Edinburgh Fringe 2016
Morningside Malcolm is back in another yarn with more twists and turns than the average maze. As usual, there’s a denouement to surprise and fascinate. And don’t you just love that little man from Pilton.
Robin Cairns first brought his alter ego, Morningside Malcolm, to the Fringe in 2011 for a week at a very small venue. He’s popped up in a number of very interesting places since but this year’s choice of The Loft in the Outhouse is something of an outlier, hidden away as it is at the end of Broughton Street Lane.
But it proves worth the trek, allowing Cairns’ merry band of followers to reconnect with the bewildering range of characters that have emerged over the past few years as he explores the unique psyche of upper-class Edinburgh man and that of his somewhat earthier compatriot from Glasgow, the Weegie.
For those of you that haven’t been around these past five years, a summary of the plot so far. Malcolm lives in Morningside. He’s allergic to Leith and is such a wimp that he’s at risk from getting whiplash blowing the froth off his (free) café latte in Waitrose. So you can imagine his horror when, three years ago, his only daughter Jennifer married a Weegie. And not just any old Weegie, but the son of Big Urquie, someone he thought he’d left behind at St Abbs Junior School in the underdeveloped far west.
Three years on, Jennifer has graduated and produced wee Malcolm, a grandchild for the eponymous hero of this wandering tale. But what’s this? It looks very much like we’re at a funeral. And isn’t that Big Urquie’s wife, dressed as the widow in a black boob tube complete with a veil that barely conceals a tan like a breaded haddock? Has Big Urquie finally met his maker? And why are all those Glasgow hoodlums now fawning over Malcolm? Is he about to be crowned the king of this seedy underworld? And does this explain the presence of what look like undercover PC Plods and men from Special Branch?
To describe the 2016 plot as labyrinthine does it an injustice given that, as usual, it contained four or five interwoven threads, each with several characters (male and female). The whole lot came together in a fitting, very amusing (and possibly final) denouement at the end of an hour’s show that was more like a one-man tour-de-force than a bloke spinning a yarn.
Cairns’ definition of his characters was, yet again, precise and consistent. The Ned, Lee-Ann (Big Urquie’s ten-bob tart of a wife), Kate (Malcolm’s long suffering wife) and of course the eponymous Morningsider himself each have distinct accents, mannerisms and phraseology which ensures that we always know just where we are and who is doing what to whom. And this year we also had traffic wardens, visitors from south of the border, a very upper class man of the cloth, and of course that wonderful little man from Pilton continues to make cameo appearances throughout the show.
There is much, rich material to admire as a stream of one-liners and parodies are skilfully woven around the plot itself and you feel that you’ve met, or at least know by sight, all of the characters who feature in it – some you’d cross the road to avoid, others remind you alarmingly of yourself.
So, what happened to Big Urquie? Is Malcolm now king of the Edinburgh coffee shops? And just who is this mystery person trying to turn the Fringe into a mafia-run enterprise? I’m saying nothing. But do watch out for that little man from Pilton.
This show is a real hidden gem, given that you aren’t going to stumble across the Outhouse by accident! Whilst there was a generous sprinkling of people there earlier this week, its quality makes this a show that’s really worth seeking out. And when the audience stays behind afterwards, swopping notes on what’s happened, reliving previous stories and speculating on whether there will even be another instalment next year, you know that the artist has nailed it.