‘Is It Worse to Be Run from Edinburgh or London?’

In his book, the Making of the Crofting Community, the Scottish historian James Hunter quotes a small farmer in the Highlands as saying they “hate us in London but ignore us in Edinburgh.” Standing on the windswept pier at Stornoway, the main town on the isle of Lewis, both metropoles feel like a world away. The twice-daily ferry takes almost three hours just to reach the mainland. From there, it is another 200 miles to the Scottish capital.

There are few places in the United Kingdom further from the corridors of power than the Western Isles, the scenic archipelago of fifteen inhabited ribbons off Scotland’s west coast. Many of the islanders speak Scots Gaelic and rely on farming, fishing and tourism for their income. So what does the prospect of Scottish independence – or staying in the union – mean so far away from Westminster and Holyrood?

The Western Isles is a Scottish National Party stronghold. Both the sitting MP and the member of the Scottish Parliament are nationalists. But when it comes to the referendum Lewis, where the majority of the islands’ population of around 30,000 live, seems as split as the rest of Scotland. “The island is 50/50,” says one local journalist. “People seem pretty settled in their minds. I don’t think the campaigns have made much impact.”

One of the reasons the yes and no sides have struggled to make inroads on Lewis is that the major national concerns are not always the most significant for this island community. Ask someone walking the narrow streets of Stornoway what the big issues are for them and they will most likely mention fuel poverty, the removal of tax relief on ferry freight and local control of revenue levied on using the seabed.

For some there is wariness about whether independence would actually mean more local power for places such as Lewis. The SNP administration at the devolved parliament in Holyrood has displayed a fondness for centralization, bringing policing, emergency services and European funding under central government control. A council tax freeze mandated from Holyrood has left officials in the pebbledashed council offices, built in the 1970s to house a newly created Western Isles local authority, with less control over local affairs than they used to have.

“One of the worries is that it is worse to be run from Edinburgh than London,” says Fred Silver, former editor of the Stornoway Gazette when we met for a balti in Lewis’s only curry house. An Englishman who has spent more than two decades in the Western Isles, Silver sports a blue “Yes” badge but concedes that Edinburgh has not always done right by the islands.

“You can actually demonstrate that the best period for the island was under the Tory government in the 1980s,” he says, citing the creation of a Gaelic television fund, the spread of Gaelic medium education and the establishment of a local enterprise company that has since been disbanded.

Brian Wilson, a former Labour minister in Westminster in Tony Blair’s first administration, has long been one of the strongest critics of the SNP. “Nationalism believes in taking decision making to the centre. Their localism is Scotland,” he says. “There is a very strong philosophy in Scotland just now of centralizing in order to bring everything under ministerial control.”

“There are large areas of public policy that need completely different perspectives in island communities or in very peripheral communities and to be honest there is not a lot of interest in any of that. They will tick the boxes but there is no real understanding of how difficult things are or what is needed,” says Wilson, who was a Labour MP in Ayrshire.

But Alastair Allan, local SNP member of the Scottish Parliament, says that only a “yes” vote would guarantee more powers for island communities. “The decision about what Scotland’s budget is is not ours to make. We pay our taxes to the UK government and they decide what Scotland gets to spend.”

The islands have certainly benefited from the creation of a separate Scottish Parliament, particularly when it comes to changing Scotland’s almost feudal system of land ownership. Around 2500 people own about three-quarters of all private land in Scotland. Take a drive almost anywhere beyond the housing schemes of the Central Belt and you will soon run into vast private estates. The Duke of Buccleuch alone owns some quarter of a million acres.

In 2003, the Labour government in Holyrood introduced the Land Reform Act, which allows local communities to buy the land they live on. While the act has had little impact on the baronial estates on the mainland, it has transformed many island communities. Since its introduction, around 70 per cent of the Western Isles has come under direct community ownership. On islands like Eigg, the local community has been able to raise money to buy the entire island.

For some the community buy-outs on islands like Harris and South Uist are evidence of why Scotland needs independence to fulfil its potential. David Cameron (not the British prime minister – the chair of Community Land Scotland) disagrees. “We have community empowerment now and that has got cross-community support. Whatever happens next week won’t make a whit of difference to us,” he says at the end of a day-long conference on land reform held in the function room of a Stornoway hotel. Among the delegates are representatives from communities across the Western Isles that are at various stages in purchasing the land they live on.

