My Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2011

August 15, 2011

If you’ve been following me on Twitter, it will have been hard to avoid the fact that I spent all of last week up in Edinburgh to experience the Fringe Festival for the first time ever. Now I’m back and have had time to gather my thoughts on an amazong week, here’s what I thought of 2011’s festival.

The first thing to mention is the sheer scale of the festival itself. It’s the largest arts festival in the entire world and there truly is something for everyone. My group spent most of the time enjoying the comedy on offer, but there’s so much more including dance, theatre, music, children’s shows, sensory experiences and the downright weird. With almost 300 venues, the festival spans the whole city and there’s an amazing atmosphere on every street (and admittedly quite a lot of crude graffiti…)

Onto the shows then, the main part. On the whole, I was very impressed with the quality of them with really only one dud show out of the 30 I saw during the week. The prices also come in very competitively, averaging at around £7/£8 per show. That’s not bad for an hour long performance (many of which are available on 2 for 1 offers at certain times too). And if that’s still too much for you, there’s around 600 free shows ready to entice you over the festival.

The venues differ from show-to-show. Some performances were in grand halls as you are perhaps accustomed to, whereas others are in pubs or venues no bigger than my front room. This really adds to the special feeling of the Fringe, the idea of cramming as many people in as possible to experience as much entertainment as possible. There’s a very friendly and buoyant spirit to the whole production (even from those who have to work through the night to make it happen).

Although you’ll see several big names performing at the Fringe (the likes of Rich Hall, Dave Gorman, Al Murray, Richard Herring, Milton Jones, Sarah Millican, Stewart Lee and ‘Barry and Stuart’ all have shows this year) the Fringe is really more about discovering new acts. I hadn’t heard of the majority of performers I saw, but I really enjoyed their performance and appreciated the chance to see this talent which surely deserves to be nurtured and moved up to bigger places.

As I mentioned earlier, I really enjoyed all (but one) of the shows I saw, but I do of course have my highlights and here they are…

ShowStopper – As a fan of ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway’, I was thrilled to see so much improv at the festival. ShowStopper is and improvised musical of epic proportions. The audience give suggestions to story themes/titles/song styles at the start and then the ensemble cast of around 10 bring it to life in a hilarious fashion. One of the best improve shows I have ever seen, they really knew how to do it.

Axis of Awesome – Move over Flight of the Conchords, these Aussies know how to rock, parody style! You may have heard of them due their rather large YouTube following, but the live show was extremely funny and very much a headbanger. Great show.

Michael Winslow – This is the guy from Police Academy, Sgt Motor Mouth! His stand up is essentially full of sound effects, all entirely made by the mans voice. I could hardly believe my ears as Winslow dubbed an entire action clip of Star Wars with his own sound effects. Oh and don’t visit the toilet during the show, Winslow has a great mock for that!

Richard Herring – Richard Herring has been a well known comedian for a while, but never quite seems to reach the big time, which is a shame because he was arguably the best ‘traditional’ standup show I saw. With his twisted sense of humour and efforts to offend, he’s not for all, but is a very entertaining comedian and has a great Fringe show.

Idiots of Ants – Sketch was also very well represented at the Fringe, but I would say my favourite sketch group was Idiots of Ants. Their performance seemed to take into account their surroundings the best, involving the audience and making use of the fact this wasn’t TV and was live. Sketch comedy is hard to do live (look at how many takes the pros need on TV) and these guys seemed to pitch it just right. They should have their own TV sketch series (would beat so many others!)

Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo – Not strictly part of the Fringe, but still worth doing. With the backdrop of the dazzlingly illuminated Edinburgh castle, the tattoo parades military bands as well as adding some humour and a fair bit of assailing. Oh and of course some pretty special fireworks at the end. It rained for the whole two-hours that I saw the Tattoo, yet I would still heartily recommend it to anyone, brilliant experience.

There are several others worthy of mention – Mitch Benn, WitTank, Thom Tuck, Jimeoin, Tiffany Stevenson, School of Night, Shakespeare for Breakfast, Dave Callan – all fantastic laughs.

