Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2014

It’s been exactly two weeks since we arrived in Edinburgh, and almost a week since the curtain fell (there were no curtains… but it sounds nice doesn’t it?) on our last performance there as part of this year’s Fringe Festival. It would seem then that now is as good a time as ever to report in with everything that happened.

DAY #1 – Saturday 16th August: Our Accommodation

After a busy morning working with the new writers for the Scriptwriting Workshop at Louth (shameless plug – open Scratch Night at the Riverhead Theatre, Sat 6th Sept, 7.30pm), two cars left Hambledon HQ en route to our accommodation.

Let me tell you about our accommodation…

As we were rather late to jump on the ol’ lets-do-the-Fringe bandwagon (and we were only performing for the final week), the financial practicalities and implausible costs meant it would’ve been financial suicide to consider renting out a flat or rooms for all our merry gang in the city centre. We therefore boldly considered what no “Fringe-goer” would ever consider for a second time; camping. Or caravanning, to be more precise. But for a mere fraction of the going price (and I really do mean mere), we found ourselves holidaying at a campsite just outside Pencaitland, with beautiful views of the stars, candlelit meetings and only a 50 minute commute to our venue. It was near idyllic for us, as it meant we literally could escape the madcap but full-on razzle-dazzle of the Fringe every night, recharge our batteries (but not our phones…) and be ready for a brand new day on the Royal Mile.

DAY #2 – Sunday 17th August: Our Arrival in Edinburgh

With Rachael (acting as our stage manager) and Jane (as our Press and Marketing spokeswoman) arriving via train, we hit the Royal Mile and targeted several shows for exit-flyering. I must admit we found it quite easy to engage theatregoers; shouting out “Tommy Cooper” meant we very soon got people’s attention and, before we knew it, we had to dash back to the venue (more on that wonderful place later) to stock up on flyers! We had some custom-made A-frames built, which we put around Bristo Square, and we also had some impressive placards around and about the city.

Of course, we always found time to chill out. On Sunday, we went to see gagster and pun-slinger Tim Vine perform his new show. Tim had, quite rightly, sold out and was in the process of putting on extra shows to meet the demand. His show was simply sublime. Very rarely to all of us from Hambledon HQ go and see the same show. We all loved it and personally, I can’t wait to catch up with it again on his tour.

DAY #3 – Monday 18th August: Our First Show

Our first show had already sold very well with an impressive 83 Cooper fans coming along to catch some classic TC. Our venue, The Wine Bar, which was situated within the Gilded Balloon has an interesting layout, consisting of a more-than-ample raised stage, about 70 seats on the flat and a balcony to seat about another 20. Our venue technician, Charlie, was super-speedy in helping us with our tech and we soon had our get-in and strike down to fine, fine art (each show has about 7 minutes to set up and then another 7 to strike their set and props… nifty…..) It was very much all-hands-on-deck for these, but we were rarely late starting.

With our first show complete and an overall success, we hit the flyering campaign again to help increase the numbers for the rest of the show.

DAY #4 – Tuesday 19th August: Jane

Jane was excellent (she still is) regarding getting the press and public behind our production. On Tuesday, I was called in to Edinburgh early to perform the famous “Spoon/Jar” routine in front of the Greyfriars Bobby statue, just down the road from our venue. It created a massive interest from passers-by, held up traffic (oops…) and got us featured in The Scotsman and a teaser-trailer has now been produced and is doing the rounds on YouTube. We also made good use of the opportunity by having some more publicity shots taken, which featured in The Stage. All of this, plus the lovely 4* reviews that we picked up during our short visit, is all down to the hard work of Jane. It did mean that sadly she spent most of her time there at Fringe Central (a quiet haven for all performers and workers on the Fringe to escape the hubbub outside) tied to her laptop chasing up reviewers and photographers, but without it, our audience figures wouldn’t have been as spectacular and there certainly wouldn’t have been as a bit a buzz about our production.

DAY #5 – Wednesday 20th August: Martin and the Museum of Comedy

Martin, who has helped co-produce the show through the Museum of Comedy, came to see our first performance on Monday and wanted to meet up for a coffee. It’s always good fun catching up with him, as we share the same sense of humour as well as the same approach to our work. He congratulated us on the show and was extremely positive about our transfer down to London. It now very much falls into the hands of Rachael to continue working with his team to make sure our move to the Museum is smooth, successful and as ribald as our tour: just like that!