For many on the Scottish islands, the referendum on Thursday is not so much about currency or European Union membership but what the communities themselves will gain either from staying with the UK or being part of an independent Scotland. In 2013, the Western Isles teamed up with Scotland’s two northerly island chains, Shetland and Orkney, as part of the “Our Islands, Our Future’ campaign” aimed at securing a better deal for island communities whatever way the vote goes.

In June, the Scottish government in Edinburgh offered island communities control of all income that comes from leasing the seabed for wind farms, piers and boats moorings – money that currently goes to the UK’s Crown Estate – and the devolution of planning to local partnerships. The London government, so far, has promised little.

“The SNP has promised ownership of the sea bed,” says one local. Westminster, on the other hand, has offered “an office and a phone line”. On such modest proposals, perhaps, are islands (and nations) won and lost.

This piece originally appeared on Vice. 

TED — A Strange Way to Talk About Openness

IF you had wanted to see the movers and shakers in Edinburgh this week, it would have cost you £3,850, writes Peter Geoghegan

If you did find yourself with just shy of four grand burning a hole in your pocket, would you spend it all on a ticket for a four-day conference on “radical openness”? Probably not, I’d guess, but that’s exactly what the 800-plus delegates at this week’s TEDGlobal conference, which opened in Edinburgh on Tuesday and finished yesterday, have elected to do.

TED (which stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design) is a Silicon Valley organisation that hosts invite-only conferences to disseminate “ideas worth spreading”. For the $6,000 entrance fee, guests at the Edinburgh conference heard presentations from a host of luminaries including Alex Salmond, artist Antony Gormley, singer Macy Gray and choreographer Wayne McGregor. All talks are 18 minutes long; questions are strictly forbidden.

Since its inception in Monterey, California, in 1984, TED conferences have become remarkably popular, and increasingly influential. The event is now hosted by English publishing entrepreneur Chris Anderson and owned by his non-profit organisation, the Sapling Foundation. TED talks – recordings of conference presentations that are available free online – have been downloaded hundreds of millions of times. Previous conference speakers include Bill Gates, David Cameron, Gordon Brown, and self-styled militant atheist Richard Dawkins.

Last year, Edinburgh hosted its first TEDGlobal conference at the International Conference Centre. Attendees at the inaugural Edinburgh event had the chance to hear Niall Ferguson aver his controversial version of history, or grab some chat about the good life with pop philosopher Alain de Botton.

If this all sounds elitist, it is. Beneath the meritocratic American West Coast rhetoric, TED is one of the most exclusive events imaginable. Not only is the cost of a ticket vertiginous – and that’s without transport and accommodation – all attendees are heavily vetted. As the conditions for acceptance on the TEDGlobal website state: “You must be likely, in our judgment, to be a strong contributor to the TED community, the ideas discussed at TED, and the projects that come out of the conference.”

The aura of exclusivity that surrounds TED is central to the brand’s success: the extortionate fee is simultaneously an imprimatur and an excellent way to generate money for the organisation. Would-be tech innovators and over-zealous life coaches will happily remortgage their house for the chance to press the flesh (and have their photo taken) with movers and shakers at TED. Whether they get value for their $6,000 is another matter entirely.

What is beyond question is that TED has emerged as a major player in the online world of ideas over the past five years. Among supporters, TED generates levels of devotion that detractors have likened to cults. Sociologist and social media theorist Nathan Jurgenson has said that TED “has a cultish feel to it. The speakers use a lot of terms like ‘magical’ and ‘inspirational’. It’s almost the religion of the knowledge class.”

Many of the buzzwords and phrases that attach themselves to TED certainly have an airy, high-falutin’ quality. Take “radical openness”, the theme of this year’s Edinburgh conference. This, as Bruno Giussani, the European director of TED, told the Guardian last week, means, “people thinking differently at existing problems, and pushing at boundaries in radical new ways”.

At a time when the future of the United Kingdom (and late capitalism) is anything but secure, when debates about sustainability and environmental disaster proliferate, “radical openness” smacks of the vague and the flaky. No surprise, then, that Philip Blond, the brains behind Cameron’s much-mocked Big Society, was a keynote speaker at last year’s TED Edinburgh.

