Performers are getting lazy. They keep expecting members of the audience to supply them with bits of their shows. I'm not just talking about impro acts, either. Dream Screams 2 is a series of drab and portentous playlets, one of which is written during the show from a title suggested by the audience. Plays & Players ex-editor Nick Curtis was so incensed at being asked to work on somebody else's script that he made damn sure Vincent O'Connell had to write a piece called Flop Sod Inordinate. It wasn't very good. Still, it could have been worse, he could have had a banana rammed down his trousers by the East German company Variété Chamäleon. Decadence isn't what it used to be.
Me, I've been getting a lot of sex in shows. I've had Venus, the goddess of love, talk about advertising chocolate replicas of my willy on TV, and I've been the sperm that fertilised a go-getting, Madonna-dancing egg in the wonderful Japanese Butoh mime show A Nightmare For C. Darwin. I didn't get obscenely propositioned by Biba Love and Ruby Rose in The Toilet Of Venus, but nothing could be more obscene than giving those two an opportunity to peddle their trips in public anyway. "I wonder what fate has in store for me," they mused at one point; a prolonged custodial sentence, one hopes.
It's been a great year for people called Graham at the Pleasance Theatre. Graham Norton's teatowel-clad living saint Mother Theresa Of Calcutta continues her world tour this year, in The Journey Back: explaining the Trinity with the aid of Tupperware cartons, suffering frenzied "giving attacks" and explaining how important it is to have TV in hospital rooms – "You think, 'Oh, I must remember to stay alive and watch that'" – she supplies a positively religious experience. The same can be said of former Jilted John Graham Fellows' latest creation, John Shuttleworth... and I'm not just saying that. His Guide To Stardom has had the likes of Bob Mortimer rolling in the aisles; Shuttleworth, accompanying himself on a cheesy Yamaha mini-keyboard, treats us to songs such as "I'm Up And Down Like A Bride's Nightie" and his greatest hit "Pigeons In Flight" ("it received a lot of airplay on the South Yorkshire hospital radio network"). He also gives tips on acting with telephones, and indispensable guidance to making it big on the carvery circuit. His brand of hilarious crappiness and '70s camp ("I thought he was eating a packet of crisps, but it turned out to be a Curly Wurly") has already (at the time of writing) earned Shuttleworth a Perrier award nomination and a Radio 4 pilot show.
It gets harder and harder to avoid solo shows here, as people become more concerned with showcasing their own talents (and, of course, saving on actors) than launching serious projects in their own right. Joan Hotchkis periodically turns into a cow in Letters I Didn't Send Home, an acute condemnation of sexism among the Californian cattle-ranching gentry (look, it was good, honest). Stephen Shank becomes a bum in a back alley to deliver the Revelation Of St John The Divine. In Out All Night And Lost My Shoes Terry Galloway, profoundly deaf and vision impaired, shows off her psycho ventriloquist's act from when she was engaging in therapy in a mental institution. Aussie stand-up and former Joe Mangel Mark Little managed to get into the Cellnet chart of most popular fringe shows a week before he'd even opened, but that turned out to be a typo.
There's an air that the Fringe has overstretched itself, that performance and entertainment have become overshadowed by the trade fair aspect of the event. But the whole thing goes through periodic crises, and this time is no more grave than any other. After all, look at the prophecies of West End doom a couple of months ago; the forward schedule for Shaftesbury Avenue looks healthier than it has for a long time. No, Edinburgh will be providing critics, talent scouts and little old ladies from San Francisco with something to do in August for some time to come. It would just be nice if they'd hold it in summer, that's all.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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