I did get to see a bit of Edinburgh while I was there in between the many shows. The city is very different to most in the UK, very hilly and traditional with several interesting looking buildings. It’s traditionally Scottish and that was great to see (especially as I’d never even visited the country before). Make sure you visit the newly refurbished museum and the castle while there, both are fascinating experiences.

And that brings me to the end of this whistle stop guide. There’s so much more to Edinburgh than what I have mentioned and several more notable performers. I would recommend the festival to anyone, because it really is for anyone, more so than any other festival I know of. Such as fantastic mix, celebrating everything thats great about the world of arts and entertainment – what more could you ask for?

Long live the Fringe!

Off to the Fringe!

August 5, 2011

As you read this, I should be in a car on my way down to London ready to catch my train up to Edinburgh tomorrow. Why? Because I’m off to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and I can’t wait.

I’ve never been to the Fringe before, but obviously have heard an awful lot about it. There should be established comedians galore alongside less well known up-and-coming performer, cabaret, carnival, music, atmosphere and a small thing called the Edinburgh tattoo. I don’t know how I’m going to take it all in during the short week that I’m visiting!

Highlights I’m hoping to see from this years line-up include Dave Gorman’s Powerpoint Presentation, Rich Hall’s Hoe Down, Al Murray’s Compete For The Meat and Milton Jones. Of course I’m hoping that when I come back after seeing the shows next week, I’ll also be convinced that I’ve seen the next big thing and I suppose that’s part of the wonder of this festival – I don’t really know what I’m going to see, but I’m sure it will delight, entertain and confuse in equal measures. The thing I’m looking for above all else is discovering new comedy, isn’t that what this whole thing is about.

Amongst the comedy, face stuffing and gratuitous drinking (which I’m a tad worried about, not drunk too much since Uni!) I’m also hoping to take in some of the sights. I’ve never been to Edinburgh – not even Scotland –  and everyone I’ve told (honestly, every single person) has waxed lyrical about how beautiful it is and what great sights there are to see. I’m hoping to capture a load of them on my camera!

And of course, I’ll be sharing the festival with everyone on the web. I’m planning on tweeting quite a bit during my week, so do follow @chrisbheath for the latest from the fest (and do join in with the big conversation). As well as that, I’m hoping I can share a blog post or two with you here on the RHP (mobile internet permitting!), so do keep checking back for updates.

And so I sit in this car (I’m not driving, in fact I’m not even writing – this was done yesterday!) I can hardly wait for tomorrow when I start my first ever Edinburgh Festival experience, one I’m hoping will stay with me for many years to come… for good reasons of course!

Will the cuts cause society to break down?

May 17, 2011

Here in the UK, we’re facing pretty big cuts at the moment – not as bad as some will have you believe, but bad all the same. And with every cut comes a protest, mostly harmless, but every now and again they turn violent and a horror to behold. Everyone wants what matters to them – and we can’t have everything.  The question is, as the cuts worsen, is society slowly breaking down?

Quite a bold question and one that you hope the answer to is no. Surely losing a few services here and there won’t turn us back into apes. But I reference a show I watched last night – ‘The Street That Cut Everything’ on BBC1. If you didn’t see the show, the concept was that a street in Preston became completely independent of the council for 6 weeks. During that period they would replace the service the council normally provides, using the same amount of Council tax they would pay in that period.

The shows point was of course to show how much we rely on the council and the tough decisions they have to make on a daily basis, but it ended up simply showing the darker side of human nature and how deep down, we are all pretty selfish.

Now, obviously this was a 1 hour 40 minute programme showing edited ‘highlights’ of the 6 week experiment. Of course the BBC were going to edit the show in the most sensational way they could and get the arguments. After all,  no one wants to watch a couple of hours of people getting on and sleeping (unless it’s the Big Brother live feed).

But I was genuinely shocked by some of the comments made. One resident suggested evicting a neighbour due to her asking for benefits (which she normally got for being a job seeker). These aren’t people who have just met for a reality show, they have lived on the same street (in some cases) for years. And now they feel threatened they turn.

