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One-Man Wonders at the Fringe

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It sometimes feels like the Edinburgh Fringe is the last refuge of that dying art, the one-man show. Here, every August, they proliferate.

The programme is littered with them, led by the likes of Pip Utton - whose latest guise is Charles Dickens - and Simon Callow, who tackled Dickens last year and now stars as a transvestite in Tuesday at Tescos. I’ve been in Edinburgh barely 24 hours and I’ve already seen four of them (solo shows, not tranvestites).

Obviously the intimate nature of the festival venues, coupled with the budgetry advantage, makes the solo show a natural choice for performers wishing to flaunt their talents here. But there’s also a sense that this is one of the few places where a non ‘name’ actor can still hope to find an audience willing to take a chance on a show with a cast of one.

Perhaps it’s a happy by-product of the stand-up boom that audiences are more comfortable with the prospect of spending a whole hour in the company of just one person talking. And anyway, as the likes of Daniel Kitson, Laura Solon and Isy Suttie have shown recently, the line between stand-up and storytelling is blurred, if indeed it exists at all.

But whatever the reason, the broad range and quality of solo shows on offer is an aspect of the Fringe I greatly enjoy, and I hope we see more of these one-man wonders following in Bob Golding’s footsteps (Golding’s turn as Eric Morecambe transferred to the West End in 2009) at the end of the month.

There's also the opportunity afforded by the Fringe for maverick performers, who might struggle to market their shows elsewhere, to find kindred spirits and present experimental work away from the commercial pressures of London or New York. Earlier today I saw Steve Pretty's Perfect Mixtape, a show that somehow manages to contain everything from snorkel-based beatbox to a poignant personal story of the 2004 tsunami.

It, like many virtuoso shows, provides its star with an opportunity to showcase his talents as a musician, writer and storyteller in a way that no other show, or festival, could. Although not a slick and polished piece by any means, the sort of organised chaos it presents is a reflection and even celebration of what makes the Edinburgh Fringe not just the biggest, but the best open arts festival in the world.

- Theo Bosanquet


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