Let's forget that bit, and remember the good stuff. Happy Fringe, everyone.