A whole host of one-person shows lit up the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year, prompting our theatre editor, Nell Frizzell, to ask: when does a funny solo theatre show become stand up comedy?
Last year I found myself, in Edinburgh, at midnight, watching an entirely naked, grey-haired man stand in the middle of an otherwise empty stage with a lemon in his mouth, staring blankly at the back wall, as various slides flashed across the curtain behind him.
It really put the “ow” in “one-man show”. So, imagine my surprise, my delight and my sheer lemon-sucking glee to find myself, this year, listing four solo shows as my Edinburgh highlights. You could have knocked me down with pip.
First, there was IdeasTap member and New Voices Edinburgh winner Charlotte Josephine’s Bitch Boxer. From the moment Charlotte chalked out her stage with a fuse-like line of powder, this show hit the audience with an explosive mix of music, physicality, comedy and tenderness. Then there was Strong Arm by Finlay Robertson. Another New Voices Edinburgh-winner, this uneasy look at masculinity and the superego was as funny as it was sharp. And he got down to his smalls in the final scene. Then there was Luke Barnes’ Bottleneck, performed by James Cooney: a young actor so revoltingly talented that I’d probably give him a wedgie and steal his dinner money if there wasn’t anyone watching. And finally, of course, was Doctor Brown’s Befrdfgth, which left me aching, crying and covered in sweat.
But, before we all disappear into a colonic celebration, allow me to dampen this bonfire. While there are undoubtedly brilliant one-person shows out there – Bryony Kimmings, Caroline Horton and Sabrina Mahfouz know who I’m talking about – I really don’t want fringe or emerging theatre to just become a solo storm.
When you have to store your entire show in a suitcase, are embarking on the Shoestring Tour of Western Europe or are only making enough on the door to pay one set of equity rates, I can see the attraction of a solo show. Also, if you’re a control-freak-cum-writer (hail fellow well met!) then performing your own script is probably a good way to avoid punching your text-mangling actors in the plums.
But, sometimes, theatre benefits from an ambition of scale. You know, a cast. A little choreography. A whole host of direction. Also, working as part of a company means you have some chums up there with you. Particularly in a fringe setting, having other people to flyer, share the burden, reply to emails, do interviews and remember the lines can be rather lovely.
Finally, despite the fact that, given the choice between “funny” and “everything else” I will always choose funny, I did worry this year that perhaps the boundary between one-person theatre and stand up comedy was becoming blurrier than a dog in a hurricane. Sara Pascoe: The Musical has some fantastic bits of spirited feminism, Bitch Boxer had some laugh-out-loud lines, Josie Long’s Romance and Adventure included a minute-long monologue in the character of Ed Milliband and Bottleneck had a mini to-audience skit about losing your virginity. See what I mean? Sometimes it’s hard to draw the line.
So, let’s give a big hand to all of this year’s one-handers but remember, two’s company, three’s a crowd and four is basically the new Beatles.
... Upstaged: Edinburgh
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Illustration by Narcsville.
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