Despite living a mere 40 minute drive away from Shaftesbury, I’d never actually been there. I forget just how close we are to Dorset here in Wiltshire sometimes! Anyway, as well as being famous for being the place where they filmed the classic Hovis commercial – you know, the one with the boy pushing his bike up the very steep hill and then riding back down again – it also boasts it’s own fringe festival. A wonderful three day event spread out across the entire town that showcases the very best in music, comedy and performance art.
After arriving into Shaftesbury just after 10am, we set about exploring what the town had to offer. Naturally, we took a walk up the famous Gold Hill which is every bit as steep as it looks, and took a few moments to admire the frankly stunning views of the surrounding Dorset countryside. Photos really don’t do it justice in my opinion. It really needs to be experienced first-hand.
After a quick coffee and a bacon roll, we helped a lovely couple to move an enormous pink fibreglass Dodo, (Honestly!) and then headed off to The Mitre to catch our first show.
“Hair of the dog” was an hour long stand-up comedy routine from Caroline Mabey. I’ve never heard of Caroline before but according to the spiel in the Fringe guide she is a writer for The News Quiz on BBC Radio 4 and has garnered positive reviews from the likes of The Guardian and Chortle, so I was expecting good things. I clearly wasn’t the only one either as the room was absolutely packed out from front to back.
Sadly though, I left feeling somewhat underwhelmed.
The two most important things when it comes to stand up comedy are (a) material and (b) delivery. First and foremost your material needs to be good. It needs to be interesting. It needs to take the audience on a journey from start to finish. It needs to be relatable and memorable.
But above all, it needs to actually be funny.
The problem with “Hair of the dog” was that it was none of those things.
The entire routine felt incredibly disjointed throughout, with Caroline herself struggling to remember half of her routine. The constant references to members of the audience were all taken in good spirits but just weren’t particularly funny. Particularly cringeworthy was the routine towards the end of the hour where one particular audience member was brought up onto stage and groomed like a dog. There were ripples of nervous laughter throughout the room as this was going on, but I suspect most people were just doing so out of politeness and not because they were actually finding the frankly embarrassing performance amusing.
Thankfully the next event would wipe all the disappointment of the previous hour away in one fell swoop.
I had booked tickets previously to see Iain Lee and Katherine Boyle when they played The Rondo Theatre in Bath last year. But when the day came around my anxiety unfortunately got the better of me and I couldn’t go.
This time though I managed it. And boy am I glad I did.
The Rabbit Hole is a podcast that Iain and Kath record in front of a small, live audience. There’s no script and no set pieces. Just the pair of them dicking around on stage for an hour to the delight of the audience. The audience get involved as well of course. Anyone is free to speak up or chip in whenever they feel like it and the hosts will treat your contribution with either the respect or contempt that it deserves. Either way, nobody is made to feel singled out or embarrassed. It’s all good, harmless fun and everyone had a good time. Being a part of such an intimate performance almost feels like you’re sat there having a laugh with a group of friends. But you’re not. You’re sat in a theatre, having a laugh and playing ‘Guess who?’ with radio royalty and a handful of friends that you’ve never met before.
We were both genuinely gutted when the hour was up as we were having a such a good time. But at least Iain and Katherine were kind enough to stick around for photos afterwards, and they were both as lovely as I had hoped. I will certainly be booking to see them again at The Rondo in September and I highly recommend you do too!
Our final show of the day took place in the hottest, stuffiest room in Shaftesbury Arts Centre. A far cry from the air conditioned aisles of it’s source material.
“Tesco: The Opera” is a unique one-man show that takes the audience through a typical day at the UK’s biggest supermarket. Creator and performer Steve Clarke has somehow managed to fuse the misery of the weekly shop and the the classic opera format together with hilarious results. Songs about the customers, the reduction wizards and the perils of the self-scan checkout all make for a highly enjoyable hour of music and comedy. I would certainly be intrigued to catch another of his shows in the future. Great fun.
And so that was Shaftesbury Fringe. A very well organised event set in beautiful surroundings. We’ve certainly taken some great memories away with us and I’m sure that everyone else who attended over the weekend will have too. Here’s to next year!