The line-up of this comedy showcase changes daily, making each viewing unique. The performance that I attended took place on ‘Black Wednesday,’ compere Ray Peacock was quick to inform us: the first day when Fringe tickets lose their 2-for-1 deals and crowds thin dramatically. Indeed it was a patchy crowd, spread mainly over the right-hand side of the spacious venue, something Peacock vainly attempted to correct by shaming the more distantly seated to come up front. “Haven’t you ever been an audience before?” he enquired indignantly.
To mirror the unevenness of the audience we were presented with a patchwork of stand-up comedians and cabaret acts whose quality varied from average to excellent.
To mirror the unevenness of the audience we were presented with a patchwork of stand-up comedians and cabaret acts whose quality varied from average to excellent. This is about the best crowds ought to expect from this hit-and-not-quite-miss hour. (Apparently they can also expect a male-dominated line-up: only four of thirteen acts involved women on this occasion).
The concept behind Fast Fringe is rather a cruel one for the performers, who are given a uniform three minutes to impress the crowd, whatever the rhythm of their performance style. The acts who did best here were the ones who didn’t rush, letting their sets flow easily. Fin Taylor deserves special mention for his dry, casual wit, which crackled pleasingly; Markus Birdman was delightfully crude; Lily La Scala performed a sultry take on Radiohead’s Creep. Boris & Sergey’s surreal puppetry act, meanwhile, was absolutely intriguing.
Timing is definitely the main issue with the show. Each of its performers had probably prepared a taut three-minute version of their set, but in some cases it felt as though nerves had muddled the prepared material, forcing them instead to try and fit in as much as possible, adding an extra joke if 30 seconds remained. It was obvious that the ticking clock really distracted several of the more nervous acts.
Other performers ignored the clock, overstaying their three-minute welcome. After a few introductory jokes, the matronly Barbara Nice had us all performing a bizarre dance together which ran into a fourth minute. Credit to her for managing to rouse the apathetic crowd to its feet, but as a showcase for her full set it felt like a waste of her limited time. Another stand-up (purposefully unnamed here) failed to notice the ‘stop’ signal – a red light – being waved at them for over two minutes. As the audience laughed at this, rather than the stand-up’s routine, the performer grew more and more confident in their material and actually brought the laughs back onside, before eventually realising that their time was up. This revealed the real problem with the format: the performers can never really hit their stride and build a decent rapport with the audience in such a short space of time.
Fast Fringe is mainly worth seeing for the exposure it provides to a really broad range of talent. Audiences are bound to learn the names of a few new favourites, making it a valuable showcase despite its self-imposed limitations.