The League Of Gentlemen/Graham Norton/Scott Capurro/
Adam Bloom/The Divine Comedy
Various venues, Edinburgh
August, 1997

Whilst comedy continues to constitute the second largest segment of the Edinburgh Fringe, trends within the field are becoming more noticeable. The renaissance of sketch comedy continues, with companies such as The Cheese Shop (in their show Boof!) and The League Of Gentlemen reaching take-off point this year. The Cheese Shop have been Fringe fixtures for several years, growing in assurance with each successive outing. Their gentle absurdities the Dorset Territorial Artists' cannon run in the Royal Tournament, a pair of policemen helpfully sub-editing a suicide note now possess a degree of polish altogether more appealing than their plaid suits.

The League Of Gentlemen are an altogether different proposition. One of last year's most impressive discoveries, the quartet (only three of whom appear onstage) tread a darker, more unsettling path: a joke-shop owner takes a customer hostage, a cavern tour guide suffers recurring nightmares, and the magnificently irritating Legz Akimbo theatre in education company disintegrate before our eyes. They employ bad taste not for mere shock value, but with a much more discomfiting air of deliberation, as successive episodes of running sketches grow ever closer to out-and-out pathos. They are also wickedly funny.

On the stand-up front, Graham Norton has taken on some of the characteristics of his countryman Bono this year, making live phone calls on stage; he dials out for pizza for the audience, and lives in hope of someone ringing up during the show in response to the personal ad he has placed in a gay contact magazine. The prime target of his acerbity, though, is himself; each night he reads an extract from his diary as a sixteen-year-old prig on an exchange trip to France, mercilessly lampooning his pompous younger self.

Scott Capurro seems to alternate themed shows on his Edinburgh visits with straightforward stand-up. This year offers the latter, delivered with a high-speed, in-your-face mastery. However brazenly he attempts to seduce a straight man in the audience, the hapless punter is invariably charmed into accepting his status as forgive the term the butt of Capurro's attentions. Of the youngeer crop of comics, Adam Bloom gave a remarkable performance on the evening I saw him, ditching a good half of his prepared material and simply free-associating; he was all the more engaging for such spontaneity.

Comedy of a different sort kicked off Flux, the Edinburgh New Music Festival. Neil Hannon and his band The Divine Comedy, confirmed as wryly grandiose pop geniuses by this spring's tour with the 30-piece Brunel Ensemble, took matters one step further by performing three concerts with the Electra String Quartet, Hilary Summers and one of Hannon's major musical inspirations, Michael Nyman. Mixing his own material with Nyman's and including a collaborative number (the perversely delightful "Grisly Knife Attack"), Hannon simply played up a storm almost literally, as the packed, sweaty venue threatened to generate its own micro-climate. The experience of hearing a six-piece pop band tackle such Nyman pieces as "Time Lapse" and "Learning The Ropes" was a unique and exhilarating sensation.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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