Twonkey’s Castle

The Beehive Inn, 28 Grassmarket, Edinburgh, daily during August 2011

****1/2

Twonkey’s Castle takes place above a pub as part of the Free Fringe and is the brainchild of Paul Vickers, a cult musician now branching out into comedy. Before he dropped his flyer on to my table two weeks ago, I’d never heard of him.

The show begins, I reckon, before you even take a seat. Vickers appears at the bottom of the stairs looking unsure of himself, peering at the waiting crowd like they’re all in the wrong place, and shouts up at ‘Margaret’ asking her if it’s all good to go.

It’s one of several moments where you don’t know if Vickers is putting on an act or just being himself, mysteries that remain pretty much unresolved even after the show is over. Is Vickers really struggling to work that ipod each and every time? I wouldn’t put money on it either way.

The story, such as it is, involves Twonkey (a weird looking toy) on the move, as his home is haunted by the silent movie actress Lillian Gish. She gets a lengthy story (highly amusing) and then a full song in her honour. Still, I can’t help but think that it’s her name more than anything that got Vickers’ juices flowing. It wouldn’t have been a tenth as funny if it had been the ghost of Mary Pickford, a name that doesn’t have any subliminal comedy value. But ‘Gish’ sounds like a cheeky amalgam of ‘gash’ and ‘minge’, or is that just me?

The songs are performed from a pre-recorded backing track with Vickers giving it his all on mightily impressive live vocals. Vickers is a very witty lyricist, but these are not comedy songs, and wont get laughs during a live performance. No, these songs are good.

The comedy doesn’t let up though. A prediction: ‘You have a fear of bread, made difficult by your love of sandwiches’. A book review: ‘It’s like passing out on a plane, coming to and realising you’ve left the oven on.’

For those not satisfied with top grade comedy and music, the show also boasts some educational value. You may know all about Greyfriars Bobby, but had you heard the story of Bruntsfield Lotte? Didn’t think so. Not to mention The Technical Guide to a Robin, which, if Vickers gets more exposure, could do for ornithology what Indiana Jones did for that job where you dig up stuff. Please note, however, his claim that when a Twonkey dies it turns into a Robin is nothing short of pure conjecture.

The show runs for just over 40 minutes, which feels like the perfect length. The best show I saw this year (barring Twonkey) was Tony Law at The Stand. For 40 minutes he was spectacular, then it all petered out with 15 minutes still to fill.

Twonkey finishes in some style, with a performance of ‘Hot Beryl’, a new Vickers number about a drink, not the object of his affections (assuming these are not the same thing). It’s half a pint of Tennants mixed in with half a pint of gin, warmed in the hob till it tastes of hot sick, ‘a real jockey’s ale’. And delivered with the vocal panache which has Vickers being constantly compared to Tom Waits.

And the beauty of it is that you can buy ‘Hot Beryl’ on the way out. The song, not the ale. If The Beehive Inn agreed to sell you that drink, they’re breaking every licensing law in the book. Two CDs are on sale for £5 each, including the show’s quasi-soundtrack ‘Oom-Pah!’ ‘It costs money to look this cheap,’ Mr Vickers tells us. ‘Feel free to put money in the bucket. Pay a fiver and get an album. Or you could just fuck off.’ I hope that for the majority of his run he got packed rooms and they ponied up on the way out. £5 for 45 minutes of splendid comedy ‘n’ song and an album?!? You should be wearing a mask! With 2 CDs thrown in, £10 for this has got to be just about the best deal you’ll get at the Fringe (without trying to get something for nothing like a twat).

Twonkey and Vickers were now firmly on my radar after this show. He really should be a national institution by now. But it was listening to Oom-pah! that made me a firm fan.

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