The wonderfully-named Mervyn Stutter bounds to the stage, resplendent in an outrageous pink suit. ‘Cor, bloody hell!’ he exclaims as he begins to pontificate about the success of the British Olympic team.
As its name would suggest, Pick of the Fringe showcases some of this year’s most promising acts, as chosen by Mervyn Stutter and his team of discerning curators. Now in its 21st year, the variety show promises ‘eight of the best shows in a packed 90-minute lunchtime extravaganza’.
Given the difficulty of assessing a show’s merits based on fliers alone, Pick of the Fringe makes a lot of sense. Instead of wasting money on eight shows you don’t like, invest in one – then use it to make informed decisions for the remainder of your stay.
There’s a lot to love about Mervyn Stutter’s Pick of the Fringe, with just one exception: Merv himself. Our flamboyant host stutters about the stage like a demented Saga tour operator, interviewing the performers and wisecracking with varying degrees of success. Mervyn Stutter is a likable chap, though if I have to endure another Fringe performance featuring comedy lyrics sung over a series of rapidly-interchangeable C and G chords, I’ll scream – and then compose a scathing review. I hated every second of ‘64 and Still a Dickhead’, but don’t let my repulsion deter you, for if you can see past the taxi driver banter of Mervyn Stutter, Pick of the Fringe is rather good.
We are treated to a soliloquy from Joanna Bending, who plays a woman with Alzheimer’s in Hand Over Fist. Continuing with the theme of mental turmoil, there follows a ten-minute chunk of The Fantasist, whose bi-polar protagonist is accompanied by a diminutive squawking skeleton that represents her inner demons. While both productions look intriguing, it is Re-Animator The Musical that has the audience sitting bolt upright in their seats – and not just to avoid the geysers of fake blood that are merrily spurting everywhere. Othello The Remix, performed by a rap quartet, looks excellent, while comedic spirit medium Ian D. Montfort is unsettlingly good at messing with our minds, leaving all in attendance to wonder ‘But how did he do it?’
Then it’s back to our maverick host once again, the darling of the older Fringe-goers, and the bugbear of the younger generation. The truth is, Mervyn Stutter is as much a part of the Fringe as the diluvian downpours that herald another sun-cursed August in Edinburgh. His banter may be about as welcome as a trip to the dentist, but odds are you’re gonna have to face up to his patter sooner or later. If you can bring yourself to grin and bear it, you’ll be treated to the bite-sized best that the Fringe has to offer.