Preview: The Great Yorkshire Fringe

Gin in horseboxes, Yorkshire pudding wraps and the famous Four Yorkshiremen make for a distinctively Yorkshire on fringe festivals

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This year’s Great Yorkshire Fringe Festival sounds a bit like a parody of the famous Four Yorkshiremen sketch in which Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Graham Chapman each tried to claim they had the most deprived childhood.

There’s a burger bar in a cattle shed. “Luxury,” you can imagine one of them opining, “we used to eat without a roof over us heads.” And there’s a gin bar set up in a horse box, perhaps begging the comment: “Gin? We didn’t ‘ave price of a cup o’ tea”.

What Palin and co would have had to say about the festival’s star street food, Yorky wraps, can only be guessed. These are flattened Yorkshire puddings filled with roast pork, stuffing and veg and dribbling with a ladle of gravy.

It’s all part of York’s fourth annual fringe, which has established itself as a dress rehearsal for many acts heading north to the Edinburgh Fringe. Forty of the 200-plus shows will move onto the Scottish capital, and last year one of the performers, Bolton stand-up Sophie Willan, won the prize for best newcomer in Edinburgh. Those previewing their performances in York this time include comedians Simon Munnery with his The Wreath (“I went to a funeral the other day. Caught the wreath…”), Tom Stade from Mock the Week and Live at the Apollo, and Omid Djalili with his new show Schmuck for a Night.

Centrepiece of the 11-day festival is York’s Parliament Street, transformed into a half-mile-long village green with a Spiegeltent at each end. These are wood and canvas travelling venues decorated with convex mirrors and stained glass and originally built as dance halls in the late 19th and early 20th century.

“Marlene Dietrich first sang in one of these,” says festival founder and York resident Martin Witts, who runs the Leicester Square Theatre and Museum of Comedy in London. “It’s where young people could sit and see their future husband or wife in the mirror without their parents knowing.” In the centre of the green stands The Tea Pot a 150-seater comedy and cabaret venue.

Big names at the fringe include Reginald D Hunter, the American stand-up now a regular on UK television, Ronnie Scott’s All Stars from the world-famous jazz club, actor and comedian Tony Slattery, plus MP turned funny man Giles Brandreth. And no Yorkshire themed festival would be complete without one of the original Four Yorkshireman. One of which, Michael Palin, will be in conversation with comedy historian Robert Ross.

Launching a CD of their music is the splendidly named Grand Old Uke of York, a 13-strong ukulele orchestra with a fondness for playing music by Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Prince and the Kaiser Chiefs.

“I suppose we’re taking the micky out of London’s view of Yorkshire,” says Witts. “All the shows are about an hour and it’s possible to do five in a day. There’s loads happening on the streets, and lots for kids.”

And who knows? The winner of the 2018 Great Yorkshire Fringe New Comedian of the Year award to be chosen from 500 entrants, 300 of them from Yorkshire, may be a future star of TV stand up.

The Great Yorkshire Fringe runs from 19-29 July in various venues in York. For a full programme of events visit: greatyorkshirefringe.com

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