Edinburgh Fringe 2018 - I'm here and eating too much

A week into the Edinburgh Fringe and what’s the state of play?  I’ve managed 10,000 plus steps a day (17,000 plus on the day I forgot the keys to the flat and had to walk over to the agency to get another set) but STILL seem to have managed to put on two pounds!  I can’t believe it.  My show is on at 4.30 pm daily in Pleasance One, the theatre within the Pleasance Courtyard complex, and there have been two or three shows in there before mine every day, and there’s no air conditioning, so it’s like a performing in a Turkish bath.  The sweat pours off me throughout the show and for an hour afterwards, but STILL the weight piles on.  It must be the cheese croissants at breakfast, the cheese sandwiches at lunchtime, the pre-show morale-boosting, sugar-boosting bar of chocolate, and the post-show pasta and the veggie haggis – to say nothing of last night’s incredible table of tapas temptations at Restaurant La Sal in Howden Street.  It’s culinary heaven.  Olé!

It’s the eating, then.  And the lack of sleep.  Before my show opened, I couldn’t sleep, by day or night.  I’ve been doing this sort of thing off and on for half a century – more, of course, if you count the school plays – but the pre-show nerves don’t seem to go away.  If anything, they seem to get worse.  And worse.  I’m not alone in this.  I keep bumping in to my old friend MAUREEN LIPMAN who is here with her new show and every time I see her she asks, ‘Have you slept yet?  I haven’t.’  (Her show will be wonderful, I know.  She’s a wonderful actress and a great entertainer.  I won’t see her show because it’s on at the same time as mine, but I will hope to catch up with it when it transfers to the West End – which it must.  I will be seeing her perform before then, of course – in Coronation Street. I’ve not watched the soap since Ena Sharples died – and now Maureen in back as the “new” Ena Sharples: a battle-axe, but a looker, too.  It’s long been an ambition of mine to have a cameo in a soap – one of those things on my bucket list, alongside becoming prime minister – so I’ve asked Maureen to suggest to the Corrie execs that I might be considered for a role . . . possibly as her love interest.  I see myself playing a defrocked Bishop who moves into the area anonymously in the hope of rebuilding his life and finds himself meeting up with Maureen’s character on the night he braves the Rover’s Return for the first time . . .   Watch this space.

Edinburgh is awash with old friends.  I’ve bumped into FRANK SKINNER and SU POLLARD.  I love Su, not only as a glorious performer, but as a person who simply spreads positivity.  She fizzes with energy and warmth.  She’s a life-enhancer.  I’ve known her for thirty years and more.  We met because my best-friend from school was the actor SIMON CADELL who starred with Su in Hi-de-Hi – and we’ve never lost touch.  Simon was at the Bristol Old Vic drama school with CHRISTOPHER BIGGINS and Biggins and his partner Neil have been here in Edinburgh, too.  Biggins is like Su: someone who sees it as his job in life to spread happiness.  He is a walking bundle of good cheer and generosity.  But he is not a fashion icon.  I’ve seen him every day (oh yes, we’ve been out on the razzle) and he has been sporting a Hawaiian shirt and a ludicrous pair of very baggy off-white unironed shorts.  I kept saying to him, ‘You’re not in the jungle now.  Senior people in the theatre business have a duty to set standards – and look at you!’

Last night Biggins and I (plus partners) went to the Cabaret Bar at the Pleasance Courtyard at 9.20 pm to see PETER STRAKER SINGS BREL!   Without exaggeration, it was one of the great musical and theatrical experiences of my lifetime.  Seriously.  For an hour, Straker, now 76 and celebrating fifty years in the business brings a lifetime’s experience and artistry to delivering (in deft English translations) the extraordinary songs of the great Jacques Brel.  (Brel, incidentally, is always a name to bring up when people ask you to name a famous Belgian.)  This is a 5 star show plus.  Straker, brilliantly accompanied by Gulliver Ralston (looks like Harry Potter: plays like Liberace), sports Freddie Mercury’s kimono and gives a high-octane, beautifully crafted, powerfully acted, emotionally exacting performance that sends goosebumps up and down your spine from start to finish and for my money puts him up there with the greats. I say that advisedly.  I saw Marlene Dietrich.

Oh, gosh, is that the time?  I’ve got to go.  A podcast, a TV interview, a radio interview, handing out flyers for my son’s show – “A Hero for Our Times” daily at 11.15 am at the Gilded Balloon Teviot in the Sportsman’s Bar: must-see hilarious, heroic story-telling – it’s all happening, leaving little time for blogging.  [“Though enough for eating, I notice,” chips in my wife from the other side of the room.  “Your show is selling out every day.  People seem to like it.  Do you really need that bar of chocolate?”]

MORE TOMORROW.  Meanwhile, if you’re in Edinburgh and fancy it come to see me in BREAK A LEG! at The Pleasance Courtyard, daily at 4.30 pm with an extra show on 17 August at 6.00 pm.  We’re SOLD OUT today, Tuesday, but seats in all parts from tomorrow . . . https://www.pleasance.co.uk/event/gyles-brandreth-break-leg#overview

Gyles Brandreth