What does it mean to live your art? We've all heard the stories about Daniel Day-Lewis learning Czech, or canoe-making, or becoming a full time arsehole for the duration of a picture. And you may be familiar with Yukio Mishima, the Japanese artist whose final performance involved his own ritualistic suicide. Or of The Only Way is Essex, where...anyway. But what of comedians, for whom a good day at the office involves eliciting laughter from a room of strangers? Can life imitate art, or art, life? Especially when the potential for an easy fart joke is tantilisingly within reach.
Well, yes. Particularly in the case of George Egg, who manages to squeeze in the odd naughty joke while demonstrating, oh-so-memorably, that art can seize hold of the world as we find it, and force us to think about it in different ways. Because, you see, over the past few years Mr Egg has been squirreling himself away in the rooms of Premier Inns and Travelodges, studying, experimenting, alchemising and, erm, dining. The three-course meal he prepares for us today is the philosopher's stone of his travails – cooked using only the equipment found in a standard hotel room. It may be a Morphy Richards Voyager 800 kettle to you and I. But to Egg, it is a world of culinary possibility.
To reveal la carte here would be to dull the surprise of the final feast – which, yes, you may sample. If you've ever seen one of those spectacularly dull cooking demonstrations at a right-on food festival, you'll wish for Egg to give them a lesson in stagecraft. A mixture of technical wizardry, showmanship and wry, warm offhand comments (plus, annoyingly, an out-of-place and pointless kidnap joke) make this a thoroughly enjoyable hour. But to call this all about spectacle would be to miss the point. Egg's years of anarchist cooking are a tough lesson for all of us. His skill is in making it quite as palatable as he does.
One other thing: props to George Hughes & Son Fishmongers (197 Bruntsfield Place) and the Wee Boulangerie (67 Clerk Street) for providing Egg with his loaves and fishes for the show, free of charge – and to Egg for giving them the platform to stick it to the big boys.
Speaking of whom...it's the big boys who loom large but unseen in Natasha Noman's Noman's Land – a tale of a New York City journalist's move to Pakistan, her father's homeland. She encounters an all-male workplace with colleagues who see her as anything but equal; Taliban thugs who murder her editor; oh, and the small matter of the police and security services from whom she must hide her sexuality. "Times are tough in Pakistan," she drawls, "for single ladies who like ladies."
There are two things going on here: Noman draws attention to the double standards of, say, the blanket coverage of the Charlie Hebdo shootings (11 dead) compared to the passing mentions of the attack on the town of Baga by Boko Haram militants (2000 dead). That's shocking. But Noman (with co-writer and director Veda Kumarjiguda) takes a more interesting turn here, demonstrating that the point is less about how it impacts on our Western sensibilities, and more about the impact on those for whom the threat of terrorism is an everyday reality. How can Noman's Tinder date, Jamal, talk so idly about her father's kidnapping at the hands of the Taliban? Why does the Pakistani elite seem to care so little about a country which, against all odds, retains "oases of gentility in a desert of extremism and anarchy"?
For Noman, it's a question of coping strategies – you either become a victim, or a sociopath. And, despite best intentions, that's exactly what happened to her before she left. "Pakistan chips away at anyone's framework," she laments. It's a first-hand tale of human failure against forces beyond the ken of individuals. But Noman's Land is, surprisingly, rarely maudlin. What a smart choice to present this informally – part standup, part theatre. Noman hasn't even troubled to remove her venue lanyard. Sure, sections of this are still somewhat dry and preachy (a cod philosophical discussion on the difference between "compromise" and "compromising oneself", for instance). But mostly, this is warmly delivered with gentle comedy deployed at mostly the right moments to grease the squeakier wheels.
Over at Just the Tonic, Holly Burn has given up being herself. Entirely – at least for the entirety of the Fringe. Burn is Kirsty K, a chirpy, squeaky little bundle of dumb energy from Tyneside. We're all attending the funeral for our friend, and K's nan, Barbara. Kirsty—with a little help from Barbara's friends—is delivering the eulogy. It's unclear quite how Burn is going to maintain such heights of hyperactivity, 24/7, without resort to industrial quantities of Haribo. Mostly, though, it's unclear what the point is of such commitment to the cause.
At times, it all seems like little more than indulgence. What should have given Burn hours and hours to flesh out Kirsty's character appears instead to have given her a skewed perspective of what the passage of time feels like in the company of the young lady. There's a long middle section during which it drags. There's only so much mugging and yowling an hour can sustain.
Where Burns pulls it back from the brink is with short demonstrations of how good a writer she can be. Excerpts from Barbara's diary are beautifully observed mini travel thrillers, delivered (in character as Barbara) with icy sophistication – and a mouth made small from excessive oboe practice. K also plays a bit of a blinder towards the end with a madcap audience adventure (and by audience, I mean yours truly) involving hide and seek and elaborate rice painting. She found me very quickly. I was giggling like a little girl behind a bar table.