The Edinburgh Fringe Full Monty (nearly) – Day 9, 13th August 2022

A heavy day of comedy? Sure looks that way!

Here’s the schedule for 13th August:

13.10 – The Man Who Thought He Knew Too Much, Pleasance Dome. From the Edinburgh Fringe website:

Man Who Thought He Knew Too Much“Wes Anderson meets Hitchcock meets spaghetti western in this multi award-winning, intercontinental, inter-genre, cinematic caper of accusations, accidents and accents. Roger, a Frenchman in 1960’s New York, has followed the same routine for years, until a minor delay saves him from an explosion. Throwing his ordered world into chaos, Roger chases his would-be assassins around the globe. Raucously funny and endlessly inventive, this Lecoq-trained company delights and stuns with live original music and virtuosic acrobatics in this fast-paced, Offies-nominated whodunnit. ‘Razor-sharp’ ***** (Everything-Theatre.co.uk). ‘Stunning’ ***** (365Bristol.com). Winner: LET/Greenwich Award, 2020.”

I’m expecting some riotous physical comedy with this show, so here’s hoping!

16.00 – Laura Davis: If This Is It Monkey Barrel Comedy.

Laura Davis“Most Outstanding Show nominee at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival 2022. Laura Davis is internationally acclaimed as one of the strongest, most distinctive comedy voices around. Bold, hilarious and razor sharp, Davis delivers extraordinary stand-up that subverts expectation at every turn. ‘This is laughter that takes power away from the darkness… **** (Time Out on If This is It). ‘Decidedly defiant and damn funny’ **** (Age on If This Is It). ‘Bold and ambitious and very funny…’ **** (Chortle.co.uk on If This Is It). ‘Genuinely brilliant stand-up’ (Comedy.co.uk, Recommended Shows 2019). ‘Indescribable’ **** (Fest).”

Laura Davis is a new name to us, but these reviews sing her praises highly, so I’m looking forward to finding our what she’s all about!

17.50 – Crybabies: Bagbeard, Pleasance Dome.

Crybabies“Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the woods… Join James (still tall), Ed (less handsome) and Michael (???) on a sci-fi infected narrative sketch adventure about finding home, forbidden love, monsters, mystery and massive regret. Dave’s Edinburgh Comedy Awards Best Newcomer nominee, 2019. ‘Highly impressive’ **** (Guardian). ‘High concept farce of the first order’ **** (Telegraph). ‘Out-there originality’ **** (Chortle.com). ‘A wave of absurdist wonderment’ **** (Skinny). ‘Clever and genuinely funny’ ***** (MumbleComedy.net).

Never come across the Crybabies before, so it’s a bit of a punt, but these reviews do look good!

20.00 – Marcus Brigstocke: Absolute Shower, Pleasance Dome.

Marcus Brigstocke“Before launching his huge national tour, multi award-winning comedian Marcus brings this blisteringly funny hour of stand-up to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. ‘Devilishly Funny’ (TheArtsDesk.com). This joyful show celebrates the personal triumphs and small victories of the past couple of years… while acknowledging it has, in so many ways, on so many days, for the most part, been an absolute shower of shit. ‘Charming, hilarious and utterly refreshing. Don’t miss this incredible show’ (Sunday Mirror).”

Rachel Parris last night, Marcus Brigstocke this. How odd! Always enjoy seeing Mr Brigstocke, I’m sure he’ll be as great as always.

22.10 – Raves R Us, Underbelly, Cowgate.

Raves R Us“Naughty Corner Productions’ eighth show promises to be the immersive event of the year. Toys R Us has closed down for good, leaving Charlie and his mates unemployed, depressed and searching for any escape from this rundown bigot-lead society. Charlie’s vision arrives fully formed. They have an abandoned warehouse, an abandoned nation… it’s time to make a sanctuary, an escape… a Rave. Inspired from a true story out of Hounslow, London. Raves R Us will combine your favourite Naughty Corner features along with an immersive setting and atmosphere to create the most energetic, original night of theatre.

They promise immersive comedy – I’m up for that!

23.55 – Spank! Underbelly Cowgate.

Spank“Spank! returns for an incredible 20th and final year with hilarious hosts, awesome comedians and gratuitous nudity. Showcasing the most exciting comedy and cabaret on the Fringe, don’t miss the ‘best wild night out’ (Scotland on Sunday) at the festival! ‘Comedy and legendary party night… if you haven’t experienced this night, get down there right away!’ (Time Out). ‘It’s raunchy, raucous and ridiculous. Utterly and absolutely hilarious’ ***** (BroadwayBaby.com). ‘Everything you could hope for in a late-night comedy showcase… absolutely must-see’ ***** (ThreeWeeks). ‘Atmosphere is electric… you just don’t quite know what is going to happen… superb’ ***** (One4Review.co.uk).”

So yes, heartbreakingly, this is Spank’s final season, and I’ve loved it every time we’ve been. This is the first of two visits for us – and then there is the final Big Show to enjoy!

Check back later to see how we enjoyed all these shows!

The Edinburgh Fringe Full Monty (nearly) – Day 8, 12th August 2022

What’s on the list of shows for today? I’ll tell you!

Here’s the schedule for 12th August:

10.55 – An Audience with Stuart Bagcliffe, Zoo Playground. From the Edinburgh Fringe website:

Audience with Stuart Bagcliffe“’Hilarious’, ‘mesmerising’ and ‘outstanding’ **** (LondonPubTheatres.com). This comedic one-man show introduces Stuart Bagcliffe, who is about to perform his autobiographical play to an audience for the first time. Ill-prepared and lacking experience, Stuart is naturally a bundle of nerves. Join him as he attempts to make it through the play in one piece, contending with his overbearing mother watching from the wings and a sound technician who’s half asleep, as well as his own demons and insecurities. What could possibly go wrong?”

Triptych Theatre are the group behind this production, which I think sounds like a lot of fun, and if done convincingly, should be great!

13.35 – The MP, Aunty Mandy and Me Pleasance Dome.

MP Aunty Mandy and Me“A bittersweet tale of political campaigns, sexual consent and steam trains. Dom wants to be an #InstaGay and #Influencer but it’s hard in a small northern village five miles from the nearest gay. One day, a chance meeting with his MP turns his life upside down. Written by Rob Ward (Gypsy Queen, Away From Home, ***** (WhatsOnStage.com)).”

We always catch Rob Ward at the Fringe because he always comes up with intriguing and powerful plays and I’m sure this will be no different. Looking forward to it!

16.30 – Iain Dale: All Talk with Keir Starmer MP, Pleasance @ EICC.

Keir Starmer“Award-winning LBC radio presenter brings his acclaimed, incisive insight on current affairs back to the Fringe with these in-depth interviews. Today’s guest is Sir Keir Starmer MP, the leader of the Labour party and former Director of Public Prosecutions, who will be interviewed by Iain and his For The Many co-host Jacqui Smith. ‘The indefatigable Iain Dale always cuts to the nub of politics’ (Adam Boulton). ‘There are very few commentators and broadcasters with an instinctive feel for real politics. Iain Dale does, which makes him endlessly listenable-to and peerless’ (Andrew Marr).

If we’re going for some of these political talks, we might as well see the big names! It’ll be interesting to see if Keir Starmer has that necessary bite to take Labour to government.

19.40 – Rachel Parris: All Change Please, Underbelly George Square.

Rachel Parris“BAFTA-nominated comedian, Rachel Parris, is back with a brand-new show about big life changes. Join viral sensation and star of BBC’s The Mash Report as she performs stand-up and songs about sudden love, the highs and lows of relationships, family, weddings, kids, going viral, going mental, and the baffling state of play in society right now. ‘Venomously witty’ (Evening Standard). ‘A natural charm and keen eye for observation’ (Chortle.co.uk). ‘This is classy, clever comedy – uproarious’ (Scotsman).”

Never seen Rachel Parris doing proper stand-up before, but I always enjoy her TV appearances, so I’m hoping for a very good show!

21.45 – Your Dad’s Mum: Tonight at the Social Club/strong>, Underbelly, Bristo Square.

Your Dad's Mum“Explosive, gag-packed comedy from Leicester Comedy Festival Award nominees returning to the Fringe following their acclaimed 2021 run. Join your hosts – jaded northern entertainer Pat Bashford and his over-woke niece Cheri-Anne for a raucously daft, fast-paced hour, featuring games, adequate prizes, musical interludes and late-night fun. Starring Chortle Award winner Bexie Archer and Fringe-favourite Kevin Dewsbury (Kev’s Komedy Kitchen). ‘Archer has funny bones’ (Chortle.co.uk). ‘Dewsbury’s delivery is spot on… delightfully funny’ (BroadwayBaby.com). ‘This show packs in the punchlines, the duo can certainly craft a good gag’ (Skinny).”

Knowing what a knockout Kev’s Komedy Kitchen could be, I can’t wait to finally see Kevein Dewsbury’s Your Dad’s Mum show. It’s had great reviews and I reckon it will be blistering!

Check back later to see how we enjoyed all these shows!

The Edinburgh Fringe Full Monty (nearly) – Day 7, 11th August 2022

Have we a plan of shows to see today? You bet we do!

Here’s the schedule for 11th August:

11.30 – Boy, Summerhall. From the Edinburgh Fringe website:

Boy“After the highly successful Us/Them, Carly Wijs returns to Summerhall with Boy. A powerful stage show based on the true story of the Reimer family. In 1966, the Reimer twins are taken into hospital by their young parents to be circumcised. The procedure goes wrong and baby Bruce loses his penis. After consulting with Dr. Money at Johns Hopkins University, the parents agree to raise Bruce as a girl. From the age of two Bruce goes through life as Brenda. She doesn’t know the truth, but from a very young age, Brenda senses that something is just not right…”

Us/Them was the stand out play of the 2016 Fringe so I can’t wait to see how the company treats this intriguing story. It should be excellent!

UPDATE: This is such an inventive way of telling an extraordinary story. Two amazingly good actors do a really strong script justice. Very moving, very sad, but also loads of humour. Never have soft toys played such a relevant role in serious drama. Just what you’d expect from the team who produced Us/Them. First class indeed. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

14.40 – Classic! Pleasance Courtyard.

