Day 1 - Edinburgh Fringe
Originally I had planned to come up to Edinburgh on 1st August. But then when work came in on a movie filming until 10th. I had to push back my trip.
I then pushed it back again, when Ryan Carter invited me to watch Refresh at the Underbelly.
Refresh is a brilliant show that I did not want to miss. Ryan and his team have created something really special and their three night engagement at the Underbelly is their crowning achievement so far.
It was superb. I sat with Alex James Ellison and watched from the front row, as the cast of mine owned the stage with confidence and statue. They performed a selection of reworked musical theatre classics opening with a brilliant reimagined version of ‘Do You Hear The People Sing’ from Les Miserables and finishing with ‘Seasons of Love’ from Rent.
Abbi Hodgson, Adam Gillian, Baker Mukasa, and Sam Carlyle performed a version of Scott Alan’s ‘Kiss the Air’ like no other version I have heard before. It was magnificent.
I caught up with Adam afterwards as we grabbed a drink and then found the poster for Refresh that he is in to take a picture with.
I congratulated Ryan on an incredible evening before making my way to Victoria coach station where I planned to get an overnight coach to Edinburgh.
Leaving everything to last minute, I hadn’t actually booked a seat, and to my surprise the National Express coach was full.
Undeterred, I tried Mega Bus. It was full too. However they did suggest that there might be a seat left on the coach to Glasgow.
As I waited in line, I noticed an altercation between the driver and one of the passengers who was holding a large plastic box with some bedding in it.
“You can’t bring that on here” said the driver in a thick Scottish accent.
In the box, turned out to be the passenger’s pet snake that he intended to travel with.
As the driver continued to refuse the man and his snake to get on the bus, I seized my opportunity and bought his seat off him.
For £40, I was on my way to Glasgow.
A family of four were taking over eight seats and making a racket at the front of the bus, so I settled into an empty seat towards the rear.
I spent an hour or so changing the branding across my site with my new Edinburgh Fringe Special logos. Before getting a few hours sleep.
I woke up in Glasgow at 6am, and then took a connecting bus to Edinburgh.
I made my way straight to the hostel that I had booked myself into. It’s where I stayed last year and was more then comfortable in. It’s cheap and cheerful and very central.
I then set up a desk in the commune area to charge all my appliances and to begin working through my emails and updating my itinerary.
Planning this trip is a logistic nightmare. I have to look at the timings for each show and the distance between each venue to allow time to travel between them. I also have to consider and prioritise which shows have a limited run that I have to catch before they close, and which I can afford to wait to see.
I popped into the press office of The Space UK, who operate several venues across the Fringe, where I met Nick who I have been corresponding with by email before I came up to Edinburgh. Nick gave me a VIP card that gets me into any of the shows across their sites.
I then met up with my pal Tristan Ward. Tristan and I met when I hosted The Show Goes On, at the Piano Works West End, where he was a guest singer one week. Tristan once played Gavroche in Les Miserables for three years when he was nine.
We sat and chatted while Tristan had his lunch and I then went across to watch West End Producer's show Free Willy.
I have known of West End Producer, the infamous Twitter persona for several years, and had even been at several events and press nights with him, yet I had never actually spoken to him or met him properly.
I was approached by his PR team, and asked whether I would like to watch his show and to interview him. I obviously jumped at the chance. I was intrigued to learn more about him, and about his show.
On the back of his incredible presence and profile on social media, West End Producer has released two books Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Acting -But Were Afraid to Ask Dear and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Going to the Theatre -But Were Too Sloshed to Ask Dear. He now writes regularly for The Stage.
His show that he brings to Edinburgh is the first time West End Producer has put himself on stage, and I honestly didn't know what to expect.
When I arrived, West End Producer was walking up and down the line of people queueing to see his show, he spotted me and asked if I was “Stagey” and am I who will be interviewing him. I had brought my light and microphones, as as well as seeing the show I had arranged with his PR people to interview him after his show.
