***** (out of 5)
Even playing in the big room, Mark Watson’s run already has begun selling out more than a week in advance. What’s everyone buzzing about?
Of course, the 21st century version of the Edinburgh Fringe cannot be experienced without at least a wee bit of Watson. He’s been coming since his Cambridge days with the Footlights. His troupe nominated for Best Newcomers in 2001, then nominated himself in the newcomer category as a solo act in 2005. He took home the Panel Prize the following year, in testament to his commitment to the stage (with marathon performances) and to the Fringe. He even made the trek up in 2020, Fringe or no Fringe, just because he couldn’t imagine an August without Edinburgh.
Watson jokes about his relative notoriety in Edinburgh, in stark contrast to how he feels he’s perceived everywhere else. Stepping out of the train station two summers ago, Watson recounted how a taxi driver recognized him straight away, stopping to remind him the Fringe wasn’t happening that year!
But Watson found himself confronting his mortality even before the pandemic had begun to take over the world, having turned 40 in February 2020. The big 4-0 gave him career anxiety, reflecting on how the peers who first came with him to the Fringe have become more famous than him. No matter that his mother would disagree. Taking gigs for little or no pay on Zoom, or worse yet, Microsoft Teams, didn’t help his self-esteem. And then, in the wake of his divorce, even his then-10-year-old son began asking the kinds of questions Watson wasn’t yet ready to think about, although he was ready to pay for an app that could predict his life expectancy.
So what shall he do with what remains?
He’s clearly having a blast onstage, and trying to make the most of this Fringe offstage, producing and promoting a bundle of other performers this August through his perhaps aptly-named Impatient Productions.
Though he’s also loving digressions. A delayed start time Sunday didn’t deter him from mucking about for several minutes before the proper start, then allowing himself multiple other distractions just for the fun of it. “We’ve got a lot to talk about, if I ever get to the show.”
No worries. None of us are in any hurry for his show to be over.
Mark Watson: This Can’t Be It runs through Aug. 28, 2022, at Pleasance Courtyard (Pleasance One).