The year was 1997, and it was time to be a magician in the Edinburgh Fringe again. This would be my first year in the Southside without my friend Mitch Benn and to make things more interesting I was also planning to do a show in the Lab with another friend Stuart Potter called Science Made Easy. Things were not to go to plan…
The Lab was Southside maestro Lance Buckland’s idea to make the Edinburgh Fringe more accessable to ‘experimental’ shows. Based in a very small room in the new Southside ‘over the road’ it had twenty seats, basic tech and cost fifty pounds to be in the Fringe Programme (as opposed to the three hundred odd for a full show). It was now possible for performers to try out a show without taking a second mortgage, a full ten years before the main onslaught of the various Free Fringes.
The idea of Science Made Easy was simple – Stuart and I would explain all of science in a humerous and entertaining way with the aid of many hats and a whiteboard. I still have the script somewhere, and some of it is still quite amusing. We rehearsed a bit, but I spent far too much time concentrating on my magic show, which was, after all, my bread and butter.
Disaster struck three days before the start of the Fringe. Lance had come up to Edinburgh to oversee the get in and discuss the box office computers with me (I built the machines for him from spares I had lying around the flat). After a very pleasant day I bade him farewell and he drove back down to Oxford. In the small hours of the morning he turned a corner to find a flatbed lorry being pushed up a hill, rolled his car and two days later he was gone.
I remember Mitch’s phone call the next morning – ‘have you heard about Lance?’ he asked. ‘He had a car crash last night and is in a really bad way. They don’t think he’s going to make it’. I was stunned, shocked and all kinds of other grief, standing my the war memorial clock at the Haymarket. All Fringe preparations ground to a halt.
The first show of Science Made Easy was easily the most uncomfortable performance I’ve ever done. Neither Stuart or I could remember the lines, and the general feeling of misery that filled my mind did little to help the seven people who had come along to watch us die on stage. After the show I really wanted to run after them and offer them the five pounds back.
The next morning Stuart and I had a serious chat. The show could not go on as it was, and neither of us had the time to work on it. What to do? That afternoon I was in the courtyard of the Southside and noticed that British Comedy Legend Lenny Henry was sitting on a bench while his daughter, who was waiting for a show, played nearby with some other children.
I approached gingerly and asked ‘Excuse me, can I ask your advice about something?’. He put down his notebook and looked up at me as I explained the situation – we had a bad show and no time to make it better. It was an insult to the audience, and should be cancel the run?
He was blunt – do the show. Make time to rehearse. And stop whining.
‘I’m not whining’, I said, ‘I’ve lost my voice’. He shrugged. We cancelled the show.
The Edinburgh magician, chilling in a Sunny Scotland