No-one could accuse Cambridge of being under-represented at this year’s Edinburgh Festival. Accompanying the ADC’s traditional offerings, The Wind in the Willows and Metamorphosis, and the Footlights tour show Wishful Thinking were Barry, Pull Your Finger Out!, Cardenio, Baby, RE____, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), The Magic Flute, And Bosnich is Off His Line…, and Cheese-Badger and Other Stories. These last two formed part of the Free Fringe, and the latter in particular represented one of the unheralded highlights of the festival. A two man show from Footlights veterans Tom Ovens and Frank Paul, it was a wonderfully old fashioned series of sketches that evoked the spirit of the Pythons at their most surreal.
While the Free Fringe involves a certain number of sacrifices (the venues range from bad to unspeakable), it is a fantastic resource for budding comedians who lack the financial power or the critical clout to secure a commercial venue. Operating on the sound principal that people will see anything for free, it also able to offer up some of the strangest shows of the festival. For an illustration, look no further than the one off show A Young Man Dressed As A Gorilla Dressed As An Old Man Sits Rocking In A Rocking Chair For Fifty-Six Minutes And Then Leaves, which did exactly what it said on the tin.
It wasn’t just current Cambridge students taking over the festival; everywhere you looked former Footlights stars plied their trade. Fringe veteran Mark Watson’s efforts included the site-specific Hotel, a greatest hits stand up show made up of his best bits from the past three years, and another of his ground-breaking 24 hour shows.
Contemporaries from his Footlights days, and stars of the BBC sketch show Cowards, Tim Key and Stefan Golaszewski both veered away from the traditional stand up format in their one-man shows. The bold and brilliant Stefan Golaszewski is a Widower took the form of a monologue delivered 50 years in the future, as Golaszewski looked back over the most significant relationship of his life, while Tim Key’s Slutcracker was a delirious mix of comedy and poetry that scooped the top prize at the Edinburgh Comedy Awards.
The award for Best Newcomer meanwhile went to Jonny Sweet for his Mostly About Arthur, a eulogy to his late (and fictional) brother. Shorn of his usual performing partners, Joe Thomas and Simon Bird (stars of The Inbetweeners), Sweet proved himself more than capable of standing alone, and is well worth checking out when he returns to his old stamping grounds at the ADC in December. On his return he will be accompanied by Nick Mohammed, whose account of the moon landing in Apollo 21 is a master class in character comedy featuring an inexplicably Northern Buzz Aldrin.
The 2009 festival not only began under a cloud of dire predictions about the prospects for a theatre festival in the current economic climate, but also had to cope with the heavens opening, with increasing frequency as the month went on, directly over the Royal Mile. Yet somehow, as ever, the spirit of the festival managed to overcome all obstacles, to ensure that this year’s Fringe was as much of a success as ever. It may drain your financial resources to critical levels, and you may have to spend all of September in bed recovering, but for anyone even remotely interested in performing, the festival is something that has to be experienced at least once. And one thing is for certain: there will never be a shortage of Cambridge shows to get involved in.
Edward Rowett, stalwart veteran of over twenty shows during his time at Cambridge, will be sorely missed.