Well, I am now back from Edinburgh and have to face the return to “real” life. On my return, I have realised that hurriedly unpacking your life into a new flat and then leaving for two weeks of fun was not one of my better plans (though in my defence, it was less a “plan” and more what happened). Finding stuff is proving surprisingly challenging as I struggle to replicate my thinking from early August – still, order is slowly being established (I think).
I had enormous fun in Edinburgh and I think I managed to take in 48 shows in my 11 nights in the city – which isn’t bad going for a man of my advanced years. In previous years, I had booked everything long before heading north leaving nothing to chance of serendipity. This year, largely down to the move, I had booked virtually nothing and most of my gigs were booked on the day. This worked really well – though did perhaps benefit from my slightly left-field choices.
Last Thursday worked particularly well – and some of my choices were truly unplanned. I started in mid-afternoon with Stuart: A Life Backwards – this was an amazing piece of theatre (rightly well-reviewed) and the sort of thing I doubt would appear on TV (or if it did, I probably wouldn’t have watched it). Amazingly, it cost only £6 for a ticket (making it my cheapest paid event): I have no idea how this can work economically. After the first half of dinner, some fine autobiographical stand-up from Ivo Graham – well, I’m always going to love jokes about use of the subjunctive and subordinate clauses. After the second half of dinner I was joined by one of my fellow best men. We started the evening with the very funny and moving show from Tom Wrigglesworth as recommended by my host in Edinburgh. After a refreshment break, we rather randomly selected a show on the Free Fringe at a nearby pub – I say randomly, though the choice may have been influenced by the title. The show, by one Richard Gadd, was really very good – if quite dark – and we overcame our disappointment at the lack of either cheese of crack whores. The pub offered decent beer and a pub quiz (which we largely avoided – the questions did seem to presuppose a much greater knowledge of Scottish football than either of us could muster) and also won the hard fought prize for the hottest Fringe venue (narrowly beating the Sportsman Bar at the Gilded Balloon into second place). My plan for the next show was kiboshed by it selling out, but plan B worked rather well. We took in the Set List show instead: I had vaguely heard the name but never seen it before. Five comics do a brief stand-up set based on a series of random (I assume) concepts (usually 4 or 5) which they have never seen before – so this is never before seen material (though it was being recorded, so it may be seen again). This was quite brilliant, aided by the cast comprising many of my favourite stars of Radio 4: Susan Calman, Marcus Brigstocke, Pippa Evans and Mitch Benn. The only downside to the event was the slightly wobbly and very slippery stool I found myself perched on – I was expecting to perform my own, very brief, slapstick set at any moment! Not something I wanted captured on camera.
The festivals also give one the chance to try something completely new. The Chinese take on Coriolanus – complete with not one but two heavy metal bands – was less a success and more an experience. It rather reminded me of a school production headed by a trendy teacher trying to make it “relevant to the kids”. In one particularly emotional scene, the background metal did make me think of the rather camp film of Flash Gordon (sadly, no war rocket Ajax was dispatched). Circa: Wunderkammer was rather more of a success – and my first exposure to the circus in more than three decades. The only animals involved were human – all significantly stronger and more flexible than me (and with much better core control). Is it too late to take up gymnastics? Back in my youth, I was always defeated by the backward roll and I may now be too tall, but it would make for some decent party tricks if I could gain even a modest degree of mastery!
I loved the chance to make more adventurous choices which Edinburgh in August offers – and the relatively low costs help. For the price of a decent seat in the West End, I could easily see 5 or more shows in Edinburgh – and, pleasingly, even the longest was only 1hr 40 mins so I could easily average 4 a day. I’m not sure if this approach offers any way forward for the Arts more generally (for all I know the economics may rely on staff going unpaid and performers making a serious loss) or if it really does need that critical mass of events to make it work – but it would be nice to come up to London (or any other city) for a day and be able to fit in more than a single show in the evening (and still be able to catch a train home at a sensible time again afterwards).
But for now, it’s back to real life – the day job and a work trip to Manchester – but I shall try and retain the spirit of adventure in the months to come… After all, living in a small gaff, the Arts offer a great way to spend my money: fun without any ensuing need to store anything!