Theatre: The producer - a Fringe diary

The annual exodus which empties the capital's theatres is already under way as performers and critics - if not the actual audiences - head north for the world's largest arts festival. Yes, Edinburgh is the place to be and this year, thanks to a couple of old mates from university, I'm in the thick of it.

It started in January when Phil and Stu phoned, asking if I would like to produce their two-man comedy show. Are they mad? I ask. That's what students do, not office-bound late twentysomethings with a mortgage and a pension. And anyway, I can afford decent foreign holidays. Why would I spend two weeks in a draughty church hall in Edinburgh? Go on, they say. It'll be a laugh. OK, I hear myself saying, why not?


We meet in the pub, to think up a theme for the show. We don't have many ideas. The evening soon descends into a drunken haze. The next morning, however, I find in my pocket a notepad with the words "The Road to Largs" scrawled on it. We have a theme.


It's time to tout our ideas around the venues. Phil and Stu, festival veterans, explain the score. It's a bit like prostitution, they say, except that we pay the money and we're the ones who get shafted.

The boys want a publicity picture of them peeing into a Perrier bottle. This will be that vital "controversial statement" with all the attendant publicity. I refuse. In the unlikely event of them actually winning the Perrier Award, they will accept it, even if I have to usher them on to the podium with a cattle prod.


We narrow down our favoured options to the Pleasance and the Gilded Balloon. To get a slot at the Pleasance these days probably requires at the very least having your own BBC2 series. The Gilded Balloon has a similarly strong reputation, but I send them some sketches and an outline of the show. Karen Koren, who runs it, rings up. She has a reputation for promoting successful Scottish comedy. She actually sounds interested and offers us a slot in the smallest venue. We feel like we've won an Oscar. Phil and Stu spend the next week drunk.


We decide to drive to Largs, a faded seaside town on the west coast of Scotland, to take some publicity shots and stimulate the creative juices. The pitch for the show is going to be along the lines of a road-movie in a pink Cadillac to Largs. I arrange the car and photographer. Or so I tell the boys. Actually, I get a Renault Megane. They're not particularly delighted when I tell them the photographer blew me out and produce my instant camera.


The Gilded Balloon rings up. They need a detailed breakdown of our show's requirements. Are they crazy? I know less about that kind of stuff than I do about the dark side of the moon. I don't ring back.


The Gilded Balloon's brochure with our entry appears. Embarrassingly for me, an employee of the Independent on Sunday, it is sponsored by The Observer.

Like a true professional, I've left it until way beyond the final deadline to have our posters designed. We have a few "creative differences" over the poster. I want lots of drug references. The boys don't. In the end, we don't have any drug references. Sometimes you've got to give the talent their way.


Two weeks to show time. NME interviews a pop group in Largs. Local girl Daniella Nardini - Anna from This Life - appears all over the papers. Suddenly, Largs looks like it might be this year's white elephant. And if it all goes horribly wrong, I've got a horrible feeling I know who's going to take the flak.

Just how much was that one-way ticket to Australia...?

Soapy Frogs, `The Road to Largs': Calder's Gilded Balloon II Wee Room, Canongate, Edinburgh, 17-31 Aug, 3.45pm, pounds 5.50 (pounds 4.50)

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