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Quick Quiz: Mike McShane

By | Published on Monday 31 July 2017

This August the Edinburgh Festival celebrates its 70th anniversary. To mark the occasion, we have asked a plethora of performers about their personal Fringe experiences.
To kick us off, the cast of the iconic improv show ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?’ get all nostalgic as they return to the Edinburgh stage once again. Today, Mike McShane.

TW: What was you first ever experience of the Edinburgh Fringe?
MM: In 1992, Jim Sweeney, Steve Steen and I used the festival as our launch pad to go on a UK tour, produced by Nica Burns. And I learned that when you are on stage with Jim and Steve, you basically just get out of the way until you see an opening.

During a Raymond Chandler improv, we asked the audience for a physical trait for a character and got “enormous testicles”. I was the detective and Steve walked in as a butler. He said “I’ll get the Colonel” and went off stage. I vamped, describing the location, and people are laughing, so at first I’m like, “yeah this is going good”. Then I realised that the laughs were being generated behind me, as Steve walked in backwards, physically and audibly miming a wheelbarrow laden with some enormous mass.

After a beat or two, Jim follows behind at a perfect stage angle, miming his enormous plums. I just stood there in amazement and admiration while the audience lost their minds. I tried to start the scene, but as I interrogated Jim, Steve started soaping and tenderly washing the imaginary goolies, and, well, I was done. These guys were, and are still, the deepest and best of mates – they grew up together and I was so fortunate that they took me on as their large American gooseberry.

TW: What’s the best thing you’ve ever seen performed at the Fringe?
MM: Chris Lynam with a Roman candle in his arse gleefully saluting the audience like Jimmy Cagney while his band plays ‘There’s No Business Like Show Business’. And… John Hegley, warmly and intimately reading his poetry, with all of us then being offered instruments and just knocking around on stage with him. Both were the best things about being a theatre performer and giving your audience a particular kind of experience. The scale of technique is so wide, but the spirit can be so precise. Beautiful.

TW: What’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen performed at the Fringe – so bad it was good?
MM: A very prim lady-like producer drunk off her ass at 3 am, ramming down an order of chips under a street light, seeing me and some friends and turning around to scarper, and running into the street light pole. I gave it five stars, but I think she saw more. And no, it wasn’t David Johnson.

TW: Which of the Fringe shows you performed in do you most fondly remember – and why?
MM: I returned in 2004 with Dave Calvitto and Nancy Walsh in a play written by John Clancy called ‘Fatboy’. It was a modern language version of Alfred Jarry’s ‘Ubu Roi’, and it rocked the house. The company was amazing. Nancy was, under any circumstance, a genius performer, and she was doing the show with a part of her brain cut out from cancer. We’d finish the show, and it just felt so good to be in the Clancy’s embrace with such a talented company. The play that I am doing this year, ‘Mary Go Nowhere’, has the same feel. Ah, the old Assembly Rooms and Smilin’ Bill, the master producer and photographer.

TW: Name a Fringe performer – past or present – who you’d love to see participating in ‘Whose Line?’
MM: Dave Calvitto. Really, the guy has a style and a mind that’s unique. Like a cheeky low key meerkat. He improvises with Alan Alda, for Christ’s sake. I think he can handle us. You should check out his play, ‘Enterprise’, this year.

TW: Other than performing and seeing shows, what is your favourite thing to do in Edinburgh during August?
MM: Walking it late at night, lightly twinkly after an evening with old friends. Or thrift store shopping in Morningside with a stomach full of cake. You’ve got the museums after that, a whisky near Tollcross, then some galleries and walking along the different battle walls that have come and gone, reminding you how important walls were to medieval minds. I’ll leave it there.

‘Whose Line Is It Anyway? – Live At The Fringe’ was performed at the Assembly Rooms at Edinburgh Festival 2017.