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Reviews Feature: Reviewing the ****ing Fringe

By | Published on Wednesday 13 August 2014

ThreeWeeks Podcast Editor Tom Bragg checks out the shows with censored titles.

Tom Bragg

Having set myself the remit of reviewing only shows with an asterisk in their title, I then started to fear that these might be almost exclusively low-grade comedy shows, inserting a swear in the name to grab attention away from the mediocre material within. But, of course, at the Edinburgh Fringe anyone can swear. Star ratings ranged from one to five in this selection of shows, and the types of performance was varied too – from straight stand-up to conceptual comedy, to slide show storytelling, to complete farce.

The disappointment was that more boundaries weren’t broken. Surely, if you’re going to break language rules in the title of the show, you’re expected to break some rules on stage, no? The only show to break any rules was Richard Tyrone Jones’s ‘What The F*ck Is This?’, where language was cast out the window in favour of animated hand waving and repetition of the five words of the title, in varying order.

The Fringe Society guidelines decree: “f*ck and c*nt will be represented as such by replacing the key characters of the word with * symbols.” The programmers feel “this is reflective of the general offence caused by these words”. But I couldn’t see the same rule for words like b*ll*cks, sh*t or c*ck. So are shows using these words in their titles deliberately including asterisks to make themselves sound more edgy? Does it pull the crowds in? Well, four of the six shows were on the Free Fringe and all of them pulled in full or near-full houses while the other two on the paid Fringe were also very popular. Perhaps it is a cheap trick for getting b*ms on s*ats.

To f*ck or not to f*ck? Well, all in all they were a mixed bunch. But my advice, as so often at the Fringe, is to ignore the f*cking stars and go judge for yourself.

Richard Tyrone Jones: What the F*ck is This? (@rtjpoet / ‘Utter!’ / PBH’s Free Fringe)
Conceptual comedy where the performer said nothing but “what the fuck is this?” for an hour. It had everything – comedy, tragedy; pathos, logos, ethos; a sprinkling of postmodernism. It brought to animated life how much can be communicated with just five words when the deceit of interpretation is broken down to its theory-laden fundamental components through a pre-structuralist approach to socio-linguistics. And, once you buy into the concept of a five-word show, it’s a lot of fun. It was striking how much physical contact there was through the performance but it emphasised that discarding language (and associated differences such as race) and relying on normal human curiosity paradoxically brings people closer together.
Banshee Labyrinth, until 24 Aug.
tw rating 5/5 | [Tom Bragg]

Testiculating (Waving Your Arms Talking B*ll*cks) (Eric Lampaert / Free Festival)
A slightly noxious mix of jokes about Nazis and racism, coupled with a manic belief in his own ideas: Eric Lambert started upbeat, and the first few Nazi jokes came off, but as he wearied through the set the punchlines began to land on the wrong side of edgy and by the time he sang his exit number (accompanied by imaginary piano) about hating all people as well as people of other races, the joke was more worn than the blistered hands of a mass grave digger. The one plus was his physicality, which he used to hilarious effect but all too rarely. His testiculation flowed for a bit, but the scrotum of a friendly atmosphere soon contracted, shrinking his bollocks back into himself.
Laughing Horse @ The Counting House, until 23 Aug.
tw rating 2/5 | [Tom Bragg]

Foul Play. The F*cking Nasty Show (Brett Vincent for Get Comedy, TheProducersUK and Pleasance Theatre Trust)
Another late night comedy gig trying out an original format, this time promising acts the chance to deliver their nastiest material. However, with sets lasting just seven minutes, the comics couldn’t interact with the audience and just delivered standard stuff, mocking their family or telling mildly edgy jokes. The compère, Paul Chowdhry, had time to lay into the crowd but he just picked on two guys in the front row ad nauseam. To top it off, Come Heckle Jesus – a man dressed as Jesus responding to heckles – was on last. He’s probably the most non-nasty comic at the Festival, which would have been ironic if the rest of the show had fit into the format in any way at all. NB: The comedians were funny. Just not F*cking Nasty.
Pleasance Dome, until 23 Aug.
tw rating 1/5 | [Tom Bragg]

Susan Murray’s F*ckwit Club (Susan Murray / PBH’s Free Fringe)
Murray has done some seriously stupid things in her life and is now part of a club that meets on Sundays to compare the week’s fuckwittery. Some of it we possibly got to see… she left the stage on the wrong side, meaning she wasn’t at the door with a bucket when the full house exited her free show, plus her stage manager clearly hadn’t screwed the light fitting in properly, so it crashed onto the stage five minutes before the end. But Murray had some good material, and fuckwittery’s a fun theme, though she tends to fill the gaps between sections with comments like “so that was good”, which immediately flatten the mood. Join the club if you’re so inclined.
The Liquid Room, until 24 Aug.
tw rating 3/5 | [Tom Bragg]

The Importance of Being Earnest As Performed By Three F*cking Queens And A Duck (Out Cast Theatre)
A brilliant farce tracing the antics of four intrepid actors (one being a wooden bird) through rehearsal, the inevitable cast member love affair, the jealousy, the rivalry and the thrill of the first performance. The hour flew past, unlike the wooden duck, which made only a short aerial voyage in a moment of shocked alarm during their half-manic performance of the butchered Wilde classic. An enjoyable show that could only have been improved by a little more time spent on that actual finale performance. The build-up was magisterial and soaked in lines that tumesced outrageous expectation, but the fun of a farce is when the whole thing crescendos towards the end – in this one the crescendo was, disappointingly, a bit short-lived.
theSpace on North Bridge, until 23 Aug.
tw rating 4/5 | [Tom Bragg]

Pretending Things Are a C*ck (2hoots Productions / Free Festival)
The premise of this show is funny: a guy travels around the world for years, taking photos of things in positions that make them look like his cock. But that’s pretty much the only joke of the hour-long set. Long periods are spent looking at a slide-show of the thousands of pictures he’s taken, some of which are momentarily funny, but the tedium of repetition left this reviewer’s eyelids heavy. Jon Bennett tried to spice things up by telling stories about some of the pictures, but ended up just taking the audience through long-winded and dull narratives about travelling – and how weird his family are – that had no real punchlines. Sadly, this show was half-cocked.
Laughing Horse @ City Cafe, until 24 Aug.
tw rating 1/5 | [Tom Bragg]