[Pictured above: The Fitzrovia Radio Hour cast have got off to a flyering start]
I have never been to the Edinburgh Fringe before. In my own absence, I developed certain ill-informed ideas about what it is like to bring a show here. For instance, I read that when Bruce Robinson, the writer and director of Withnail & I, was making his way as an actor, he shared a house with so many other young thespians that he had to sleep in the bathroom. I always imagined that such arrangements must prevail at the Fringe and must therefore be part of its charmingly bohemian appeal.
I am now, to my surprise, part of a show playing at the Underbelly throughout this year’s Fringe. Tom Mallaburn – a star of said show, The Fitzrovia Radio Hour, which I have helped him and others to write – has tried to calm my excitement. I tell him I will survive. After all, a year and a half writing for London’s most successful pseudo-1940s theatrical radio comedy – and it’s a crowded field – has taught me a few things about working and living with actors. Like how to suppress the urge to murder.
Tom points out that with these same actors I will face four weeks of flyering, equipment-lugging, flyering, sound-checking, flyering, audience-counting, flyering and excessive drinking. And flyering. I tell him I will survive. After all, six years as a newspaper sub editor have taught me a few things about thankless labour and excessive drinking. And frantic audience-counting, come to that.
Tom reminds me that all this bathroom-sharing and hard work may not lead to success. Radio 4 commissions and garlanded theatrical tours may not ensue and I am liable to return to London sporting only a chronic shortage of cash, mental exhaustion and a collection of interesting symptoms. I tell him I will survive. After all, it cannot be for nothing that a decade or so of ineffectual dabbling on the lunatic fringes of art has filled me with wildly romantic and irresponsible views of the Edinburgh Fringe.
No. Those years have filled me with an idea of the Fringe as a kind of bourgeois heaven, Scènes de la vie de bohème cross-bred with those films you get at the Cameo. A month of conversation, inspiration, imbibition and flyering (granted). Or a month, in The Fitzrovia Radio Hour’s case, of thrilling tales of sound barrier-breaking RAF pilots and invasions of creatures from below the Thames, played to happy crowds.
Tom smiles a smile that would make a basilisk blanche. Taking a comedy to the Edinburgh Fringe, he says, is about finding and satisfying an audience. Taking a comedy to the Fringe is about hard work. And flyering. I disagree. But then, I am of that fragile species, the Fringe virgin. When in the middle of August I wake on the bathroom floor, to the sound of actors hammering on the door, I might just change my mind.
• The Fitzrovia Radio Hour is at the Underbelly, 3:40pm, until 29 August.
Posted by Andrew Eaton