Thank the Lord for Scottish opening hours. As the body clock slowly begins to get back to normal and daylight hours once more become familiar, I find myself increasingly nostalgic for my nocturnal existence in Edinburgh; the early morning taxi rides back home, the late-night comedy shows, the late-afternoon breakfast bars, and of course the almost 24 hour-a-day programme of theatre.
As a Festival newbie, I arrived with high hopes of glamorous theatrical experiences. The reality of Edinburgh is a lot grittier – a cut-throat battlefield where the weapons are staple guns and sellotape, the ammunition many thousands of posters and flyers, the target the foolish punters who innocently stroll down the Royal Mile every day.
The quest for an audience isn’t helped by the fact that there is an awful lot of rubbish put on at the Fringe, not least the endless all-singing, all-dancing adaptations of Shakespeare, which means that audiences flock to big-name shows. The Odd Couple, featuring Bill Bailey and Alan Davies, was perhaps 2005’s equivalent of the hugely successful One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, also directed by Guy Masterson. Tight, funny and professional, it deserved its sell-out audiences, Davies’ dodgy American accent notwithstanding. The stand-up comedy big-hitters were similarly up to scratch. The vitriolic deadpan of Stewart Lee’s tirade against the Christian attitudes that condemned his Jerry Springer – The Opera, Tommy Tiernan’s energetic brand of Irish cheekiness and Jason Byrne’s quite brilliant exploitation of the foibles of his audience were all highlights.
While few of these big names disappointed, there is much to be said for trying out the less obvious productions. A Night of a Thousand Jay Astons, a four part drag-act of lip-synching to Bucks Fizz songs, may sound an unlikely hit, but it became a firm favourite with certain Oxford students. The Fringe programme was characterised by a high number of professional burlesque shows, like La Clique, which treated its late-night audience to outrageous turns which included a string of pearls pulled out of a vagina. Similarly, Spank!, a comedy showcase at the Underbelly venue, featured a nightly naked promo, an opportunity for some extreme marketing techniques.
Thankfully, none of the Oxford shows needed nude stunts to win over good audiences and a plentiful smattering of four and five star reviews. Though Burlesk perhaps found itself a little out of its depth in such risque company, Starting Here Starting Now, How I Learned to Drive, Boston Marriage and Catch 22 all had successful runs. I Was a Rat! coped admirably with an eleven AM start, offering a vibrant, colourful show enjoyed by children and adults alike, while The Tragedy of Richard Duke of York, despite small audiences, was a clever, imaginative piece of theatre. The Oxford Revue produced strong new comedy sketches, and the Oxford Imps added youthful verve to the thriving improvised comedy scene.
Now the hangovers have finally worn off, we can expect a year of high-calibre Oxford performances from these companies, before Fringe madness begins afresh.