Harriet Braine: Edinburgh Fringe Spotlight

2016's Funny Women Stage Award winner, and former Edinburgh student, Harriet Braine brings her musical comedy debut to the Fringe

Feature by Ben Venables | 12 Jul 2017
  • Harriet Braine

You are set to delve into art history through parody song. Are you an art buff?

I am a bit of an art buff, but to be really honest, I get all my facts from Wikipedia like everyone else. I studied MA Fine Art, or The MAFiA as me and my peers liked to call it, because we were so cool. It was a great course – half art history and half studio practice. I specialised in printmaking, but then discovered I didn't really want to be a commercial artist (which is where printmaking might naturally lead) so I attempted all sorts of things, including animation, performance art and film making, as well as doing a lot of extracurricular music and theatre stuff on the side. My dissertation was pretty awful in the end. Thus the whole art history musical comedy thing makes perfect sense!

You know Edinburgh well, what was your first introduction to the Fringe while living in the city?

The summer after first year, I didn't stay in Edinburgh during the Fringe, so it must have been my second year, 2011, when I had a real baptism-of-fire kind of Fringe experience. I ended up joining the Press Office at the Pleasance, as someone else had fallen ill and they needed a quick replacement. It was mad. The team were amazing, but it was hard work and I didn't get to see much in the way of shows. I went back the year after as well, but two years was definitely enough.

I thought it might be nice to do something creative in future Fringes, but never really imagined I would eventually perform a solo hour. I did get to help Idil Sukan photograph Ruby Wax at one point, though, which was definitely one of the many massive perks of the Pleasance job.

While in Edinburgh you were with the alternative theatre group Paradok, has it helped prepare you to perform musical comedy?

I was a Paradok fan girl for at least two years before I got involved. I started out as a stage manager, on our production of Gormenghast in the Trinity Apse, a super creepy old church tucked behind the Royal Mile. I had to make sure the props, which included a real sword and a meat cleaver, were ready for action, and had to know what everyone was doing and when. This means I can put 'Management Experience' on my CV, right?

In later years, I did some acting, which included writing and performing a musical number, and doing a sexy dance, in a play called Rosas de Sangre. This was a huge deal for me. I was president of the society by my final year (naturally), and organised the 10th Birthday Ball, which was a nightmare but we pulled it off magnificently. My swan song with Paradok was our 2014 Fringe show, which was a daft musical I co-wrote and directed with my friend Noah called The Really Big Diamond.

In terms of musical comedy, however, it was being involved with EUSOG and playing a comic character in a Gilbert and Sullivan play which has probably prepared me best for what I do now. There was also a one-off project for Burns Night one year, where a group of friends got together and put on a play called An Immortal Memory. It was the best. I played the ghost of Nancy Maclehose, aka Clarinda, and sang Ae Fond Kiss, and people laughed.

What is the best or most inspiring Edinburgh show you’ve ever seen?

I saw Adam Kay's show one year and it blew me away. The one where he had a 'meltdown' near the end of the show and smashed a 'glass' in his hand. He's just amazing. Another Fringe show that really stuck with me was called Madame Señorita, and it was this incredible solo clowning show by Paula Valluerca, which was probably the first time I really appreciated this medium.

I was working in a bar that particular Fringe (2013), and one of my colleagues was Claire Lenahan, who is now making waves with her comedy magic, which I find pretty darn inspiring. It was a beautiful moment when we reunited in London a few months ago. I went to Glasgow for the big boys, though – I saw Tenacious D and Flight of the Conchords there during term time. I still listen to those guys all the time.

What was the last comedy album you listened to?

I don't really listen to comedy albums (apart from musical comedy ones) ... I'm going to get in trouble for saying that. I love comedy podcasts, though, do they count? Personally, I get so much more from seeing a show live than just listening to it. The last music album I listened to was Bjork's Post, which I listen to a lot. I love that woman.

Just as a novel, film or play takes us to another time or place – a dystopian future, a medieval court – whereabouts will your show take us?

Well, my show is a veritable feast of exotic locations – we will be jetting off to France, Spain, Germany, Mexico, Japan, China, and even Croydon. We will also be jetting off back in time all the way back to the Renaissance, stopping off in most centuries in between then and now (except the 17th, obviously) with a particular focus on the years 1901-1904, and 1999. During one song, we will be diving inside Hieronymus Bosch's mind. We find it a dangerous place.

At the end, the audience will be surprised – nay, stunned – to realise that they were actually in my lecture hall in the reputable academic institution that is the Golf Tavern THE WHOLE TIME...

Harriet Braine – Total Eclipse of the Art, Laughing Horse at The Golf Tavern (Upstairs Bar), 4-27 Aug (not 14), 1.15pm, Free