Mervyn Stutter is celebrating the thirtieth year of his Pick Of The Fringe format. As he prepares for his big anniversary show this Monday, we asked him to look back over the last three decades and list out his 10 favourite acts. Here's the results (11 in total in the end, as Mervyn couldn't narrow it down to 10!).
Theatre / Dance
BALLET FREEDOM (2022) from Kiev. The company had scattered across borders for safety but the indomitable Toby Gough, got all the necessary visas and the company came to the Fringe with the blessing of the Ukraine government. They were a total joy. The show was sensational. They got my Spirit of the Fringe Award and as they left the stage, I choked up knowing that the male dancers would be in the front line in a few weeks.
CHILDREN OF THE SEA: The Sri Lankan Tsunami child survivors telling their story alongside a joint narrative of Pericles in a huge promenade show at Royal Botanic Garden. These traumatised kids grew so much during the run. One who had been silent for a year spoke for the first time. The healing power of theatre.
BLIND SUMMIT THEATRE - THE TABLE. Brilliant funny philosophical existential puppetry. I can't do better than their own words - 'Moses is a cantankerous 3-man operated puppet with a cardboard head... who lives on a table. Tonight, he wants to tell you an epic story about God and Moses, life and death, and puppetry... on a table. But he gets easily distracted. Like a cross of Tommy Cooper and Eddie Izzard, this table-top philosopher and comedian is the funniest piece of cardboard you will ever meet.' All true.
SOWETO ENTSHA. Four hugely talented young men found singing acapella on the streets and brought to the festival. One hour of superb singing and dancing from South Africa. That's how to do it! Lead singer Morgan now lives in Leith and will appear in my 30th year Charity Gala show in Pleasance Grand Monday 21st August.
NINA CONTI. The talented actress who discovered ventriloquy from the legendary theatre maverick Ken Campbell. I now realise I saw the birth of her association with Monkey in a very early show in a tiny tatty uni cafe area where Nina tried out various dummies under the instruction of a very absent Ken. The conceit was he was in a toilet stage left. As a grand finale Ken got her to throw her voice - not to create perhaps 'the voice from the suitcase' - but to recreate the medieval belief that "Satan's demons would enter the body" via the nether regions. We then witnessed Nina actually talking out of her arse. I then realised I was sitting next to her dad. NINA CONTI - the great and delightful risk taker.
MARCEL LUCONT - louche French raconteur and flanneur, who quietly insults his audience and the British much to the joy of his audience and the British. He's always a joy in my interviews. Alexis Dubus (for tis he) always tries something new with Marcel - a chat show, fronting a band - oh but audiences just love un petit peu de Marcel.
BEN HART: Aged 17 he was awarded the Young Magician of the Year by The Magic Circle. He was a finalist on Britain's Got Talent in 2019. He has designed illusions for the Royal Shakespeare Company, The Old Vic, and The Globe - and special effects in the West End productions of The Exorcist and Magic Goes Wrong. Sexiest of all, he taught Tom Cruise sleight of hand on the set of Mission Impossible - Dead Reckoning. His breakthrough Fringe show, I think, was the hugely intelligent Nutshell. Followed by Wonder and, this year, his most personal show yet, Jadoo.
I was flattered and delighted to learn that a very young BEN HART used to watch my live shows at Winchester Theatre Royal when we both lived there. It was the start of a great friendship. (Ben will be appearing in my big 30th Year Charity Gala show on Monday 21st August in Pleasance Grand.)
CAMILLE O'SULLIVAN: Gorgeous, funny, tragic, comedic Irish clown chanteuse, with huge voice that can howl like Joplin or whisper like Sinead O'Connor. Sings Brel, Waites, Nick Cave, Dillie Keane. Now christened the Queen of the Fringe.
CHRISTINE BOVILL: The Glasgow singing sensation and her show [i]PIAF. I really do love a late night cabaret show - especially in the Famous Spiegeltent (remember that?). I was lucky enough to be in that tent the night that Charles Dumont came onto stage to accompany Christine in the song he wrote for Piaf "Je ne regrette rien". Sublime memory!
Finally, two 'spesh' acts
(You don't see many on the Fringe these days)
WOODY BOP MUDDY (1993): You want loud, chaotic, and very silly? And to spend an hour screaming 'Save it or Nail it'? Woody's Record Graveyard brings all of that as he rips the covers off truly awful LPs, plays a bit and then demands we choose Record Heaven (some cuddly kittens) or nailing the offensive LP to a pillar of wood and smashing it to pieces with his Golden Hammer. Thumbs up. Thumbs down. It's the Roman Coliseum in an Edinburgh pub. Everyone's an Emperor or the sweaty mob baying for blood. A truly unique fun filled joyful act and so a winner of my annual Spirit of the Fringe Awards of course. Unfortunately, the Award was in a glass frame and as soon as Woody saw it, he knew, we knew, we all knew...he had no choice.... he smashed it to pieces with his Golden Hammer. Bloody brilliant.
THE ICEMAN (1996): The most eccentric and bizarre act I've ever had on my show. Dressed in his dusty dinner suit, with a large ice block on a spindly stand, the Iceman would attempt to melt it. Yup, really, that was it - apart from a series of dreadful 'ice' puns. He would pass the block around the audience for close inspection plus the many polaroids he's taken of his previous ice blocks that - despite attempts including breathing on it, salt and a blowtorch - all had failed. But maybe failure was the point? Who knows. This glorious and perplexing 'performance art' show is still remembered with great affection and amazement by those lucky enough witness it.