My Edinburgh: Wardens playwright Darren Richman on why dying is easy, but comedy is hard


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The Independent Culture

The last words of the actor Edmund Kean are alleged to have been “dying is easy, comedy is hard.” He passed away (with relative ease) in 1833, more than a century before the outbreak of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. One can only envy his good fortune and wonder what he’d make of the mayhem that unfolds every August in Scotland’s capital.

Samuel Johnson, a man who knew a thing or two about definitions, described a friend’s second marriage as “the triumph of hope over experience.” I know he was more of a dictionary bloke than a thesaurus one but he’ll forgive me if I suggest this description is just as valid for those of us returning to the fringe year on year, like moths to an increasingly expensive and stress-inducing flame.

This is my 8th fringe in a row, the 5th in a writing capacity. I tell myself this time will be different because the only alternative is hiding under the bed sobbing with a bottle of scotch and a deep-fried Mars bar.

This year I’ve co-written a comedy play with Garrett Millerick about a group of traffic wardens being held hostage in a disused cricket pavilion while a riot rages on the streets. It’s full of jokes. The cast is comprised of Paul Putner, Colin Hoult, Vikki Stone, Nish Kumar, Steve McNeil and Thom Tuck. They’re good at saying the jokes. Hopefully people will like the jokes.

Another fella lucky enough never to have to worry about four star reviews that read like fives (something of a catchphrase up here) was Oscar Wilde. His line is the definitive one on writing: “I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again." Lucky old Oscar never tried writing with a partner. Most of the day would have been spent arguing over who gets to sit at the typewriter and the thorny comma issue wouldn’t have even have been broached.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that, when it comes to Edinburgh, whatever can go wrong will go wrong. At times this play has felt like our very own Apocalypse Now with events (and budget) increasingly spiralling out of control. At least our actors enunciate a lot more clearly than Brando.

The play opens today. Like a football manager who’s used all his substitutions, there’s nothing left for me to do but worry. I suppose I could shout from the side like they tend to but I suspect that might be frowned upon.

It is judgement day. The day when I allow all of my hopes, aspirations and dreams to be put at the mercy of a student reviewer with an iPad and a blog. God I love this festival.

Wardens is on at Assembly Roxy every day at 3.30pm between 1st and 26th August. Darren Richman is a contributor to the Independent among other publications.