In fact the benefits battle went on for a while. In some cases I could see the other residents being annoyed at one family taking a large proportion of the money (in fact I agree when it came to providing University subsidy’s, but that’s another matter!), but most of these things were necessary. A 7 year old child being picked up from school, the same child having school dinners. These are things you can’t discriminate against.

Eventually the residents – very reluctantly – did agree to these benefits. But it didn’t end there, people were denied £1 to by a torch (which was needed due to the streetlights being turned off). Others attacked one another for not disposing of waste correctly. Yes it was annoying and incurred the street a fine, but there’s no need to cause so much aggro over it, simply move on and don’t make the same mistake again.

I suppose it also showed how important power is in our lives. We’re all very keen to rage against our ‘leaders’ but when they were taken away without a proper unified replacement, the results were devastating (ironically I suppose it’s a bit of a comment on the coalition!)

Now I missed the second half of the show, hopefully I’ll have a look on iPlayer tonight, but something tells me it didn’t end up happy families. People were planning to move by the end of episode one, change their entire lives after what their neighbours had said to them.

These people were admittedly under a lot of pressure. The show was a case of extremely heightened realism throughout -the tasks were so over-the-top that The Street residents must have seen Nick Robinson as a bald, speccy devil by the end of it all. It’s not every day that a load of rubbish is tipped in your front yard… unless Nick’s about!

But the point remains that several people were cracking under the pressure after a short amount of time. They’d decided that they were for themselves and didn’t care much for the wider community they were in. Some people took their own share of the council tax fund and abstained from the community as a whole. How long would it have taken before all had done that and society in that street would have effectively broken down?

I don’t believe that this will happen. I’ve said several times that this was a ‘for-TV’ production which was edited to look worse than it was. But nevertheless, those actions need to happen to be edited in. It’s scary how nasty and selfish people can be when they think they’ll lose what they need.

It’s often been said that society itself is a very delicate balance and can be tipped at anytime into oblivion. These are all extreme statements, but as we lose more of the things we took for granted, are we headed for an even bleaker future, created not by our Governments, but by ourselves.

I should write something lighter one day… 😀 !

Watch ‘The Street That Cut Everything’ here 

Pic of my last 2 weeks – 16/04/2011

April 16, 2011

Due to being a bit pre-occupied and forgetful, I managed to miss last weeks pic of the week. But fear not, because now I give you two for the price of one, starting with last weeks.

The fantastic light of the nighttime traffic. My first long exposure shot!

I’ve wanted to do a shot like this for a while, using a long capture shutter and getting enough light in to turn the cars into a stream of bright light. But I’ve never had the equipment until now. This was taken on my iPhone using an app called ‘slow shutter’ and for 59 pence on the app store, it’s pretty good value.

Admittedly there’s a lot more to this photo than just pointing and shooting. It took me about 1/2 an hour to get the light settings correct and get a good enough subject to photograph.

But apart from some glare from the window, I’m thrilled with the result of this image. Looks like the F1 opening animation!

Ducks in the garden!! Anyone care to name them for me?

And on to this weeks pic. One month after I started this project I snapped this one. It started off as a rather basic shot of some ducks on our outside lawn, but this photo is the result of a lot of after effects. First of all it’s been cropped and rotated to get the best angle on my subject. I’ve then also enhanced, sharpened, reduced noise and then saturated the colour.

The final result is, I think, a very powerful and vibrant shot which has an almost larger than life feel to it. I know that many photography experts out there will be able to pick flaws with it, but I am still fairly new to this and am (hopefully) learning more day by day. I’m also amazed that I can do this fairly quickly and easily (including the editing) on a phone.

That’s this weeks pics, remember to follow me on twitter (@chrisbheath) to see all of my pics every day and let me know what you think of them!

