Edinburgh Festival 2011: Best of the Fest cabaret

Best of the Fest cabaret **

Assembly George Square, Dans Paleis. 7.15pm

…it’s anything but.

If you’re a performer in this show, this will seem pretty blunt. And it is blunt. But sometimes, as much as one enjoys some cabaret, adores the atmospheric tents which adorn George Square and loves the Fringe in general, one simply has to tell it like it is.

Do not go to see this show.

I have a few complaints about the production, which I’m going to list in order. Once I have all of those off my chest, I’m going to recommend the one act I saw in the course of the 90 minutes whom I believe you should definitely go to see. Then, I’ll close the review with a sign-off line which is unlikely to be as witty as I think it is. That’s the plan folks; let’s get on with it.

Complaint one: ‘Fucking up’ the concept through greedy pricing

A ‘Best of the Fest’ show is not a new idea; indeed, it’s a time honoured mechanism for delivering a cabaret of different performers to an open-minded audience. That audience expects to pay a reasonable ticket price, enjoy ‘taster’ performances and perhaps spot a good act whom they can see in full later. For the performers, this last aspect is crucial: these shows are a shop window, so they want as many people as possible packed into that tent.

The concept falls flat at this show. Tickets are seriously overpriced at £14 a pop; that price-tag both builds expectation and depresses audience numbers. With a smaller audience, the natural atmosphere suffers and the performers miss out on exposure. You can see almost any act at the Fringe for £14. There is no reason to pay that for what is essentially a trailer.

Complaint two: Selection process for the acts

At a ‘Best of the Fest’ show, I expect to see performers from the length and breadth of the Fringe who have been picked because they genuinely stand out. My expectation is intensified when I have paid £14.

What I do not expect is to see a compere who has never filled the role before – or indeed performed as a standup before – introducing a series of acts who are all involved in the same production… which is essentially another cabaret show. Oh, and another act who appears by dint of being someone’s boyfriend. Pick acts for their strength, not your own convenience.

Complaint three: Lowlights vs Highlights

I hate to keep coming back to money, but Fringe patrons aren’t made of the stuff. If they pay £14, they had better be seeing your best stuff – and your best stuff had better be worth it.

In this case, most of the performers failed to deliver. We had a circus hula-hoop performer, who was good, but not up to the standard of another young woman I had seen in the same stable of venues last year. We had a eukalele-playing singer, who was also good… but there was nothing about her performance that was truly amazing (perhaps the atmosphere of a late-night show would have worked better for her, but that wasn’t where we were. We were in a bright, half-empty tent at 7.30pm). We had an alternative comedy act named ‘The List Operators’, who quite clearly had a good concept, but didn’t build an atmosphere in which the crowd could really enjoy it. We had a compere who was a likeable guy, but was patently in the wrong job.

An actual recommendation

My disappointment in this show was crystallised by the appearance of the comedian Glenn Wool. Not because he was poor, mind. The problem was that he did all of the things everyone else should have been doing – and therefore drew attention to their failure.

Wool took the stage with confidence; he sensed the flat atmosphere and so he built his own by force of personality. His material was funny and clever, delivered with verve. His segues were tight, rather than rambling and half-fluffed. He took his moment in the shop window by the throat and wrung all the value he could out of it. He left me, and others, determined to buy tickets for his full show. That’s how it should be done.

I want to be clear about something: I don’t wish these performers any ill. I just wish they hadn’t been let down by over-zealous pricing, inappropriate selection and their failure to build an atmosphere.

If you want the genuine ‘Best of the Fest’, go to Pleasance and watch Adam Riches. Leave this one to the enforcers of the Trade Descriptions Act.

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