DAY #6 – Thursday 21st August: Tommy on the Streets of Edinburgh

By this stage, we were kind of in a daily routine: we’d arrive in Edinburgh at about 11am (via the Musselburgh Sports Centre for our daily ablutions) and immediately we’d begin flyering ahead of our 1pm get-in for a 1.15pm show start. I’d dash off to the venue to change into my tailcoat, apply my make-up and fez. I would be in this garb from 11am-6pm daily (with a cheeky shirt change after the show, if it had been a particularly animated performance or rather warm!) What I can say, which did literally surprise me, is just how much admiration there is for Tommy Cooper, thirty years on from his death. I wasn’t even born when he sadly passed away, yet I could walk around a city centre, with my hair sticking out from underneath a fez, and husbands would nudge their wives, children would smile, and about 80% of people would do their impression; either the jocular hand movement, or “Jus’ Like That”. It was a bit exhausting, because more often than not I would try to engage them in some Cooperisms, but it was absolutely wonderful. Good on yer Tom! And good on yer the human race.

But it sometimes proved interesting when I had to nip off and buy a set of cufflinks, or when I had to re-educate some Dr. Who fans…

This was also the day when myself and Chris (our MD) went to see the fabulous Eric & Little Ern show. The show has been performing to packed houses up and down the country for over a year and it was great to see a near-sell-out again for them. The show recaptures not only the energy and classic routines of the famous comedy duo, but also the warmth and admiration shared between them, which, as I saw for myself backstage at a FastFringe gig later that evening, was reciprocated between long-time friends Jonty (Eric) and Ian (Ernie).

The FastFringe gig was very daunting…. About twelve comedians have three minutes in front of an audience to promote their show. This sort of thing, I noticed, is second-nature to a gigging comedian, but technically that isn’t what I am. But thankfully, Tommy’s material won through, and the audience lapped up the “Spotted Hankie” routine and some surefire gags. A thoroughly enjoyable experience. Topped off with a free pint.

DAY #7 – Friday 22nd August: The Halfway Point

Four shows down, four to go. Our weekend was already lined up to be a goody and thanks to word of mouth, many people were buying tickets on the door. It was at this point that our reviews were starting to filter through and we were now meeting people about the city who came over to us to say how much they’d enjoyed the show and were spreading the word. With this in mind, and with our flyer-quota drying up, we took it ever-so-slightly easier on Friday and Saturday and enjoyed the ambience of the city and caught a couple more shows. I personally went back to the caravan and had a kip!

DAY #8 – Saturday 23rd August: The Show

Saturday was, for me, the best show. Over the week I had really come to enjoy the performing side of it, and easily succumbed to throwing in some additional one-liners and gags that I had remembered from first researching the show way back in February. This was great, as it kept the production alive – it also kept Chris from behind the cloth and Rachael behind the operating system on their toes! Some things which we originally dropped from this truncated version were put back in to great acclaim, whereas some stuff received a round of applause every time (more through recognition and association than anything else). A fluidity had been achieved by Wednesday – and I sincerely hope it stays with the show through to London and beyond.

DAY #9 – Sunday 24th August: The Penultimate Day

We were always a bit edgy about these last two performances, as we knew the footfall at the Fringe would be significantly lower. Indeed, the friendly faces behind the box office at the Gilded Balloon informed us that walk-ups were now practically extinct. However, it seemed that our show bucked the trend; as we saw our sales triple during these last two shows, which meant the production went out on a gut-busting high. As we hit the Royal Mile to begin flyering for the day, we were inadvertently met by members of the public saying “we’re on our way to see you now” etc. Truly uplifting.

DAY #10 – Monday 25th August: And It’s All Over – Just Like That!

By 3pm, all our gear was in the back of the car and we were starting the long journey back to Hambledon HQ. Our time at the Fringe had been an absolute whirlwind – with strangers coming up for photographs, a blink-and-you’ll-miss spot on the ITV News, people wearing our giveaway badges, and venue staff personally recommending our show to anyone who asked.

But then, come the next morning, I’d remembered what it felt like to have a really good night’s sleep.

A huge, huge thanks to everyone who helped us out to make our visit not only possible but a literal joy! And also to our supporters for catching us up in Edinburgh (we met some folk from Louth and Sleaford in our audiences – small world!)