A sideshow, a conceptual dinner, Edgar Allen Poe in circus and magic psychology

A few days ago myself and two friends got back from the Edinburgh Fringe. I’ll be using photos I found online because, rather than reflecting the beautiful Georgian buildings or lively street performers, most of our holiday pictures look like these two below:

Steve’s arm performs an optical illusion

For further details of streets and shops have a look at this previous post). For now here is a list of my favourite shows this year:

Rachel (right) and I show how we’d dance in an Amsterdam brothel

1. The Curious Couple from Coney Island. Set to a background of 30s jazz and covered with a sprinkling of sideshow history, this engaging couple swallowed swords in ever more dangerous ways, pulled condoms through noses and made me laugh lots. By the end I wanted to run off with them to form an alternative lifestyle couple.

2. Backhand Theatre and Circus Performs Edgar Allen Poe. Using poems and snippets of story from the gothic horror scribe, The Backhand Theatre company have formed a very visual and very intriguing play. I was amazed by the constantly moving sets and spooky story of a mental asylum owner willing to do whatever it took to keep the hospital running his way.

You’re being watched

3. Richard Wiseman. Psychologist, magician, author and supernatural debunker Richard Wiseman led us on a very funny journey of video clips and magic tricks. He reminded us how fascinating the brain really is by explaining our need to see faces in everything in case we miss the one hunting us in the trees, thus creating ‘ghosts’ in the darkness. He illustrated his point by showing us pictures of sneaky roofs and happy light switches.

The Curious Couple from Coney Island

4. Simon Munnery. My favourite I’ve saved to the end. Simon Munnery is one of my favourite comedians ever. Partly inspired by Andy Kaufman, he’s a delightful bag of surreal silliness. We went to both his shows this year, I Am A Fylm Makker (in which he performed the entire show off to the side, projecting his face via camera onto a big screen in front of us) and La Concepta.

Whilst I loved the songs and silly cardboard figures he’d made for Fylm Makker, nothing can compare to 8 of us sitting around a table in a windowless artist’s warehouse being served bizarre and silly concepts for dinner.

Because they only sold 8 tickets at a time, the amount of chairs available in the ‘restaurant,’ it was an intense experience and felt a bit like we’d all swallowed an untested drug, especially his final entrance wearing an enormous chef’s hat pumped up by pneumatics attached to his feet. The video I’ve added below won’t capture that experience, but here are a couple of the things we witnessed at La Concepta restaurant:

Ooh, it’s the Jeckyll and Hyde

But wait…there’s more! Along the way we visited a hippie chocolate and milkshake place with surrealist cups hanging from the ceiling called The Chocolate Tree, wandered around the book fair (missed getting tickets for Neil Gaiman though) and sat in the spooky Jeckyll and Hyde pub, as featured on eeriepubs.co.uk.

So that’s it from me. Below I’ve included the best picture of the three of us, just to prove that we are indeed human beings like anyone else.

Us at the Book Fair

All you need for spooky Christmas viewing

It’s definately wintery here; sometimes snowing, then raining, then both at once. Christmas will soon be upon us! I’ve decided in future to put up Halloween decorations for Christmas rather than the traditional although I’d still have a tree, just an unusually adorned one. I don’t abide by all this ‘I hate Christmas’ cynicism, put tinsel in your hair and run through the streets naked and weeping I say! I’m not remotely religious but there’s always time to do that. Unless you’re Jewish. Or Muslim. Or Hindu. Or Budhist. Or Sikh or…something else.

Anyway…rather than watching repeats of Only Fools and Horses for the 500th time I’ve concocted a witch’s brew of eye goodies to make Christmas a spooky, strange or otherwise unusual affair, as I often do each year. If you don’t own any of these things I recommend them.

1: The Last American Freak Show. A documentary by Richard Butchins covering the exploits of a modern day travelling freak show. Reality, as is often the case, never quite lives up to expectation and Richard, a disabled man himself, struggles with the implications of the show and the haphazard way its run.

2. Freaks. It just makes sense to watch it after viewing the first one. Made in 1932, Tod Browning’s film is as good as ever.

3. Psychoville Halloween special. I love all of psychoville, particularly the librarian, but the Halloween special is a good spooky/funny standalone hour.

4. The League of Gentleman Christmas special. Same as above but different and more Christmas orientated. And brilliant.

5. Amicus horror compilations. The above two are heavily influenced by such films as Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror. Entertaining fun!

6. The Others. I love this film. Alejandro Amen√°bar’s direction is extremely atmospheric with enough fog for an early Hammer horror. Plus Christopher Eccleston’s in it and I love him.

7. Oddities. It’s ridiculous fluff in the style of Pawn Stars for weirdos but I enjoy it, I think its fun. Watch it online somewhere or on Discovery Realtime.

8. Coraline. It’s cute! From a story originally by Neil Gaiman and directed by Nightmare Before Christmas’ Henry Selick.

9. Black Mirror. Disturbing viewing and best avoided during the festive dinner, but otherwise Charlie Brooker’s three stories are amazing and necessary watching.

10. Dr Who. The disturbing episodes are my favourites, usually either by League of Gentleman co-writer Mark Gatiss (also have a look at his History of Horror on BBC 4) or head writer Steven Moffat.

11. Dead Set. Again by Charlie Brooker its tense, atmospheric and Derren Brown co-writer Andy Nyman gets to spout some very inventive insults.

12. Derren Brown. Is it wrong to find him hammering nails up his nose and walking on glass slightly erotic? My favourites are the disturbing series Trick or Treat, live show Something Wicked This Way Comes, his latest offerings The Experiments and the third series of Tricks of the Mind.

13. Twin Peaks. Zavvi are currently selling the gold disc set of both series plus lots of extras of Twin Peaks for just over £20. Woo hoo!

So there concludes our festive list of fun. There’s bound to be things I’ve forgotten, but try not to wail and rend your garments until you’ve at least opened your presents. Farewell!

Black Mirror by Charlie Brooker and The Experiments by Derren Brown

For the love of God watch Black Mirror by Columnist and writer of Dead Set etc Charlie Brooker if you haven’t already. I mean it! Or I’ll come round your house and…be really annoying and stuff. For me the last two episodes do what good sci-fi should do which is reflect the fears and worries of a society at that moment. On the Twilight Zone DVD is an interview with writer and creator Rod Serling and the interviewer asks him whether he plans to continue with sci-fi or write something important. You only have to watch The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street though to see the terror of cold war hysteria.

I think its important viewing, like Derren Brown’s most recent forays in The Experiments, particularly Derren’s episodes on de-individuation and personal guilt.