Classic“Hold onto your hats as a cast of 6 romp through all those classic novels you never had time to read. In 60 minutes and multiple costume changes the company race you from Wuthering Heights to Moby Dick, told at lightning speed… Expect the unexpected! No previous literary experience required. A thrilling script by Coronation Street writers Lindsay Williams and Peter Kerry and direction by Joyce Branagh (seen in the film Belfast, directed by brother Kenneth) this brilliantly funny show is for everyone!”

I’m really looking forward to this because it sounds like a complete hoot!

UPDATE: 42 novels in one hour? This game team give it a go, even though they commandeer a poem as a novel, but we can overlook this. A great fun sketch show, we particularly enjoyed Tess of the D’Urbevilles. Some sketches too long (i didn’t really get the Chandleresque Oliver Twist) and others too short, but the show makes good use of audience participation and has a lovely feelgood factor. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

16.30 – CUMTS: SLEEPOVER, Just the Tonic at The Caves.

Sleepover“Four immigrant teens. 12 hours. One suspicious box teeming with questions about sex. SLEEPOVER is a coming-of-age comedy musical about self-discovery (and self-pleasure!). Join Jenny, Anita, Nina and Ruth as they dive into the world of sex – discussing everything from monogamy to masturbation, dating preferences to penises. Top-class comedy delivered to you with a side of well-rapped bars in this spectacular piece of new writing. From the people who brought you Six, the Musical. Don’t forget your toothbrush!”

The main reason I’ve chosen to see this is because of its impressive heritage, coming from the Six stable. I hope it’s up to scratch! The Cumts of the title, btw, refers to the Cambridge University Musical Theatre Society, and nothing more salacious.

UPDATE: Deceptively skilful and accomplished little show! Great singing voices from the three actors and a very nicely put together little musical. Great humour, well acted, and rather charming in a slightly naughty way! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

18.20 – Abigoliah Schamaun: Legally Cheeky, Just the Tonic at The Tron.

Abigoliah“This American girl in London had it all. Then one day the Wicked Witch of Westminster, Priti Patel told Abigoliah to click her sparkly heels and go ‘home’. In that instance, everything changed. Abigoliah was faced with the fight of her life and the stakes couldn’t be higher. If she wins, she stays in the UK. If she loses, she loses everything. Abigoliah has appeared on Comedy Central, Channel 5, BBC Radio 4 Extra and the Guilty Feminist Podcast. ‘Confident and brilliantly funny’ **** (BroadwayBaby.com) ‘The best kind of shamelessness’ **** (Skinny). ‘Comedy whirwind’ ***** (ThreeWeeks).”

Abigoliah is a huge favourite of ours and we would always go and see her whatever she’s in! Her new show sounds like it’s full of her trademark inventiveness, mining comedy out of a difficult situation. Can’t wait!

UPDATE: Abigoliah shares the ghastly story of her visa crisis with all her trademark upbeat optimism even though at times it’s a truly sad story. She has an amazing ability to see sunshine in the rain and she conveys her joyous observations with delightful ease. Fantastic! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

20.15 – Let’s Try Gay, The Space @ Symposium Hall.

Let's Try Gay“Two friends, Jack and Phil, meet in a hotel to shoot a gay adult movie between two straight guys: an “art project” to send to an independent movie festival, but they now feel uncomfortable. Their attempts to even just kiss or hug are clumsy and awkward. As time goes on, they prolong their problems. Jack is struggling with his life as an artist while Phil reveals his doubts about his sexual identity. Freely inspired by the independent movie Humpday, this unlikely comedy turns from a goofy, relaxed, funny situation into a deeper analysis of human nature.”

Not seen Humpday, but hopefully this will be both funny and enlightening. Here’s hoping!

UPDATE: Nicely written and performed, the two guys captured the cringy embarrassment of their situation very well, but it is a rather slight play and I feel it could have been either funnier or more hard-hitting – possibly both. But it’s entertaining nonetheless. ⭐️⭐️⭐️

22.00 – Tarot: Cautionary Tales, Pleasance Courtyard.

Tarot Cautionary Tales“Come learn life lessons from five people still doing sketch in their thirties. A new show from Tarot, creators of 2019’s fifth best reviewed show, Chortle’s No 1 show of 2019 and stars of their own Radio 4 sketch show, Soundbleed. Tarot is the lovechild of Goose and Gein’s Family Giftshop. By which we mean it’s a drain on our bank accounts and we don’t talk to our parents about it. ‘Bark-out-loud funny… the whole show is startlingly live’ **** (Guardian). ‘One of the balls-out funniest show of the Fringe’ ****½ (Chortle.co.uk).”

I’ve never heard of Tarot, but this sounds like a funny way to end the evening!

UPDATE: What a find! Sketch comedy is alive and well and living Beside the Pleasance Courtyard! Tarot are three immensely likeable idiots who have put together just the funniest hour of nonsense. Every night they pick a member of the audience to count the number of laughs (and make other suitable notes) and, you guessed it, it was me. I counted 217 laughs but I definitely missed a few – well, you have to keep these people on their toes after all. Favourite sketches included the Elvis Impersonator and the Never Have I Ever game. Ecstatically funny! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Edinburgh Fringe Full Monty (nearly) – Day 6, 10th August 2022

What’s lined up to entertain us in Edinburgh today?

Here’s the schedule for 10th August:

12.10 – Conflict in Court, Hill Street Theatre. From the Edinburgh Fringe website:

Conflict in Court“Come and take part in an immersive courtroom experience where you decide the cases outcome. Listen to the evidence and decide; with a free drink and pie included, Conflict in Court by Liam Rudden is fantastic entertainment. Join the cast as they lay evidence before you, you then get a chance to cross-examine the witnesses and decide for yourself: are they guilty or innocent? This cast bring a gem of a production to life as they get the audience to work out what is fact or fiction. Will you agree with the verdict?”

I’m a great admirer of the writing of Liam Rudden so I am sure he will have created a terrific “Crown Court” for the 21st century! Should be fun.

UPDATE: If you liked Crown Court (if you’re old enough) you’ll love this. A fascinating court case, beautifully realised, full of great interaction – and when the final truth came out the whole audience gasped! Plus you get a free pie and a pint and they were both delicious. Absolutely brilliant – really loved it! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

14.40 – Mary Bourke: The Brutal Truth, The Stand Comedy Club 2.

Mary Bourke“The show contains nothing but jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes jokes..”

Just as well that I’m very familiar with the stand-up brilliance that is Mary Bourke, because that online show description is a bit repetitive 😉

UPDATE: On terrific form, the legendary Ms B talks cancel culture, Britain’s Got Talent as well as giving us a massive trauma dump (her words) that she turns to comedy gold. Peppa Pig also comes in for the treatment she so richly deserves. Absolutely brilliant. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

17.50 – Hey, That’s My Wife! Hill Street Theatre.

Hey Thats My Wife“Hey That’s My Wife! is a comedic spin on the classic works of Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller that follows two advertising executives, Charlie Moore and Roger Sloan, as they navigate a tale as old as time, who’s sleeping with whose wife? Jam-packed with enough cigarettes and scotch to kill 10 horses, this satire of 1950s Americana will have you laughing ‘til you cry. Featuring New York City’s brightest young comics, Joey DeFilippis (The Comedy Shop), Matthew Ferrara (Spiderman: Homecoming), Espi Rivadeneira (BBC Reel), Caroline Hanes (Reductress) and Ryan O’Toole (Jerry Springer).”

This is going to be one of those shows that’s either utterly brilliant or borderline lousy. Let’s hope it’s the former!

UPDATE: Oh dear! Sadly there was nothing borderline about it. I get the idea of a very tongue in cheek 1950s parody where everyone ends up sleeping with everyone else but, ouch, the getting there was painful. Admittedly, the writing wasn’t bad, although, for the record, spreadsheets were born in 1979. Terribly long pauses between the scenes meant that any dramatic or comic tension just petered away. The stagecraft was woeful – a prop that should have been kept hidden under the table was visible from the word go; and there were five people chain smoking throughout the whole show and not an ashtray in sight. I’m afraid this was one of those very few fringe productions that has hardly anything in its favour. ⭐️

20.30 – Bloody Wimmin, The Royal Scots Club.

Bloody Wimmin“It is terribly easy to laugh at passion’. 1984. The women of Greenham Common are convinced the world is walking blindly into nuclear Armageddon. There is solidarity, shared purpose and much argument. Women grapple with their competing personal priorities, establishment rage and their dire living conditions with resilience, camaraderie and humour. Fast forward to 2009: do the rage, passion and flames of protest still burn as brightly? Lucy Kirkwood’s powerful and hilarious commentary on the women’s movement and the culture of protest as told by one of Edinburgh’s most prestigious amateur theatre companies. By arrangement with Nick Hern.”

I remember the Bloody Wimmin of Greenham Common – in fact I knew a few of them! That’s going to make this a very interesting play.

UPDATE: Rather a curious play and production. Some parts were excellent – some scenes were beautifully written and performed. But we really didn’t understand why the Greenham women and the environmental protesters were linked in the first place. It almost made both groups of protesters appear just like professional troublemakers, rather than genuinely espousing a cause in which they strongly believed. It made some very good points though, especially regarding the effect the Greenham protest had on family relationships, and how their sacrifices and hard work are currently taken for granted. ⭐️⭐️⭐️

22.35 – Leicester Square Theatre All-Star Show, The Stand’s New Town Theatre.

Leicester Square All Stars“A night of comedy featuring top acts from the Fringe, curated and programmed by London’s premier comedy venue Leicester Square Theatre. Leicester Square Theatre All-Star Show features comedy legends, award-winning rising stars and the funniest up-and-coming acts you’ve never heard of. Acts will be updated as they are confirmed, see http://www.leicestersquaretheatre.com/edinburgh.”

This will be a pot luck show – let’s hope they get good guests!

UPDATE: The enjoyment and success of this kind of show depends a lot on the numbers and enthusiasm of the punters attending, and whilst we were quite enthusiastic, there weren’t many of us. That said, it was well hosted by the always funny Jack Gleadow, and top of the bill Alastair Beckett-King was on excellent form. Impossible to give it a star rating because of the variety of guests.

