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Fitting & confused: pursued by a naked man at the end of the Edinburgh Fringe

A comedian, a bird and a fish in Perth this afternoon

Martin Soan, creator of the Greatest Show on Legs has been staying in the spare bedroom of my rented Edinburgh flat for a few days.

“I tell you what,” he said this morning, “let’s have a really nice breakfast. What do you fancy?”

“Black caviar,” I replied.

So he went out and got some from a local Turkish shop.

Yes, it surprised me too.

Then we went up the Blackford Hill to see my favourite view of Edinburgh.

“What shall we do next?” I asked.

“Let’s go to Poundland,” he suggested.

“Let’s go to Poundland in Perth,” I said.

And that’s what we did. Not much was happening in Perth on a Sunday. But there was a statue of a bizarrely cartoony bird standing on a fish. Martin posed by it and then we drove back to Edinburgh for the Greatest Show on Legs’ final performance at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe.

There were two reviews of last Friday’s Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show waiting,

One was a 4-star review from Broadway Baby which, gratifyingly, called the Awards “increasingly influential” and said that “the weirdest and strangest acts of the festival came together for a bizarre evening… The two-hour variety show shocked as much as it entertained… it was undoubtedly an evening to remember… This deserves to be a staple of the Fringe.”

The other was a 5-star review from The Skinny which said:

The Spirit Of The Fringe’ is such an overused term that most people don’t even think it ever really existed, but it’s here tonight. The Malcolm Hardee Awards are the only gig of its type not to be polluted by lanyard-sporting industry people, air-kissing each other and looking for someone famous to talk to. Instead, these awards are a bunch of genuinely funny and creative people mucking about and having a laugh. What’s more, it’s open to the public who all seem to be passionate comedy fans, plus it’s free – which is probably the only element that Hardee wouldn’t have loved. Fun, passion, anarchy and a refusal to take oneself too seriously. This is what people come to Edinburgh for.

That review set things up for the Greatest Show on Legs’ final performance at The Hive venue. I arrived ten minutes before the show started and new Legs member Bob Slayer was still on stage performing his own show, looking a bit the worse for wear. His one-hour show had already run 1 hour 50 minutes. Eventually, he was persuaded off the stage by Martin Soan and the Greatest Show on Legs’ performance began.

Martin Soan rushes an audience member up to the stage

The Olympics Opening Ceremony re-created on-stage, Michael Jackson’s Thriller with rubber bands distorting faces, Afghan’s favourite Islamic ventriloquist, a polecat doing a sexy dance, the Naked Balloon Dance featuring Prince Harry and much more. The show was spectacularly anarchic.

The problem came in trying to get Bob Slayer off stage at the end. Eventually the other Legs – Martin Soan and Martin Clarke – simply dismantled the set around Bob while he sat and talked to the audience, naked apart from a Prince Harry mask held across his genitals.

“The show has ended,” Bob told the audience, “But you are now all officially in the after-show. I started comedy in 2008, and I was shit at it, but then I went to Martin Soan’s club in London and he said, Hey, Bob! I’ve got this idea. Why don’t you come out of a tent? So he put a pop-up tent on stage, I climbed in the back of it and came out the front. It was a stupid, ridiculous gag. The first three rows actually shit themselves and I thought This man is a comedy genius.

“Why did you start in comedy?” I shouted out.

“I started in comedy,” Bob answered, “because I’d been fired from every other job I’d ever had. Hands up who’s shit at their job!”

No hands went up.

“You’re all liars!” Bob shouted, then picked on a woman in the audience: “What do you do?”

“I’m a child minder,” she said.

“Don’t try to make me bloody believe,” Bob said, “that you’ve not battered one while the parents were out! You can’t like everyone’s children!…. And what do you do?” he asked a young man.

“I’m currently unemployed,” came back the reply.

“Yes,” Bob shouted at him, “and some days you’re even shit at that!… Look, what I’m teaching you here is the show is brilliant, but the after show is sometimes disappointing…. Big guy over there, what’s your question?”

“Mmmmm….” mused the big guy.

“Mmmmm….” mimicked Bob, “Do you want to eat me?”

There was a long pause.

Bob looked round the audience.

Bob Slayer talks as show is dismantled around him

“Why are you all still here?” he asked them gently, as Martin Soan and Martin Clarke, now clothed, started to dismantle the set and pack up the props around him. “Look,” he continued, “the good people are taking the stuff away. I was the shit one. I’m just sat here naked…”

“Not properly naked!” someone shouted out.

“…basically being sucked off by Prince Harry,” Bob added as an afterthought. He turned to Martin Soan, who was picking up the soft puppet of a pole cat. “You were wonderful,” Bob told Martin. “I’m sorry for me.”

