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VARIOUS inc NATALIE HAYNES - EDINBURGH Festival - August 2003   Print  E-mail 
Written by Mark Reed  
Friday, 15 October 2004

Edenberg. Isn’t it lovely the way those words just fall off a tourist’s tounge? Eden-berg. Makes it sound like a type of lettuce. Or some particularly utopian type of fast food. Edenbergers. Yahoo.

Never have I seen a city so obviously divided. Right at it’s heart, a deep trench. Like an operation scar. The railway station carved through the two sides of the city. To one side, reaching to heaven, the majestic castle, the old city. Cobbled streets, tight corners, tourist traps, restaurants, bars, clubs, churches, and the air of the rich. Money streams invisibly in currents through the air.

And the other. Shrunken like a deformed head, the old city. Just not as old. Old, tired terraces. Cramped with newsagents on corners, cold wind buffeting round the concrete, repo shops, high street stores, and more McDonalds than you can imagine.

But a city with character. A city with something more than just shops, streets, and stuff. It feels like a home to some. A second home. Why is why, every August, the city is turned inside out for the famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival. A little London. And mostly everyone here seems to have come up from London.

The city is swollen half a million more visitors. Every last inch of space transformed into some artistic studio – every church hall, every ante room, every last spare room, student hall, all rented out, transformed into a stage, a room, a place to sleep. People sleep in kitchens, in bathrooms, in corridors like student parties, and perform anywhere that anyone can. In basements and attics, in streets, on corners, bedrooms, everywhere.

Everything is here : plays, drama, confessional, music, kids shows, singalongs, and comedy in all its shape and forms : stand-up, sit down, parody, baroque, and the plain juvenile. Most of it is, at the very least, polished. Some of it is undoubtedly shit.

The high points are those of people who try to achieve something. Try, in some small way, like any great art and any great artist, to change the world and to make something great. To realise the potential that all of us hold. To help us think about the world, ourselves, anything slightly differently. Great Art makes one think. Even if we come away from things thinking the same way we used to, at least we still think.

The low points : the people who confuse saying something with having something to say. The people who, instead of trying to challenge anything, simply try to reel in a whole bunch of gags, make a few people laugh, and throw in a bit of gay-bashing racism as well. You can lead a comedian to laughter, but you can’t make him think.

Rudi Lickwood doesn’t think. This much is painfully obvious.

The fact is, I don’t see his Edinburgh show, but his “Greatest Hits” some two weeks later in a dive of a room in Croydon. That’s mere detail, darling. If I had remembered who he was, I can guarantee you I wouldn’t have seen him. All I remember about him in Edinburgh is a flyposter of a naked woman. Black skin glistening with sweat, laying against the Union Jack. And coming out of the woman’s crotch, a smiling, smug, happy black face wearing a cap hankerchief.

That’s Rudi Lickwood for you. A man whose idea of humour is sprinklings of homophobia, xenophobia, intelligensiaphobia, everythingophobia. Women? Urgh. Gay Men? Urgh Urgh Urgh. Black man? Yay. Hooray. Cheers for the brothers, man. Its not long before Rudi Lickwood manages to alienate every white man, white woman, and black woman by appealing to his “Brothers” is disturbing. Racist. Placing barriers between people where there is no need for division. Divide and conquer was the Nazi modus operandi. Hitler would’ve loved someone like Rudi. Easy to rule.

This is the bottom line : there is only one race, the human race. And if we don’t all win, then we all lose. Got that Rudi? We’re all brothers. All of us, black, white, yellow. I don’t care what colour or race or gender someone is. Well, unless they’re purple with a trunk. Then I’d be concerned.

But in the meantime, we’re all brothers. You don’t see me tarring all of your brothers by calling them Niggers do I? But then again, that’s just a word isn’t it. Nigger is just a word. Brother is just a word. Irrespective of the connotations each word might have – they’re still racist. There’s no such thing as positive discrimination.

So take your racist and homophobic bullshit and stuff it up your arse. You’re not funny. You’re Bernard Manning with a tan : equally repugnant and full of hateful, unthinking prejudice.

In case you hadn’t worked it out Rudi Lickwood is one of the low points. From here it can only get better. And my god, how much better can it get? Very.

Even by normal standards, this years festival has high standards. Perrier nominees Adam Hill and Pete Howard are truly fabulous – turning comedy inside out and showing us what can be done when the blinkers come off.

Perrier Nominee ADAM HILL is one of my random entries. Turning up at the Pleasance and merely asking “who’s good?” sometimes pays off. Sometimes. Last year the same tactic exposed me to the type of comedy that saw a fat nincompoop mocking a one armed girl. This year thankfully, this completely random, potluck attempt results in Adam Hill. Adam, from somewhere called Australia, is the most thoroughly random show I’ve ever seen. Not that that’s a bad thing, but there isn’t really a plot or script. Instead the first twenty minutes revolve around picking out members of the audience and talking bollocks. Today sees two thirteen year olds given swearing lessons, a comparative rating of accents amongst the audience, an audience walkabout, and general relief from quite a lot of people that they aren’t sat right near the front. Instead of reeling off gags for the crowd, the crowd become the show, and it isn’t just how someone can tell jokes – its about how people are, how we interact, and how the truth is even more interesting than the fiction.

