Thursday, 18 September 2008

FEATURE: The Comedy Offensive

The Comedy Offensive
Louise Ridley talks to Nick Doody about his satirical yet silly show

With his funny surname, and equally funny shows, Nick Doody’s brand of contentious humour wins praise from many corners. He made his comedic name years ago supporting the late and great Bill Hicks, who he still greatly admires. “He did really good theatrical stand up - big pieces with good versus evil - with this underlying smart political humour. I don’t agree with everything he thought, though, he was very religious, certainly.” It’s fair to say that having a bash at religion dominates Nick’s show. “I’ve covered it before but this time I’ve got sillier. Though, come to think of it, I was pretty silly last year. I have this reputation as a political ranty comic but I also like to have a giggle at things, I don’t see why you can’t have both.” He understands the importance of keeping his fiercely topical material fresh; “If lots of people hit the same things in the same way it’s best to leave it.”So why is religion such a staple trigger for comedy? “It’s so often ludicrous! Like the Sudan thing, I think ‘But it’s a bear! A teddy bear!’ We live in a changing age, fundamentalism is on the rise but there’s also a lot of rationalism. Islam has the same power in some parts of the world that Christianity used to have here. It’s a good thing to be able to criticise that power.”Rather than being on a mission to offend, it is the nature of offence itself that gets Nick’s attention, “If someone’s laughing a lot they probably aren’t actually offended. People often get offended on other people’s behalf; it’s always the guy sitting next to the guy in the wheelchair who will be most upset about a joke involving disability.”Has he ever gone too far? “I have on one occasion. I had the belief that you should be able to say anything on stage as long as you can defend it at the bar afterwards. But I told a joke about 9/11 - about the mechanics of it, coming at it from a weird angle or something, and in that case it just seems to trivialise the loss of lives there.”It’s his seventh year at the Fringe, and his third solo show here. “It’s an incredible opportunity to see people in very small performance spaces, it’s really intimate. I’ve mainly seen other acts on late night variety shows, but I’ve really liked Jamie Kielstein this year.”Over his career he’s seen the big names move on and change, “People who were the best when I was here doing sketch shows as a student have moved on a bit. It’s hard to put into words really. When you see a 50-year-old stand-up there is a distinct stylistic difference from a 25-year-old stand-up. The people who were at the top of the bill at the Comedy Store in London seven years ago are still on there, but the ranking order has changed.”So what does the future hold for Nick? “I had an idea the other day for my show next year actually, just as I was thinking, ‘Never again, I lose so much money every year at the Fringe!’ I reckon it will be about how I can’t help seeing both sides to every argument and how annoying that is in comedy; I can say something and then think ‘Well, the other side has a point too!’” Divided he may be, but Nick retains the ability to draw thought-provoking laughs from both sides of a crowd.

--Nick Doody – Tour Of Doody, Pleasance Courtyard, 30 Jul – 25 Aug (not 6, 13), 7.30pm (8.30pm), prices vary, fpp 81.

published: Aug-2008 for Three Weeks newspaper at the Edinburgh Festival

FEATURE: The Healing Power Of Laughter

The Healing Power of Laughter
Louise Ridley talks to Glen Wool about his honest and imaginative stand-up show

In his stand-up Fringe show, ‘Goodbye Scars,’ Glenn Wool is getting personal. Really personal. In it, the charismatic Canadian (described as a cross between Jack Black and Meat Loaf) talks frankly about the aftermath of his nasty real-life divorce. “It’s about forgiving yourself for things,” says Glenn, “Sometimes it’s good to play things through, and to have regrets. It’s a theme I keep in all of my shows; where you end up is about where you’ve been. I think it’s a sign that you’re totally over something if you can talk about it on stage.”If this is the case, Glenn is certainly over it, and his honesty is effortlessly funny. “I think it makes it more accessible to everyone. I’ve said to myself this is the last really personal show I’ll do though. I’ll go on to more political stuff, drug humour, that kind of thing.” I had read somewhere that Glenn had given up drinking, but am assured that he has done no such thing, “I tried for three months, but then I had to give up sobriety.”As we appreciate non-sobriety together after his show, the edgy and buzzing Glenn that I saw on stage gives way to an equally affable, but exhausted, one. And it’s no wonder; directly before his gig he performs nightly in the Fringe hit ‘Office Party.’ “It’s a spectacular show,” he tells me, “I’m not just saying that. We did it in the Barbican in London in September as well.” He can’t stick around for the party which happens after the show finishes though, “I have to leave before it ends to get to my gig!”Like many, Glenn enjoys the collective aspect of the Fringe, “It’s like a convention of all of my friends. It stretches you as a performer too. I like that.” He feels that some are being stretched in the wrong direction, though, “What you tend to get with trends in comedy is that people at the forefront are really good but others just switch for the sake of it, when they should really do their own thing and find their own voice. Some people are just good-looking or something, or someone says to them ‘be like him!’ so they do.” This approach is definitely not for Glenn, whose constant semi-stoned air is punctuated by brilliantly extreme expressions of fear and surprise and sharp observations that reveal a shrewd talent for selecting material. He entrances the audience with detailed stories that build up to a single, triumphant punch line, which he says is all to do with know-how; “The stories I’m telling now I couldn’t have done as a less experienced comic. You learn how to hold attention. Before that you just know that something funny has happened but you don’t know how to put it on stage. I’ve still got stories in the bag!”After pursuing a particularly sensitive theme this evening, he explains that you can’t always please everyone. “I knew some people wouldn’t like it, as they didn’t like the original joke, but tonight I wanted to reward the core group who were enjoying it. As I always say, those are the kinds of things that lose you awards but win you an audience that you’ll want to stay friends with for life.” Glenn has undoubtedly not achieved the fame that his ability merits, which could be to do with his lack of interest in awards, but choosing to push the boundaries rather than play it safe is just another quality that recommends him as one of the most refreshing comics on the circuit at the moment.