The Edinburgh Fringe Full Monty (nearly) – Day 5, 9th August 2022

What’s in store for us in Edinburgh today?

Here’s the schedule for 9th August:

10.25 – Mrs Roosevelt Flies to London, Assembly George Square Studios. From the Edinburgh Fringe website:

Mrs Roosevelt“Returning to Edinburgh following a near sell-out 2016 Assembly season, Alison Skilbeck’s critically acclaimed one-woman show reveals the public and private life of one of the most extraordinary women of the 20th Century, Eleanor Roosevelt, from her daring trip to wartime Britain to her unconventional partnership with President Roosevelt. Granted special permission to use Eleanor’s diary and daily newspaper columns, this is the story of a passionate humanitarian, a woman beset by deep personal insecurities and tragedy, but one who never lost her passionate belief in the strength of the human spirit.”

This show was very well received six years ago, and since then we’ve seen Alison Skilbeck perform two more shows that were absolutely brilliant – so I have high hopes for this one.

UPDATE: An extraordinary story, well told, with great vocal characterisations and a wonderful sense of humour. It’s also very informative; for example, I didn’t know FDR had polio, nor that Eleanor Roosevelt played such an important role in the declaration of human rights – still a hot topic today. An assured and very enjoyable history lesson! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

12.50 – Please, Feel Free to Share, Pleasance Courtyard.

Please Feel Free To Share“Alex is a social success. Her Instagram boasts a montage of members-only rooftops and clinking glasses – like after like after like! When her father dies, Alex reluctantly joins a bereavement group. She shares a little, and then lies… a lot. Please, Feel Free to Share is a dynamic, darkly comic one-woman show about our personal addictions, the never-ending pursuit of likes and our growing desire to share all. Finalist: Popcorn Writing Award 2021.”

Produced by Scatterjam, this sounds like it should be an excellent dark comedy. Looking forward to it!

UPDATE: A liar gets addicted to lying by attending various self-help sessions pretending she is out of control. Very clever writing, matched by a very convincing performance. It’s also very thought provoking. Loved it! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

14.45 – Rajesh and Naresh, Summerhall.

Rajesh and Naresh“A feel-good love story. When Rajesh visits Mumbai, he encounters Naresh – not exactly the Indian wife his mother hoped for. Bend it like Beckham meets It’s a Sin in the queer romcom you’ve been waiting for – set just after India’s landmark decriminalisation of homosexuality in 2018. Funny and charmingly performed, Rajesh and Naresh was written from workshops conducted with members of the queer South Asian community in London and abroad. **** (Stage).”

We’ve been lucky enough to visit Mumbai a few times so I imagine I will be able to appreciate a lot of the background humour that I suspect lurks behind this play. Should be good.

UPDATE: Charming delicate story well told, great characterisations and terrific attention to detail – and a brilliant portrayal of an Indian mother, desperate for her son to marry. However, there were a couple of lulls in the narrative where my attention just started to wander, and I wasn’t convinced by the characters’ dance fantasies. Very good though, and they really got the audience on their side. ⭐️⭐️⭐️

17.00 – Blanket Ban, Underbelly, Cowgate.

Blanket Ban“Winner of Underbelly, New Diorama and Methuen Drama’s hit-making Untapped Award, 2022. ‘Sometimes I’m afraid of this play.’ Malta: Catholic kitsch, golden sun, deep blue sea, Eurovision – and a blanket ban on abortion. Propelled by three years of interviews with anonymous contributors and their own lived experience, actors and activists Marta and Davinia interrogate Malta’s restrictions on the freedom of women. What does it mean for your home to boast the world’s most progressive LGBTQIA rights, leading transgender laws – and a population that is almost unanimously anti-choice? A rallying cry from award-winning Chalk Line Theatre.”

This sounds really interesting – having been to Malta a few times, and also being a Eurovision fan! I can just imagine the gap between what’s allowed and what’s approved of. Should be very interesting.

UPDATE: A very important topic expressed with great passion and commitment. I did find the sea analogy heavy going and the anger of the two performers would be better conveyed just a bit more quietly! But you can’t take away from the seriousness of the subject and it’s something everyone should see. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

19.30 – Ivo Graham: My Future, My Clutter, Pleasance Courtyard.

Ivo Graham“Bumbling wordsmith and tripe factory returns to discuss three years of heavy-duty pranking/parenting/procrastinating since Dave’s 2019 nominations for Best Comedy Show and Joke of the Fringe (‘I’ve got an Eton College advent calendar, where all the doors are opened by my father’s contacts’). As seen/heard on Mock The Week, Live At The Apollo, Have I Got News For You, British As Folk and was the fondue-set winner on Richard Osman’s House of Games. ‘A hugely enjoyable hour of stand-up comedy’ (Times). ‘Suddenly has star-in-the-making coming off him like steam’ (Telegraph).”

We’ve seen Ivo Graham a few times and he never fails to deliver a great show, so we’re looking forward to this!

UPDATE: A solid hour of good observations, nicely delivered, but it never really soared though. Ivo is very likeable but he is also very wordy, and doesn’t use pauses for comic effect, so after a while it becomes just a little tiring. A very slick and well prepared show – maybe too well? ⭐️⭐️⭐️

22.20 – Rouge, Assembly Hall.

Rouge“Circus for grown ups – a decadent blend of sensational acrobatics, operatic cabaret and twisted burlesque. A non-stop celebration of the astonishing, surprising, subversive and supremely sexy. Winner of Best Circus 2020 Adelaide Fringe, Rouge is back with acts you’ve loved plus brand-new offerings to shock, delight and tease. Australian circus cabaret at its finest. ‘One badass sizzler of a show’ ***** (Daily Mail). ‘Rouge redefines what circus is and should be’ ***** (TheWeeReview.com). ‘Welcome to a circus for the new age… Brilliant performances… embodies the phrase: filthy and gorgeous’ ***** (WeekendNotes.com).”

We saw Rouge a few years ago and it was one of the better circus/burlesque offerings, so here’s hoping they continue the standard!

UPDATE: Sets the bar for all the shows in this genre. Stunning to watch, decadent in the extreme, incredible acrobatics and a silly, adult sense of humour. No more to say! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Edinburgh Fringe Full Monty (nearly) – Day 4, 8th August 2022

What’s in store for us in Edinburgh today?

Here’s the schedule for 8th August:

10.20 – About Money, Summerhall. From the Edinburgh Fringe website:

About Money“’Weans. They get expensive, you know?’ Fast-food worker Shaun is your average 18-year-old boy. He likes music, video games and getting stoned. He’s also the sole carer to his eight-year-old sister, Sophie. Without enough money for childcare and under pressure from an unsympathetic boss, he’s forced to make decisions that could have devastating consequences. Drawn from interviews with young kinship carers and inspired by the McDonald’s strikes of 2018, this Glasgow drama is about family, love and friendship in a world where the lack of money threatens all three.

65% Theatre are the team behind this intriguing and promising sounding play, that tackles important subject matter. I hope it’s a great show.

UPDATE: Splendid way to start the day with a very thought provoking, and brilliantly written play about poverty and responsibility amongst young people and the things they make you do. Great performances, especially from the amazing child actor Lois Hagerty. Touching and moving; is incredible how using just two chairs and wearing two red caps can say so much. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

12.50 – Ultimatum, Pleasance Courtyard.

Ultimatum“Two strangers have one hour to split £1m. Sounds easy, but what happens when one of them refuses to play fair? What is fair? Who deserves money? Why? Ultimatum is a new play by Jon Gracey that forces a conversation on class, autobiography, truth, reality TV and ethical duty to our fellow humans. Praise for previous Treehouse productions: Courtroom Play: A Courtroom Play – ‘Delightfully silly’ ***** (One4Review.co.uk); Bring Them Home – ‘One for the bucket list’ ***** (LondonTheatre1.com); Werewolf: Live – Nominated for Best Newcomer, Brighton Fringe 2017.”

This sounds immensely entertaining and done well I think could be a big hit!

UPDATE: A very entertaining story and clever premise, although I did find the ending slightly predictable. It could have benefited from a little tighter writing and stronger performance which I am sure will come over time. ⭐️⭐️⭐️

16.30 – Iain Dale: All Talk with Angela Rayner MP, Pleasance @ EICC.

Angela Rayner“Award-winning LBC radio presenter and For the Many podcast host brings his acclaimed, incisive insight on current affairs back to the Fringe with these in-depth interviews featuring audience questions. Today’s guest is Angela Rayner, MP for Ashton-under-Lyne, deputy leader of the Labour Party under Keir Starmer and shadow cabinet member across multiple portfolios. ‘The indefatigable Iain Dale always cuts to the nub of politics’ (Adam Boulton). ‘There are very few commentators and broadcasters with an instinctive feel for real politics. Iain Dale does, which makes him endlessly listenable-to and peerless’ (Andrew Marr).”

We’re really looking forward to hearing Angela Rayner speak. This will be fascinating!

UPDATE: Another interview; unlike his conversation with Rory Stewart, Iain Dale asked much more personal questions of Angela Rayner, who was extremely engaging, intelligent and impressive. There was a question about Scottish Independence, her answer to which I don’t think will have the local people returning to the Labour fold in a hurry. Near the end four young women got up to make an environmental protest, which Ms Rayner took in her stride but which really pi**ed off Iain Dale.

18.40 – Luke Kempner: Macho Macho Man, Pleasance Courtyard.

Luke Kempner“Star of Spitting Image (Britbox), Steph’s Packed Lunch (Channel 4) and with over 10 million views online, comedian Luke Kempner has found out he is to become a father, but can he be the macho macho man he believes he needs to be? With a razor-sharp roster of contemporary impressions from Piers Morgan and Bojo to Ted Hastings and Paul Hollywood, Luke is bringing his highly anticipated show to Edinburgh. As seen (and heard) on: The Last Leg (Channel 4), The Stand-Up Sketch Show (ITV2), Love Island: Aftersun (ITV2), The Now Show (BBC Radio 4).”

