City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

It's Pleasant at Pleasance

By Edinburghs Festivals - Posted on 05 August 2007

When the sun's out like it was today, the Pleasance Courtyard is a great place to be. For comedy and cabaret fans there's a wealth of choice in this one spot and a huge beer garden where you can compare notes on shows or simply wile away an afternoon with friends. It's even more self-contained than nearby Bristow Square, with its cluster of similarly styled venues, Gilded Balloon Teviot, Underbelly, and Pleasance Dome at Potterrow.

Pleasance has grown from small beginnings. It launched back in 1985 with 2 venues overlooking the Courtyard, and it hasn't looked back. With the support of property owners, Edinburgh University,
Pleasance has upgraded buildings at the Courtyard, and expanded the number of venues. With its new complex set up at the Dome it now has 20 venues in total.

The hospitality area, where press and performers were wined and dined this afternoon, is on a large tented platform looking over to Holyrood Park. It was built originally to get around the smoking ban in public spaces, introduced on 26 March 2006, but on this breezy Summer's day it felt like a salubrious outdoor, hang-out.

Pleasance director Anthony Alderson still has visions of further expansion. He was telling me today that they just discovered a new potential venue space, only a fortnight or so ago, which they are still unsure what to do with. It's an old air raid shelter deep in the ground at the Courtyard. It could be their smallest theatre yet.

So what of the preview show, you ask? And well you may, with Pleasance hosting over 170 shows in 2007.

If you've been keeping a weather eye on the Edinburgh preview press, chances are you've heard of Auto, Auto. Created by German performer Christian von Richthofen, and performed by himself, Rolf Clausen and Kristian Bader, it involves playing the car like it's a musical instrument - lots of opening and slamming closed doors, and flicking and clicking of car parts - to create a rhythmic overture.

Richtofen didn't destroy a car in the process. But he promised that a different car (today someone had donated a Fiat Punto) would get it every night. The evidence from past shows was outside the door in a beat-up Audi, windscreens smashed, roof peeled off like a sardine can and "auto love" graffitied across the doors. A trashed red Ford Fiesta was keeping it company.

From the short preview, it was difficult to tell what the deeper significance is to the auto destruction. There was no overt eco message, but rather a kind of childish gleefulness in treating these revered machines with so little respect and, of course, rendering music from their dull, lifeless hulks.

English stand-up comedian Michael McIntyre quickly got started with his brief stint by digging into the Scots. His Scottish accent is almost too good for someone so posh-sounding, but it did give him the extra leeway to comfortably make fun of the home crowd, even if the humour wasnt that original.

Compere and New Zealand stand-up Jarred Christmas got plenty of laughs as he ad-libbed between acts.

We had tasters of two musicals. Stonewall is an OTT, Village People-type group that mix theatre with raunchy dance numbers in classic camp style.

The finale today, Eurobeat - Almost Eurovision, by an accomplished ensemble, sends up the Eurovision Song Contest. Picture a woman dressed as a turnip singing about root vegetables to a troupe of dancing chefs wielding kitchen knifes and you begin to get the picture. Spoof content in a traditional all-singing and dancing format.

Adding to the sense of variety, a trio of puppeteers, introduced us to one of their cloth friend in an extract from their show The Terrible Infants. The production values were good, including live music accompaniment, but the girl puppet seemed too small for the large venue at Pleasance Grand. The show is in the smaller Courtyard venue, where hopefully people can appreciate the clear artfulness of this.

Idiots of Ants is a talented, comedy sketch group in the Monty Python tradition. The few sketches they performed were funny, fresh, and well performed. They'll do well at this their first fest.

Get your taste

Tomorrow, there's a chance to see many of this year's acts not just on the Fringe but all the festivals on the Festivals Cavalcade.