“Encore!” someone shouted from the audience.

“Don’t you dare speak French to me,” Bob said.”If there’s one thing I hate more than people I hate, it’s French people. I love French people.” He paused. “I’m having an incoherent conversation with myself,” he continued.

“I’m off! Thanks!” someone yelled from the back of the audience.

“Once he’s left,” Bob said, “it’ll all make sense.”

The lights in the room flashed.

“Don’t you dare! Fuck off, Jamie!” Bob yelled at the booth at the back of the room. “I know they want to turn this into a nightclub at 10 o’clock! Look, I…”

The sound man started playing a throbbing disco tune as the stage lights darkened and the coloured disco lights flashed throughout the room.

“I started on the stage at 7 o’clock tonight!” Bob shouted over the music. “I shouldn’t be on this show! I just refused to get off. I shouldn’t be in the Greatest Show on Legs! I’m just an idiot! I’m sorry I ruined everything. You came here to see masters of comedy. We could have had an ending. It was brilliant. All I’ve done is crack on and on and on. Why are you still here? You can’t see me anyway!” he yelled above the rising music.

The music stopped and the stage lights went on.

“OK, you can see me,” Bob corrected himself as the audience roared. “I’m confused with the dark and the light.”

The throbbing disco music started up again, louder.

“I’m confused!” Bob shouted. “My life is over-done. But, I tell you what, I fucking love her,” he yelled, pointing at a random member of the audience. “And him!” pointing at a random man. “Why are you still here? Why are you all still here? Give it up! Give it up!”

The audience began to whoop and cheer.

“No!” Bob yelled. “Tell me to give it up!… I love you!… All!…”

The white house lights went fully up and the audience started to get up and leave.

Naked Bob leapt off the stage.

“Carry me! Carry me!” he yelled. “Carry me home!”

Martin Soan reads the 5-star show reviews

The throbbing disco music rose in volume. Bob started shouting incoherently. Two new members of the public came in and started shouting. The audience was leaving. Bob was pursuing them, staggering and still naked. He pushed through, naked, and got ahead of the audience and met them at the door as they left, shaking each person’s hand.

A naked man chasing members of a smiling, satisfied audience out of a venue that looks like the Cavern in Liverpool did in the early days of the Beatles.

A fitting end to an unsettled Edinburgh Fringe where everyone was confused by audience figures, income and the future. It will be the same next year, of course.  I hope.

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About Sherlock Holmes and a show with sheep at the Edinburgh Fringe

Matin Soan (left) and Steve Bowditch converse

So, on Wednesday afternoon, after the interring of the ashes of Joan Hardee, mother of the late comedian Malcolm Hardee, there I was sitting in the kitchen of his sister Clare Hardee’s home with comedians Martin Soan and Steve Bowditch – members with Malcolm of The Greatest Show on Legs.

We had sung When The Saints Come Marching In to Steve’s guitar accompaniment by the graveside.

Martin Soan is returning to the Edinburgh Fringe this year with a Greatest Show on Legs production co-written by Boothby Graffoe but without Steve Bowditch performing. Steve will be at the Fringe as part of another threesome called We Should Get a Boat. Their show is entitled Sherlock Holmes: The Return of the Hound.

A poster for the mysteriously unlisted show

It is not listed in the main Fringe Programme though it is listed in the Free Fringe programme. The Edinburgh Fringe listings are getting increasingly complicated.

“Who do you play?” I asked Steve Bowditch. “Sherlock Holmes or the hound?”

“Mrs Hudson,” he replied. “Dickie Richards, the most handsome man in showbusiness, plays Inspector Lestrade… Paul Norcross plays trombone and Professor Moriarty.”

“Trombone?” I asked.

“Well, Mrs Hudson plays guitar,” Steve explained patiently, “so, obviously, he plays the trombone.”

“And is there a hound involved?” I asked.

“We-e-e-l…” Steve prevaricated, “essentially not.

“Because?” I asked.

“Because it’s all an illusion of theatre,” Steve responded, putting on a posh voice. “For poetic licence, Johnny.”

“And who wrote it?” I asked.

“Me. Steve Bowditch, the actor.”

“Do you put on a Scottish accent as Mrs Hudson?” I asked.

“I don’t do accents, Johnny!” Steve replied, his voice rising to a thespian screech. “I am a character actor, Johnny! Haven’t you seen the Harry Hill bloody TV show where I did all those lovely characters?!”

“But what about Mrs Hudson’s Scottish accent?” I persisted.

“I don’t know what bloody accent Mrs Hudson had!” Steve screamed in an even higher-pitched voice. “It’s my interpretation of the character that matters, for Christ sake! I am an ac-tor! I am the…”

“Ah!” I said, interrupting, “I was getting Mrs Hudson the housekeeper in Sherlock Holmes confused with Mr Hudson the butler in Upstairs Downstairs. He had a Scottish accent. Gordon Jackson. I used to work with his son.”