And after this, the sleeper hit of the festival. That is, the name on everyone’s lips. At least everyone whose seen him can’t stop talking about him. And the act that the defamed John Leslie got thrown out of : and what could be more controversial than that?

And so to GARY LE STRANGE. Allegedly a fallen Eighties star, back on the comeback trail, playing nightly to an almost packed basement somewhere in Edinburgh. Mix fabulous songs (“Ballerina”, “Grey”, and “Is My Toaster Sentient?”) that eviserate the genre of early Eighties New Romantic and place them in the the context of today, crossbred with the cool samaurai ruthlessness of a Neo-Regency Fashion Warrior, and you have possibly the coolest, most ridiculous hero of the modern, confused times.

Lyrically these songs tread the thin line between the ridiculous and the plain absurd. Musically these songs are cut completely from the cloth of the past : if I didn’t know better (and many people tell me I don’t) I’d say that these songs are genuine. That these songs are twenty years old.

There are no words to describe the experience, the feeling of being face-to-face with some strange, conceptual alien creature, one nation under a groove, being so totally immersed in being one thing that you lose who you are. But this is genius, if you understand, if you are prepared to let go of your preconceptions and revel in the ridiculous. But ridicule is nothing to be scared of.

Remember once, somewhere in time, yesterday was the future. And now this, we are living in the future.

And the future holds the world of virtual comedy. Next is another Perrier Nominee (trust me, I know how to pick ‘em, cos I’m good like that), The Big Howard, Little Howard Show. Admittedly, when I first saw him, his oddly, charming, undercooked show seemed more about an amazing concept than a decent execution. But take this idea – of a double act consisting of one real, live, human being (Big Howard, aged at twenty-something) and a virtual, animated foil (Little Howard, aged virtually six), presenting an hour long set of adult standup, childish wonder, and an mind-boggling Question & Answer session which sees him answering any (and I mean ANY) question from the audience. Sounds like it can’t be done : and it certainly couldn’t if it wasn’t running on a Mac. The Big Howard, Little Howard Show is a great exploration into the area where ideas and technology meet – and one that deserves almost as much recognition as it can get. If only television shows had ideas as good as this.


And finally, my personal Edinburgh highlight, the great Natalie Haynes. I mean hell, I’m not going to let personal opinion sway anything. She’s the type of performer that most people wish they were : like Bill Hicks, when you see what she can do, you wonder why other people aren’t doing this. Opening up their lives at the end of the fork, seeing it for it truly is, and laughing at the absurdity of it all. Irreverence is so liberating sometimes. Unlike Rudi Lickwood’s unthinking, childish swipes against the sacred cows, Natalie’s work is simply that of intelligently challenging everything. Nothing is taboo.

And it’s fucking hilarious. Because life itself is a joke, the biggest one there is. And it takes a visionary to see beyond all this stuff that’s thrown in front of us, all this stuff , is just bullshit. It’s ultimately meaningless. It’s only life. It’s just a ride.

And some people can’t step outside of their prejudices : some people are trained, happy sheep, products of their existence, Pavolv’s people, in fact. And so, when the show is interrupted by the bleating of the repressed, it comes as a genuine shock.

I’ve never seen this before. I thought I’d seen it all in my years. But there, in the second row, sat on her own, tutting loudly, disapproving, comes the lone voice of fear and repression. “You’re sick” it says. “You’re sick” it says again. In fact that’s all she does say. She doesn’t explain how, or why, or offer any solutions. We’re sick.

But Nat is so sweet, if not exactly forgiving. The door’s there. You can use it. Why are we sick? “You’re sick” she says. That’s all. A broken record, a broken reason, stuck in a broken groove. And what about the rest of us?

“You’re all sick”. Boy is that not the way to win over an audience. A chink of light in the darkness. A door is opened. And then – the air changes. This could get nasty. This interloper, this woman, this lone voice of mongdom seeks to confront. To lash out with an idiot reflex against anything it doesn’t like. Apparently, she’s a psychologist, and we’re all sick.

Surely then, Natalie reasons, you’d understand human behaviour a little better. But we’re still sick. If we’re all sick no wonder we want this world to be cured. And then the audience turns. No longer confused, or merely irritated by this idiot voice. A chorus rises out. “Bye.” “You’re plane’s waiting”. “I’ll get your passport”.

Frankly, it looks as if this could go on all night. And it looks as if it could get nasty. But you know, the way we are. She takes her leave. Or maybe, a polite way of saying it is, her leave is taken for. Ladies and Gentlemen, Elvis has left the building, and after this, what else is a boy to do?

Everything after this is tainted. Not in a bad way, just with the knowledge that for a second there, we lost ourselves in something bigger. The threat of violence. The dryness of the taste of fear. Knowing that even people who look like us, act like us, aren’t like us. Think so radically different. See the world with the eyes of fear and hatred, not with the eyes of love.

And that’s the thing that makes the biggest difference to us all. Some see with the eyes of hope. Others with the eyes of hate. Some, when they see their fellow man, see their eternal, spiritual brothers. (And I ain’t talking Rudi Lickwood here). Others see a threat. And those who see other people as somehow threats, they are the predators. The animals.

And most of us have evolved. Most of us. And as Natalie herself says, being judgemental is the sign of an evolved being. We're evolved. Are you?


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