Sunday, August 1, 2010


From my blog "Darwin on the Fringe":

Riding the train up to Edinburgh and the only way I can think to describe the mounting sense of anticipation I feel right now is with military metaphors. None of your clattering Saving Private Ryan carnage though, this is more like a sea voyage to Troy. The difference between the two wars says a lot about the relationship I have with this festival. For one thing, I still subscribe to the belief that the Fringe represents an oasis of meritocracy in a world beset by various forms of nepotism and arbitrariness. Your odds of surviving D-day as a foot soldier were virtually the same as playing Russian Roulette with several chambers loaded. On the other hand the siege of Troy was primarily a skills competition, at least if Homer is to be believed. Achilles and Hector don’t end up facing each other by accident; it’s because they both defeated every adversary up until that point. Isn’t that how we all want the world to be? Not a battleground, but a place where ability counts for more than class, race, gender, etc, and especially more than luck. Even people who are low in skill should want this. For instance, I can’t play the piano, but I’d rather listen to piano players who have gained recognition by practicing and performing and refining their skills, rather than players who were promoted by more arbitrary or Machiavellian means.

At the beginning of the Fringe, reputation is one of the only assets shows have (apart from the latent quality of the production, which on its own is not enough to get people in). Reputation will bring punters in to at least check out Jim Jeffries and Robin Ince and the Pajama Men. But if they haven’t put the work in to capitalize on their reputations, then the story will be a Busta Rhymes-esque “Legend of the Fall Off”. On the other hand, Edinburgh loves an underdog success story, the show with no reputation at the start of the festival, and a sell-out buzz by the end. Perhaps it’s the closest thing in the British Isles to the American Dream, the dream of prosperity as a direct result of effort and ability, rather than heredity. Unfortunately that was my story in 2004 when I came to the Fringe unknown with the Rap Canterbury Tales. Now I’m about to embark on my sixth Fringe, so reputation will sell me some tickets, just enough for judgment to be passed, but no more. I’m no Jim Jeffries (Achilles? Leonidas?), more of a self-styled Odysseus type, the trickster, a bit too clever for his own good (judging by the critical response last year). Not enough of a rep to strike fear into an adversary’s heart, but enough to give him (or her) pause, a flicker of recognition. The train speeds past Durham, the warrior with a middling reputation crouches in the hull of the Greek ship, feeling the sea spray and imagining the battle to come. Of course, when I get there it won’t be battle, it will be moving into the flat, grocery shopping, sorting out internet, doing my tech-in, admin meetings, blah, the pitching of tents on the Trojan beach. Here’s to glory!

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