“Well, you got it wrong,” said Steve. “I am Mrs Hudson. You’re a lovely lad, Johnny. A lovely lad.”

“Is it a comedy drama?” I asked.

“It’s a non-comedic straight part funny thriller…  that thing. Something like that. What I said. Yes.”

“You’ve done try-outs?”

“We’ve done five dress rehearsals in front of audiences.”

“Their reaction?”

“We got a one star award. On the Time Out website, a lady who saw it said she would have given it none if it weren’t for the electronic website media she was forced to use… but she walked out halfway through, the bloody cow. A bloody cow she is!”

“When was the last time you were at the Edinburgh Fringe?” I asked.

“I dunno. The last time was when I went up with Charlie Chuck for Malcolm and Malcolm’s been dead seven years, so…”

“So maybe not this century?” I said. “Which venue were you at?”

“The old Gilded Balloon before it burnt down. We’re coming back to take our rightful place, Johnny,” Steve said, his voice rising. “We’re coming back to knock all those other young Turpins off their…”

“Turpins?” I asked.

“Turpins!” shouted Steve. “I can say Turpin if I like… For the money, Johnny. It’s for the money! Dickie wanted to go up, so we’re going to go up and see what happens.”

At this point, Martin Soan interrupted.

The Greatest Show On Legs back bar Steve

“He’s not appearing in my show with the Greatest Show on Legs. Why, I don’t know.”

“Because ours is a far superior show,” said Steve. “I left the Greatest Show on Legs not because of artistic differences but for artistic increases!”

“Increases?” I asked.

“Increases,” said Steve.

“Increases?” asked Martin.

“Definitely Increases,” said Steve.

“You can’t talk about what’s in the Greatest Show on Legs show, can you?” I asked Martin. “Because it gives it away too much if you say you…”

“I want to get back to the reason why Bowditch is not in my show…” said Martin.

“We can’t talk about that in print, can we?” I asked.

“I’m not in Edinburgh,” Martin persisted, “when Steve’s show is running and his show has finished by the time The Greatest Show on Legs’ show starts. But it’s The Greatest Show on Legs. You, Bowditch, should be in the fucking show!”

“I should be in the fucking show…” Steve started to say.

“Don’t swear in front of John,” Martin said, “because he writes the swearing down in his blog. Don’t fucking swear, because…”

“But when I…” started Steve.

“Fucking stop it!” said Martin. “He’ll just print it in his blog.”

“It’s in my contract with Peter Buckley Hill and the Free Fringe,” joked Steve, “that I’m not allowed to talk to Martin Soan while he’s in Edinburgh. If I see Martin Soan whilst I’m in Edinburgh, Peter Buckley Hill says I have to cross the street.”

“I’m more interested in the sheep,” I said to Steve. “Martin told me he was borrowing your sheep for the Greatest Show on Legs’ show in Edinburgh and I…”

“Bowditch gave me the sheep,” Martin interrupted, “and I’m very, very flattered.”

“How many sheep?” I asked.

“Six,” Martin replied.

“Why?” I asked.

“We are going to recreate the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games at The Hive venue in Edinburgh.”

“With sheep?”

“Yes, obviously. To make it as close to the real thing as we can.”

“It’s actually four sheep and one sheepdog,” Steve corrected.

“So what is the thing with Peter Buckley Hill?” Clare Hardee asked.

“Well,” said Martin. “PBH has banned Bowditch from performing in our show because he runs the Free Fringe and our show is in Bob Slayer’s Alternative Fringe which is linked to the Free Festival who PBH is at loggerheads with.”

“Am I actually allowed to say that in my blog?” I asked Steve Bowditch.

“I think you should just let things lie,” he said.

“Get as much publicity as fucking possible, John!” said Martin.

“Well, you gotta do what you wanna do,” said Steve. “As long as I win the Malcolm Hardee Award.”

“How much are you prepared to pay?” I asked.

“Look, John,” said Steve, “It’s in Malcolm’s memory. So you lend me £500 and let me win.”

“That’ll do for a blog,” I said. “That’s enough. This is the way to write blogs. Get other people to supply all the words.”

“You didn’t plug my show, though,” said Martin.

“Who’s fault is that?” I asked.

“No, that’s the end line,” said Martin. “You didn’t plug my show, though.

“Ah,” I said. “Did I tell you I used to work with Gordon Jackson’s son?”

“Now you’ve blown the end line,” Martin said.

“No-one will know,” I said. “People don’t know what hasn’t been written or what was said and cut out.”

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