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2023 Edinburgh Fringe

Gags, Stags, and Poles - Si Hawkins' 2023 Edinburgh Fringe Round-Up

Edinburgh Fringe 2023 posters

After last year's nervy comeback, the Fringe seems to be rocking the aisles in 2023, and there's a general air that - with all the awfulness everywhere else - people just want to sit and laugh at stuff for an hour. Clever, dumb, bit of both: doesn't matter. Any excuse to turn your phone off, really.

Unforeseen trends? Er, whiteface! Paul F Taylor and Josh Glanc both take pops at mime artists - bit harsh; they can hardly answer back - and painstakingly apply that make-up mid-show. Glanc's gloriously entertaining best-of, Collections, features a mime realising the futility of the pretend box ("there's nothing there!") while Taylor's lovingly crafted, more cerebral hour wonders how interesting it would be if stuff was really there. Would you pay to watch a man pull an actual rope? Exactly.

A couple of clown-faced talents in a spookier vein. Julia Masli's ha ha ha ha ha ha ha is extraordinary, but oddly different depending on where you sit. It's an ethereal masterpiece from the back, as Masli's mad-hatted agony aunt almost seems to float around the room, cleverly lit to add drama. But anywhere near the front and the spell is broken, a bit, by sheer proximity to the onstage action. A rare show where being immersed is actually less intense.

Youthful ventriloquist Lachlan Werner whites up to go dark too, playing a virginal alter boy in thrall to Brew, the witch he carries about; and, later, Satan. It's an acquired taste, but he's certainly taking vent acts in a bold new direction. I can't remember Ray Alan and Lord Charles ever getting possessed by a randy antichrist.

Alice Cockayne's parents

Outside, there's a spooky coincidence. Last year I was flyered by Alice Cockayne's mum, one of several promotional parents. This year I happen to queue up right behind both mum and dad, and - yes - she's still brandishing flyers. Supportive parenting, that.

Sticking with card, there's no Adam Larter and the Weirdos this year, perhaps because all the cardboard is busy elsewhere. Seymour Mace has a hefty chunk of it as a canvas in his show/exhibition, but the big card-hog is Ice Hole, at the Pleasance Grand, a wonderfully inventive French affair in which a rotund gibberish-speaker bumbles around Europe looking for love/committing occasional murders on an ever-evolving set all crafted from cardboard, new jokes popping up on every flap and panel.

In a loosely similar vein to Mace, but significantly less sweary, John Hegley starts the day off just right, like a Joe Wicks for the world-weary. The Early Word features a bit of choreographed movement from the audience, and he finishes with some sweet, sweet moves of his own. In between there are poems, songs and several generations of his family's artwork, from his own fantastic beasts to a genuinely impressive French scene by his father.

Jay Lafferty posters

Another intriguing theme this year: pole dancing. Jay Lafferty's excellent Bahookie is one of several shows bringing comedy and pole together - in this case the Inverclyde-born comic builds up to the big finale beautifully: she so crap at the lessons, we're never sure if she can actually do it. Lots of interesting thoughts on body image and aging, too.

Lafferty was one of several popular Scottish acts I'd not seen live before. Also packing them in are Stephen Buchanan, who does a sort of live TV show, cutting to filmed sketches and popping backstage to see his manager, on a John Shuttleworth/Ken Worthington tip - but with a late twist. And Christopher Macarthur-Boyd, bringing the house down at the Tron. His opener about an awkward benefit show is an exquisite guilty pleasure.

The Fringe is always a good place to discover talents from further afield, too. Sophie Zucker usually writes for The Daily Show and is doing a one-woman musical rom-com, and mentions having a tiny role in a Marvel movie (but which one?). Meanwhile Chris Grace is usually in music improv shows, but is now doing a one-man one about Scarlett Johannson, including a magnificent attempt at one of Black Widow's best bits. And the now London-based Kuan-wen Huang has frequent digs at a global superpower - guess which - in his joyously Taiwan-tastic show.

Steffan Alun, from Swansea, is the Fringe's court jester. In his pleasingly pre-noon slot Alum recalls his time as a court translator, which eventually went amusingly awry. Then later in the day he's in full judge regalia in the perennially popular This is your Trial - although the show I attended went slightly skewiff too, as some lads accused their mate of... let's just say it was a bit more real-trial than usual.

Still with legal stuff: marriage! Apparently several Fringe acts are doing routines about going on the stag-do for a well-known comic who's clearly doing even better than many of us naive southerners realise, as he paid for it all, for a week, in Las Vegas. Crikey. The entertaining account I caught was in Gareth Waugh's Wouldni Be Me, which is chiefly about his new fatherhood - so clearly the title should be Waugh Baby? Bit bleak maybe.

Nate Kitch

Meanwhile Nate Kitch of the anarchic collective Consignia is having to process his currently-in-progress divorce, which - naturally - is now filtering into his anarchic solo half-hour. He's sharing the slot with Student Comedian winner Caitriona Dowden, and they've wildly differing styles. Dowden is deadpan with lots of excellent gags; Kitch doesn't do gags, enjoys awkward silences and ends up with a bag on his head.

That's at the rather nice restaurant Little White Pig, a new Fringe venue this year just beyond The Stand - another Fringe benefit, discovering new places - and we'd bumped into him flyering in St Andrew's Square earlier. Cue us taking the most Scottish looking photograph ever, when up pipes a venerable American voice, earwigging nearby.

"So, there's some sort of comedy happening?" asks a chirpy chap who, it turns out, had just stepped off a cruise. Yes there is, sir, yes there definitely is.

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