Masks, Fried Pies and the Loudest Hand Dryers in the Western World

A blog post about my experiences at the 2010 Edinburgh Fringe originally published by Vision & Media

It’s a sunny afternoon on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, as hot a day as Scotland saw since the late Cretaceous. Tourists swarm and flit like shoals of fish in a coral reef. Some smile when they see me; some give a curt shake of the head that means, ‘no, not interested’; some stare steadfastly into the distance, convincing themselves that I do not exist at all. Beneath the mask I’m wearing, rivulets of sweat run down my face and collect in a pool under my chin. My stomach churns like a washing machine full of snooker balls and I’ve got the sort of hangover Stephen King could turn into a 750-page bestseller.

How did I get here?

My background is in comedy writing for radio, TV and the stage. In 2006 I came to the Edinburgh Fringe as a punter and thought it would be fun to do a show here. There was an awful lot of comedy, I noted (hardly an original observation, admittedly), so perhaps the way to stand out from the crowd would be to do a show that was scary? I wrote one – The Lullaby Witch – a monologue about a plucky music journalist who tracks down a killer, for my actress friend Laura Harper. I had no experience as a theatre producer so initially we staged the play close to home at Manchester’s 24:7 Theatre Festival in 2007. It proved popular, picking up a nomination in the Manchester Evening News Theatre Awards for Best New Play, and transferred to the Bolton Octagon and Manchester’s Library Theatre. Emboldened by this local success we decided last year the time was right to take the show to the Fringe.

Several months and nearly two grand later I find myself standing on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile wearing a cheap copy of a Venetian carnival mask, handing out flyers for The Lullaby Witch to the passing hordes. And the weird thing is – they’re taking them. The mask is helping. It’s certainly a less frightening sight than the face currently underneath it. Last night I imbibed enough whisky to drown a small bear and I ate a fried pie from a takeaway that tasted like a grease-covered birthday card. Consequently I’m not looking my best.

And yet my spirits are high.

We’ve had good audiences for the show (28 on our opening night; the Fringe average is 5). Laura’s performance has been nothing short of stunning. And we’ve caught up with some old friends and made many new ones. There have been niggles, of course. There has been a distinct lack of press reviews (our one-week run and decision to do drama rather than comedy reduced our chance of reviews – so much for wanting to stand out from the crowd). A scheduling cock-up meant we had to squeeze our show into a slightly too-small slot, necessitating script-cuts and frantic changeovers. And the toilet hand-dryers in our venue were so loud that they threatened to drown out our show altogether (tip for anyone doing a monologue at the Royal College of Surgeons at next year’s Fringe: bring a megaphone). But these obstacles are, you learn, all part of the Fringe experience and a rite of passage that any fledgling theatre company should endure. The fun and adrenalin carry you through, two substances in plentiful supply in Edinburgh at this time of year.

A pretty girl walks by. I offer her a flyer, the anonymous mask giving me license to approach. She grins diffidently and takes it. I look at my watch. I’ve been flyering for over an hour. It must be time for a whisky…

Mark Griffiths’s debut novel ‘Space Lizards Stole My Brain!’ will be published by Simon & Schuster in January 2012.

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