Edinburgh Festival 2012: Mark Watson’s ‘Edinborolympics’ ***

Pleasance Courtyard: Beyond, 11.00pm

Let’s be clear from the outset: this is not a comedy show.

It’s fronted by a well-known comedian, features a rotating cast of other international comedians and is staged in a renowned comedy venue.

But it’s not comedy. Really, it’s just a bit of a lark.

The premise is simple if bizarre: in honour of the recently completed London 2012 Olympic Games, Mark Watson invites 3 comedians to each show to represent their countries in a series of arbitrary and nonsensical events. At the conclusion of each event, the participants are awarded a Gold, Silver or Bronze medal (worth 3, 2 and 1 points respectively); at the end of the show, the competitor with the highest points total wins the day for their countrymen, to a rousing rendition of their national anthem.

If it sounds structured, don’t be fooled. It’s shambolic in execution, albeit charmingly so.

I’m no fan of Mark Watson under normal circumstances. His rambling delivery tends to irritate me, but here it seems ideally suited to proceedings. Where his nervous excitement can feel artificial in a stand-up performance, it’s all too believable as he watches his guest performers risk life, limb and Pleasance’s Health & Safety record time and again for the glory of Gold… or at least a crude yellowy icon on the PowerPoint slide which forms the evening’s centrepiece.

And the risks are real, let me assure you. After the first event, a 100m crawl (on hands and knees across the stage and back) I was expecting a range of sedate events; just a few minutes later, I watched agape as the contestants hurled apples toward an audience member on stage from near the back of the room.

The hard green projectiles whistled a scant few inches over the heads of the assembled crowd, as each comedian in turn tried to land a direct strike on the head of that poor, centrally-placed unfortunate. Admittedly, he wore a yellow hard hat, but that seemed little comfort as inaccurate attempts rained blows on his abdomen.

Still, it was worth it to hear the explosive roar of the crowd when Des Bishop nailed a direct hit from around 50 yards. We who were there will doubtless recount the story to our children (although likely as a warning about participating in a live performance organised by a group of slightly drunk and/or hysterical men).

This event felt like improv, but without the tightness and polish one might expect from a truly good improv show. It meandered a little, the energy levels dipped and rose in a way that revealed how little effort had gone into managing them… but there was enough spontaneous fun that this lack of cultivation didn’t sink the show.

I wouldn’t go out of my way to catch one of the remaining Edinborolympics performances, but if you were already in Pleasance to see a very good show and wanted to prolong the experience, you could do worse with £7 than check in with Watson and co.

Just a word of advice: if they start chucking apples, be prepared to duck.

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