I was interested to read this week that period and tampon jokes have made a re-appearance on the Edinburgh Fringe after several years’ absence. It was when I remarked some years ago about the number of women on the Fringe telling these jokes that Time Out magazine delivered the priceless (and unintentional) rebuke: “David Lister should expose himself to more female comedians.”
Some of these routines on the Fringe this year have been excellent, especially the justified plethora of jokes about VAT being levied on tampons as a luxury. Indeed, the standard of comedy as a whole has been high. Just one thing has been missing. Few stand-up routines seem to have focused on recent matters of importance in Scotland, namely the vote about Scottish independence and the electoral triumph of the SNP. Far more damningly, there seems to be very little theatre on these subjects. Where are the political plays? These are not exactly dull times in politics, and they are certainly not dull times for politics in Scotland. One might have expected, should have expected, that it would be hard to move in the city for plays about recent and current schisms in Scottish politics, be it a drama about independence or a one act playlet on the West Lothian question.
The Edinburgh Festival and its Fringe should be engaging with politics to a far greater degree. Indeed, as the world’s greatest arts festival, it should also be setting a cultural agenda. And there is a way it could do just that. Later in the month the Edinburgh International Television Festival takes place in the city alongside the arts festival. And a key part of that will be the MacTaggart lecture, in which a leading figure in the industry will set out their thoughts on the state of television. Every year this lecture produces headlines.
Why on earth is it just the TV festival that has this agenda-setting lecture? (An opening address on the Fringe welcoming participants is not remotely comparable). Why is there not an Edinburgh Arts Lecture, be it at the main festival or on the Fringe? What a stirring lecture it could have been this year with topics such as censorship and the recent refusal to stage a play about ISIS, financial cuts, and a host of other issues to address.
I fear that in becoming obsessed with comedy and the odd bravura piece of theatre as the pre-requisites for Edinburgh in August, festival organisers and indeed playwrights and stand-ups have lost sight of the fact that this festival is an opportunity to show how art can cast light on political issues of the moment, and artists can set the agenda.
That’s not a heckler, it’s the artistic director
Oh, the things that can disturb your concentration in the theatre. There are those wretched mobile phones, people coming in late, sweet wrappers, and er artistic directors talking. Reader Janet Morrow has emailed me to say she was at the Iliad at London’s Almeida theatre and someone was talking at the back of the stalls. She confronted him and found it was the Almeida’s artistic director, (the brilliant) Rupert Goold. A still angry Ms Morrow tells me that when she complained, he replied that he was responsible for what she was watching. She and her partner then left the theatre and are demanding a refund. I put this to the Almeida, and their spokeswoman said that “the creative team were gathered at a desk behind the stalls making changes to the script and working with the sound and lighting team on the action… We are sorry if any audience members were disturbed by the creative process...” Perhaps those announcements at the start of shows should say “please turn off all mobile phones and artistic directors.”
The BBC was foolish to sack Sir Tom Jones
So few workplaces have any idea how to sack people with dignity. The BBC, it seems, is no different. It told Sir Tom Jones by phone that he was no longer wanted on its Saturday night programme The Voice a matter of hours before sending out a press release with the new line-up. Sir Tom publicly slammed his treatment. The BBC has strange ideas about its own Saturday night audience. Surely the demographic is such that an older pop star is an asset, especially one who brought to the show not just experience but anecdotes about a cast of characters whom he he had known over the years, from Elvis Presley downwards. The BBC really knows how to shoot itself in the foot.