--Glenn Wool – Goodbye Scars, Underbelly, 31 Jul – 24 Aug (not 12), 10.15pm (11.15pm), prices vary, fpp 54.Office Party, Udderbelly’s Pasture, 2 – 25 Aug, 8.00pm (11.00pm), prices vary, fpp 83.

published: Aug-2008 for Three Weeks newspaper at the Edinburgh Festival

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

FEATURE: Lord of the dance...with bells on

Lord of the dance...with bells on

Louise Ridley talks to Tim FitzHigham about his latest madcap adventure.

"It’s funny how you can be in considerable physical pain but people think you’re happy because you’re wearing bells.” Fringe veteran Tim FitzHigham, the man who rowed the Thames in a paper boat and the channel in a bath, returns this year with his latest tale of epic morris dancing. His adventure paid homage to Will Kemp, Shakespeare’s clown. “Kemp suggested a part for Hamlet, a comedy dog on wheels. Shakespeare refused and explained that Hamlet was not a barrel of laughs; it was going to depress A-level students, possibly for 400 years. Enraged, Kemp decided to show Shakespeare the true nature of comedy by morris dancing from London to Norwich.”Always keen to tackle the bizarre, Tim felt he should give it a go. Hopeless at dancing, he underwent a month and a half of intensive morris training. “I like to go into things with no expertise, to prove that anyone could do it. It’s a very English thing – people saying ‘Don’t do that, you can’t do that.’ I’ve never lost the belief that if you stick at something hard enough it will become possible – within the laws of gravity, of course. Morris dancing is an inefficient way of travelling. You hop every four steps and two out of every four are backwards.” Tim’s expedition – in full Jacobean attire – received mixed response: “People would drive past me and then come back again and again to see how far I’d got, or pull over and give me cash for the charities I was supporting, which was great! Some people said I was dressed like a wanker but I explained to them that it was the height of fashion in Kemp’s day.” He even got detained by police. “It could be that Morris dancing is the last form of anarchy left to us,” he says.Tim is the first to admit that his is a painful, if unique, brand of comedy: “I lost a toenail – not the most glamorous thing ever – and all the skin on my right foot.” So why does he do it? “I love it in cartoons when Jerry hits Tom over the head with a saucepan. Cartoon pain is funny; it’s extreme comedy. I laugh at myself when I see the things I do.”Like Kemp, Tim hopped into Norwich after nine days. His Fringe show, ‘The Bard’s Fool’, takes his audience through his arduous journey. “I only have an hour to tell the story. The flag ceremony is always an integral part of my show. Through my maritime connections [Tim is an honorary Waterman] I take the venue into my command so that if I say anything vaguely slanderous nothing will come of it.”Tim is an old hand at the Fringe: “I love going. It’s a solitary life as a clown; you go back to a hotel after a gig and potter around. At the Fringe you see all your mates, it’s great!” Comedy has changed since he won the Perrier Best Newcomer award in 1999: “Back then I wrote my show the night before, now people do things that they’ve polished since March. The creative process is hidden from the audience, which is a great shame. It used to be an ad hoc circus but it’s like an industry trade fair now. Comedy is very supportive at the moment, though. There are times when everyone’s niggling each other but right now it’s like an extended dysfunctional family.” As his show will demonstrate, Tim is this family’s outlandish son for whom no tree in the garden is too high to climb.

--Tim FitzHigham, Pleasance Courtyard, 30 Jul - 25 Aug, 6.00pm (7.00pm), prices vary, fpp 104.

published: Aug-2008 for Three Weeks newspaper at the Edinburgh Festival

FEATURE: A musical feast with veg on the side

A Musical Feast With Veg On The Side
Louise Ridley talks to Adam page about his original solo show

