The Evening Standard, 4 August 2011

Is the Edinburgh Festival finally embracing its smutty side? For years, it has billed itself as a family-friendly festival, which it is. The programme is packed with stuff for kids, for teens, for their parents and even for pets. If you had a border collie with a sufficiently smiley face, it could have auditioned last week for a part in the Fringe show of Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street, doing two performances a night between now and the end of August. For this star turn, your collie would have earned a 6-month supply of dog food making it, I would guess, the proportionately best-paid act on the Fringe.

But after the Fringe introduced age-ratings in its programme last year, people have been stunned to see an apparent doubling in the number of X-rated shows this year. More than 500 – a fifth of the total – are for over-18s. So is this a sign that Edinburgh has finally turned into Sodom, or possibly even Gomorrah?

This year also marks the first time Cabaret has its own section in the programme – though there have been plenty of burlesque and cabaret shows there in the past: La Clique was a sell-out for years, and The Ladyboys of Bangkok have performed on the Meadows for as long as I can remember. Edinburgh is the only place in the country, in my extensive experience, where a cab driver will cheerily tell you he’s taking his wife to see some ladyboys on the weekend.

I suspect the truth is rather less shocking than the headline-grabbing numbers suggest: performers and producers decide their own age-ratings. There is no central board of morality, decreeing that x number of shows are X-rated this year. With comedy, particularly, plenty of performers dread walking out to an audience with children in it, so they rate their shows for over 18s, or 16s at least.

I spent years doing comedy in Edinburgh (or just talking fast for an hour, if you didn’t like it), and I always had an age-restriction on the venue: no under-16s. This was a source of constant hassle to the venue staff, who would be faced with the irate parents of an eight-year-old, accusing me of depriving their child of his human right to sit in a room like a sauna and hear me swear, copiously.

But the thing with comedy is that if a comedian swears in front of a small child, it’s the comedian who looks inappropriate, not the witless parents for bringing him to a totally inappropriate form of entertainment. People would even try to bring babies into the show, saying that since she couldn’t understand, it was fine. And failing to see that nothing creates un-comic tension in a venue like a room full of people waiting for a stranger’s baby to cry. So rather than filling Edinburgh with nudity and violence this year, perhaps the performers have just realised that not everything is, you know, for kids.

The stiletto shoe is much prized by women with smaller feet than mine. My feet are like big, square flippers; they can propel me through water at great speed, but they’re not so good in high heels. Which turns out to be lucky, because stilettos are living up to their name this week: a woman has just been charged with murder in America, for allegedly hitting her boyfriend in the head with her high heel. And this is hardly a one-off incident, either. Not only does just such a murder happen in the ropey 90s film, Single White Female, but a shop assistant in Selfridges once told me she’d seen one woman stab another’s hand with a stiletto during the sales. Turns out sensible shoes really are the safest option, and not just for your bunions.

By the time you read this, I hope it will be raining. And I hope it for two reasons. The first is that I will then look like I can control the weather, which is kinda cool. Or hot. Depends what mood I’m in. And the second is that my flat will no longer feel like the jungle. Why is hot London so much grimmer than hot anywhere else? I can’t decide if it’s because I live here all year round, so have to work in the heat and not swan about pondering a swim, like I would if I were on holiday. Or is it the humidity, which means I turn up everywhere just feeling like I swam there? I know air-conditioning is a sign of moral and ecological weakness, but how about if we just did Regent’s Park, so I can go for a nice cool walk? That wouldn’t be selfish, surely.

If you are staying in London this August, but still want the fun of the Edinburgh Fringe, the Camden Fringe started this week. Although it can’t promise everything that Edinburgh can (a minimum of six productions of Macbeth every year, and at least three Medeas), it does offer great comedy and theatre in hot venues which are much nearer your house than Scotland (unless you’re reading this online, in Scotland). And there are bound to be at least a couple of shows which still being written, just like Edinburgh. So why not head up through the soon-to-be air-conditioned Regent’s Park, past the zoo and the newly cool penguins, and take in a show?