Our Janet leads by the mouth as celebrities take over the fringe

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The Independent Culture

For years stand-up comedy has dominated the Edinburgh Fringe. That's all changing with the advent of a new festival trend - the celebrity raconteur.

The Independent on Sunday's own Janet Street-Porter is drawing packed houses on the fringe with her daily rants about everything from her ex-husbands to the state of British television. Her outrageous routine is proving such a success that there is already talk of taking it on tour.

Also winning plaudits is another former IoS columnist, Jo Brand, who is appearing in Mental, a semi-autobiographical "homage to mental illness", a field in which she worked as a psychiatric nurse before becoming a stand-up comic.

On the other side of the credibility divide, an incipient cult following is emerging for An Evening with Paul Daniels, the former TV magician's new one-man question-and-answer show.

Scriptwriter Barry Cryer will once more be sparring with a fringe audience, while Nicholas Parsons has returned for the fourth year running with his cult chat show, Happy Hour. In a spirit of adventure, the 74-year-old entertainer is also embarking on his first solo comedy-drama - a monologue based on the life and times of the composer W S Gilbert.

The festival is seeing its fair share of celebrity "character-based" monologues.

Welsh comedian Rob Brydon is performing a sellout stage show based on Marion and Geoff, his award-winning BBC2 series about a cuckolded minicab driver.

Meanwhile, Oscar-nominated actress Susannah York is assuming not one but 15 different roles in her acclaimed self-penned show The Loves of Shakespeare's Women.

And it is not just conventional performers who are treading the boards. Christine Hamilton is to become the latest in a long line of women to deliver one of The Vagina Monologues.

Even the most recent winner of the Perrier Comedy Award, the most prestigious prize in the stand-up calendar, is experimenting with a new, less improvised, style of act. Daniel Kitson, whose scabrous critique of consumer culture won rave reviews at last year's fringe, is confounding critics with a scripted recital he describes as "a made-up story for romantic misanthropes".

The emergence of one-celebrityshows as Edinburgh's latest fad has been warmly greeted by critics and the public. Though this year's fringe has been running for little more than a week, the majority of the solo star vehicles that have opened are already on course to sell out.

Perhaps the most surprising hit on the fringe thus far is All the Rage!, a daily diatribe by Janet Street-Porter, editor-at-large of the IoS, in which no one, least of all her own family, is safe from her barbs. At one point in the performance, she says of her late mother: "She was a cunt! Now she's gone I feel great standing here saying, 'she's dead, the bitch'."

Ms Street-Porter is open about the fact that one of the main attractions of delivering her no-holds-barred public rant is its therapeutic value. "Doing this show beats going to a shrink," she said. "Discussing your problems in front of 100 strangers every day is a life-changing experience."

For Ms York, the attractions of performing in a one-woman show are two-fold: it is both more affordable and allows her greater artistic control than she would have in a larger-scale production.

"I suppose the reason this is becoming popular," she said, "is that one or two people try it out and then others start to think, 'why don't I give it a try too?'. It's also cheaper to stage than a bigger production and you have more control. There's only one act to worry about - yourself."

Nicholas Parsons believes the emergence of the solo performance as the preferred fringe format is long overdue.

"A few years ago there was a proliferation of stand-up comedy, but now there's a far wider range of styles of one-man and one-woman acts emerging," he said. "It's significant. In August the whole centre of the entertainment industry moves from London to Edinburgh - this is where people want to be seen.

"If you're someone who likes a challenge, doing something different from what people expect of you helps to show potential employers the breadth of your talent."

One fringe spokesman said: "It used to be said that stand-up comedy was taking over the fringe, but now it increasingly seems to be true of 'sit-down comedy', raconteur acts and one-man shows generally - not necessarily of the comical variety."

The wit and wisdom of Janet Street-Porter

Janet on ... mothers

"Mothers put all this energy into controlling you from a distance. Why don't they run fucking Railtrack instead of ringing their daughters up every Sunday?"

Janet on ... relationships

"All my life until now, I've either been married or living with someone. I think it was just habit, like using the same handbag every day."

Janet on ... sofas

"I've owned more sofas than I've had husbands. Both sag in the end, but I generally fall out of love with the furniture quicker than the men."

Janet on ... her teeth

"I should have gone into partnership with my dentist and flogged sets of my teeth."

Janet on ... pubs

"Pubs are the reason I know that God is male. There is something about walking through the bar of any pub for the first time that makes my flesh creep."

Janet on ... lunch

"Caesar salad is one of my favourite lunch foods. You can shovel it in and talk at the same time."

Janet on ... young men

"Young men today are fatter, drink more, take more drugs and do less exercise than their fathers."

Janet on ... male TV executives

"Is dealing with creative stars, from Lenny Henry to Michael Barrymore to Jennifer Saunders, a task that requires a willy?"

Janet on ... Kelvin MacKenzie

"The one-time editor said that I 'couldn't edit a bus ticket', failing to realise that bus tickets don't usually need editing."

Sit down and say that

Paul Daniels

The show: An Evening with Paul Daniels

What's in it: "Not a lot", to coin a phrase - the former TV magician answers "irreverent" questions from his audience

The verdict: "After three hours of ... Paul Daniels I wouldn't have cared even if he had pulled an elephant from one of his pockets" (Scotsman)

Jo Brand

The show: Mental

What's in it: The psychiatric nurse-turned-comedienne gives a blackly comical account of her time as ... a psychiatric nurse

The verdict: "Eminently watchable and extremely funny - but the pathos of the piece is diminished by the sense that there is a stand-up comic inside it struggling to break free" (Scotsman)

Rob Brydon

The show: Marion and Geoff

What's in it: Cheery divorcee Keith Barrett continues looking on the bright side in this stage version of his cult BBC2 hit

The verdict: "If they could see him now, his 'little smashers', Rhys and Alun, would be proud" (Guardian)

Daniel Kitson

The show: A Made-Up Story

What's in it: The winner of last year's Perrier Award veers into Book at Bedtime territory with a whimsical story recital

The verdict: "The only truly diverting moments ... are when Kitson strays from the script to comment on the noises off stage" (Scotsman)

Janet Street-Porter

The show: All the Rage!

What's in it: The IoS's editor-at-large gives her no-nonsense verdict on just about everything

The verdict: "Sometimes [we] impart news from which right-thinking people may recoil in horror. This is one such occasion: Janet Street-Porter has a success on her hands" (Guardian)

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