But the most serious accusation levelled at TED is that it reproduces a narrow, Silicon Valley view of the world, with precious little room for dissenting voices. Earlier this year, tech investor Nick Hanauer – an early backer of Amazon.com – delivered a talk at a TED conference in which he suggested that “rich people don’t create jobs”. Hanauer argued that middle-class consumers, not capitalists, are the real drivers of economic growth and prosperity, and that tax breaks for the rich are a drain on the economy.

Hanauer’s talk was met with applause from the audience. However, Chris Anderson refused to publish the talk on the TED website because it was “too political” – rather ironic given that TED often invites politicians to speak at its conference, as Alex Salmond’s appearance on Wednesday attests.

Hanauer’s talk is now freely available online – in the digital age even an organisation as powerful as TED will struggle to suppress content – but the controversy paints TED in a very poor light. Anderson’s argument that “a lot of business managers and entrepreneurs would feel insulted” by Hanauer’s contention that ordinary consumers are the most powerful job creators hardly seems sufficient justification for blocking an idea if it is, in the TED patter, “worth spreading”.

For an enterprise whose mission statement begins: “We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world”, TED also gives remarkably little back to the city in which its conference takes place. Indeed, Edinburgh as a city is largely incidental to the TED experience. Last year, Giussani explained the decision to relocate the annual TEDGlobal conference from Oxford, its erstwhile home, not in terms of ideas and individuals but of transport links and infrastructure. The only trace of TED in Edinburgh were the orientation signs dotted around Lothian Road.

TED is a short-term boon for the local economy, but this week will leave little in the way of meaningful legacies beyond the balance sheet. New ideas are vital for Scotland’s future – but these ideas need inclusive, inexpensive spaces where they can be shared and debated, not exclusory, £3,850-a-head conferences. Perhaps it’s time for a TED for the rest of us.

This piece appeared in the Scotsman, June 30.

Better FED than TED

Next Monday, Edinburgh plays host to the second UK conference of TED (that’s Technology, Entertainment and Design to you and me). When I mentioned this to a friend in town recently, she was delighted. ‘I’ll definitely be there. Where do I book my ticket?,’ she asked excitedly.

Like millions of others around the world, my TED-loving friend regularly downloads talks from the TED website and follows the discussions on their forums and blogs. She won’t, however, be attending the Edinburgh conference – because it costs $6,000.

TED – with its tagline of ‘ideas worth sharing’ – is a modern phenomeon. Since its first conference in 1984, TED has become remarkably popular and influential. Previous attendees have included both David Cameron and Gordon Brown; scientists Richard Dawkins and Craig Venter; biomimicry guru Janine Benyus and singer Annie Lennox; adventurer Bertrand Piccard and “soft power” theorist Joseph Nye. Last year’s event was addressed by Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

This year’s TED Global conference at the EICC is estimated to be worth £6.7 Million to the local economy. over 4500 delegates will listen as Philip Blond waxes lyrical on the Big Society, Niall Ferguson presents his version of history and vie for the chance to grab a drink with Alain de Botton.

But what if you don’t have six grand spare to mingle? Or would rather participate in a space that radically rethinks – and influences – how we live our lives today?

Presented by myself (as Realpolitik) and the ever-excellent Bella Caledonia, ‘FED – Ideas Worth Sustaining’ is a homegrown alternative to the increasingly corporate TED model. This one-day event takes place at Inspace, University of Edinburgh on July 9 and will feature talks, discussions, videos and, most importantly, ideas for a sustainable future for both humans and the planet.

Just like TED, the line-up of speakers is inspiring, including Robin McAlpine, Lorna Waite, Kevin Williamson, Gerry Hassan and Kevan Shaw.

And like TED, there will be an artistic angle, with the afternoon’s deep thinking and talking finishing with poetry from Elspeth Murray.  And of course a few drinks and a stimulating blether once it’s all over.

But unlike TED there will be an opportunity for members of the audience to have their say and pitch their ideas and views. Also, while TED costs an austerity busting £3,700 to attend, a day at FED will set you back an altogether more modest fiver.

As blogger Kate Higgins, who will be speaking on the day, says, ‘Without hearing a single pitch or presentation, without even stepping over the door, I’m prepared to go out on a wing and declare that FED beats TED.’

FED starts at 1.30 pm, Saturday July 9 at Inspace, University of Edinburgh. The full line-up for the day is available here and you can book tickets here.

You can also follow FED on Twitter, if that’s your kind of thing.

