Monday, 27 August 2012

The Spank Experience

I knew before the Fringe even started that I was going to end the Festival with a trip to Spank as a mate had decided that was what he wanted to do for his birthday. Whilst it's not the sort of show I'd normally see, with it's reputation for good acts, late night lively banter and high price tag (£15.50) I had high hopes as I went along with around 15 of my friends.

My first of many disappointments came when I realised that the line up I'd seen on Twitter was for Spanktacular (the Saturday night only show that Underbelly also run at the big cow) and not Spank.

I asked the Underbelly folk on Twitter what the Spank line up was, they gave me the Spanktacular line up... and when I asked if they were the same show I never got a reply. (Subsequent research shows they are not - the big acts all go to Spanktacular on a Saturday).

The second disappointment was when I got into the room and realised that there were very few seats left even although we got in the queue 10 minutes before the start time.

The third disappointment was that the room was horrible. I knew the Underbelly was going to be a bit damp and cramped, but I didn't expect their flagship late show to be in a room with huge pillars in front of the stage and I didn't expect at least a dozen of the 165 seats on sale to be directly behind said pillars, forcing people to choose between a seat and a view of the stage. There was also no screen between the bar and performance area. What a terrible room for comedy!

The fourth disappointment of the night was the bar. The only spirits on sale... Sambuca, Tequila and Jager. But no vodka? So the girlfriend got a Smirnoff ice. The barman was kind enough to let me know it was warm only after he had charged me £12.20 (for that and two Buds) and after he had given me my change. "Is that OK mate" he said. With 20 other folk waiting to be served and staring at the back of my head I guess it had to be!

Disappointment number five was the banging techno from the room next door - something you expect when you go to a free show but not at a £15.50 Big Venue Flagship late show.

Disappointment number six was the acts, none of which were up to much or really got the crowd going. (A few had some OK material that could have worked better on another night). I was hoping for some big names but I hadn't heard of any of the acts that I saw.

Disappointment number seven was the number of people chatting (which you expect to a certain extent at a late show, but the two close to me were at it non-stop for 15 minutes).

Disappointment number eight was the staff members who stood right next to the door watching the comedy, rather than asking the two noisy birds to shut up (even although they were literally right next to them).

Disappointment number nine was the lack of toilet facilities anywhere near the performance area... To pee you had to head out, through the yard past all the smokers, into the bar, up a spiral staircase, through another bar and in...  By the time you get back it's a ten minute round trip and that's assuming you don't get caught in the midst of a show going in or out in which case it could be fifteen.

On the plus side, the comperes tried to get the crowd going, the music they played at the start was decent. One compere was Kate Smurfwaite who I'm a fan of (and that opinion hasn't changed - she didn't do anything wrong). I also like the idea of the "naked promo" which gives fringe performers the chance to plug their show as long as they get naked whilst doing it.

But the overall experience was horrible and it wasn't just me who felt this way. The decision to leave at the interval was unanimous amongst our group, so I never found out if anyone did the naked promo.

There has been a lot of talk about this Fringe being a vanguard for change, with some big acts not selling tickets, others getting ahead of the game and agreeing to do free shows and lots of people tuning on promoters, slating them for hoovering up all the profits.

I got some stick for telling people to support The Stand and the Free Festival at the start of the run from a performer at the one of the Big Four venues... Well, after experiencing this year's Fringe, and Spank in particular, I'll be doing the same again next year.

Had I taken my own advice and gone to The Stand, the only real comedy club in Edinburgh, I would have experienced none of the above issues. I would have known what I was going to see, (the Spank Facebook page still only has a list of acts for the 24th) and I would have experienced none of the logistical problems.

And let me say rather uncontroversially... The Free Festival would have put on at least as good a show! If not better.

I have sung the praises of Shaggers, run by my mate Nik Coppin many times, but I have to question why anyone would want to go to Spank over a Free Show like Shaggers, which is at least as good in terms of the acts on stage and far better in terms of the room and the atmosphere.

