Column: Spreading the laughter at a long-awaited but socially distanced gig

Seventeen long months without a single live gig finally ended last week.

Friday, 13th August 2021, 2:28 pm
The socially distanced setting for Craig Hill at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe last week

After umpteen rescheduled and cancelled shows, my other half and I finally got to stand in a queue once more, and it all felt incredibly normal.

Well, apart from the lateral flow test which was a requirement of entry.

The first gag of our comedy gig was me standing in my kitchen trying to swab remotely close to where my tonsils were wheeched out when I was barely eight years old.

And who knew twirling the same cotton bud up each nostril would make your eyes water quite so badly …

But, I’ll take the test every time if it means I get to see a band or comedian on stage, and hear the joyful sound of laughter and applause roll in waves from the very back of the hall.

It’s hard to quantify how much I’ve missed live gigs.

Right now, we would normally be running round Edinburgh seeing four or five Fringe shows every single day for three weeks.

This year - Craig Hill at the Corn Exchange was our lot.

As venues go, it’s just a big square room miles from where the Fringe buzz can be found.

There’s nowhere to sit and soak up the atmosphere - the cafe at Asda next door really doesn’t count - and being so remote from the central venues underlines how the festival has a real challenge as it tries to break out from the city centre.

It was interesting to see how almost everyone did their LFR tests and had their negative results text ready to show on their phones.

One couple behind us in the queue clearly didn’t read the numerous messages, and had wait on security bringing a brown bag with the kit to do their tests while they waited in the queue.

Maybe in the future, ticket touts will sell negative test results no questions asked, along with a brief to get in …

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Inside, we sat in fours or twos, all socially distanced, and with a QR code stuck to the floor to order any drinks.

It felt perfectly safe and relaxed in all honesty, but it makes it even harder to generate the buzz needed at a comedy gig.

Live shows thrive on the atmosphere they create. That can be complete, compelling silence or an audience rising in one, powerful voice.

Achieving that when your audience is socially distanced is a tough ask, so all credit to Craig Hill for commanding such a spread out room.

He is a master of audience interaction, and can make you laugh until it hurt - his routine about Kirkcaldy folk wearing face masks was brilliant, and, possibly, painfully true.

But, sitting in the crowd, at the end of an aisle long enough to park several cars, it was hard to tune into the buzz.

You heard individuals laughing rather than the crowd responding as a whole.

The joy of being back at a gig was constricted by the format and the restrictions.

It felt like a bridge into the future - but one audiences and performers need to cross.

As for the Fringe, I’ll wait until 2022 to dive back into the madness…

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Falkirk Herald.