Pic Of My Week – 02/04/2011

April 2, 2011

Three weeks into ‘the 365 project’ as it is commonly known and I’m really starting to enjoy building up a range of different photos. You really find you look at things you wouldn’t normally do and that’s the subject of this weeks photo.

trees and The way their branches sprawl everywhere are really quite beautiful

I really like this shot. It shows how easy it is to go out and get an original photo that can look super effective.

All I did here was walk into a park (on an admittedly dull day), look up and take a picture at what I saw with a simple iPhone camera. The fact that the sky is so white brilliantly contrasts against the branches, emphasising their crookedness and the wild nature of the way trees grow.

As I mentioned in the pic’s caption, I do love the way trees look sometimes. They can have a brilliant eerie feel to them which I think have shone through in this photo.

It’s probably not to everyone’s taste, but it’s the kind of effect I was after with it and that’s all that truly matters… I think.

If you enjoy looking at my pics, then don’t forget that I post a pic every day on my twitter feed @chrisbheath !


An internet for Robots, isn’t that SkyNet?

February 9, 2011

Did we learn nothing from Terminator?! I’ve learnt today that European scientists are actively working on a network (called RoboEarth) for robots, allowing our cybernetic friends to upload data and communicate with each other around the world.

RoboEarth will act as a kind of ‘Wikipedia’ for bots to connect to and share information. They’ll be able to explain how and when they managed to complete a task and therefore help other robots to learn how to do the same thing.

What’s more, the robots will be able to share information that they learn about us, what we like, what we don’t like and generally how we go about our lives. The hope is that with this information, robot’s will be able to better serve us and will be able to get into mainstream service much quicker.

The idea is one which kind of makes sense. After all, it would be backwards for robots not to have some form of connection to the net, but I’m not sure I’m too keen on them ‘learning and sharing information’. It gets me worried about what else could happen.

I like my technology dumb. Of course I want it to be advanced, but I don’t want it to physically think for me. That should surely always be for the humans. I get angry at computers as it is when they suggest that I should be writing something different to what I have or when they decide to guess what website I want to go to. And I’m fed up with computer games starting to insist I should take a break after a certain amount of time.

At the moment, this primitive AI is just annoying because it gets most things wrong and is a distraction, but as it gets more advanced and starts to see what we are doing and reacts to that, that’s where I get more uncomfortable. And now we’ve just gone and given them a way of sharing everything they learn about us privately on their own little network, their own little SkyNet. We’re almost willing them to take over.

Of course I’m being overly paranoid about the whole thing, but as much as I love technology, I’m not a fan of it taking over the brains and the knowledge. We should always be in control of that, if for nothing else than to keep our brains active.

Maybe it’ll all be fine and the robots will be a force for good, but maybe it won’t and we’ll all be overthrown by a legion of metallic Arnold Swarcheneggers… arghh the thought!

Source: BBC News


Royal Mail? More like Royal Fail!

January 7, 2011

Dear Royal Mail,

When I receive a parcel through your network, I expect it to arrive in the same way in which it left the sender. That is that I’m happiest when my post arrives dry and still in the shape it started off as.

So imagine how upset I was when my order from Amazon arrived today, completely sodden and squashed on all corners. It’s not like the order wasn’t breakable, it contained equipment for my iPhone and a DVD boxset. Things I’d like to keep fairly safe and secure.

However, this is not why I was most unhappy with the service today.

Call me old fashioned, but I like post to arrive through my letter box. Admittedly the parcel delivered today would never make it through, in which case why not take it back to the sorting office. Or better still, why not leave with our neighbours as we asked only YESTERDAY!

Whatever you do, don’t try and throw it through the slightly broken window in our shed thus damaging the packaging, the contents and some more of the shed window.

Oh… oh that is what you do Royal Mail. Well call me picky, but that’s not how I like to receive my mail. You see I do quite like it to arrive in a way where I can still read what’s written on it and use what’s inside it.

But oh well, I suppose I’ve learnt my lesson, next time I buy something I really want from Amazon (or any other retailer), I should use the courier service and not this bunch of bloody amateurs.

Yours stuffed through a shed window,

Chris Heath.