Yes you would still have 1-2 of the problems that I experienced at Spank - occasional drunks chatting at the back, some music from outside creeping in and the toilets in Three Sisters are among the worst, but when it comes to value for money, there is no contest! If you like it, chuck some money in the bucket! If you don't you can leave and at least you are still in the middle of one of the liveliest venues in Edinburgh!

In times of a recession, people will not be taken for mugs and I certainly won't be lining the pockets of Ed Bartlam again. Other people are starting to feel the same way, with more and more supporting the Free Festival.

I can't wait to see what next year will bring! With the creative but divisive Peter Buckley-Hill rumoured to be retiring, The Free Fringe and the Free Festival might even start to benefit each other again!

Whatever happens, I hope it's for the benefit of the performers and audience!

It's been fun... Just a shame that my Festival ended on a low point.

Spank gets zero stars from me!


Anonymous said...

You sound like a lot of fun. Get a grip, it's the festival

Anonymous said...

euyes the venue is shit but so are most venues at the fringe. for your drinks you could have just gone out to the main bar which is what i do. the acts always vary in quality at an mixed bill night, but the headline act is at the end of the night so by leaving you missed that person so you're commenting on the quality of half a show. and turning up only ten minutes before a show is a fringe schoolboy error!!! get a pint and get there 15 or 20 minutes before a big show and stand and chat with your mates in the queue and you'll be fine. the underbelly caves has some shit spaces in it, i agree, but it has great acts and i've been to spank loads and have never been disappointed, there's always enough good acts to justify the night out. i saw thom tuck's excellent show at the free fringe last week. the noise from the bar staff and the other performer in the adjacent cave and then that performers audience leaving after it had finished was far louder than anything i've experienced at spank or any other paid for venue. i agree that the stand is the honourable way to go, but don't delude yourself that it's much better as a venue. tiny toilets with a huge queue for men to wee is ridiculous and bad sight-lines if you sit to the side of the stage. they're all crap, but it's the fringe so it's fine. don't give the pair of etonian pricks that run the underbelly your money next year, but don't slag off a great comedy night that has consistently delivered for me for years.

Anonymous said...

I'm not usually one to wade in a defend a comedy night as most have their pros and cons but I have to say something about this. I've been to Spank three years running now and I have to say it's my favourite late show. The compères are friendly, the atmosphere is always a party one and that acts are mostly fantastic. As with any venue that has different acts each night the standard will vary from night to night but as someone who goes to lots of late night shows, Spank is the most consistently high one. It very rarely falls into the heckler bear pit that Late 'n' Live has become and even on a rowdy night the acts pull it back and keep command of the room.

As for the venue, a majority of the venues are not purpose built and have faults, Spank is no different. However it is a 3 hour show so if you need to go to the toilet go before or wait for the 20/30min interval in the middle, meaning you only have to hold your bladder for a bit over an hour. Providing you hold it surely that's enough time for you to make it up the stairs and back. As for drinks I'm surprised you didn't work out what even the most drunk stag do's have figured out and buy them beforehand or in the aforementioned interval. You can get jugs of beer and and all other drinks from the bar next door. I've always planned ahead by 10mins and been happy enough.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion and if the beginning of the show wasn't to your liking then fair enough but if you walked out before the second half and the other three acts, including the headliner then surely you don't have an accurate view of the night.

Anonymous said...

'"naked promo" which gives fringe performers the chance to plug their show as long as they get naked whilst doing it.'

Fuck me, that right there is the problem with this shithole, a startling lack of respect for the performers. It's as bad as the shows where performers are getting flanned or dropped through trap doors, I hope the cunt who thought of this takes a stroll under a fucking bus.

Tomohawk Paul McGinn said...

Well, just to not keep you curious, I'm the guy who was naked on stage that night! There was another dude who got naked, but he didn't have a show to promote, he just wanted to be naked!
I have to say that was 10 time scarier than any performance I've done, but like most things on stage, it gets easier when you're up there. And it was helped by the fact that one of the acts said I had a nice arae once i got off!