It's such a bubble, this Fringe business. Last August we were all up here promoting our own sordid offerings while the riots were raging in London and beyond. It felt so trite, selling an hour of self-penned masturbatory humdrum. This year it's been the Olympics, which has seemed at least to have lifted the national collective self-esteem but has left most performers and producers bereft at a very quiet festival so far. Ah, performers. We certainly don't like to play second fiddle. Though it's not a bad experience for us all to pop our heads out of the window once in a while and look up at the skies, to make a note to oneself that the world actually doesn't revolve entirely around us.
They say a week in politics is a long time, but a week spent at the Fringe is an age. Changes and experiences happen at great speed if you let them. I was up since 8am yesterday working on a session with Theatre Uncut at the Traverse Theatre, performing a four person playlet alongside the legendary Phil Nichol, playwright Molly Taylor and the actor Harry McEntire. Theatre Uncut are an incredible movement. Leading writers from across the world have been donating ten minute shorts to them to perform, in response to the global economic situation. These series of fast-paced playlets are performed with script to hand, with only an hour of rehearsal to prep. The objective is to raise political debate and discussion, and to prompt calls for international action in response to the deep social changes which have occurred as a result of that economic crisis. Our piece was written especially for us by the Icelandic writer Andri Snaer Magnuson who gave us a quick-fire satire about four Icelandic bankers. I don't often get asked to do this sort of thing and I really do get into it when it happens, especially as I'm being thrown in right at the deep end. The next one, with brand new works by four international playwrights with an entirely new cast, will take place next Monday. It's return tickets only as they've sold out weeks in advance, but if you get the chance to experience it, take it. Or get involved.
There have been some interesting characters dropping into my own solo show, deep in the bowels of the Tron on Hunter Square, over the last week or so. Some have heckled, one or two have even walked out, but most have hooted, roared and bellowed with laughter beautifully and in all the right places. One such character is the celebrated Magnum photographer Martin Parr who I've got to know - very slightly - at festivals over the last few years. Martin and his wife Susie are comedy junkies and support the Fringe - especially the comedy side of it - every year. Bless them both, they sat through a very quiet and difficult gig and were nothing less than brilliant with me afterwards. The vast majority of Martin's work, while vivid with colour, always seems to capture a very mundane aspect of British life. It's social realism with a great honesty and lot of humour to it. I love it. And I find it interesting that he loves comedy and comedians so much. They say his work leaves the viewer with strange reactions, unsure whether to laugh or cry. My audience felt the same about my work that night. There's no fucking doubt about that.
If Martin Parr wants a good dose of social realism he could do far worse than visit this godforsaken flat we all share here in Holyrood. We really have let ourselves go. There are saucers parading as ashtrays, once-ripened oranges now coated in fur, empty cartons being placed back inside the fridge, and teatowels which have certainly seen better days. A few nights ago, after my whisky-soaked piano-leaping Sinatra-singing episode (which will be recounted later) I'd forgotten my doorkey and had to buzz the flat awake at 5am. The sight of our producer letting me in, wrapped in a towel, rampageously lambasting me through clenched teeth then throwing things around the kitchen, could actually be the definitive snapshot of social realism behind-the-scenes at the Fringe. I apologized as much as I could. What else is a man to do? I've been up close to elephants, monkeys and even snakes in my lifetime but never have I known such a sensitive, temperamental and volatile a creature as that woman.
The Fringe this year has been among the happiest experiences of my life. The weather has been beautiful. The shows are going great. The first reviews are getting published and they're not half bad either. I'm enjoying myself to the point where I realize I'm disappointed to have a day off today as it means we're halfway through the festival season and I know I'll be sad when it's all over. I'm having a fucking blast. My voice is starting to croak a little which isn't good as my stage character - the elusive Wilfredo - is a singer. A shit singer he might be, but sing he must. But then I really ought not to be staying up until four in the morning getting pissed in the Gilded Balloon bar, leaping up onto the piano and shouting Sinatra songs down a mic like some Union Jacked tourist on the Costa Blanca. Apologies to all who had to witness that. But my thanks to those who joined in with the choruses. I even had the cheek to shout at the pianist over my shoulder, telling him to make it a medley. Ouch.
Matt Roper appears nightly in The Wonderful World of Wilfredo at the Tron (Just the Tonic). 10.20pm until 26th August.
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