Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 August 2019

Fringe benefits: bringing a taste of Edinburgh to the UAE

'I want to bring the best comedy in the world to the desert. The UAE arts scene is thriving and now we want to do our bit,' says Ian Carless

Ian Carless, founder of Warehouse Four in Dubai. Courtesy of Warehouse Four
Ian Carless, founder of Warehouse Four in Dubai. Courtesy of Warehouse Four

The world’s largest arts festival is upon us and, as comedians from far and wide polish their gags for this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, one Dubai man is waiting in the wings with his ears pricked and his notepad primed.

Far from pillaging jokes and ripping off acts, Ian Carless’s intentions are more honourable. He’s not there for performance tips or to pen scathing reviews – his 10-day comedy trawl is all part of a mammoth quest to bring the Edinburgh Fringe to the UAE and, if his confirmed acts are anything to go by, he’s absolutely laughing.

So far, Carless, founder of the independent arts space Warehouse Four, has signed up Phil Nichol, Mandy Knight and Gordon Southern, among other talents, for a big comedy festival in Dubai. “I want to bring the best comedy in the world to the desert,” Carless says. “The UAE arts scene is thriving and now we want to do our bit.”

Fringe@Four kicked off at Warehouse Four in Al Quoz earlier this year. The comedy and drama series features Fringe successes taking to the stage to perform their award-winning shows, with side-splitting results.

With a few names confirmed, Carless is now preparing to submit himself to the good, the bad and the ugly when the festival kicks off on Friday, August 2.

“I cherry-pick from what has gone really well at the Fringe – what got the five-star reviews and made an impression at the festival,” says Carless, 52, who is originally from Huddersfield in the UK. “Most importantly, I look for comedians that can do a full one-hour show – usually their Edinburgh show. This is different from the typical three-comic line-up. Most comedy clubs do this and I wanted Fringe@Four to be different and give a taste, albeit small, of the shows that get performed at the Edinburgh Fringe.”

Choosing the theatrical acts is a little harder, says Carless, due to a lack of clips online that rarely do the performers justice. “With theatre, there’s no substitute for actually seeing the play for real,” he explains. “So once I’ve identified a show I like the sound of and think has potential for a Dubai audience, I schedule a trip to the UK to watch the performance. It’s somewhat an expensive selection process, but it’s the only way you can guarantee the play is good and worth the investment of bringing it to Dubai.”

 David William Bryan will return to Warehouse Four with his comedy show ‘In Loyal Company’. Courtesy of Warehouse Four
 David William Bryan will return to Warehouse Four with his comedy show ‘In Loyal Company’. Courtesy of Warehouse Four

It’s a labour of love, and this week is a big one for Carless, as the UAE resident of 17 years flies 4,800 miles to Edinburgh to hand-pick the acts in person. “This year I’ve got my work cut out for me,” he says, with a laugh. “I’ve got a ridiculously long list of about six shows a day while I’m there, but I’m on a mission and I won’t be getting back on a plane without a world-class line-up.”

Considered the true birthplace of fringe theatre in the 1940s, the Scottish capital has been the driving force behind comedy geniuses including Rowan Atkinson, Steven Berkoff, Jo Brand, Billy Connolly, Ben Elton and Eddie Izzard, and is deemed a creative playground for established and up-and-coming acts.

The Fringe@Four line-up already includes some of the most exciting names on the circuit. Funnyman Phil Nichol will be performing his raucous show, Your Wrong, on Tuesday, October 1, while Mandy Knight will be taking to the stage with The Dark Knight on Tuesday, October 29. British comedian Gordon Southern will be performing his stand-up routine on Wednesday, November 13, followed by Peter Searles with his acclaimed Hey Gringo on Friday, November 29.

I’ve lived overseas for nearly 30 years, so when it comes to what I think will work, I guess I very much use my own taste as a barometer, which has undoubtedly been shaped by many years of living in a number of different countries.

Ian Carless

The acts will all be supported by home-grown talents – Carless regularly works alongside UAE comedy pioneers Dubodemy to showcase local comedians. There’s also drama waiting in the wings, with Richard Shelton’s Sinatra Raw on Tuesday, November 5, and a visit from David William Bryan with In Loyal Company on Friday, November 22, before a special Frank Sinatra Christmas Under the Stars music and dinner show for the festive season. But what makes a good show for a UAE audience? “Good question,” Carless says, laughing. “As we all know, the UAE is a smorgasbord of cultures and nationalities, however, you can never please everyone all the time.

“I’ve lived overseas for nearly 30 years, so when it comes to what I think will work, I guess I very much use my own taste as a barometer, which has undoubtedly been shaped by many years of living in a number of different countries. I think you get a feel for what appeals, even if it’s only at a very basic level.”

It’s a rigorous selection process, but for Carless, it’s what Warehouse Four is all about, as a living, breathing hub for comedy and theatre in the UAE. “I’d love it if we got a name for putting on quality shows – so even if you might not know the performer, be it comedian or actor, you know if it’s a Fringe@Four show, it’s going to be a good one,” says Carless. “I’d be happy with that.”

More information about Fringe@Four is available at visit www.warehousefour.com.

Updated: August 5, 2019 04:01 PM

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