I always enjoy seeing Luke Kempner and am really glad he’s bringing this show to Edinburgh as we missed it when he performed it locally! Last time I saw him he had me up on stage with him, so I must remember not to make eye contact…

UPDATE: An entertaining show about whether Luke was ready for parenthood but which was perhaps rather slight in comparison with his previous shows. Nevertheless it was still very funny and he is a true master of impersonation. He did involve me in the show again, fortunately this time just from my seat! ⭐️⭐️⭐️

20.10 – Hal Cruttenden: It’s Best You Hear It From Me, Pleasance Courtyard.

Hal Cruttenden“After 21 years and 224 days Hal’s back being single. But it’s all going to be fine. Instead of getting the therapy he clearly needs, he’s made a cracking show about it. He’s lost enough weight to almost get his wedding ring off and, while he may be flying solo, he’s far from alone; he’s got his grown-up daughters, his dogs and his divorce lawyer. The fickle finger of fate has turned Hal’s life upside down but he’s sticking a finger right back at it. ‘Funniest he’s ever been’ ***** (Times).”

Hal Cruttenden’s a great comedian and I’ve heard very good things about this show, so I’m looking forward to it enormously!

UPDATE: Crammed with callbacks, this is a beautifully constructed, very personal and very impressive show, with great audience interaction; probably the best I’ve ever seen Mr Cruttenden. Perhaps he should have more marriage breakdowns, it would be great for his career! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

21.55 – Blunderland, Underbelly’s Circus Hub on The Meadows.

Blunderland“The subversive break-out hit of the international cabaret and circus circuit, we have arrived with a strong dose of what we all need at the moment: some outrageous nightlife naughtiness, club-kid antics and a heady dose of arthouse weird. Born out of the New York underground queer nightlife scene this show has titillated packed crowds worldwide who are enthralled with its uniquely whimsical and ridiculous performance combinations. Join us for an evening of sensually disastrous drag, burlesque and circus you won’t forget!”

There are a number of circus/burlesque shows on this Fringe and we are seeing a few of them – I don’t know if this will be any different from the norm – we wait and see!

UPDATE: One of those “only at the Fringe” big top experiences where fantastic Circus skills and some of the less classy elements of burlesque mix. Amazing aerial acrobatics, and some very funny routines. One couple left early on, it was clearly not what they were expecting!  ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Edinburgh Fringe Full Monty (nearly) – Day 3, 7th August 2022

What’s in store for us in Edinburgh today?

Here’s the schedule for 7th August:

11.20 – Everyman, C Arts C Venues C Aquila. From the Edinburgh Fringe website:

Everyman“The last two years have shaken our confident and cosy existence. The toilet roll and organic flour shortage reminded us just how selfish we can be. Join Everyman on his journey to judgement and consider who and what you would want to take to your final reckoning. A young ensemble cast perform this fast, furious and funny modern retelling of the medieval morality play Everyman (adapted by Splendid Productions) and remind us that there is one ‘certain certainty’ waiting for us all.”

The young ensemble cast are from Guildford High School. Here’s hoping they put on a good show!

UPDATE: And what a fresh fun start to the day that was! The Everyman story brought  up to date by five nurses who originally wanted to give me a blood test, but that’s another story. Huge fun, great commitment, and a  very clever play, brilliantly performed. Really enjoyed it!! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

13.30 – Mark Thomas: Black and White, The Stand Comedy Club.

Mark Thomas“Hi-de-hi darlings – welcome back. Expect creative fun from one of our oldest surviving alternative comics. Taking down politicians. Mucking about. New ideas and finding hope. This award-winning comedian (is there any other type?) asks how did we get here? What are we going to do about it? Who’s up for a sing-song? After lockdowns and isolation this show is about the simple act of being in a room together and toppling international capitalism. ‘You’ll leave recommitted to the fight against this appalling authoritarian government, to keep that tradition alive’ (Guardian, 2021).”

Hard to believe but this will be the first time we’ve seen Mark Thomas and I am really looking forward to it!

UPDATE: Why have I never seen Mr Thomas before? Most definitely a no-Conservative zone, he dishes out brilliant political observations nineteen to the dozen and absolutely left me wanting more. He also has some  memorable Barry Cryer and Bernard Cribbins jokes, God bless their souls. I had no idea I’d be singing my favourite music hall song, The boy I love is up in the gallery, by Marie Lloyd. Just a fab hour. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

15.10 – Death of a Disco Dancer, Greenside @ Infirmary Street.

Death of a Disco Dancer“Set over one surreal night of dancing and debauchery, Death of a Disco Dancer is a psychedelic, wild black comedy. During a fateful college reunion, four friends find themselves in a neon, nightmarish dimension. Twisted visions from the past and bizarre dreams of the future join them on the disco floor, and soon, a very present danger arises. As they dance deeper into the night, and this musical world swirls around them, these lost companions must fight to escape a labyrinth of their own design. When the sun rises, who will still be dancing?”

Ultraviolet Productions bring this play by Eric Yu to the Fringe. It sounds interesting – I hope they make a good job of it.

UPDATE: This was a very intense, dark, and above all noisy play, with four pretty troubled characters, which I also found very confusing, partly because of the way it played with time, and partly because it just wasn’t very clear. They threw everything at it, and the acting was good, but it just wasn’t to my taste. ⭐️⭐️

16.40 – Nic Sampson: Marathon, 1904, Pleasance Courtyard.

Nic Sampson“32 athletes entered the 1904 Olympic marathon in St Louis, Missouri. Only 14 finished… What happened in between was a perfect storm of stupidity, cheating, raw eggs, wild dogs and rat poison. In his Edinburgh debut, New Zealand comedian Nic Sampson brings to life the incredible true story of one of the dumbest sporting events of all time. Co-writer of Starstruck (BBC Three). Star of The Brokenwood Mysteries (UKTV). ‘A world-class hour from one of the country’s best performers. It’s essential’ (Stuff). ‘A beautiful gem of comedic goodness’ (Three). Winner: NZ International Comedy Festival Best Newcomer.

I know nothing about Mr Simpson, but I love the premise of this stand-up show, so I’m hoping for good things!

UPDATE: Nic is a very likeable chap with a very relaxed delivery, and he has created one of those hybrid entertainments which is part stand-up and part one man play. Fascinating, and very informative about this bizarre Olympic event, with some very enjoyable characterisations, and, fortunately, also very funny. It’s amazing to contrast what the Olympics are like, 120 years apart. Great work! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

18.50 – 71BODIES 1DANCE, Dance Base

71 BODIES 1 DANCE“71BODIES 1DANCE is an interdisciplinary and choreographic initiative by Daniel Mariblanca. The work is inspired by 71 personal experiences and testimonies from transgender individuals living in Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Spain. With this production the intention is to give visibility, awaken curiosity and to generate knowledge around the transgender community from a human level – through an artistic work. By exposing diverse ways of being, the performance wishes to insight new references and ways of appreciating beauty and generating desire. The dance performance is 71 minutes long, embodying one minute for each personal experience that inspired this work.”

The first dance show on our agenda and it sounds like a fascinating and challenging work. If this is half as inventive as it appears, this is going to be astonishing.

UPDATE: Bold and brave, often visceral and sometimes hard to watch, this extraordinary solo performance shows life at one of its extremes, full of private and public agonies, always very thought provoking, and an immense physical achievement. It ended with a song with the chorus, “pussy – dick” which people were singing to themselves in the foyer afterwards! A memorable performance. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

21.05 – You’re Dead, Mate, The Space @ Surgeon’s Hall.

You're Dead Mate“A man wakes up drunk, scared and alone, with no idea where he is or how he got there. Until he meets Death. Death might be able to answer that for him. In Edmund Morris’ playwriting debut, You’re Dead, Mate is the turbulent and hilarious journey of a young man coming to terms with his mortality.”

Harry Duff-Walker plays the young man – and this could be a fascinating and funny piece, here’s hoping!

UPDATE: A very clever play, very well written and performed, with clear and concise story-telling, lovely use of music, and just thoroughly engaging and entertaining. Fantastic stage-fighting skills in such a confirmed environment! A great way to end the day. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Edinburgh Fringe Full Monty (nearly) – Day 2, 6th August 2022

Another day in Edinburgh – what’s on the slab for today?

Here’s the schedule for 6th August:

10.45 – The Mistake, The Space on North Bridge. From the Edinburgh Fringe website:

Mistake“1942. On an abandoned squash court, a dazzling scientific experiment takes place that three years later will destroy a city and change the world forever. This compelling new play by Michael Mears (‘One exceptional man’ (Observer)) explores the events surrounding the catastrophic “mistake” that launched our nuclear age. Through the lives of a brilliant Hungarian scientist, a daring American pilot and a devoted Japanese daughter. Partly using verbatim testimonies, this powerful drama confronts the dangers that arise when humans dare to unlock the awesome power of nature. Preview audience reviews: ‘Superbly written’, ‘Very powerful’, ‘Deeply moving and engaging.’”

I admire Michael Mears as both an actor and writer and have no doubt this will be another of his thought-provoking and challenging works.

UPDATE: It’s not often that a play leaves you almost lost for words. The Mistake is a heartstopping, blistering piece of theatre, telling the story of how atomic power was developed and misused to devastating effect. Michael Mears and Emiko Ishii create a cast of characters who either caused or suffered from the 1945 attacks on Japan, using just a few props with amazing inventiveness. Vital viewing for everyone. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

12.45 – 1972: The Future of Sex, The Space on North Bridge.

1972 The Future of Sex“1972: The Future of Sex. A 50-minute farcical journey through those excellently awkward first sexual encounters. Christine knows tonight’s the night with Rich. Penny tries to channel Lady Chatterley’s Lover in the bedroom and Anna thinks Tessa is just the coolest. From Ziggy Stardust to Deep Throat, the 70s was an era of polyester, pubic hair and endless possibility. Devised by The Wardrobe Ensemble, the show uses the company’s trademark theatricality, irreverent humour and spectacular ensemble moments to tell the story of three couples having sex for the first time in 1972.”

Durham University Woodplayers might have their work cut out to make this funny and not embarrassing – but if it works it should be great!

