This poor blog has been rather neglected of late, which I blame on the inconvenient need to live my life rather than just try and write a heightened and more humorous version of it. In the last couple of weeks I have moved house (of which more in another post) and then, well before the unpacking was done, headed up to Edinburgh to enjoy the festive delights it offers the visitor in August.
In fact I have been in the Athens of the North (not quite as financially-challenged as the Edinburgh of the South) for almost a week now – and still have another five days before I must return to reality (and boxes). When I first came up to the festival, it was for a mere three days – and the visit was annual. I am now coming here four times a year and for ever longer periods – in practical terms, I am slowly moving to Edinburgh, but doing it with (I like to imagine) sufficient subtlety that no-one notices. It’s a whole new way to “do” immigration – though may work less well if there were any border security.
For me, the “serious”, International Festival has been a festival of the piano – with three quite excellent piano concerts. Any could have been the best of the year, but in a close-fought field Nikolai Lugansky came out on top of Mitsuko Uchida and Andreas Haefliger to claim the crown (not that any royal millinery was on offer). Should his concert be repeated on Radio 3 I strongly recommend you try and catch it: it is only slightly marred by the severe and widespread TB outbreak during the early stages of Janacek’s In the Mists. Fortunately, a cure – or merciful death – had arrived before the Schubert Impromptus.
The Fringe has been the now traditional combination of comedy, spoken word (a category that would seem to incorporate most comedy and theatre – with the exception of the sung and mimed) and theatre – though I have noticed theatre being pushed to the liminal space of the afternoon with comedians now dominating the evenings. I quite like the matinee – as it means I can be earlier to my bed (and places me much closer to the youthful end of the audience age spectrum) – but it can’t be great for those with a day job.
Picking theatre – from the huge range on offer – is always a challenge. I do use reviews – but only a pretty small percentage are reviewed in the broadsheets and their opinions often vary rather more widely than the layman might expect – so have had to rely on my own skill and judgment. This year, I pinned my faith on writers and/or actors I knew and on the Invisible Dot as generally being reliable purveyors of stuff I might enjoy. So far, so good – no duffers and I haven’t drowned.
Threesome was excellent and did involve the now traditional removal of most of their kit by the cast. I’m not sure if this dis-robing trend is big in theatre at the moment, or just in the plays I have attended, but I have seen far more of actors – both famous and less well-known – over the last few months than I had ever anticipated. Perhaps it reflects falling budgets and cost-cutting in the wardrobe department?
Holes had the added excitement of a mystery location – which turned out to be Portobello Town Hall and a coach trip. We were dropped a little way from the venue and so enjoyed a walk along the promenade at Portobello and an ice cream – oh yes, not content with a volcano, castle, towns old and new and a bunch of festivals: Edinburgh also has its own beach resort. The play was very good – funny and dark – but if you sit in the front row, do beware of flying sand and water! Daniel Rigby was particularly excellent – and tonight I shall be seeing him as a stand-up (in which role I first saw at the Fringe many years ago, before the acting – and broadband selling- rather took off).
Each of Use by Ben Moor was more a monologue with actions than a play, but was stunningly written. One of the inspirations behind this blog – or at least something in the very far distance to which I aspire – is the radio show Elastic Planet written by Ben back in the mid-nineties. Each of Us was at least its equal being packed full of wonderfully off-beat ideas and beautiful turns of phrase – who could resist “caramelised sellotape” to give but one example. My writing has an awfully long way to go – as you, dear readers, will be all too well aware.
My most recent play was Moving Family – set in the back of a removal van driving across Newcastle. Both funny and moving and making a serious political point this was a near perfect 55 minutes of theatre (and no clothing was removed). My knowledge of Tyneside – gleaned from several years living in Jesmond and North Shields – even came in handy.
My comedy picks, I shall save for a later post. But, in summary, it has been a very good festival so far and I’ve enjoyed rather un-Scottish weather: a lot of warmth and sunshine and very little rain. It has been good to have the longer stay as it feels a little less rushed trying to fit things. I hope to manage a few more plays before I go, but there are just too many to see – even if I spent the whole of August in Edinburgh (always a tempting prospect). I shall have to hope that some of them make it down south and give me a second bite of the cherry – or just accept that part of the charm of live theatre is its transience…