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Mervyn’s 30th Charity Gala – Pleasance Courtyard

Deciding what to see at the Edinburgh Fringe is relatively easy for ‘media’, as the Fringe Society calls people like me: the invitations roll in before the Fringe even starts, and if there’s something that seems interesting, I’ll see if I can fit it in. But what if you’re a punter, and you’d like to sample a number of shows to see what piques your interest, Mervyn Stutter and his team do a significant amount of legwork, culminating in a ninety-minute Pick of the Fringe show in which acts across various genres present their work. You might not, Stutter remarked at his thirtieth-anniversary charity gala, necessarily like what you see: “it might be sh*t, but it’s quality sh*t!

Mervyn Stutter, photo by Steve Best.
Mervyn Stutter, photo by Steve Best.

The charity in question is The Imibala Trust, a non-profit organisation headquartered in Cape Town, South Africa. They run a number of programmes that benefit children in poverty, the flagship one being the Sponsor-a-Child Programme, the proceeds of which go towards school uniforms and other items such as stationery. In 2022, they supported 2,500 children from disadvantaged communities, and in 2023, over 3,000 had been sponsored by the time their

Stutter raised money for Imibala at his twentieth-anniversary charity gala in 2012, which enabled The Imibala Trust to host a competition called Imibala’s Got Talent. The winner was thirteen-year-old Asemahle Sentiwe. She is now twenty-four, and a mother herself, and Stutter contributed towards the costs of flying her and eight teenagers to the Edinburgh Fringe 2023, where they performed in ‘Yes-Ya-Yebo!’, a “song and dance extravaganza celebrating the 12 official languages of South Africa”. Nobody in the cast, or their families, has ever flown domestically, let alone internationally, and their performance at the charity gala was dynamic and was, frankly, of comparable quality to the other song and dance acts on Strutter’s bill.

Spirit of Ireland’ was quite something– the temptation is to compare it to ‘Riverdance’, and while the Irish footwork is broadly similar, it has a style and musical compositions that very much stamp their own authority. ‘Havana Street Party’, which closed the gala, had the audience on their feet and joining in the fun.

Stand-up comedy came from Ed Byrne, who mentioned how being at the Fringe beats being at home, because, being a family man, at least people listen to him when he’s on stage. Another brief stand-up set was provided by Jo Caulfield, who brought the house down with a detailed description, with highly astute observations, of an occasion when she decided to accompany her husband to the pub, where he was to have drinks with his mates.

Colin Cloud was a very convincing ‘stage mentalist’ – the term is used on his Wikipedia page – being able to use his powers of perception to identify what certain members of the audience were thinking about. Members of ‘Showstopper! The Improvised Musical’ put together a quick story using suggestions for setting and musical styles, amongst other things, and ‘A Comedy of Operas’ considered used physical comedy and associations between opera songs and broadly similar (in terms of melody) chart music songs.

The charity element of the show wasn’t overdone, with an ‘if you would like to support, this is how can you do so’ approach rather than any guilt-tripping or tugging at the emotions. Anthony Alderson, the director of the Pleasance Theatre Trust, made a personal appearance, indicative of the high regard with which Stutter is held at the Fringe. There’s no doubt he will carry on with his ‘Pick of the Fringe’ for as long as he is able to, and both this and his charity sponsorships are rightly highly commended.

Review by Chris Comaweng

With comedy at the heart of his work, the concept for the show was established in 1992, after Mervyn had been successfully running his own solo stand-up show on the Fringe for 5 years.

With the programme for the festival still heavily comedy-focused, he wanted to create a platform that would showcase a whole range of performers and talent, to reflect the fun and spontaneous nature of the festival that he so dearly cherished. Kicking off at the Pleasance Courtyard Cabaret Bar, the show was an instant hit with audiences and his following rapidly grew from there!

Social Media @MervSpotFringe

Mervyn Stutter’s Pick of the Fringe
Pleasance Courtyard (Pleasance One), 60 Pleasance, Edinburgh.

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