One likely reason for the expansion of comedy on the Fringe over the past few years, to the point where it has overtaken theatre as the biggest section in the programme, is brute economics. It is simply far cheaper to transport and accommodate one person and a microphone than even a small cast of four or five plus the accoutrements of staging. This tendency towards going solo is now making itself felt in the theatre category as well.
Favourite Fringe actor David Calvitto appears this year in The Silencer (Pleasance Courtyard). A gradually darkening monologue about a failed affair, it is less sharp and complex than we are used to from Calvitto. At the performance I saw, this supremely assured performer also seemed unusually uneasy – unless it was a super-subtle portrayal of uneasiness. (Players of one of the many Fringe drinking games should also down a stiff one on spotting, in its Fringe programme blurb, that the piece is “darkly comic”.)
St Stephen’s, former home of adventurous international work under the Aurora Nova banner, is back as a venue this year, being cannily run by Northern Stage with one eye to the cutting edge of that Newcastle theatre’s programming and one to St Stephen’s’ own place in the Fringe ecology. Daniel Bye’s mid-afternoon presentation, The Price of Everything, is in his words a “performance lecture” rather than a theatre piece. While appearing to be doing little more than chatting amiably (mostly about milk, for reasons too abstruse to go into here), Bye smartly and subtly plays with our ideas about value and its relation to ideology, and also about theatre. After one admitted fib, he notes our “disappointment because you came to a theatre and a man made up a story”.
Comedian Les Dennis has appeared as an actor in some stinkers, but he himself never whiffs, and moreover in Jigsy (Assembly Rooms) he has a play that fits him like a glove. It veers perilously close to typecasting, as a jobbing Scouse comic regales us with tales both comic and touching about his business and his city; however, Dennis is in easy command of both the material and his old-school, hard-drinking characterisation.
In contrast, former Daily Star journalist Rich Peppiatt appears blissfully ignorant of just how little he is escaping the values he supposedly condemns in One Rogue Reporter (Pleasance Courtyard). However delicious it may be to see the likes of Paul Dacre and Kelvin MacKenzie stitched up as they and their papers have previously done to others, Peppiatt’s implicit justification is that invasive and humiliating treatment is all right in a good cause – which is exactly the tabloids’ plea of defence.