Stokes and Miller in tune with Hibernian rhapsody

Edinburgh is proving a happy hunting ground for two Irish internationals, as I reported in The Sunday Independent a few couple of Sundays ago:

“I doubt I’ll ever tire of Edinburgh,” bestselling crime writer Ian Rankin once said of his hometown. With its spectacular views, historic old town and lively nightlife, the Scottish capital certainly has plenty of attractions — but it doesn’t take the forensic mind of Inspector Rebus to figure out what drew Liam Miller and Anthony Stokes to the city.

After a couple of years spent more on the bench than on the pitch, the two Irish internationals were just happy to be wanted at Hibernian. “It’s been great from day one, to be honest,” remarks Miller, who joined Edinburgh’s green half in September after a few anxious months without a club following his departure from Queens Park Rangers. Team-mate Stokes concurs: “It’s great to be back playing regularly. I’m really enjoying it here.”

As for Hibs, well the feeling is mutual. The Irish pair have been two of the main reasons the Easter Road outfit are currently running Celtic close for second spot in the Scottish Premier League and have a great chance to finally end their 108-year hoodoo in the Scottish Cup. Miller’s dynamic performances in the heart of midfield have won several man-of-the-match awards, while Stokes, with 14 goals already this season, including the first as Hibs came from two goals down to draw with Aberdeen on Wednesday, is showing the kind of form that brought him a £2m move from Arsenal to Sunderland while still a teenager.

Both players have settled in well off the pitch, too. Miller lives on the outskirts of the city with his wife and young family; Stokes has an apartment close to the centre of town. “Next to Dublin this is probably my favourite city in the world,” the striker, who turns 22 in the summer, says. “I love where I live. Plus I’m just five minutes away from the ground. When I was at Sunderland, it was a 45-minute drive in the morning just to get to training.”

Miller and Stokes know each other from their Sunderland days. Originally signed by Roy Keane, the pair later found themselves surplus to requirements at the Stadium of Light.

“It was really frustrating at Sunderland towards the end,” says Stokes, stretching his legs across two chairs as we talk in an anteroom at Hibernian’s training ground about 15 miles east of Edinburgh. “I remember coming on in a cup game (against Northampton Town). We were two down at half-time, and I scored two in the second half. Next day I was asked to go on loan. It didn’t really matter what I had done on the pitch, I wasn’t going to get my chance there.”

The rangy, Dublin-born Stokes exudes a youthful insouciance, speaking openly and at length about most subjects. His compatriot Miller, who turned 29 last week, is more circumspect, sitting bolt upright with his arms folded across his chest. Unlike his Ireland and Hibernian team-mate, the Corkman is less willing to discuss his time at Sunderland, saying only that “it had its ups and downs”.

Miller, who began his career at Celtic, dismisses the suggestion that the SPL lacks quality: “The Premier League is probably the best league in the world but football in Scotland is at a very decent level.” The diminutive midfielder could easily have spent his career in Scotland — then Parkhead supremo Martin O’Neill wanted to build a team around him but Miller elected to sign a pre-contract with Manchester United instead. Does he have any regrets about leaving Celtic? “None,” he says without blinking.

Stokes has previous SPL experience, too — he first came to prominence after scoring 14 goals in 16 games while on loan at Falkirk, a spree that persuaded Keane to take him to Sunderland. John ‘Yogi’ Hughes was manager at Falkirk Stadium then, and Stokes had no compunctions about renewing past acquaintances when the tough-talking Scot took over at Easter Road during the summer.

“I thought there was no point staying at Sunderland rotting away, not playing football,” Stokes remarks of the decision to come to Hibs. “I knew I needed to be somewhere that I had a good chance of playing every week. As soon as the gaffer asked me up here I knew it was a good move. I’m just glad to get back up here and settle myself down and start enjoying my life and my football again.”

Stokes has never lacked self-belief but his Hibs career was almost over before it began when Hughes publicly reprimanded his new striker following an alleged brawl in an Edinburgh nightclub in September. The Dubliner admits he returned to Scotland with a “reputation” earned during his time at Sunderland but denies any wrongdoing. “I was in the club about five minutes. They said in the paper we were there for two hours drinking champagne. It’s nonsense. It was half past eleven and I’d just arrived and I hadn’t even had a drink. The tabloids just dig for stories. If they can’t find something they make it up.”

