Each is indubitably & absolutely Edinburgh
Each is proudly & consciously different from the rest
Shows So Far – 13
Hangovers – 1
With the recent Tory Arts council cuts cutting the trembling throat of regional theatre, suddenly the Fringe has become important again for our beloved, board-treading companies. To the punter on the street this means an increas in quality, & my first show of the day, Leila Ghaznavi’s BROKEN WING (9-14 / 17-20 – 11.45) is easily the best play Ive seen so far. From the outside, venue 13 – HARRY YOUNGER HALL – looks unspectacular, with a couple of gazebos & two portakabins uncermoniously dumped outside to form the HQ. The actors were getting changed in the toilets at the front of the building for gods sake. However, never judge a book by its cover, for inside one is presented with a wonderful, comfortable theatre & a serene ambience. BROKEN WING’s own stage was an sensous eastern affair, with Persian carpets hanging from the ceiling with sable silks draped over the stage liitered with rose petals. The play itself was a beautifully written piece, played out by Americans, full of realistic fast chat & nail-on-the head Islamic culture. They told us a very engaging, thought provoking story. Essentially a young girl who had been orphaned by an earthquake in Iran had attached herself to this man & shared his bed from the age of 5 (they married at 16). Roll on to the present day & an American photographer has moved into their household – resulting in them falling in love. Subsequently she was stoned to death for adultery – & tho we dont witnness so brutal an act – the poetic description was enough to get me squirming! One of the neatest things about the play was the click of a camera that seperated scenes.
I was joined for my next play – THE DICK & THE ROSE (8-13,15-20,22-27 13:30) – by Victor Pope. This was at the very plush POINT hotel, near Lothian Road, & Im still trying to digest the play. The company, OUTCAST CAFE THEATRIX, are from a small town called South Lee in Massachusis, a tight ship ran by its eccentric director. The show is his baby & he announces each scene with a thespian relish that is alomst pantomime. The play is a very visceral, erotic affair, accompanied by a whole host of different instruments, from skiffle washboards to acordians, banjos & a cello. This very avant garde story is about sex & its consequences, & uses a highly unique piece of scenery. You could call it a giant quilt with holes in, from which sesame street puppets, human heads & a giant penis emerge, the latter snaking across the quilt form erection to erection. A warm & visually splendid affair, Ive never seen anything quite like it in my life, & still feel a little dazed writing about it. While watching I realised how cool Edinburgh is at this time of the year, with flash-fires of creativity bursting out all over the city at any given moment. The muses are definitely in town & are having to clone themsleves just to keep things ticking over.
On the way to my next culture-nugget I found myself in the Grassmarket, the great tourist-friendly square at the foot of the castle. In the bygone days before football 30,000 people would flock there to see an execution, but today, on the very spot of the gallows, I found an ebbulient bandmaster driving forward the euphoric music of Britain’s first Guggenmusik band, GUGGE 200. It was invented in Switerland & means ‘Happy Music’ & indeed, the team of tubas sucked up all of my worldy woes! There were several drum kits on trolleys (& one pram) trumpets, bass drums, tamborines & over fifty smiling band members up from Bournemouth. They’ve been going 12 years & have toured all over Europe & luckily they’re on you tube;
Just off the Grassmarket is Paul’s house, who’d joined me for a couple of plays the other day. It was then that he offered to join my ‘staff’ & assist me in my reviewing. He’d already been down to the brass band to tell them to shut the fuck up (to no avail) & was happy to leave the Grassmarket for the short walk to the top of the Royal Mile & the C TOO venue for WHAT IT FEELS LIKE (8-21 – 16.30) from the young, funky, innovative ENCOMPASS PRODUCTIONS. So, with a fanfare of friendhsip & a roll of literary drums, I would like you all to meet your new reviewer, give it up ladies & gentlemen, for MR PAUL FLETCHER;
You would think living in the grass market with an excellent view of Edinburgh castle would be an ideal location to enjoy the festival, but being obliged to listen to the military tattoo every night and having to hustle your way through the crowds of tourists, just to buy a pint of milk, can all become a very frustrating experience indeed. So much so that I want to climb up to my roof and start picking off the tourists with an AK-47! Die! Die! Die! You fuckers! Die! Aaarrggghhhh!
