Life on the Fringe

The Ed­in­burgh Fes­ti­val Fringe is the Tour de France of the com­edy world. Fringe debu­tante Ed­win Mul­lane pre­pares to jump in at the deep end

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Comedy -

FOR THREE weeks ev­ery Au­gust, the me­dieval city of Ed­in­burgh is be­sieged from the inside out. Bat­tal­ions of comics, street per­form­ers, ac­tors, writ­ers, po­ets, dancers, and artis­tic cru­saders from all over the globe join ranks for the world’s largest arts fes­ti­val. The Ed­in­burgh Fes­ti­val Fringe (more com­monly known as sim­ply the Fringe) has bal­looned since it was first es­tab­lished in 1947 as an al­ter­na­tive to the more high­brow Ed­in­burgh In­ter­na­tional Fes­ti­val. Two years ago, it was the hefti­est fes­ti­val on record, with 31,000 per­for­mances of 2,050 dif­fer­ent shows in 250 venues.

This year’s fes­ti­val prom­ises to be big­ger again, with Ire­land’s finest artis­tic tal­ents at the cen­tre of the melee. The if.com­edy award for best stand-up per­for­mance (for­merly the Per­rier award) has been a launch pad for some of our finest co­me­di­ans, with win­ners Tommy Tier­nan (1998), Dylan Mo­ran (1996) and Sean Hughes (1990), and past nom­i­nees Ed Byrne, Gra­ham Nor­ton, Ja­son Byrne, Andrew Maxwell and David O’Do­herty all gain­ing in­ter­na­tional suc­cess as a re­sult. Ir­ish play­wrights and ac­tors have also thrived at the fes­ti­val over the last few years, with shows such as Enda Walsh’s The Wal­worth Farce (Fringe First Win­ner, 2007), Aidan Doorley’s Tom Crean: Antarc­tic Ex­plorer (Fringe First Win­ner, 2006), Abie Philbin Bow­man’s Je­sus: The Guan­tanamo Years (sell­out in 2006), and Mark Do­herty’s Trad (Fringe First Win­ner, 2005).

How­ever, the streets of Ed­in­burgh are not paved with gold. The Fringe of­fers most per­form­ers a pub­lic­ity op­por­tu­nity rather than fi­nan­cial gain – the ma­jor­ity of theatre com­pa­nies and per­form­ers ac­tu­ally lose money dur­ing the fes­ti­val. A mod­est theatre pro­duc­tion, for ex­am­ple, can cost up to ¤15,000 up-front, with over­heads such as venue hire, ac­com­mo­da­tion, and pub­lic­ity at a pre­mium. Match th­ese costs to the gru­elling com­pe­ti­tion and you may not be sur­prised when you spot es­tab­lished ac­tors and co­me­di­ans hand­ing out fly­ers and fever­ishly pro­mot­ing their shows on the streets dur­ing the fes­ti­val. In­deed, the pur­pose of the fringe for many stand-up co­me­di­ans and writ­ers is to launch new ma­te­rial and ob­tain re­views and hype for up­com­ing tours. For less-es­tab­lished per­form­ers, the Fringe acts as a shop win­dow for agents, cast­ing direc­tors, and venue man­agers.

Fringe vet­eran David O’Do­herty re­turns to the Ed­in­burgh fes­ti­val for the sev­enth time this year, and is among a group of es­tab­lished Ir­ish co­me­di­ans, in­clud­ing Neil De­lamere, Des Bishop, and Maeve Hig­gins, who hope to pro­mote new ma­te­rial and com­pete with the world’s favourite comics. Do­herty sees the Fringe as “the Tour de France of com­edy”, and al­though he ad­mits that “it doesn’t make fi­nan­cial sense”, he be­lieves it “forces you to im­merse your­self in the in­dus­try and write new ma­te­rial”.

