I, Culture

If I had a more flexible view of English grammar than is, in fact, the case, today’s title could be a description of my life in Edinburgh (or indeed, a first person description of being a member of Homo sapiens).  So much culture am I taking in, that I am struggling to find time to sleep – though have still managed to find time to keep up my gymnastics training and for a quick game of hide-and-seek.

Not only culture, but the past few days have also provided an excellent chance to catch up with old friends and fellow best men.  Still, it is to culture that we must return (yes, we must!), please stop that sobbing now.

For those relying on GofaDM to plan their visit to the Festivals, I can add some further comedy recommendations to my last post (in Bb or Eb depending on your regiment).

Kieran Hodgson: following last year’s show in which I had a starring role, this year he plays all of the parts (obviously I was not quite the success on stage I had imagined) for a very funny tale of a teenage French exchange trip.

Rhys James: very entertaining comedy and spoken word from a chap who was pale, but determined – having been throwing-up off-stage less than 5 minutes before his set began.

Ivo Graham: well, I do love a show with jokes in Latin and an historically accurate reference to the Duke of Anjou.

Jonny and the Baptists: very funny singing and drinking, but probably not the place to take your UKIP-voting maiden aunt.

I’ve also moved onto fringe theatre, and enjoyed (though didn’t entirely understand) a production of Pinter’s A Slight Ache.  I also returned to see Wingman – a play by Richard Marsh I had seen in an early form deep beneath Waterloo Station last winter. It was good then (if slightly musty – down to the venue rather than the writing), but the final version was even better – I could really see how taking the time to refine the story-telling and the language paid off.  A lesson there for GofaDM!  (A lesson I fully expect to ignore).  Having seen an earlier version of the play, I was somewhat protected against excess lachrymosity (like a cultural vaccination), but it did still affect me (though less than some of my fellow audience members).  Even better, at the end I could buy a copy of the play (including his earlier play Skittles) and shake the great man by the hand – surely every stalker’s dream.  I recall a recently-quoted statistic that the average writer’s income is £11,000 p.a. – which does make you wonder how anything is ever written except as an act of defiance.  I’ve seen Richard perform his works on five occasions to date, and I swear he has worn the same pair of jeans and striped top for every one – either this is an indication of the poor financial lot of the writer or a real commitment to clothing continuity.  I am reminded once again of the need to support our playwrights and producing theatres.

Talking, as I was, of celebrity encounters – and my slightly twisted take thereon – wandering the streets of Edinburgh at this time of year, one can see many a “celeb”.  These don’t impress me much, but I did have a more exciting encounter on the edge of St Andrew’s Square – I passed an 84 year old professor of zoology, Aubrey Manning.  Now he is a real celebrity, a man who through a long-gone BBC2 series taught me most of the more advanced geology that I retain to this day.

Anyway, to explain the title we must return to music.  I had huge fun with Ute Lemper singing cabaret songs from Weimar Germany and post-war France – I feel my life could do with a little more cabaret in it, if only it didn’t tend to start so late at night.  My mind was well and truly blown by the Arditti Quartet (plus counter-tenor son and composer wife), introducing me to modern classical music of a type I’d never even imagined might exist.  I’m not yet sure if I love or hate it, but it definitely opened my ears to a much larger sonic world – I literally wandered dazed around Edinburgh for a good fifteen minutes after the concert finished.

However, my musical highlight came on Sunday night with a performance by the I, Culture orchestra – formed in 2011 by the Poles but taking in performers from Ukraine, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia and Moldova.  As with most of today’s comedy choices, they were annoyingly young and (on the whole) easy on the eyes – and what musicians!  (Not at all what the Eurovision Song Contest might have led us to expect).  I also loved the occasional divergence from the dress code – one clarinet in a jacket the wrong shade of black, a horn in brown shoes; more established orchestras can be just too uniform for my taste.  A seriously anti-war programme began with Panufnik’s Symphonia Elegiaca – which was new to me, but beautiful.  After the interval, one of my favourite pieces of all time, Shostakovich’s “Leningrad” symphony – which did bring several tears to my eye (and music almost never makes me cry, though almost anything else can and does).  Despite the very limited leg-room in the upper circle of the Hall of the house of Usher (the price you pay for late-booking, cheaper seats and better acoustics), I was too involved in the music to feel any discomfort – that’s how great this concert was! Radio 3 were recording it, so I do have the opportunity to re-live my experience without suffering permanent knee damage – though it will lack the visual spectacle of 120+ musicians (I lost count) in action.

Yet another reason to thank the Poles (so important to the defence of this nation 70-or-so years ago and such a boon to the joke-writer today), and – in line with the very clear message from Jonny and the Baptists – show UKIP the door!

Feel free to continue the lunacy...

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