UPDATE: That was fun; three relationships put through their early paces, with some nice characterisations and some good lines. Nothing earth-shattering, but enjoyable. ⭐️⭐️

16.30 – Iain Dale: All Talk with Rory Stewart, Pleasance at EICC.

Rory Stewart“Award-winning LBC radio presenter and For the Many podcast host brings his acclaimed, incisive insight on current affairs back to the Fringe with these in-depth interviews featuring audience questions. Today’s guest is Rory Stewart, former MP, Cabinet member and London mayoral candidate who is now a politics and international relations fellow of Yale University. ‘The indefatigable Iain Dale always cuts to the nub of politics’ (Adam Boulton). ‘There are very few commentators and broadcasters with an instinctive feel for real politics. Iain Dale does, which makes him endlessly listenable-to and peerless’ (Andrew Marr).”

For the first time at the Edinburgh Fringe, we’re seeing a few shows that come under the “Spoken Word” heading, including a few political interviews by Iain Dale. We’re only seeing politicians who interest us though! This should be very interesting.

UPDATE: Hard to review an interview but both Iain Dale and Rory Stewart were both on good form. Amongst the revelations was the fact that they both went for the Conservative nomination to stand for the constituency of Bracknell. Rory told some awful stories about Johnson that were ostensibly funny but just showed what an utter disgrace the PM is. Good questions, fascinating answers, and a surprisingly entertaining hour.

19.00 – Feeling Afraid as if Something Terrible is Going to Happen, Roundabout @ Summerhall.

Feeling Afraid“’I’m 36, I’m a comedian, and I’m about to kill my boyfriend…’ A permanently single, professionally neurotic stand-up finally meets Mr Right and then does everything wrong. But is Mr Right quite what he seems? And how far will the comedian go to get a laugh? A dark new comedy about vulnerability, intimacy, ego and truth from the Olivier Award-winning producers of Fleabag and Baby Reindeer. Starring Tony and Olivier-nominated actor Samuel Barnett. Written by Marcelo Dos Santos (Lionboy, Complicite) and directed by Matthew Xia (Blue/Orange, Young Vic).”

Samuel Barnett is one of my favourite actors and I’m sure he’s going to be tremendous in this fascinating sounding play.

UPDATE: Like “Colossus” yesterday, here’s another “false testimony”-type play given a brilliant tour de force performance by Samuel Barnett who has a huge number of words to remember! You can’t know what to believe and what not to believe as he pieces together the various stages of his relationship with “The American”. Both funny and occasionally ghastly, the play holds your attention throughout; and Mr Barnett is on fabulous form. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

22.00 – The Best (and Worst) of The Dirty Tattooed Circus, Laughing Horse @ The Counting House

Dirty Tattooed Circus“Direct from their UK tour, Martin Mor and Logy Logan bring their unique brand of comedy and circus back to the Edinburgh Fringe. Two dangerous Irishmen doing dangerous things for a laugh. Hilarious comedy is combined with world-class circus skills to produce a show that will leave you breathless. This show is suitable for adults only. ‘Dangerous and hilarious… Just how we love our circus’ (TheClothesLine.com.au). ‘This show is truly a tour de force of strange circus and comedy skills’ (StageWhispers.com.au).”

This one is definitely a risky punt as far as I’m concerned. All you can do is give it a go!

UPDATE: Two larger than life, hairy, tattooed jugglers put on a show full of silliness and fun, which included Mrs Chrisparkle throwing a hoopla ring over a man with a dildo on his head, a circus feat she accomplished with alarming ease. Lots to laugh at, quite a lot to make you go wow, and a few bits where they fumbled it, but who cares, it was all very entertaining! ⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Edinburgh Fringe Full Monty (nearly) – Day 1, 5th August 2022

I’ve been looking forward to this! Our first visit to the Edinburgh Fringe, when we tentatively put our toes in to see how it felt, was a long weekend in August 2014. We loved it. So we went for a week in 2015. And in 2016. And 17. And 18. And 19. And… then Covid happened. No Fringe in 2020, and no Fringe (for us) in 2021. But this is the Brave New World of 2022. If we get through the entire month Covid-free it will be a miracle, but here goes.

Instead of my previous practice of writing a pre-blog for each show we see, this time I’m going to write just one blog a day, previewing the show’s we will see the next day, and then following up with updates as to how good each show was. I’ll update just once a day, at the end of the evening – or maybe the following morning, depending on how knackered we are. It’s gotta be worth a shot – let’s start here!

Here’s the schedule for 5th August:

10.40 – Head Girl, The Space on North Bridge. From the Edinburgh Fringe website:

Head Girl“A coming-of-age story about falling in and out of love with yourself. Head Girl navigates the 21st century and girl boss mentality, whilst still practising self-care seven days a week. Becca is running in the campaign for head girl at school and running herself into the ground, all with a smile on her face. But who is she doing all this work for? A platonic love story that will be full of adoration and careful ambition. ‘Fringe Theatre at its best’ (NorthEastTheatreGuide.co.uk). ‘In awe’ (BBC Radio).”

Performed by the group “Girl Next Door”, this is either going to be a funny and charming introduction to our Fringe Odyssey or a bit of a weak start. I’ll tell you later.

UPDATE: A great start to the day with a very funny and beautifully performed play about 17 year old Becca’s quest to become head girl, even if it means making unacceptable sacrifices to get there. There’s definitely a lesson to be learned here – not to work too hard and to remember the things that are important. Very nice characterisations, I loved the gawky super-enthusiastic Becca and the contrast with her more sophisticated pal and teacher. Great family entertainment which should appeal to anyone who’s ever tried to juggle with a burning ambition! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

12.45 – Colossal, Underbelly Cowgate.

Colossal“’Ferociously funny’ ***** (Scotsman). Following his sold-out, five-star debut show, The Man, Patrick McPherson returns to Edinburgh with Colossal: a one-man comedy play that dives into love stories, morality, and the dance between the two. Colossal weaves sketch comedy, gig theatre and spoken word to tell the comedic and candid story of a man called Dan, his affinity for owls, and his messy recent past. An hour of dynamic theatre, comedy and music, that embraces the spectrum of modern romance, from the first date to the last text, from falling headfirst to falling apart.”

We’ve seen Patrick McPherson twice at the Fringe and he’s been absolutely brilliant. If this isn’t also brilliant, I’ll eat my hat.

UPDATE: I predict another massive word of mouth success for Patrick’s latest creation. Incredibly beautiful writing reminds you of the hip hop rhythms of Hamilton, whilst telling his own very individual story of love and deception. So many brilliant callbacks, so many surprises. Patrick turns his likeable persona inside out and challenges the audience to stick with him. And we sure do.

Technically brilliant too with a terrific sound and lighting plot, which also play their part. A complete winner. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

14.25 – Hannah Fairweather: Just a Normal Girl Who Enjoys Revenge, Just the Tonic at The Caves.

Hannah Fairweather“Award-winning comedian Hannah Fairweather is the Taylor Swift of comedy, joking about those who have previously wronged her. Hannah was 2019 Rising Star New Act of the Year, and semi-finalist in multiple new comedian awards including: BBC New Comedian Award, So You Think You’re Funny, Leicester Square, 2Northdown, Komedia Brighton. She has been heard on Union Jack Radio, BBC Sounds and Radio 4 and has written for The Now Show and Mock The Week. ‘Hannah mixes relaxed, confident stage presence with some killer subversive gags. Absolutely one to watch’ (Joe Lycett).”

I know nothing about Hannah Fairweather but I like the title of the show – so this is hopefully a lucky punt.

UPDATE: Hannah explains why the name of the show isn’t perhaps as appropriate as it could be, as she lists all the people who have done her wrong, but it’s not as straightforward as that! Very enjoyable material with great use of callback – I have the toilet roll messages to prove it (you had to be there). Very likeable and engaging; I missed out on some of her gems because she delivered them so quickly, but that’s probably my ears playing up. ⭐️⭐️⭐️

16.15 – Badgers Can’t Be Friends, Greenside @ Nicolson Square.

Badgers Can't Be Friends“Runner-up for Best Comedy at Standing Ovation Awards 2021. ‘Mrs Kirkham comes up to my classroom at lunch and sees… And sees us… Having a ninja battle’. When Mr. Dennis, a super-teacher, hits back at the education system, he finds himself becoming a not-so-super hero. Who is he fighting for? Will he triumph? And can he find that weird smell in his kitchen? After Southwark Playhouse and King’s Head Theatre, this phenomenon finally lands at Edinburgh. An offbeat comedy with a serious edge. ‘A riveting play with relentless energy… very, very funny’ ***** (LondonPubTheatres.com).”

Another one that’s either a sure-fire hit or disappointing dud, but I’ve got a good feeling about this one – I think there’s more to it than just a quirky title.

UPDATE: The central premise of the play creates a very interesting topic – a man who destroys his life by acting before thinking and makes himself look like a laughing stock. However, the three very hard-working actors can’t disguise that the play itself is rather stodgy, with almost too many ideas in it, and in the end it becomes rather hard work for the audience too. There are some rather surreal sequences that weren’t to my taste. There’s a good play lurking beneath the surface but it didn’t really do it for us. ⭐️⭐️

19.00 – Lew Fitz: Soft Lad, Gilded Balloon Teviot

Lew Fitz Soft Lad“Amused Moose New Comic winner and BBC New Comedy Award-nominated northerner Lew had a breakdown and ran away from home, forever. With explosive comedic energy and a rare vulnerability, he attempts to reconcile his past and face his present. With sell-out previews, catch this rising star whilst you can. As seen on BBC3, heard on BBC Radio 4 and voted Top 5 Jokes of the Fringe (Guardian, Dave TV, Telegraph). ‘As a newcomer he’s ticking lots of boxes’ (Chortle.co.uk). ‘An engaging comic with smart and freshly funny material’ (Kate Copstick, Scotsman).”

Lew Fitz is new to us, but he comes highly recommended, so this is another punt that I’m hopeful will be a good’un.

UPDATE: Lew was keen to point out this was a preview show so no reviews, but I’ve no reason not to write about his very enjoyable hour which includes quite a bit of audience participation – he got me involved writing down his best bon mots as he spoke them – where he takes us on a journey from his childhood in Moss Side, through a sports scholarship in North Carolina, to grown up life in beautiful Croydon. On the way, we investigate greatest fears and an impossibly inappropriate nursery rhyme. He’s a quirky, very likeable guy who puts us all at our ease, and it’s a very funny show! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

21.25 – Ben Clover: Best Newcomer, C Arts C Venues C Piccolo.