Currently second behind Rangers’ Kris Boyd at the top of the SPL scoring charts, Stokes says he has cut down his drinking, although he still goes out “every two or three weeks”.

“If I score two or three goals, I think I am entitled to go out and have a few beers. I don’t see why footballers should be singled out and told, ‘No, no you shouldn’t be doing that.’ We earn good money but you have to have some normal lifestyle especially when you’re 19, 20.”

Miller, too, has had past brushes with authority — most notably in 2008, when Roy Keane transfer-listed his fellow Corkman, citing a “lack of discipline” and “poor time-keeping”. But under Hughes’ tutelage the midfielder is fast maturing into a vocal on-field leader. “I’ve been used to having older people around me in the team. But it’s a young side here and now I’m one of the older heads,” Miller says of his newfound responsibilities.

While Stokes and Miller have been busy stamping their own authority on the SPL this season, it is the recent surprise arrival of another Irish international that has everybody in Scotland talking. “To have a player of Robbie Keane’s calibre up here is special. He is a quality player and I’m sure he will bang in the goals,” says Miller.

Keane’s presence should ensure that the SPL does not fall off Giovanni Trapattoni’s radar and both Miller and Stokes are hopeful of staking a claim for a regular berth in the Ireland squad as we head towards the qualifiers for the 2012 European Championships. “I’d like to think that if I keep playing as well as I’ve been playing and keep scoring goals then I’ve a chance of being in the squad,” Stokes remarks.

Ireland’s senior striker has made no secret of his intention to return south when his loan arrangement with Celtic runs out in the summer. Do Keane’s international team-mates on the other side of the Central Belt hope to return to top-flight English football someday? Miller refuses to be drawn on the question, but Stokes admits that, while he may never tire of Edinburgh living, the lure of the Premier League may prove irresistible in the long-run.

“Of course, I’d love to play in the Premiership again. I’ve learnt from my mistakes. But first I have to settle down and show people that I can do it consistently. Before I came to Hibs people were saying that if I don’t score goals here it will be the end of me. But I always knew that if I played regularly I would score goals. Now I’ve got my confidence back, got the half a yard of sharpness back and I’m flying.”

Review of Hotel Missoni, Edinburgh

From Irish Times 15/08/09:

‘I’D WORK here just for that jacket,” my girlfriend declared after we finished checking in. As I’m a man who shops twice a year, and even then does it under duress, the receptionist’s sartorial style had passed me by. “Yes, it was very, eh, nice,” I lied, badly. “You didn’t notice it at all,” she said, guessing correctly. “It had some of most lovely, elegant patterns I’ve ever seen.”

This may be the Missoni fashion house’s debut foray into hotels, but it has not abandoned its trademark brightly coloured and patterned designs.

The first of a planned 30 luxury hotels across the globe, the striking Edinburgh Missoni opened in June, on the corner of George IV Bridge and the Royal Mile, in the heart of the city’s picturesque Old Town.

Fashioned out of curvaceous gold stone with wavy black-and-white patterns, the hotel’s exterior reflects the brand, but the full flamboyant effect has been saved for its customers. The entrance opens on to a coruscating cocktail bar that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Studio 54’s disco heyday, all glittery floors, revolving chairs and blues and purples so bright they should have come with a UV warning.

If the dark, functional foyer was somewhat understated, the long corridor that led to our room, on the fourth of the hotel’s six storeys, was anything but: a combination

of black-and-white striped carpet and alternating pink and red walls was so overpowering that I felt rather disorientated by time we reached the end.

There is certainly a love-it- or-hate-it quality to Hotel Missoni’s decor. So far I was ambivalent, but our wooden- floored and air-conditioned double room left me in no doubt.

Luscious floral motifs on the bed, cushions and chairs, and pleasingly muted green and blue walls, gave the room a clean, contemporary feel.

A heavy glass door slid across to reveal a spacious bathroom with a tiled sit-in shower and matching dressing gowns.

The Jacob Jensen telephone, Bang Olufsen TV – with free films on demand – and De’Longhi coffee machine cast aside any lingering question marks about the hotel’s five-star pretensions.

“You’re a man, so you won’t notice these things, but the fabric is immense,” my girlfriend purred, petting an upholstered chair as I attempted to connect to the free wireless.

Thankfully, no such gender bias prevented me from appreciating the room’s best feature: the view of the city’s cobbled streets and the majestic Arthur’s Seat from the full-length windows.

