I have been to see some shows in the Festival.
On Saturday evening MLW and I went to see Tim Fitzhigham: Stop the Pigeon and Shappi Khorsandi: Dirty Looks and Hopscotch.
Tim Fitzhigham is one of my favourite Fringe performers. He’s a sort of Gentleman Adventure who collects strange life experiences and brings them back to Edinburgh to share with me. He turns getting frostbite in both sets of toes into a humorous anecdote so that I don’t have to.
This year’s show is about a bet he made with Alex Horne. Based on a wager made by the 4th Duke of Queensberry Fitzhigham bet Horne that he could move a letter 50 miles in one hour using technology only available in 1750. Fitzhigham then sets out to try a variety of methods to move the fatal missive calling on all of his own considerable entrepreneurial powers, his wide network of lunatic associates and his considerable chutzpah. This is balanced by the sheer devilish cunning that Horne has put into devising the rules of the bet and the actual message. It is a clash of Action Hero and Sophist.
What carries his shows are Fitzhigham’s charisma and the sheer joy he experiences in trying to achieve his goals. He’s manic, almost messianic in his delivery. A lesser story teller could make the story dull. A lesser man wouldn’t have tried at all.
Shappi Khorsandi’s show, Dirty Looks and Hopscotch is one of the most personal accounts of a failed relationship I’ve ever heard. Even from a friend this would be confessional. In the wake of her divorce Khorsandi entered into a yearlong polyamorous relationship with an unnamed former rock star. This is the story about how she discovered her lover had an entirely secret life, that the house they had bought together was, in fact bought for his long standing lover, that rather than being the main relationship in this man’s life she was more or less a privileged bit on the side. Or perhaps just a small part of his collected vices.
It’s also the story of how her lover manipulated her into some uncomfortable sexual practises and, more importantly, into accepting that his infidelity and bad treatment of her was okay. She tells how he used the technique of negging her to keep her in state of vulnerability and emotional uncertainty. How whenever she would question his behaviour he would accuse her of being a control freak. How she continued to accept appalling behaviour from her lover because she was uncertain of her own place in her life and because treating women badly is okay.
It was funny, bittersweet , very brave and left me impressed with Khorsandi as a person and a story-teller.
What’s clear from both these shows is that brief appearances on TV for a 5 minute stand up slot or on a panel show don’t really demonstrate the narrative aspects of stand up. Sections of Khorsandi’s show could be cut down for a 5 minute stand up routine but to get the full horror of the tale I think you have to hear it all in context. Fitzhigham’s show wouldn’t work at all in anything less than an hour.
On Sunday I saw Paperbelle by Frozen Charlotte. This was is show for children between 2 and 5. The Captain loved it and so did MLW and I.
The story is about a man, Eric, who has a friend, Paperbelle, who is a small black and white drawing. Eric lives in a black and white paper room. Suddenly colour starts appear in the room. First red, then blue, then green, then yellow. The colours are a bit scary and strange at first but become a source of joy for both friends.
This is a great example of small story arcs building into larger story arcs building into the total story arc. I think when telling stories for very small children you have to get all the little pieces perfect because they won’t wait for you get through a duff bit to find out what happens next. They’ll wonder off to lick the windows or bounce on the sofas. As each colour appears there is a small bit of narrative or physical business. A few of these in row explore the uses of colour and the expanded life that colour offers the characters. When blue appears it appear as a drink in a cup. Which can be drunk and which refills itself so it can be shared. When spilt into the goldfish bowl it creates blue water and makes the goldfish bowl a more interesting thing. When the water overflows the goldfish bowl it floods the floor and allows Eric to sail his toy boat upon stormy seas.
It’s beautifully worked and so very charming. The Captain was absolutely enraptured. Those that have met him will be impressed to learn that he sat still for three quarters of an hour.
The fourth and final show was an old favourite Pappy’s Fun Club: Last Show Ever.
This is silly. Just silly and yet the silliness is woven together to create a story so cleverly that you almost don’t notice how clever it is. It’s the finest example of Checkov’s Gun I’ve ever seen. Everything is either an opening for a gag, an opening for a running gag or a vital plot point.
The story starts with one of the Fun Club remembering how the opening night of the Neverending Tour: This Show Will Never End becomes the last Pappy’s show ever. Despite sharing an oath to let no fortune, fame or woman come between them the tree members of Pappy’s are tempted to give up their group and go their separate ways.
An example? A series of linked skits end up with one Pappy pretending to be a tree, with arms up in the air. He is standing next to another is pretending to be a cat with hand curled up in front of his chest. A third enters the stage with a step ladder and rescues the cat from the tree to the strains of YMCA by the village people. Half an hour later the ability to do the YMCA dance become a crucial plot point.
The ending is sad, for a comic sketch show, genuinely affecting.
MLW and laughed and giggled. I don’t think I’ve heard MLW laugh that much in years.
I’d recommend all four of the shows. Pappy’s is funniest, I think Paperbelle is the best worked by a whisker, Khorsandi’s is the most thought provoking and Fitzhigham is the most wonderful distillation of a life lived adventurously.