Ben Clover Best Newcomer“Veteran stand-up comic Ben Clover returns with his seventh show: Best Newcomer. Ben has many successful Fringe runs under his belt, but this is his first in 2022. This year the award-winning comedian tackles the big themes as well as sweating the small stuff. ‘A delight… Inventive and savvy’ (Chortle.co.uk). ‘Comedy gold’ (Bruce Dessau, Evening Standard). ‘A magnificent performance’ (NottsComedyReview.wordpress.com).”

We saw Ben Clover at the Fringe in 2018 and really enjoyed his show so I have high expectations that this will also be a winner!

UPDATE: And the evening ended with a great show from Ben Clover, who included anti-vaxxers, Prince Andrew and Boris Johnson in his material and it all landed perfectly. The show contained an early contender for best line of the Fringe; I won’t spoil it for you but we’re still chuckling back at the apartment. He delivers his routine with apparently effortless ease, although I’m sure most of it scrupulously hand-crafted. A fantastic show, highly recommended. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Tomorrow’s schedule is already out there on another blog post. But today was a great start!

The Agatha Christie Challenge – Poirot’s Early Cases (1974)

Poirot's Early CasesIn which Christie takes us back in time and gives us eighteen early cases solved by Hercule Poirot, in many of which he is helped or hindered by his old pal Hastings. All the stories had been previously published in the UK in journals and magazines between 1923 and 1935; and in the US, they were all published between 1924 and 1961 in book collections. Poirot’s Early Cases was first published in the UK by Collins Crime Club in September 1974, and this collection was first published in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company later in 1974 under the slightly different title Hercule Poirot’s Early Cases. There’s no additional scene-setting or framework, so I’ll take them all individually, and, as always, I promise not to reveal whodunit!

The Affair at the Victory Ball

1920s ballThis first story was originally published in the 7th March 1923 issue of the Sketch Magazine in the UK, and in the book The Underdog and other Stories in 1951 in the US. It was Agatha Christie’s first published short story. At the Victory Ball, a party of six wear the costumes of the Commedia dell’Arte. But a double tragedy ensues when Harlequin is found murdered, and, back at her flat, Columbine dies of an overdose of cocaine.

A simple structure to this story, Poirot and Hastings are idling their time when Inspector Japp arrives with a request for help. We had already met Japp in The Mysterious Affair at Styles, and he will return in three of the other short stories in this collection. He would also go on to feature in six more Christie novels, and the short story Murder in the Mews. As he would do on a few occasions, Poirot solves the puzzle without needing to visit the scene of the crime.

You can see that Christie is still introducing her audience to Poirot, going back to the basics of the man; his egg-shaped head and what Hastings calls his “harmless vanity”; the account of his time in the Belgian police force and how he solved the mystery at Styles. At this stage of his time in England, Poirot still shows some shakiness in his command of the English language: “his dossier […] I should say his bioscope – no, how do you call it – biograph?” He also asks what would always become a vital question in any Christie murder “Who benefits by his death?” and he expressly asks Japp if he will be able to “play out the denouement my own way” – again, another of Poirot’s trademarks. Of Hastings we learn little, except that he is a faithful acolyte, of whom Poirot grieves he has “no method.”

Other aspects that come up in this story: cocaine use plays an important role in this story, which no only would have interested Christie the pharmacist/poison expert, but also points to a very contemporary feel, as that was definitely the drug de choix of the day. The use of the Harlequin character may point to an interest that was to develop into Christie’s short-lived detective Harley Quin. The Colossus Hall, where the Victory Ball took place, appears to be one of Christie’s early inventions.

Christie gives us an honest and massive clue, which certainly led me to guess who the perpetrator was – although I didn’t guess any of the details as to How It Was Done. And that denouement, that Poirot was so keen to keep for himself, is certainly a very theatrical affair and thoroughly entertaining to read.

An enjoyable, clear, and undemanding start to the book.

The Adventure of the Clapham Cook

ClaphamA preposterous and highly contrived little story, originally published in the 14th November 1923 issue of the Sketch Magazine in the UK and in the book The Underdog and other Stories in 1951 in the US. Mrs Todd arrives unannounced and demands that Poirot investigate the disappearance of her cook; such cases are not normally his purview, but it isn’t long until he proves the connection with the disappearance with a crime reported in that day’s Daily Blare.

The story is of interest as it is one of the rare occasions that Poirot concerns himself with solving a “lower class” crime. At first, he is not inclined to assist, telling Mrs Todd that he “does not touch this particular kind of business”, which infuriates his visitor with his snobbishness. When he changes his mind, his patronising attitude is still unpleasant to read: “This case will be a novelty. Never yet have I hunted a missing domestic.”

However, another of Poirot’s traits comes to the fore in this story; the fact that, once his interest is piqued, nothing will stop him from discovering the truth. He ignores the fact that Mr Todd sends him a guinea for his trouble when he is dismissed from the case. He simply carries on. As Hastings notes, “his eagerness over this uninteresting matter of a defaulting cook was extraordinary, but I realised that he considered it a point of honour to persevere until he finally succeeded.”

Mrs Todd gives us an interesting insight into the world of an upper middle-class woman trying to keep servants in her employ. “It’s all this wicked dole […] putting ideas into servants’ heads, wanting to be typists and what nots. Stop the dole, that’s what I say.”

Christie still reports Poirot’s power of English as uncertain; “if I mistake not, there is on my new grey suit the spot of grease – only the unique spot, but it is sufficient to trouble me. Then there is my winter overcoat – I must lay him aside in the powder of Keatings.” Keating’s Powder, by the way, was a treatment for killing bugs, fleas, beetles and moths in clothing.

Apart from Poirot’s flat, there’s one location mentioned in the story – 88 Prince Albert Road, Clapham, the Todd residence. There are a couple of Prince Albert Roads in London, but neither is in Clapham.

There are a few financial sums mentioned in this story; an income of £300 per year, which today would be worth about £12,500; and the guinea, that the Todds thought would be enough to pay off Poirot for dropping the investigation would be worth about £45 today. No wonder he was insulted. The £50,000 that the newspaper says the bank clerk has taken, would be the equivalent of about £2.1 million today. Now that’s not a bad haul.

I didn’t care for this story; the solution is extremely unlikely and Poirot solves it with a level of vanity that is rather unattractive.

The Cornish Mystery

CornwallThis enjoyable and surprising little story was originally published in the 28th November 1923 issue of the Sketch Magazine, and in the book The Underdog and other Stories in 1951 in the US. Poirot and Hastings travel to Cornwall to investigate Mrs Pengelley’s suggestion that her husband has been poisoning her. Poirot arrives too late to avert a tragedy but isn’t convinced that the husband is guilty.

It’s Poirot’s idea that he should travel to Cornwall pretending to be Hastings’ “eccentric foreign friend”, playing up his image of eccentricity and unpredictability. He doesn’t hold back when he discovers that he has arrived too late to save Mrs Pengelley: “An imbecile, a criminal imbecile, that is what I have been, Hastings. I have boasted of my little grey cells, and now I have lost a human life, a life that came to me to be saved.” He takes his responsibilities very seriously, but also doesn’t like to show any imperfection or misjudgement. Everything must be perfect in Poirot’s world, including the impeccability of his record at solving cases.

The solution to the case allows Poirot and/or Christie, depending on how you read it, to be judge and jury with the murderer, bluffing them into confession and atonement whilst concealing the fact that he has no proof. Consequently it feels like a very moral ending.

The story moves from Poirot’s London flat to the Cornish village of Polgarwith, where the Pengelleys live. It’s a convincingly sounding Cornish name, but it doesn’t exist. Christie utilises her interest in poison, with the news that a large amount of arsenic was discovered in the corpse. There’s another of those unintentionally funny moments when Christie’s turn of phrase hasn’t kept up with semantic change: ““God bless my soul!” he ejaculated.”

Freda is reported to live on £50 per year, which today would be somewhere in the region of is only a little over £2,100. It’s not a lot.

Concise and diverting.

The Adventure of Johnnie Waverly

adventureThis neat and believable short story was originally published in the 10th October 1923 issue of the Sketch Magazine, under the title The Kidnapping of Johnnie Waverly, and in the book Three Blind Mice and Other Stories in the US in 1950. Three-year-old Johnnie Waverly has been kidnapped from his home; his father had received a number of warnings that it would happen but didn’t take them seriously. His parents have sought advice from Poirot, who agrees to take on the case. Waverly Court is home to a priests hole, and Poirot finds unusual footprints inside it; and works forward from that clue to identify what has happened to Johnnie and how he can be safely returned.

Poirot continues to reveal little aspects of his personality; he betrays his rather fiddly prissiness when he complains to Hastings about, of all things, his tie pin. “If you must wear a tie pin, Hastings, at least let it be in the exact centre of your tie. At present it is at least a sixteenth of an inch too much to the right.”

One aspect of this story reveals a great difference between society in the 1920s and today, a hundred years later. The story contains a description of a man and a small boy in a car together, driving through villages. “The man was an ardent motorist, fond of children, who had picked up a small child playing in the streets of Edenswell […] and was kindly giving him a ride.” Kindly giving him a ride? There is no way this would happen today; any man who did that would face instant accusations of being a paedophile; at the very least he would be considered to have abducted the child and would have broken the law. Times change!

The only address other than Waverly Court in the story is the home of Johnnie’s nurse, 149 Netherall Road Hammersmith. Whilst there are a number of Netherall Roads in the country, there are none in London.

The sum demanded for the return of Johnnie was originally £25,000 and then rose to £50,000. The equivalent today would be just over £1 million, rising to just over £2 million. Quite some sum. At the other end of the scale, the ten shillings that were paid to the tramp who delivered the note and parcel to Waverly Court would today just be £20. Not bad payment for a simple courier job!

