Edinburgh Fringe

Si Hawkins' Edinburgh Epilogue: The shows must go on

Show For Gareth Richards queue

It was a Fringe full of wonderful things, but also a sad one in many respects. Even the Fringe Guide, the festival's famously bounteous bible of treats to come, proved sobering, pre-August.

About halfway through the comedy section was a picture of Andy Smart, who should have been performing with the Impro All Stars, but suddenly passed away in May. Not only a great performer and enduringly bold bon viveur, Smart was also one of the most generous and infectious offstage laughers, and lordy, a lot of other shows will miss that.

I must admit I couldn't quite bring myself to see one of this year's best-reviewed shows, Tragedy Plus Time, in which Ed Byrne contemplated a complex relationship with his late brother, Paul. A hugely popular director of shows and imparter of comedy wisdom, Paul was one of those figures sewn into the fabric of this festival. Two Fringes on I still half expect to bump into him somewhere around Nicolson Street. The show is, by all accounts, bloody wonderful.

Comedy directing is a vocation few of us know much about, but Adam Brace's back catalogue said a lot for his talents, the likes of Liz Kingsman's One Woman Show and Leo Reich's Literally Who Cares. His legacy lived on this year in shows such as Ben Target's glorious Lorenzo, and Alex Edelman's Just For Us, returning to the Fringe for a special tribute performance straight after its run on Broadway.

You do see the best side of comedians when things like this happen. A special gala, Not So Smart, was also staged for Andy Smart, in aid of Crisis, the charity he volunteered at every Christmas, featuring fellow impro(v) all-stars (Paul Merton, Richard Vranch, Suki Webster...) and Fringe legends (Stewart Lee, Jo Caulfield, Simon Munnery...). You can still donate - or even volunteer - via crisis.org.uk

A Show For Gareth Richards queue

And that brings us to A Show for Gareth Richards, in which a mighty cast of Fringe comics turned up to raise money for the late comedian's young family, every day of the Fringe. It became one of this year's most talked-about - and attended - happenings and eventually won the inaugural Victoria Wood Award.

So mighty was that queue that I couldn't actually get in first attempt - turns out Dara O Briain headlined, having just popped up for a few days - so ended up seeing Danny Ward, who'd co-organised it all with Mark Simmons. Ward plugged Gareth's benefit during his own show too, so we arranged to have a proper chat after I finally got in, on my final day in town. Lovely timing, as that day was the wonderful Nick Helm/David Trent finale he mentions below (Helm told us afterwards that he'd been too emotional to do it justice the day before.)

Ward was there on a rare day off from his own show, and the reason they clashed is hugely poignant.

Danny Ward

How has the show for Gareth been going, Danny - did you have any expectations for it beforehand?

The show has exceeded both mine and Mark's expectations. The quality of the acts willing to perform was never in doubt but we were less certain of how big the audiences would be and how generous. We had the target of £10,000 in our head for donations and with another week of shows to go that figure has already been exceeded because the acts have been so brilliant and the audiences so generous" [editor's note - by the last weekend they'd raised almost £20,000].

Not only has the show generated lots of money for the trust fund of Gareth's sons but it has given so many people a real Fringe experience they will never forget, all in Gareth's name.

It's been a mix of comedy and more personal stuff about Gareth. What's been the most amazing moment that you've seen - or heard about?

I barely know where to start or end. Mark and I are indebted to every act who gave up their time and talent for free, but some things jump out: I was able to see Nick Helm and David Trent perform Gareth's Disappointing Towel - they both loved him so much.

Image shows left to right: Nick Helm, David Trent

John Robins and Rob Auton told some of Gareth's jokes and spoke so beautifully about him, Stewart Lee performed and then held the bucket on the way out - that was the first day we took over a grand. Many acts not only performed but also put money in. And many people who couldn't make it to the show gave us money for the fund anyway. Mark and I have both been stopped on the street and given donations.

There is a reason so many people were prepared to do such lovely things and it's because Gareth was loved and Gareth was lovely.

Has it been a bit strange for you personally, running a show opposite your own?

It was certainly an interesting decision to programme a show with the best acts at the festival at the same time, on the same street as my own show!

In previous years it was always useful that Gareth and I had a show at the same time as it meant we finished at the same time and he would walk down from Whistlebinkies to Banshee Labyrinth, meet me and Mark and we would go for dinner. So in some ways this show has been a distraction from what we are missing.

If you'd like to contribute to the trust fund, the original campaign is still going, and nearing its target.

Post-Fringe, Danny will be back supporting fellow Richards showrunner Mark Simmons on tour, kicking off at Bishops Stortford's South Mill Arts on September 8. Their tour dates are on marksimmons.co.uk

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