But Wait! Stop me now! Am I really going to turn into another Edinburgher bemoaning how the freaks of the art world disrupt my peaceful city every year?! No! Definitely not! Because underneath this world of zombie like tourism are small cozy venues where fringe productions are lighting up the dark.
Today I saw WHAT IT FEELS LIKE by “Encompass productions”, a play which explores the dream states of near death experiences. It tells the story of Nicholas Harper, who while lying on an operating table after a car crash, has a near death experience. The story takes place in his subconscious, a dark “in-between” reality where we find “Lester and Simpson”, two characters who are apparently there to assist him in his unresolved issues with his long term girlfriend Sarah. From here the play goes on to be a study in human relationships as the audience are treated to different scenes extracted from Nicholas’s memories with Sarah. The play explores the themes of betrayal, jealousy, and how we not only lie to our partners but also lie to ourselves. With the help of “the Aspects”, eerie actors dressed in black, we are further treated to some stunning physical theatre (the lovemaking scene was a thrilling piece of choreography). The play builds to a harrowing finale where Nicholas’s unconscious reveals its very sinister depths. But this is not all doom and gloom, as the well-written characters of Lester and Simpson spatter the play with humour, which serve to pull us further in to this well constructed dream world. Supported by an excellent original score, which had the woman sitting next to me in tears by the final scene, I cannot not recommend this play enough. A feeling shared by my fellow audience members whose very gracious applause said it all!
So what does it feel like to be living in Edinburgh at this time of year? Well who gives a shit about the military exploits on the castle and the annoying badly dressed tourists (buy some decent rain gear you look stupid!) when Encompass Productions are in town with their electrifying play!
See you soon!
After the play (moving as hell by the way) I bid Paul adieu & a happy reviewing & toddled down to the JEKYLL & HYDE to sound engineer for Victor Pope, after which we began a drinking session that didint finish until 4AM. We beganin the SPIEGELTENT, where Edinburgh’s best live band, THE BLACK DIAMOND EXPRESS were playing. Unfortunately, they were late getting on & I had a show to catch, but in the name of supporting your local artists, here’s a you tube link & their myspace. They’re a passionate group of bohemians & aplaying round about town through the festival, including next saturday again at the Spiegeltent & 25th August at the Book Festival in Charlotte Square. Apparently the gig was wicked, spreading love thgrough a large, plush tent bustling with eager music lovers & I was told the stage slowly filled up with hot, dancing chicks playing shaker makers!!
My final show of the day was the famous, SHOWSTOPPERS: THE IMPROVISED MUSICAL (5-16/18-28 – 22.50). It was performed at the GILDED BALLOON in the main hall of the Student Union – & massive space (in fringe terms) that was packed to the rafters. Its easy to see why as what occirs on that stage is pure genius. The idea of teh show is that every night, from suggestions by the audience, a completey new, once-in-a-lifetime musical is summoned up from the psyches of the cast & performed with a flourish. Stage left is the director of operations, who deals with the audience & rises from his chair from time to time giving the cast its plot, often hilariously. Stage right are two musicians, a keyboard player who is the mainstay of the music, & a saxplayer/percussionist as his right hand man. The singers are three women & three men who not only make up songs on the spot, but improvise comedy inbetween. Absolutely brilliant. Tonights unique show – DANGEROUS RE-ENTRY – was set on an International Space Station, set in 2050, wih Barack Obama & Vladamir Putin cyrogenically frozen awaiting the discovery of a new planet. The themes of teh songs were Gansta Rap, Sondheim, Abba & Gerswhin, with a romantic sub-plot to boot. The best part was the creation of an alien, with one of the girls standing behind another simulating weird alien tentacles, & the tentative threesome suggested by our recently unfrozen world leaders!
After the performance I rejoined VICTOR POPE, meeting up with Bonnie from Linkey Lea (& all her cute mates), plus THE BLACK DIAMOND EXPRESS for a drink at Cvenues bar. At first glance its something of a school disco, but we turned it into at least a sixth form bash & the place was proper jumping. On getting home in the wee hours I realised I’d been in the field all day, for the atmosphere during Festival time grabs you by the goolies & swirls you about toon, refusing to let go until finally, & exhaustingly, you make it to bed… good night!