The Double Clue

ClueThis short, slight and rather easily solved story was originally published in the 5th December 1923 issue of the Sketch Magazine, and in the book Double Sin and Other Stories in the US in 1961. Society antiques collector Marcus Hardman consults Poirot over the theft of valuable jewels from his safe during a tea party when only four people who were present could be the thief. A little investigation from Poirot and Hastings and the culprit is very quickly discovered.

This story is of primary interest because it is the first time Poirot (and we, the readers) meet the Countess Vera Rossakoff, the extravagant and alluring Russian refugee, with whom Poirot becomes pretty much instantly entranced. At the end of the story Poirot believes he will meet her again somehow, sometime; and indeed we do. We meet her again in The Big Four, and in The Capture of Cerberus, the final story of The Labours of Hercules. Otherwise, the plot is slight and, once you understand the relevance of the Russian Dictionary consulted by Poirot, very easy to solve. It contains a big clue identical to one of those that litter Murder on the Orient Express.

There’s a suggestion in the story that you can inherit kleptomania from your parents; a theme that recurred a few times in Christie’s work is the idea that mental illness can be passed down between the generations. I always feel that rather dates her work, as I’m not sure it holds any scientific value today. Unless you know different?

The South African millionaire Mr Johnston lives on Park Lane, in London, which is obviously real. Hardman’s assistant and rather dubious friend Parker lives on Bury Street, which is just around the corner, in St James’s – so unusually, Christie chooses to use two real-life locations. If Johnston was a genuine millionaire, £1 million in 1923 equates to over £42 million today, so he really is a rich so-and-so.

Not one of her best works; mildly amusing but nothing to dwell on.

The King of Clubs

King of ClubsThis relatively simple and slightly infuriating little tale was originally published in the 21st March 1923 issue of the Sketch Magazine – her second published short story – under the full title The Adventure of the King of Clubs,  and in the book The Underdog and Other Stories in the US in 1951. Poirot is called in by Prince Paul of Maurania to solve the case of the murder of a theatrical impresario, Henry Reedburn. The prince’s fiancée, dancer Valerie Saintclair, had burst into the impresario’s neighbours’ house, belonging to the Oglander family, with blood on her dress, shouted “Murder!”, and then collapsed. Meanwhile Reedburn’s body was discovered in his own house. But did she do it? The Prince and Valerie had earlier consulted a clairvoyant who had turned over the King of Clubs card and said it was a warning. Had Valerie interpreted Reedburn as being the King of Clubs? And what is the significance of the fact that the King of Clubs is missing from the pack of cards with which the Oglanders were playing bridge?

The story is significant for two reasons. One is that the resolution is one of those rare occasions were Poirot does not press for the guilty party to be charged, even when murder has been committed. The other is that it is marred by a very hard-to-swallow coincidence involving the card the King of Clubs. I can’t say more, lest I give the game away.

Hastings says of Poirot: “That is the worst of Poirot. Order and Method are his gods. He goes so far as to attribute all his success to them.” Poirot loathes the way that Hastings just casts his read newspaper on the floor, unlike Poirot, who “folded it anew symmetrically.” That little observation goes a long way to illustrate the difference between the two characters.

The story is set in Streatham, which of course exists; Prince Paul is from Maurania, which doesn’t. The name could be a mixture of Mauretania and Ruritania. No other references need explaining!

The Lemesurier Inheritance

John LeMesurierThis entertaining but slightly dubious short story was originally published in the 18th December 1923 issue of the Sketch Magazine, and in The Under Dog and other Stories in the US in 1951. Years earlier, Poirot and Hastings had met three members of the same family over dinner: Vincent, Hugo and Roger Lemesurier. There was a curse, that the first born of each generation dies, handing over the inheritance to the second born. The next day, Vincent is killed falling off a train. Several years later, Mrs Hugo Lemesurier tracks Poirot down to tell him that their eldest son has had a number of unusual near-death accidents; she feels sure there can be no such thing as the family curse, but Hugo is convinced it is true. So Poirot and Hastings head up to Northumberland to the Lemesurier estate to make some sense of it all. Is there a curse? Or is there a more old-fashioned murderer? An exciting little denouement reveals all!

This is a good early example of a Christie story where supernatural fears and superstitions actually conceal a simple crime. Take away the deliberately misleading framework and you have quite a straightforward crime – or series of crimes. It’s of additional interest as the opening passage is set during the First World War, and is just about the most historical that we get to see Poirot and Hastings together. Mind you, it was very early on in Christie’s career (and indeed Poirot’s and Hastings’) for the latter to describe this crime as an “extraordinary series of events which held our interest over a period of many years, and which culminated in the ultimate problem brought to Poirot to solve.” Big claim, indeed.

Christie the poison expert is in full swing with this story, with mentions being made of ptomaine, atropine and formic acid poisoning. It must have tickled her to be able to distil so much expert information into so short a story.

Christie is sometimes criticised for not making some of her supplementary characters more interesting, and for not giving them their own characterisation to inhabit. She’s certainly guilty of that in this story, where she has Hastings describe the children’s governess, Miss Saunders, as “a nondescript female”. Really, neither Hastings not Christie bothered to try to make her interesting!

Not a bad story, but perhaps a little easy. Christie doesn’t really examine the origins of the Lemesurier curse, but only how it affects the current generations. There again, it is only ten pages or so!

The Lost Mine

MineThis nostalgic little memoir by Poirot was originally published in the 21st November 1923 issue of the Sketch Magazine, and in the US, in the 1924 volume Poirot Investigates – it only appeared in the US edition of this book and not in the British version. Poirot reminisces on how he gained ownership of the only shares he owns – those of the Burma Mines Ltd. With Hastings as his captive audience he tells the tale of one Wu Ling, head of the family who had paperwork referring to a lost, but lucrative mine, and who travelled to London with the papers to sell them. But Wu Ling went missing after leaving his hotel, and the next day his body was found in the Thames. Misadventure or murder? Poirot wouldn’t be telling the story unless it was the latter, would he?!

Christie’s device of having Poirot tell his own story, virtually uninterrupted, is a clever way of obscuring what is, in effect, a very slight story. But it is an entertaining little tale, marred by some mock-Chinese-style language that really makes the modern reader cringe, and with a moral slant against the degradation of one’s mind and body by visits to opium dens.

Poirot teases Hastings for his admiration of ladies with auburn hair – hardly any of Christie’s books featuring Hastings omitted a mention of the latter’s penchant for auburn ladies. As for Poirot himself, his biggest feeling of outrage is when it is suggested, as part of his investigations, that he shaves off his moustache. As if the great man would ever undergo such self-sacrifice!

The story is set in real-life locations around London, with Wu Ling staying at the Russell Hotel in Russell Square (now the Kimpton Fitzroy hotel), and characters being traced to what Poirot describes as “the evil-smelling streets of Limehouse” – an area of London which is now much more gentrified than it was in Poirot’s time.

In an attempt to emphasise Poirot’s affinity with everything symmetrical, he informs us that his bank balance stands at £444, 4 shillings and 4 pence. “It must be tact on the part of your bank manager” sneers Hastings. Today that sum would be worth £18,780. Not so symmetrical, and not so impressive – you’d expect the great man to have amassed a much bigger figure than that!

Another minor piece of writing; moderately entertaining, nothing more.

The Plymouth Express

1920s plymouthA rather complicated and contrived story, it was originally published in the 4th April 1923 issue of the Sketch Magazine, under the enhanced title The Mystery of the Plymouth Express, and in The Underdog and Other Stories in the US in 1951.  It would become the basis of Christie’s 1928 novel The Mystery of the Blue Train. When the dead body of a woman is found on the Plymouth Express train, her father asks Poirot to investigate. She was due to travel for a house party, but surprises her maid with the instruction to wait at Bristol station and she would return with a few hours. Whatever her plans were, they went seriously wrong. It’s up to Poirot and Hastings to sort the lies from the truth and discover what really happened to the late Mrs Carrington.

Although Poirot would explain it as good psychology, he has a rather pompous view towards the actions that a woman would do under certain circumstances. “Why kill her?” asks Poirot, “why not simply steal the jewels? She would not prosecute.” “Why not?” “Because she is a woman, mon ami. She once loved this man. Therefore she would suffer her loss in silence.”

The story is littered with real West Country locations: Plymouth, Bristol, Weston (super Mare), Taunton, Exeter, Newton Abbot and so on. Mrs Carrington took all her jewels on the train, which her father suggests amounted to something in the region of a hundred thousand dollars. Today the equivalent sum is around £1.35 million. Quite a lot. More interesting though is the fact that it cost Poirot 3d to make a phone call from the Ritz. That’s about 53p today, which is not dissimilar from today’s cost. And the paperboy was given a half-crown for his errand – that’s over £5 – not bad work if you can get it.

I wasn’t overly impressed with this story!

The Chocolate Box

box-of-chocolateThis entertaining short story was originally published in the 23rd May 1923 issue of the Sketch Magazine under the title The Clue of the Chocolate Box, and in the US, in the 1924 volume Poirot Investigates – it only appeared in the US edition of this book and not in the British version. In response to Hastings’ suggestion that Poirot had never had a failure with one of his cases, Poirot confesses that he did have one, and then proceeds to tell him this tale of when he was a detective with the Belgian Police Force. M. Déroulard was a promising governmental minister who unexpectedly died, but family member Virginie Mesnard did not believe the death was due to natural causes. She asked Poirot to investigate. Déroulard had a sweet tooth and was never far from a box of chocolates. It was only when Poirot realised that the lid of the box of chocolates was a different colour from the box that he suspected something might not be quite right. And when poison is found in the possession of one of the suspects, surely he is guilty of the murder. But Poirot is in for another surprise before the guilty party is revealed.

Another Poirot narration but this one works much better than The Lost Mine. It’s full of references to poison: Prussic Acid, morphine, strychnine, atropine, ptomaine and trinitrine – Christie must have had a field day incorporating all those into the story. Déroulard lived on the Avenue Louise in Brussels – a real location about a mile south of the Grand Place.

Christie writes: “he had married some years earlier a young lady from Brussels who had brought him a substantial dot. Undoubtedly the money was useful to him in his career…” Dot? That’s a new word to me in this context. However, it’s an archaic term that describes a dowry from which only the interest or annual income was available to the husband. Who knew?

