Hustlers and courtesans - my week on the Fringe

Daniel Cainer is in Edinburgh with his show, ‘Jewish Chronicles’, competing for an audience with 2,500 other acts

August 12, 2010
Daniel Cainer takes time out between performances in Edinburgh this week. He’s “praying for the word of mouth to kick in”

Daniel Cainer takes time out between performances in Edinburgh this week. He’s “praying for the word of mouth to kick in”

Tuesday August 3
Welcome to Scotland, says the sign at the border, "home of Rabbi Burns", and on to the city of Edinburgh, home - for the next three weeks - of Jewish Chronicles, my Fringe show of stories in song about all things, erm, Jewish.

Arrive at the flat I've rented for the month at huge expense. Edinburgh landlords are wise to the captive needs of both festival-goers and performers and will lease you a small cupboard for a price equivalent to the GNP of a small African nation. This is a conversion in an old brewery towards the bottom of the Royal Mile - small but nicely appointed with a great view over the chimney pots to Arthur's Seat.

Unload the domestics and then look for the venue. This year I'm in the Roman Eagle Masonic Lodge at the top of the Royal Mile. The wood-panelled hall is frantically being disguised with black drapes, scaffolding and seating.

The Jews and the Masons have much in common. Both are frequently accused of being part of a worldwide power conspiracy and both prominently feature the six-pointed star in their repertoire of mystical symbols. Plus my local rabbi's surname is Mason. It's a space that's normally host to handshaking, chanting in strange languages and men in bizarre costume. Much like a synagogue, really.

Wednesday August 4

Get a call from my publicist to tell me that her cat has died so she won't be able to come up. Her job would be to get some press coverage and jostle with the rottweiler reviewers and convince them to come into my show early in the run. Then the all-important (and hopefully good) reviews can be published and a curious public will seek out my show among the 2,500 others here. I wish her long life.

Spend the afternoon trying to finish my new 15- minute song about a Jewish girl in the 1950s who runs away to join a fundamentalist Christian sect. I don't.

Dress rehearsal. Not being Grayson Perry I decide to wear a suit for the show. I busk through my new songs, la-la-ing the bits I haven't learned yet. Miraculously, I don't go over the allotted hour. If I do I will be fined. As I shlep my heavy keyboard down the stairs backstage the next act is coming up. They are gorgeous young women in bodices and period costume and I have to squeeze past their decolletages. What they see is an old codger, catching his breath, huffing, puffing and shvitzing. Still, they call themselves "Five Clever Courtesans" so the experience should be quite familiar.

Visit the venue press office to ask why my press release which I supplied weeks ago has not been approved and sent out. Vanessa, the young, newly appointed press officer, has heard that I am writing this piece for the JC and wants to make sure that C-Venues gets a mention. There, I've mentioned it. Everyone is hustling. There are hoards of performers on the streets thrusting flyers everywhere and at everything. There are hundreds of posters and billboards and hoardings and signs. I haven't seen anything advertising my own show yet, though I've paid the GNP of a not-quite-so-small African nation for a distribution company to place them and post them.

A woman approaches me in the press office. "Did I hear you say you are from the Jewish Chronicle?" She's Jewish and, of course, she's seen a chance for some coverage. I say I'll try and mention her show and take her flyer. I've lost her particular flyer now, of course, but there are millions more. More flyers than there are stars in the firmament. The way to make some serious money here is to be in the printing business.

Thursday August 5

There is nothing to make coffee with in my flat yet but thankfully I discover a Starbucks just two minutes' walk away. I know that it's technically forbidden to eat there, although I may drink coffee as long as it's served in a disposable cup. But I am a modern, lapsed, secular Jew and take guilty pleasure from the ceramic.

The Fringe is starting to swing and walking up or down the Royal mile is like negotiating a slalom course where, instead of gates, the obstacles are over-enthusiastic troupes of teenage students dressed in outrageous costumes. Up at Teviot Place, by the university, an inflatable, inverted cow the size of a large building is swaying in the brisk wind, udders in the air.

I have a pocket full of my own flyers now and am assessing passers-by as to whether they are suitable prospects, even though this year I was determined to employ my own troupe of enthusiastic teenagers to do the job for me. In a nano-second I have to decide - friend or foe, attractive or no, theatre or comedy, music or dance and, in my case, Jewish or at least sympathetic to the Jews. It reminds me of being constantly pestered in an Arab souk, only here it's the arts that are for sale instead of carpets.

My first preview show and a small but select audience are warm and receptive and join in the sing-along finale with gusto like a choir of chazonim. Because of the ad-libbed shtick between numbers I nearly run over time and have to perform my last piece slightly faster than a particle in the Large Hadron Collider. I'm not very happy with the dynamic of the whole show and am resigned to working long into the night in an attempt to fix it.

Outside there are soldiers in uniform and horses lined up ready for the Tattoo. For obvious historical reasons I'm not that keen on the tattoo - although that never stopped Amy Winehouse.

Friday August 6

My opening night proper - a respectably-sized audience give me huge cheers and an ovation - either that or they are standing early in a desperate hurry to leave. Now we hope and pray for the word of mouth to kick in.

Saturday August 7

Grab a bite to eat at the Mosque Kitchen - the irony is not lost on me. I find myself sitting next to the assistant director of Five Guys Named Moe. I make the tenuous link between her show and mine, except mine is more about five books named Mo.

I have a pretty full house too. I always try to find out the demographic of the audience when I start and tonight it is about one-third Jewish. For some accidently-on-purpose reason they are all seated together, segregated if you will. I share a joke with them about it not quite being sundown and we all cower in fear of being struck by lightning.

Sunday August 8

Another good house! The same demographic split. My fears about an overtly Jewish show not being of interest to anyone who isn't Jewish are turning out to be unfounded. How Jewish of me to expect persecution when there isn't any.

Monday August 9

This morning there are monsoon quantities of rain. The massive, larger-than- life size posters that I have extravagantly and embarrassingly purchased have started to appear around town. I'm told there is one directly outside the city mosque. There's no business like showbusiness.

Watch a clip from the show here

More Edinburgh festival picks

Daniel Cainer's 'Jewish Chronicles' is at the C Aquila venue, Johnston Terrace, Edinburgh EH1 until August 29.

Last updated: 10:15am, August 18 2010