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Fringe Interests

A quick round up of the shows I saw at this year's Edinburgh Fringe...

Think No Evil of Us: My Life With Kenneth Williams - David Benson

David Benson returns for his 17th Fringe celebrating the tenth aniversary of the show which made him famous, with ten performances only. Having only heard about the show and being a Kenneth Williams fanatic, I decided to give this a go. It's a famous show for all the right reasons, as it's an affectionate look at Williams without romantising the complex and tortured man. Benson portrays his famous bad behaviour in public uncannily well, fleshing out the accounts that I've heard from other sources, and also shows the depressions that Williams suffered from all his life, accompanied by writhes of pain from Williams' famous chronic bowel disease.

However, this is not simply a dramatisation of Williams' diaries, as Benson turns to berate Williams for his needless self-pity when he had been loved by so many people for his work. Williams' inability to love himself is highlighted by Benson as the key to why he was unable to find love with anyone, and could not see the true worth of his work. Benson also gives us an entertaining and touching look back at his own childhood, explaining that his relationship with Williams (in the sense which we all have relationships with our idols, as he never met him) began when he won a competition on the childrens' show Jackanory at the age of 8, and had his winning story read out on air by Williams. As Benson was an avid Milligan fan at the time, this wasn't his ideal choice, but it proved to be a life changing one.

Benson is an engaging and warm performer, and his talent for mimickery is a joy to watch, with his re-creation of his school headmaster being a highlight of this show. Even if you're not a Williams fan, there's still plenty to like here.

4 Stars

Why Pay More? - David Benson

It's that man again! Benson has been putting on his one man show about not much in particular as the main attraction this year, with TNEOU only benefiting from ten performances. As mentioned above, Benson is a pleasure to watch, and I can say honestly that I've never seen a performer so comfortable with his audience. Although he takes us through experiences from his life in order that we might bring more meaning to ours, he manages to entertain without ever seeming self-indulgent, and he gives the impression that he'd be as friendly and interesting in the pub. He's honest and good-natured throughout, and manages to even make his occasional bitching self-depreciating. Yes, I've become a fan...

4 Stars

Over the Hill - Matt Byrne

I attended this one-man show about Benny Hill with some interest. Would I, as someone with a keen interest in Hill's career, learn anything new from this show? Sadly, the answer was no, and although I admire Matt Byrne's sheer effort in bringing this show all the way from Adelaide, there were major problems with the concept and execution which prevented me from really enjoying it.

The main problem was the determination of Byrne to paint Hill's career in the rosiest light possible, with no attempt whatsoever to explain why John Howard Davies had decided enough was enough in 1989, when Thames Television axed Hill's show. This resulted in a show which didn't really tell you anything which you couldn't glean yourself from the excellent biography 'Funny, Peculiar' written by Mark Lewisohn, and was in real danger of looking patronising at points. The real issue of why Benny Hill's work was looking seriously out of place in the late Eighties is complex, and isn't done justice by someone coming on like Dennis Kirkland without the rampant sexism.

Also, the show suffered from being under-rehearsed at times, an example being 'Ernie, The Fastest Milkman in the West' being spoiled by Byrne being out of sync a couple of times with his backing tracks. Although a good-natured Hill chase with a stereotypical cleaner was a nice end to the show, saving Byrne's treatment of Hill's death from being too maudlin, Byrne's obvious enthusiasm for the man's work is not quite enough to carry the whole thing through. Byrne himself seems an honest and likeable man, which makes critising his work difficult, but unfortunately being a decent cove isn't the key to making a show like this work. He could do with having a word with David Benson on how to fairly assess an idol; blind faith has never done the world any good.

2 Stars

The Early Edition, Friday 18 August

Marcus Brigstocke, Andre Vincent and Steve Furst (with guests Stewart Lee and Carrie Quinlan)

This is a stage version of BBC 4's The Late Edition, held at lunchtime (it's early for comedy performers, y'know) with the regular hosts looking through the day's newspapers with the featured guests in order to find topical jokes. Stewart Lee was undoubtedly the star of this edition, making me realise just how much I've missed the days when the BBC would actually allow him on television. A particular highlight was an audience member actually showing great interest in Lee's suggestion that flights should be segregated into religious and non-religious passengers in order to combat terrorism. Steve Furst also put in a good showing as a member of the other Edinburgh Festival's board, looking down on the Fringe as the smelly, rebellious cousin that it is to the original festival. The other guests engaged in entertaining banter, making this an extremely enjoyable start to the day, but it clearly falls or rises on the strength of its guests.

3 Stars

The Unattended - Daniel Maier

We went to this play because Daniel is a NOTBBC regular, and we'd already seen his work for Harry Hill. Our expectations were high, and we were not disappointed. This is an intelligent comic thriller, with outstanding performances from the three-strong cast, two of which are security guards trying to deal with the odd new addition to their team. The ending is left open in order for the audience to come to their own conclusions who this bizarre individual really was, and what happened to his drinks tray.

4 Stars

About this entry


Wow, sounds like an excellent time. You lucky, lucky bastards.

>The real issue of why Benny Hill's work was looking seriously out of place in the late Eighties is complex

Though I've seen dozens of episodes, I admit I know nothing at all about Benny Hill outside of the program, or, indeed, any of the implications of the program. An article, maybe? Benny Hill For Dummies (and Americans)?

By Philip J Reed, VSc
August 20, 2006 @ 8:58 pm

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I'll put Benny Hill for Dummies on my list of things to write.

By Tanya Jones
August 21, 2006 @ 12:15 pm

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Thanks for the lovely reviews! Delighted that you enjoyed the shows. Think No Evil of Us continues to amaze me, its creator - it is always a challenge and a thrill to perform and its great knowing that it is still reaching new audiences.

My Festival thrill this year was meeting and getting chummy with, of all people, The Hamiltons! I was on their show and found them down to earth and full of humour about themselves and life in general.

Best wishes

August 29, 2006 @ 12:56 pm

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