Hastings says he wouldn’t drink Poirot’s disgusting hot chocolate for £100. I bet he would – that’s a nifty £4,300 in today’s money.

This is another story where Poirot doesn’t act further in bringing a guilty party to book once he has identified them. Perhaps that’s part of his failure. He references this case in Peril at End House, so he clearly has a long memory about it. Nevertheless, he still has his familiar arrogance, which is shown up in an amusing brief exchange with Hastings at the end of the story.

I enjoyed this one!

The Submarine Plans

SubmarineThis short story was originally published in the 7th November 1923 issue of the Sketch Magazine, and in the US in the Under Dog and Other Stories in 1951. It was also the basis for the novella-length story The Incredible Theft, which was published in the 1937 volume Murder in the Mews.  Poirot is summoned late at night to meet Lord Allonby, the head of the Ministry of Defence, who reports that some secret plans for a new submarine have just been stolen from his country house Sharples. He reports seeing a mysterious shadow appearing to leave the room where the plans were on a table. Will Poirot find out who the mysterious figure is? Or was Allonby mistaken? You already know the answer.

An enjoyable short story that holds together nicely. Allonby refers to when Poirot helped him with the kidnapping of the Prime Minister during the First World War, which is a story that had been previously published in Poirot Investigates. A couple of red herrings that send you the wrong way, until you realise the solution is extremely simple. There’s a clever finish to the story when Hastings reports that an enemy of the nation came a-cropper with their submarine plans. He also insists that Poirot guessed the solution. That doesn’t seem likely to me!

The Third Floor Flat

THird floor flatThis story was first published  in the January 1929 issue of Hutchinson’s Adventure & Mystery Story Magazine, and in the US in Three Blind Mice and Other Stories in 1950. After a night out, two men and two women arrive back at the flat of one of the women, but she can’t find the key to get inside her fourth floor flat. The two men offer to use the coal lift to get inside but they accidentally enter the third floor flat. When they eventually emerge at the right place, one of the men has blood on his hands. They go back to check, only to discover that a woman has been murdered in the third floor flat. Fortunately Poirot lives in the fifth floor flat! And it doesn’t take Poirot long to come to the correct conclusion.

Published six years later than all the other stories in the book so far, this has a very different voice and tone from the others. Hastings is not present, and doesn’t narrate the story. Christie’s third person narration is more formal, stiff and distant than when Hastings is “in charge”. You would almost think it was written by a different person. It has an extraordinarily inventive ending, and I found the whole thing totally unbelievable.

The four characters are said to have gone to the theatre to see The Brown Eyes of Caroline. Such a shame it doesn’t really exist as it is a great title.

Double Sin

double sinThis enjoyable short story was first published in the 23 September 1928 edition of the Sunday Dispatch, and in the US in Double Sin and Other Stories in 1961. Poirot and Hastings take a business/holiday trip to Devon by bus where they encounter Miss Mary Durrant, taking a set of valuable miniature paintings to a client for his approval and payment. Alas, during the journey, the miniatures are stolen. But it doesn’t take Poirot any time at all to discover what really happened to the miniatures and who is guilty of the crime!

It’s a rather charming and entertaining story, an enjoyable read. Poirot teases Hastings about his perennial fondness for girls with auburn hair; Hastings teases Poirot back for his fear of draughty windows on a bus. Bizarrely, Hastings accuses Poirot of having “Flemish thrift” when he is clearly from the French-speaking part of Belgium, and not Flemish at all. The story takes place in the fictional Devon towns of Ebermouth and Monkhampton, and the miniatures are said to be by the artist Cosway – Maria Cosway was indeed a painter of miniatures in the 18th and 19th centuries. The miniatures are said to be worth £500 – today that would be the equivalent of about £22,000. Doesn’t sound unreasonable.

Miss Penn, the antiques dealer on whose behalf Mary Durrant is taking the miniatures, has all the appearance of a certain Miss Marple, who would maker her first appearance in print a couple of years later.

The Market Basing Mystery

Market BasingThis entertaining short story was first published in the 17th October 1923 edition of The Sketch magazine, and in the US in The Under Dog and Other Stories in 1951. Inspector Japp invites Poirot and Hastings to the market town of Market Basing for the weekend, but there crime catches up with them, as they are called to a mansion where the owner Walter Protheroe has apparently taken his own life but the position of the pistol in his hand suggests that he couldn’t have done – so is it murder? It doesn’t take long for the three sleuths to come to the right solution – not before Japp has leapt to the wrong conclusions, of course.

It’s a very entertaining little tale, simply told, with all the clues fairly open to the reader. We learn something new about Japp, that he is a keen botanist, who knows all the Latin names to the most obscure plants. Hastings quotes an amusing piece of doggerel – “the rabbit has a pleasant face…” This seems to be a well-known but anonymous few lines of verse. Unless Christie made it up?

The story was expanded into the novella Murder in the Mews, published in 1937.

Wasps’ Nest

wasps nestThis rather odd short story was first published in the 20th November 1928 edition of the Daily Mail, and in the US in Double Sin and Other Stories in 1961. Poirot arrives at the house of an old friend John Harrison, saying he is investigating a murder that hasn’t yet been committed. Harrison doesn’t believe him, but then Poirot asks more about his forthcoming visit from an acquaintance who will be shortly arriving to remove the wasps nest that has grown on his property. But who is the murderer that Poirot is trying to intercept?

What is particularly odd about this story is that it feels like it has been written by someone else – not only does it not feel like an account by Hastings, it doesn’t feel like Christie either. Nevertheless, there is a poison aspect to this story – the potential use of potassium cyanide, which would have been of interest to Christie.

There is an amusing line taken out of context – and out of its time too, when Poirot explains how he can distract someone so that he can pickpocket them; unfortunately, his turn of phrase is: “I lay one hand on his shoulder, I excite myself, and he feels nothing.”

This story was also was the first Christie story to be adapted for television with a live broadcast on 18 June 1937. It was adapted by Christie herself, and broadcast in and around London, with Francis L Sullivan playing Poirot.

The Veiled Lady

veiled ladyThis entertaining short story was first published in the 3rd October 1923 edition of The Sketch magazine, under the title The Case of the Veiled Lady, and in the US in Poirot Investigates in 1924 – it only appeared in the US edition of this book and not in the British version. Poirot and Hastings are visited by a Lady Millicent who once wrote an indiscreet letter to a soldier that she fears would end her engagement to the Duke of Southshire were it to be common knowledge – and she is being blackmailed by a Mr Lavington who has the letter in his possession. Lavington refuses to give the letter to Hastings or Poirot. So Poirot decides to break into Lavington’s house and take it. But what then? Do Lady Millicent’s troubles go away?

This excellent little tale conceals a nice surprise twist right at the end which you don’t see coming, and is one of Christie’s better early short stories. We learn of Poirot that his vanity is such that the believes the whole world is talking about him, much to Hastings’ derision.

Lavington is blackmailing Lady Millicent in the sum of £20,000, which today would be around £850,000. No wonder she’s worried. And there’s another of Christie’s accidental funny sentences, concerning use of the “E” word. ““The Dirty swine!” I ejaculated. “I beg your pardon, Lady Millicent.””

Problem at Sea

CruiseThis enjoyable short story was first published in issue 542 of the Strand Magazine, in February 1936, under the title, Poirot and the Crime in Cabin 66, and in the US in The Regatta Mystery and Other Stories, in 1939. On a sea trip to Alexandria, Poirot encounters Colonel Clapperton and his difficult, cruel wife, whom Clapperton appears to love despite the way she treats him. Others on board take Clapperton to one side and try to give him an entertaining trip despite his wife’s best efforts. A murder takes place; Poirot quickly sees through the deception and solves the crime.

You can tell at once from the tone of the writing that this story was constructed by a much more mature brain than the majority of the other stories in this volume; it appeared in print at least ten years later than most of the other Early Cases. Nevertheless, the twist in the tale is very easy to guess and the reader works out the solution before Poirot.

Christie the Poison Expert comes to the fore with some detailed information about the effects of taking Digitalin; and sadly the story is marred by an instance of very unfortunate racism (it wouldn’t have been seen that way in 1936, but it is today). Hastings is noticeably absent, his final appearances in Christie’s novels (apart from in Curtain, published many years later) were in The ABC Murders and Dumb Witness, both of which would have been written about the same time.

“How Does Your Garden Grow?”

Mistress MaryThis short story was first published in issue 536 of the Strand Magazine in August 1935 and in the US in The Regatta Mystery and Other Stories in 1939. Miss Barrowby writes to Poirot asking for his help in a delicate family matter. He instructs Miss Lemon to reply, but hears nothing back. Then Miss Lemon discovers that Miss Barrowby has died, so he decides to visit her house, where she meets a Russian help, and Miss Barrowby’s remaining relatives, the Delafontaines. But did Miss Barrowby die from poison, and, if so, how come no one else in the household suffered the same fate?

Again, another slightly more recent piece of writing, still with Hastings gone (and missed too, by Poirot) and with a much more three-dimensional feel. Christie gives us some great descriptive passages about Miss Lemon, whom Poirot employs as an assistant detective, and her input helps not only him solve the crime but also helps the story along nicely too.

Again, too, there is poison involved, this time strychnine, always one of Christie’s favourites. The story takes place in Charman’s Green, Bucks, said to be about an hour from London – I wonder if that is Christie-speak for Chesham. There’s an ingenious solution to the story, and one which I was certainly nowhere near guessing.

And that concludes all eighteen stories in Poirot’s Early Cases. Many of them are not bad at all, and I’d say the good ones outweigh the bad ones considerably. It’s always difficult to put a rating on a book of short stories, but I’d definitely give it a 7/10. If you’ve been reading this book as well, I’d love to know your thoughts, please just write something in the comments box.

CurtainNext up in the Agatha Christie challenge is a book that Christie wrote some time in the 40s, when she was at her peak, designed to be the last ever book featuring Hercule Poirot, Curtain. If you’d like to read it too, we can compare notes when I give you my thoughts on it in a few weeks’ time. In the meanwhile, happy sleuthing and keep on Christie-ing!