Fancy some beat boxing mixed with Indian rhythms on the nose flute? Or a salsa track with a hint of African thumb piano? Then Adam Page is your man. The multi-talented music maestro from Adelaide turns his hand to almost any instrument, and showcases them all in his appropriately named one-man show, ‘Adam Page Solo’.“It all starts from scratch”, says Adam, who uses live looping and sampling to create a unique composition during every show, “nothing is pre-prepared. I ask the audience what style they want to hear and take a bit of a vote, then I might beat box a bit and lay down a rhythm. Every single show is different, which is great because it means I am getting something out of it creatively, as well as entertaining people!” The audience also become music makers themselves: “I get people up on stage to record stuff into the loop pedal or the whole audience to sing some notes together. Then I build on what they are singing and they are incorporated into the piece.”A saxophonist by trade, a defining moment in Adam’s youth was watching fellow sax player Jamie Oehlers. “I saw him play when I was in year 10 at school and he just blew me away. I realised that this was what I wanted to do. Around that time I started getting bad marks in every other subject except music. So, it was a good thing really!” Since then he has toured Australia nine times with funk band The Jive Express, but his solo show allows him to indulge his inner frontman: “The freedom is amazing. I’ve always been a side man and I like the limelight! It’s great to be out there exposing my music to people, that’s what it’s all about. I love life on the road; it’s my number one passion”.When he puts down the sax, Adam dabbles with flute, clarinet, bass, guitar, percussion and beat boxing as well as some more unsual instruments: “I do Tuvan throat singing” [Here Adam breaks into an impressive noise which can only be described as the sound of a didgeridoo - without the didgeridoo] “There is the mbira which is an African thumb piano, and the madal, which is a Nepalese hand drum.” He turns “anything the audience throws at me” into an instrument, which has included a whoopie cushion and asthma inhaler. However, he won’t spill the beans about the intriguing tagline to his show – ‘One man. 15 instruments. One vegetable.’ “There is a vegetable but I won’t reveal what it is or how I play it – I’m pretty happy with it though!” Squeezing his instrumental collection onto the plane might prove tricky, then? “Obviously I can’t bring them all to Edinburgh! I need to buy a didgeridoo when I get to London actually...”Despite winning the Best Music By An Emerging Artist award at the 2007 Adelaide Fringe Festival, this will be Adam’s first Edinburgh Fringe. “Edinburgh seemed like the next step! I can’t wait. I’m doing 24 back-to-back shows and it will be great for my development to really focus in that way.” He’s looking forward to sampling what the Festival has to offer: “Michael Franti, John Cleary, and Spearhead; I’ve already got my tickets for that! I’m into classical music, as well. I’ll definitely go to the Bach cello suites because I play them on the saxophone. But I’m most looking forward to seeing really unknown shows like myself; there are so many people out there!”

--Adam Page Solo, Underbelly, 31 Jul - 24 Aug, 5.20pm (6.20pm), prices vary, fpp 138.

published: Aug-2008 for Three Weeks newspaper at the Edinburgh Festival

REVIEW: Climate Change: Young People’s Perspectives

Climate Change: Young People’s Perspectives
Festival of Politics

Young people had a say in world concerns as children aged nine to fourteen from all over Scotland took part in a Climate Change Camp and presented their findings to adults. Emphasis was on shared responsibility and the impressive and detailed mural which they had painted, featuring slogans such as “Which world do you want? It’s your choice” and a ‘promises and pledges’ box for contributions. They recited their own poetry, mainly concerned with the disappearance of wildlife due to global warming, and made suggestions to the ministers in attendance. Some interesting ideas came up which the politicians took on board, with discussions following. This was an inspiring event, tackling a wider picture of Climate Change than the upcoming bill it anticipates.

The Scottish Parliament, 23 Aug, 12.30pm (1.30pm), free

published: Sep-2008 for Three Weeks newspaper at the Edinburgh Festival

REVIEW: Beethoven For Breakfast

Beethoven For Breakfast

A fellow reviewer begged me not to do the obvious and mention the croissant in my review of my first ‘For Breakfast’ experience. He was right - complimentary foodstuffs were utterly unnecessary as an enticement to this wonderful performance. The standard was the very highest as we heard two Beethoven works and a sprinkling of Schubert in the undeniably civilised Royal Over-Seas House. Michael Lerace played as though the piano is an extension of his body; gracefully teasing out the beauty in each strain. The trio that followed were also outstanding, giving a sophisticated and sensitive performance. This was relentlessly absorbing music - I left feeling like I had been submerged in it and didn’t want to come up for air.

Royal Over-Seas League, 12, 14, 19, 21 Aug, 9.30am (10.30am), £10.00 (£8.00), fpp 141
tw rating: 4/5

published: Sep-2008 for Three Weeks newspaper at the Edinburgh Festival

REVIEW: Dancebase Presents … Inbetween

Dancebase Presents … Inbetween
Cie. Willi Dorner

Austrian choreographer Willi Dorner offers a playfully puzzling trip into the postmodern, as fragmented and frenetic as you might expect this ironic comment on the future visions of films ‘2001 – A Space Odyssey’ and ‘Alphaville’ to be. Using music, videos, their bodies, words that were at times funny and piles of headshots of celebrities which they held up against their faces and discarded to change expression, three charismatic performers explored a future where expression is stifled. At times this verged on the absurd, at others it was pretty incomprehensible, but there was always something engaging to look at and consider as the performance space became a workshop for exploring the image, especially of the face, and its relationship to language.

Dance Base – National Centre for Dance, 20 – 23 Aug, 2.00pm (3.00pm), £11.00 (£7.00), fpp 113
tw rating: 3/5

published: Sep-2008 for Three Weeks newspaper at the Edinburgh Festival