Mark Little on one man's struggle to bring a little added velour to the Festival FringeDIARY
EDINBURGH

FESTIVAL 97

Meet Deep Brown, my Couchagotchi

Mark Little on one man's struggle to bring a little added velour to the Festival FringeDIARY

Art's a funny game. Performance art's even funnier. But when you're talkin' alternative performance art at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, crank up the weirdness. Not that I'm saying there are a lot of weird people performing in Edinburgh this year, quite the contrary. Most everyone I've met from Spain, Scotland, Australia, America, New Zealand, Wales, Africa or wherever have been really down-to-earth, sweet folk. Bung them all in the one town, though, for three weeks, with nothing to do but perform and party, and it gets weird enough. Just the way I like it, of course, and one of the reasons I keep coming back.

I have travelled to Edinburgh this year with my own little piece of performance madness called Psychobubble, the most freeform and dangerous show I've attempted in a long time. (I haven't been so excited about what is possible on the alternative comedy stage since pre-Neighbours Melbourne in the mid-1980s.)

At the very centre of this whirlwind of comic energy I have a couch - an ugly Mock-Crock velour settee that basically constitutes my set. It is, I believe, the story of this three-seater that truly exemplifies the special weirdness that is the annual Edinburgh Festival.

To get my audience in the mood for chat, I reckoned I needed to play on their compassion. And what better way to hunt out compassion than to facilitate the need for me to be rescued. And what was the most famous rescue of the last 12 months? Lone round-the-world yachtsman Tony Bullimore trapped within his upturned vessel in the Great Southern Ocean for four days, miraculously rescued alive by the Australian Navy.

Perfect. I'll get myself trapped and call for help. Trapped in what? An upturned couch, of course! Let the search begin!

I knew I'd know the right couch when I saw it and sure enough, after scouring a few of the second-hand shops of Brighton, there it was, The Couch. "Can I just check if I can carry it?" I asked. "Sure," said the bloke. "I just need to see if I can dance with it." "OK," he nodded. "Do you mind if I just take it on the pavement to make sure I can get under it?" No reply. Just a stare, as I flipped it over and upturned the big brown bugger on top of me. pounds 45 he wanted. He got it and I gained a virtual friend. My "Couchagotchi".

Rehearsals went smoothly and, apart from one embarrassing moment when my wife caught me talking to myself under the couch in the conservatory, I was happy.

Time to test the couch rescue.

I took the couch - which I had now given artificial intelligence and renamed Deep Brown - along to the Bolshoi Circus tent during the Brighton Festival. I took it along to the Battersea Arts Centre in South London.

I found, though, that I couldn't just leave it lying around like a couch because people just used it like a couch. At the Battersea Arts Centre it turned into a props table for some extremely alternative cabaret. I was quietly upset. This was my friend. This was weird.

I stood it upright and attached a sign.

THIS IS DEEP BROWN, THE COUCHAGOTCHI

BIOLOGICALLY ENGINEERED ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE.

DO NOT DISTURB AS THIS COULD RESULT IN DEATH.

AND NO ONE WANTS TO SIT ON A DEAD COUCH.

London went well. "The Couch" was well reviewed in the press. So was I. We were happy.

Off to Edinburgh. No one seemed to want to ship my couch up North for me. I was getting attached to it anyway. "I'll take it myself," I thought. "I want to be with it."

The whole family were going. My wife and two kids and me. Everywhere we looked, families were going on holidays. Cars stacked up with holiday necessities. Everyone seamed to have tents, sailboards, surfboards, bikes, major implements of holiday fun strapped to the roofs of their cars. Except us. We had "The Couch". My family were understanding and the ropes were tight. I got my "friend" to Edinburgh without its being blown off the roof and killing anyone on the M1 (my main fear).

The couch is now starring on the Edinburgh Fringe. For the first four minutes of my show, that's all you get, a talking upturned couch. It gets a good response and a couple of rounds of applause (which makes me think the shows these people have already seen must have been real rubbish). Yet of course, off-stage, Deep Brown is still just a couch. Success has not spoilt it.

I have now learnt to share my "virtual friend". So far the bloke who plays Richard Burton has had a sleep on it. So has the freak who lifts stuff with his genitalia. Assorted hard stage crew have crashed on it. Paul Morrocco and Ole have crashed into it and Mika, the Maori cabaret sensation, has avoided it.

The Edinburgh Festival is a spectacle and I truly recommend a visit. But be warned: the special weirdness that is this festival can have you loving performance art you would not normally go and see. I personally know of crowds who've thrilled to an ugly upturned couch. Edinburgh Festival. Glad to be here, hope to be back.

Mark Little's `Psychobubble' is at the Assembly Rooms, venue 3 (0131- 226 2428) 8.25pm tonight. He can also be seen hosting Channel 4's `The Feel Good Factor' on Tuesday at 8pm

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