Every art needs its new generation of practitioners. Without new blood, old crafts like spoke-shaving and hedge-laying will die out. It warms one’s heart, therefore, to see the fresh young faces of Edinburgh students as they step forward to join the massed ranks of the stand-up comedians. It is good, too, to see university revues fostering standup as well as sketch comedy; Edinburgh is not alone in this, and increasingly student sketch troupes are using the Fringe to provide a structured context for individual comics. These are often very inexperienced performers, but if the Festival is for you an opportunity to spot the stars of the future, then such lineups represent a rich hunting-ground. If, however, you are looking for more polished material, then they may well not be worth the risk.
One couldn’t help but wonder where these performers had tested their material, as they surely must have done before attempting the Fringe, and how it could have met with sufficient success to convince them to put it on display.
The current offering from the Edinburgh Revue is likely to satisfy neither of these desires. Following what seems to be an emerging trend, all but one of the five students performing that afternoon above the Beehive pub opted for a deliberately awkward, low-energy style. This can work well in moderation, but in four sets back-to-back it can become rather trying. The lineup was very poorly chosen in this regard, as was the order in which it was presented. The decision to open with the least confident performer (James Mackintosh) was very unwise, while Jodie Mitchell, the most able of the group, was relegated to penultimate position, leaving the show to finish with Adam Todd, whose frankly grating, whining delivery killed off what was left of the momentum.
To be fair to the young novices, they faced a tough little audience on a hot afternoon, some of whom were unresponsive to the point of resistance. The absolute failure of the compere to establish or maintain any audience energy did not help matters. It was not a setting to inspire confidence, and one could hardly blame Mackintosh for swallowing his words and retreating into incomprehensibility, as he struggled through the whole of his section on midget gladiators. I doubt I would have been able to stay on stage for as long as he did. Then again, I have never proposed to entertain a room full of people with my comic observations. One couldn’t help but wonder where these performers had tested their material, as they surely must have done before attempting the Fringe, and how it could have met with sufficient success to convince them to put it on display. The audience may not have been enthusiastic, but they were far from hostile; when a comprehensible and amusing moment occurred, they were ready to enjoy it to the full. It was not an angry or offended audience which left the room above the Beehive pub, but a disappointed one, whose indulgence had been exhausted.
The young standups of Edinburgh University are brave, intelligent, and inventive. Their experimentation should be encouraged, and for that they require an audience. Just don’t let yourself be part of it.