It’s said there’s something for everyone at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and, looking at this year’s programme, it’s easy to agree. Family-friendly shows are a big part of the appeal for parents attending the Fringe, but this year several acts aimed at adults have turned the clock back to childhood as the starting point for their shows.
Katy Brand: I Was a Teenage Christian
Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33) until 29th August
In a world where religious fundamentalism seems to hit the headlines with chilling regularity, it might seem like Katy Brand is jumping on the bandwagon with her story of teenage piety, right down to her attempts to convert classmates and teachers, leading whole school assemblies and generally annoying her peers. Such was her devotion, she admits she would have been dangerous had she lived in the time of the Crusades.
However, Brand’s near-overnight conversion to Christian evangelism is both shocking and entertaining, covering demon identification, a dodgy narcissistic vicar and the hierarchy of the church band. You can see why she mined it for comedic potential, not least because of the innuendo-laden possibilities of having a ‘God-shaped hole’ in her life. Whilst there could have been a stronger link between the opening content (based on celebrity deaths) and the bulk of the show, Brand has the audience in the palm of her hand nonetheless.
Mark Cooper-Jones: Geographically Speaking
Movement (Venue 56) until 27th August
A geography lesson doesn’t sound like a riveting prospect for an afternoon at the world’s biggest arts festival, but appearances can be deceptive. Former teacher Mark Cooper-Jones may dress exactly as you’d expect, with his stereotypical elbow patches and rust-coloured trousers, but he’s definitely more entertaining (and, it has to be said, easier on the eye) than any teacher from your school days. His mission, aside from hoping to be spotted by the producers of BBC’s Coast and highlighting his Royal Geographical Society fellowship, is to make this much-maligned subject fun again.
Oxbow lakes and colouring tasks are replaced by a tongue-in-cheek lesson in British Imperialist attitudes and the fundamental difference between Scotland and England, with a cannily employed overhead projector. An audience role play on climate change demonstrates why the modern policy of ‘pupil voice’ is ruining education, and it generates belly laughs instead of inward groans and yawns. Along the way, Cooper-Jones takes a self-deprecating look at his own academic background, and his self-awareness stops this show becoming as dry as the Gobi desert, or indeed the geography lessons you remember from secondary school. If the BBC is watching, hire this man now.
Rory O’Keeffe: Monoglot
Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33), until 29th August
We British are notorious for being bad at languages, expecting everyone to learn English and refusing to grapple with the local lingo on holiday. Rory O’Keeffe, who happens to be a quarter Irish and a quarter Italian, has resolved to change things by learning a second language – that’d be Italian, not Gaelic, though he does have a crack at creating a makeshift Irish passport in a post-referendum panic.
O’Keeffe’s evening classes and language app exploits also lead into studying Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, and the slightly scary children’s self-help book, You’re My Best Friend, I Hate You, to see if we ever say what we mean. This is a well-balanced show packed full of content, and not even the rowdiest Prosecco-swigging audience member could put O’Keeffe off his stride. Funny in any language, surely.
Thorium Theatre: Come Look at the Baby
Just the Tonic at the Community Project (Venue 27) until 28th August
This is not a conceptual art installation but it might as well be: an anonymous baby and its grandmother sit under a canopy for half an hour as the audience watches them interact. Unlike most Fringe shows, there’s no threat of audience participation, save the occasional chance to make faces at the baby if it looks your way. However, this does mean everyone is at the mercy of the baby’s moods and its grandma’s enthusiastic cooing.
Helped by a relaxation playlist and a running commentary from said grandma, there’s plenty of appeal for mindfulness devotees here. Despite this, 30 minutes of baby toys and gurgling is the upper limit for both the baby and even the broodiest audience members, especially as the child can’t talk yet and isn’t allowed to crawl around the cushioned space. Come Look at the Baby is a brave choice for a Fringe show and a relaxing way to spend half an hour, but the media hype surrounding it is perhaps unjustified.