|The World's Greatest Walking Tour of Edinburgh|
|Published on Sunday, 12 August 2012|
It’s been many, many years since I last trotted down a street clutching a bright red helium balloon. But that’s just one of the offbeat touches which characterise The World’s Greatest Walking Tour of Edinburgh – a joyful spoof of the city’s historic-walk industry, written and hosted by Fringe veteran Tom Crawshaw. Playing B-list tour guide Cuth McWildered, Crawshaw delivers a deadpan but solidly entertaining show, filled with historical inaccuracy and gloriously cheap gags. But you’ll find there’s more to it than that: McWildered’s own story increasingly intrudes, as he struggles to come to terms with a romantic break-up and his own less-than-stellar fame.
If you’re a local-history buff like me, there’s an enjoyable game of factual spot-the-difference waiting to be played. A lot of McWildered’s anecdotes are almost accurate, save for the key date or geographical detail which he gets outrageously wrong. And he makes an archly witty point, too, about how preposterous some of the city’s famous tales actually are; more than once the audience sniggered at a far-fetched story which, at least reputedly, is entirely true.
The real fun starts, though, as McWildered’s plans begin to unravel. I’m not giving too much away if I say that his arch-rival Guy de Tour gatecrashes proceedings, and there’s a rumour of a tour inspector in the neighbourhood, too. The resulting mistaken-identity shenanigans are a little too reminiscent of a certain episode of Fawlty Towers; but I’ve no quibbles about the inclusion of McWildered’s very own Manuel, in the shape of hapless assistant Tony. The interplay between McWildered and Tony produces some of the funniest moments – and, just like in that Torquay hotel, the joke tends to be on the boss.
Sadly though, the founding concept of the play often works against it. Crawshaw and his fellow performers are never happier than when they’re delivering a farce, and a couple of scenes – notably a cat-and-mouse chase amidst the pillars of the High Court building – showed their talent for fast-paced physical comedy. But this is a walking tour, and the mood inevitably drops during the journey from scene to scene. Instead of an energetic bounce from one set-piece to the next, the format delivers a time-consuming interlude of crowd-herding.
The best promenade productions understand this, and offer the audience some incidental entertainment to keep them on their toes between scenes. Admittedly, this particular cast is already spread pretty thin, but perhaps they could still find a way to work in a few surprises as we trundle from place to place. It would be worth the effort; Crawshaw’s multi-layered plot is rewarding, and deserves to be enjoyed in its best light.
Overall then, this isn’t quite the world’s best walking tour of Edinburgh, but it’s a wacky and witty performance which returns a good few smiles for your investment in shoe-leather. There are some laugh-aloud set-pieces, and a good few groan-inducing one-liners. You’ll even learn a little bit about Edinburgh – even though you might need help to pick the facts from the fiction. And you do get to keep your balloon.
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These are archived reviews of shows from Edinburgh 2012. We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.