Despite its city-centre location, only the sound of a lone piper ever got past the room’s excellent insulation.

We skipped the hotel restaurant in favour of a pre-theatre menu around the corner on Victoria Street.

After a drink in the nearby Bowery Bar, an edgy homage to the Lower East Side complete with Brooklyn Lager and shelves stacked with biographies of Nixon, Reagan and Ford, we returned to our room, which had been freshly made up and its free minibar restocked with Peroni beer and Lurisia water. Delectable shortbread had also been left by our bedside.

Breakfast was first rate, cooked to order and served by a phalanx of brown-robed waiters among yet more amazing textiles and patterns in the bright, airy first-floor restaurant. The menu was pleasingly varied, and the eggs Benedict – perfectly poached yokes in the lightest of hollandaise sauces – were the finest I have eaten, though anyone looking for a full Scottish would not have been disappointed, either.

An elaborately laid-out buffet offered fresh fruit, cereal, nuts and, for those who like to kick-start their morning with a sugar rush, an assortment of pastries and cakes.

Staff were extremely friendly, obliging and pretty much ubiquitous, which was to be expected given how quiet the hotel was. These are difficult times for hotels, new and established, but I’m sure Hotel Missoni’s owners – the chain belongs to the Rezidor group, which has licensed the Missoni name, and also owns the Radisson and Regent brands – would have hoped to attract more than the solitary couple I spotted during our stay.

Given its splendid location, it is ideal for a luxurious break in this most charming of cities, and should prove particularly popular with this month’s festival-goers.

According to a brochure in our room, the entire hotel was scented with a unique Missoni fragrance. My less than sensitive nose failed to notice this nuance. I think I’ll have to go back next time I’m in Edinburgh, just to make sure.

Where Hotel Missoni, 1 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh, Scotland, 00-44-131-2206666, www.hotelmissoni.com.

What Fashion-conscious five-star hotel in the centre of the city.

Rooms 136.

Best rates Rooms start at £135 (€160) per night, excluding breakfast. Bed and breakfast from £210 (€250). Dinner, bed and breakfast from £280 (€330).

Restaurants and bars La Cucina restaurant serves Italian-influenced dishes. Bar Missoni.

Access Two wheelchair- accessible rooms on each floor.

Amenities Car parking, gym, express check-out.

Edinburgh Fringe Reviews

At the moment I’m over in Edinburgh covering the fringe. Biggest doesn’t always mean best – I’ve seen plenty of dross already – but it’s still a great festival. Here’s a couple of reviews I’ve done for the popular Scottish arts guide The List

Hannah Gadsby Does Mother Really Know Best?
Hannah Gadsby’s domineering, Catholic mammy has plenty to answer for. She dressed her youngest daughter in beige tracksuits and pleated purple golf shorts, treated serious injuries with Tupperware and spoke in an hannah-gadsby1_thumbunintelligible personal code: you’ll never guess what the show’s rather odd title, Kiss Me Quick I’m Full of Jubes, means in Mrs Gadsby’s world. Those parenting skills may have bordered on negligence but they did gift this amiable Antipodean a rich seam of comic gold, which she mines with aplomb.

With a self-deprecation that borders on flagellation, the chunky, bespectacled Gadsby goes from childhood in Tasmania (‘famous for its frighteningly small gene pool’) to eventually coming out to her stiflingly conventional family. Along the way we hear about a traumatic recent encounter with a personal trainer and the BMI (‘I’m 56% fat-free’ she announces with a mix of pride and weary resignation) and an alarmingly lengthy history of accidents and ailments. A lesser talent might have turned mother into a one-dimensional monster: instead Gatsby, with deadpan delivery and razor-sharp wit, makes her the basis of a minor comic masterpiece.

Assembly Rooms, 623 3030, until 30 Aug (not 17), 7.20pm, £10–£11 (£9–£10).

Socially Retarded
You’d expect plenty of cringing in a sketch show about awkward situations, but too often this fresh-faced, well-spoken duo are the ones left shifting uncomfortably. Even their enthusiastic delivery and game attempts at audience participation can’t lift weak riffs on predictable material: the holy trinity of sex, death and Facebook.
Royal College of Surgeons, 0845 508 8515, until 22 Aug (not 16), 6.10pm, £7 (£5).