Belly Laughs: Food on the Fringe

To celebrate the eternal marriage between filling one's face and having a laugh, we talk to a theatre director-cum-restaurateur and a curry-loving and award-winning comedian

Feature by Peter Simpson | 09 Aug 2011

The object of an Edinburgh August is to experience as much as possible in three-and-a-half weeks, so it's a good idea to start combining things together. When mixing food and comedy, Alison Pollard-Mansergh is the woman to go to. The Artistic Director of the Faulty Towers Dining Experience, Alison knows a lot about juggling humour and hospitality, with the show back in Edinburgh for the fourth straight year.

So the show combines food and comedy. How do you make it work?

Alison: We want it to be immersive, so that people feel like they're actually at the hotel from the programme. The key is meticulous planning. We script the show very tightly, because the kitchen has very specific timings to get everything out on time as well as letting us do the comedy.

Was it a bit of a odd sell, turning over an Edinburgh restaurant to a group of actors?

It was tricky to find somewhere in the first year we brought the show over (2008), and because it's a real restaurant, when we're 'on stage' we're also fronting their business. If a customer comes in to book a table, myself or 'Basil' will take the booking. We work very closely with the restaurant and their staff, and that makes things go smoother.

How do the staff cope with it all?

They are hilarious, although they think we're a bit weird. We work around each other; there are times in the show when they do their thing, and times when we need them all off the restaurant floor. We have an audience of 80 for each show, 11 shows a week, so we couldn't do it without them.

Do you have much time to check out the 'competition'?

On days off I try and see other shows and try new places. I bring my family over with me, and we go down to Mamma's Pizza (30 Grassmarket) a fair bit. They do great vegetarian pizza, and good options for coeliacs.

What's your top tip for us?

Black Medicine Coffee (2 Nicholson St; 110 Marchmont Rd; 7 Barclay Pl). They do brilliant coffee, and it's always busy but relaxing at the same time. A friend has told me that they've opened in Bruntsfield near where I'm staying this Fringe, so I can get good coffee on the way in to the show, and then again once I'm finished! And there's always an Aussie on duty, so it's a chance to hear a familiar voice!

Russell Kane, on the other hand, just loves curry. Last year's Fosters' Comedy Award winner's act, interviews, and Twitter feed show a man who loves a spicy dish. He tells us about his favourite curry joint, as well as some other stuff we didn't need to know, but do now.

With everything you've got going on at the Fringe, whereabouts does food come in the list of priorities?

Russell: VERY high. Curry. All. The. Time.

Do you like to try new places while you're up here, or do you have a list of favourite places you like to eat/drink?

The Mitre (131 High St), Dirty Dicks (159 Rose St), and the Red Fort Indian (10 Drummond St).

You've spoken a lot in other interviews and online about your love for the Red Fort. What makes it stand out?

They have a turbo festival menu, the waiters are super-friendly, and there’s a good use of Bangladeshi recipes. Their Vindaloo will remove your bumhole.

Curry seems to come up a bit in your material, and also in your Tweets. How important is a good curry to good stand-up comedy?

Vital. Comedians are too boring to drink or do drugs. I am hooked on garam massalla.

Any other good food and drink tips for us?

Try to do a bit of home-cooking. And buy haggis. I was amazed at the excellence of the bolognese and chillis that it made.

What's the best/worst thing you've ever eaten at an Edinburgh Festival?

A girl named Tracy. Filthy lady.

Faulty Towers: The Dining Experience, 4-30 Aug, B'est, 16 Drummond St, 1pm & 8pm

Russell Kane: Manscaping, 12-26 Aug, Pleasance Courtyard, 8:50pm. You can pre-order his debut DVD Smokescreens & Castles now