Could he be the Maestro of Fringe 2016?

To say it's been a long time in the making is a bit of an understatement. Paul Fleckney speaks to Kieran Hodgson, whose symphonic show has been striking a chord this year

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Kieran Hodgson
Published 21 August 2016

Comedy and classical music rarely hang out together. In the past there have been parodists like Dudley Moore and Flanders and Swann, while more recently Bill Bailey has played around with it (memorably seguing from Bach’s 'Toccata and Fugue' into the Ski Sunday theme). Then there’s that clip of André Previn on Morecambe and Wise that gets wheeled out on compilation programmes.

Comedian and actor Kieran Hodgson has done something rather different for his new Edinburgh show, Maestro. Hodgson has, since the age of 11, been writing a symphony. He’s 28 now, and while the symphony might not be complete, the show about it is – and it’s terrific. There’s not a trace of pretentiousness or superiority to it; in fact no knowledge of classical music is required to enjoy it. At its heart, Maestro is a coming of age story, covering 17 years, during which Hodgson finds both classical music and, more importantly, love. As is his style, Hodgson plays all the characters in the show, as well as the narrator.

His symphony is in many ways the show's backing track. And it turns out that there are similarities between the two styles of writing. “You have to start from little ideas,” says Hodgson. “With both of them it’s a combination of big and little. You have the big idea of what you want to write, the overall architecture, then I think, 'What’s a nice tune?' Or with comedy it’s, 'What’s a funny routine?'

“I’m really not well-trained musically, so I was just following my nose. Writing a symphony requires far greater skill than I have, but the main thing is it’s very enjoyable, plonking away on a keyboard. This is part of the sneakiness of the show: if I get some notoriety for [having written a symphony], I might get a legitimate performance of it. I’m not as good as a real composer so it probably wouldn’t happen otherwise.”

Hodgson broke through as a comedian last year, with his show Lance. It told the story of his growing up in West Yorkshire, via one of his big passions: cycling. It was nominated for the Fosters Comedy Award, got a national tour and was adapted for BBC Radio 4. You might recognise his face from TV though, as he has appeared on Jonathan Creek and Count Arthur Strong, as well as playing a role in the Alan Partridge film, Alpha Papa.

A man of many talents, then, and someone who could easily have chosen to move to a bigger venue this year, rather than staying in the intimate Voodoo Rooms, where the shows are free to enter. So with TV beckoning, will he be leaving the Fringe behind him?

“Not at all. I’m happy to carry on. I might have a rest as it’s been fairly intense putting these shows together, but I still want to do live shows. I might have to rejig what the subject is, as the last three shows have all dealt with me coming of age and being a bit weird as a teenager. I think we’ve reached the end of a certain phase.”

Happily, then, we can expect a return to Edinburgh at some point. By which time Hodgson might even have a finished symphony to his name.