He says the Ed­in­burgh Fringe is the num­ber one com­edy fes­ti­val in the world be­cause, “it is the only ma­jor ‘or­ganic fes­ti­val’ where any­one can take part”. In this spirit, Do­herty will per­form three shows a day for the 26 days of the fes­ti­val – his own solo show, Let’s Com­edy, is at The Stand. Other emerg­ing tal­ents at Ed­in­burgh this year in­clude stand-up Jar­lath Re­gan and com­edy troupe Diet of Worms. Re­gan re­ceived rave re­views for his Fringe de­but in 2007 and re­turns this year with a new show, Re­lax the Cax, at the Gilded Bal­loon. The Kil­dare man is one of Ire­land’s best young co­me­di­ans and per­formed at the Mon­treal Just For Laughs Ir­ish Gala in 2007.

Sketch seems to be “the new black” in com­edy at the mo­ment and Diet of Worms, which per­formed its show in a swim­ming pool last year, re­turns to a more con­ven­tional lo­ca­tion at the E4 Un­der­belly venue.

On the theatre side of things, Ain­drias De Staic, a mu­si­cian, play­wright and ac­tor from Gal­way, will per­form his new one-man show, The Year I Got Younger, at Sweet venues. The com­edy play is a stage adap­ta­tion of his doc­u­men­tary about a newly-sober gypsy fid­dle player, which won best doc­u­men­tary at this year’s Gal­way Film Fleadh.

An­other award­win­ning Gal­way­based compa- ny, Dragon­fly Theatre, presents Mar­ried to the Sea at the As­sem­bly Rooms. Dragon­fly won the new writ­ing award at last year’s Dublin Fringe Fes­ti­val, and the out­stand­ing ac­tor award at the New York Fringe Fes­ti­val in 2007. Shona McCarthy’s play was in­spired by De­clan O’Rourke’s song of the same name and trav­els to Ed­in­burgh with an al­ready wellestab­lished rep­u­ta­tion.

Dubliner Abie Philbin Bow­man is also trav­el­ling to Scot­land on the back of strong re­views. The Scots­man dubbed him “this year’s face of the Fringe” in 2006 for his por­trayal of Je­sus Christ in his one-man show, Je­sus: the Guan­tanamo Years. Bow­man’s brand­new show, Eco-Friendly Ji­had, fol­lows an en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist who, des­per­ate to re­duce US car­bon emis­sions, joins al-Qaeda. It will be per­formed at the E4 Un­der­belly venue.

My own one-man com­edy play, Whacker Mur­phy’s Bad Buzz, will make its de­but at the Ed­in­burgh Fringe this year, show­ing nightly at the C Soco space at C Venues. I’ve also been nom­i­nated for best ac­tor, best pro­duc­tion and best new writer at the Bux­ton Fes­ti­val Fringe. Af­ter per­for­mances on Lon­don’s West End, and at the Brighton Fringe, Bath Fringe and Lis­towel Writ­ers’ Week, the Ed­in­burgh Fringe will be the high­light of a very ex­cit­ing year.

The play is about a north­side geezer who falls in love with Pol­ish temptress Maria (“The won­der of War­saw”). Whacker’s plan to get the wo­man of his dreams falls to pieces when he ends up in debt to Jimmy Mo Mo, the big­gest nut­bag around. I’ve been lucky enough to have had a great deal of help from Fringe vet­eran and comic ge­nius Tom Hickey in the past six months. Still, the bat­tle­field of this year’s Ed­in­burgh Fringe is a daunt­ing prospect for a young ac­tor. David O’Do­herty’s ad­vice is to “load up on plenty of vi­ta­mins and don’t read the re­views”. My Phar­ma­ton is packed.

Above, Ed­win Mul­lane is bring­ing his show, Whacker Mur­phy’s Bad Buzz, to the Ed­in­burgh Fes­ti­val Fringe. Also trav­el­ling to Scot­land are (be­low, left to right) David O’Do­herty, Maeve Hig­gins, Abie Philbin Bow­man and Neil De­lamere

Whacker Mur­phy’s Bad Buzz will be per­formed dur­ing the Dublin Fringe Fes­ti­val (Septem­ber 8th-13th) at Film­base in Tem­ple Bar. www.fringe­fest.com. The Ed­in­burgh Fes­ti­val Fringe runs from Au­gust 3rd-25th

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