Sunday, August 06, 2006

You Can Take a Whore to Culture...

... and ply him with drink, but you can't stop him plugging the shows he's been to see.

Off work this week, so I've been taking the opportunity to sun myself, drink beer in the afternoon with friends and take in a few shows.

It'll be old news to anyone living in Britain, but the Edinburgh Festival is about to start. To the uninitiated, it's one of Europe's biggest arts festivals, taking in music, theatre, comedy, film, dance... something for everyone. I wouldn't usually propogandise for the organisers, but I've been very impressed by everything I've seen so far.

This is my favourite part of the festival, i.e. before it's officially started. This means that the tourists haven't arrived en masse, it's possible to buy tickets for shows and desperate directors try to push free tickets on unsuspecting punters.

As I have done in previous years, I managed to get a ticket for the biggest gypsy guitar act in the Jazz and Blues Festival - Martin Taylor and friends this year, doing a bit of their own stuff in amongst the Django Reinhardt standards. As always, it was outstanding. Has anyone else ever noticed how virtuoso guitar players barely seem to move their hands on the frets? When I play I look like a demented seal slapping a stick.

I caught the preview show on Thursday, which showcases fifteen of the Assembly Rooms' top acts - move quickly to get tickets for comedian Jason Byrne, who stole the show as MC, but also loony samurai action in Chanbara, the adorable Maria Bamford and the stage production of Midnight Cowboy. I also can't say enough nice things about the Soweto Gospel Choir, whose show looks mindblowingly entertaining.

To anyone who's going to be in Edinburgh I'll have to recommend two shows created by and starring the very talented Chas Early - "Moon the Loon" and "Bill Hicks: Slight Return". The Hicks show was both hilarious and a little creepy, since Mr. Early managed a spookily accurate impersonation while performing his own material.

The Keith Moon show was my favourite so far and I hope it gets the recognition it deserves. Performed on a tiny stage within touching distance of the audience, it's set just before Moon was kicked out of The Who in the mid-seventies.

Early plays Moon with admirable charisma, capturing both his appeal and his unpleasantness, while two other actors variously play the roles of his wife, the psychiatrist and his receptionist, Moon's gofer Neil Boland and Mr and Mrs Singh, the voices in Moon's head who urge him to commit self destructive acts. In fact, forget I mentioned the Singhs, you'll have to see for yourself.

I was gripped from the start. The action shifts ingeniously back and forth in time, telling the story of Moon's descent into mental illness and his alienation of his friends and family. It's a great credit to the cast and production crew that it manages to remain very funny while still exploring some very dark themes.

All this wonderful culture, and there was a twenty-man punch-up right next to me at the Spiegeltent last night! The Festival has it all - wit, pathos, flashes of genius and brutal slapstick violence. Just don't expect to show up at a random show and be automatically entertained, quality varies wildly.

Last but not least, Jerry Sadowitz does not need my assistance to plug his show. Go see the man, but only if you're not easily offended.

He was famously punched out by a Canadian at the Montreal Comedy Festival when he greeted the crowd with a cheery "Hello, moose-fuckers!" and followed it up with "I'll tell you why I hate Canada, half of you speak French, and the other half let them."

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