I'll admit, I was a little daunted, I didn't really know what I was going to ask, or how I was going to handle talking to somebody in character.
Other than the puppets from Avenue Q and Bernie Dieter, I have only ever interviewed actors out of character. My technique is to talk candidly to people, to relax them, and just chat as if we're old friends. In most cases I do often know the people, which helps.
I sat on the front row for his show, which from the moment he started, I enjoyed. Part stand up comic, part entertainer, what struck me was that West End Producer, could sing and play the piano, which he did well, as he set up the premise that he had written a new musical based on the movie Free Willy.
In the second part of the show, West End Producer invited to the stage three of girls from the Spice Girls tribute band Wannabe. Natalie, who plays Ginger Spice, happens to be an old friend of mine, so I was delighted by this surprise. The girls entered into the spirit of the show and joined in to fool around on stage with West End Producer.
The audience was moderate but all seemed to enjoy West End Producer's unique brand of comedy.
After the show, West End Producer wasted no time, and invited me up to his dressing room where I began to set up my light and microphones. We then sat for fifteen minutes and chatted.
Watching his show had warmed me up, and given me prepared me to set up some gags for West End Producer to deliver, and I felt comfortable as we chatted and joked together. What struck me more than anything was how generous and kind West End Producer is.
I had also felt that he was out to just ridicule the industry, but from talking to him, I could see how much he cares about the business, and actually loves it.
He spoke of how we should all look out for each other, and be kind, and support each other. Traits that I did not expect from him.
I really enjoyed interviewing him.
The whole interview can be found on my YouTube page here: https://youtu.be/X48ypkvEE9o
To book tickets to his show West End Producer -Free Willy at Assembly until 26th August
As I left West End Producer's dressing room, I bumped into Christina Bianco, who's show was about to start. I gave her a hug and decided to stay and watch it.
Christina is a brilliant comedian and singer. Her impressions of divas have become legendary, leading her to appear on Ellen and Paul O'Grady.
Christina had also toured with Velma Celli, and worked with our mutual friend Joe Louis Robinson who produced Velma's album.
I have always enjoyed Christina's act and seen a lot of her shows, and I could have watched these over and over again, however this entire show was brand new material, which was brilliant.
Her trademark impersonations divas like Celine Dion were all back but singing new songs, and my particular favourite in this show was when Christina sang Lady Gaga's 'Shallow' as Judy Garland and Barbara Streisand. It was incredible.
The audience was full and in joy as I looked around the room. The band were really really good too, with Laurence Owen who joined Christina as a vocalist in some of the songs sounding incredible.
Her show Christina Bianco First Impressions is at the Assembly until 25th August.
I managed to give Christiana another hug before I left, and then went to meet Tristan again.
Tristan and I went for dinner at Zizzi which was lovely as we caught up, and I told him all about my disastrous love life.
After finishing dessert, we made our way across to where Tristan was performing with Big Band Does Broadway, an impressive 18 piece band with 10 singers.
Between them they sang big band versions of classic broadway songs ranging from Chicagoto Annie, and Les Miserables, with Tristan singing Stars.
The energy and heat that the entire cast were generated was incredible, I was exhausted just listening to them, with the choreography by Dannielle Logan. It was produced and directed by Scott Coltman who was one of the performers too.
They all sounded great and really put on a show. I was especially proud of Tristan who sounded particularly fantastic.
The Big Band Does... Broadway! Perform at The Space until 17th August
The show finished just before midnight, and I made my way wearily back to my hostel to sleep.
It had been a tiring but very satisfying first day, and I was glad to be back at the Fringe.
The accompanying video for this week’s journal can be found on my YouTube channel here: https://youtu.be/RbSxJw1TFTo
And the audio version can be found as a podcast here: https://anchor.fm/thatstageyblog/episodes/Day-One--Edinburgh-Fringe---Audio-e4vgn0