Saturday, August 21, 2010

DC Editors Take Edinburgh, 2010 Edition

I know, I know. We’ve been to Edinburgh before. One year ago, in fact. But nothing says summer vacation like a trip north to Scotland. It may be the opposite of going to the beach, but it’s crazy fun.

To refresh your memory, Edinburgh hosts something like 11 festivals in August – arts, books, jazz, dance, you name it. The big draw for us is the Fringe – more than 2000 performances ranging from comedy to drama to music to juggling to improv to … well, just about anything. As an example, one performer is climbing to space (because, he decided, the moon is too far) by going up and down a 10-foot ladder until he’s climbed the equivalent of 50 miles. That’s it, that’s his performance. People drop by periodically to check on his progress.

Last year we saw 34 performances in a week. This year we were there for just 4 days but still managed a respectable 19 shows between us. Two of the shows I (KT) saw were particularly lovely because they reminded me how much I love words. Poet Kate Fox lovingly turns her life experiences into verse that flows effortlessly and with a lovely cadence. A particularly amusing snippet:

As Leonard Cohen nearly said,

stop mithering,

I was born like this,

I had no choice,

I was born with the gift of a Northern voice.

I know hearing it makes some people groan

and develop Irritable Vowel Syndrome. …

Molly Naylor’s one woman show about her life and experiences surrounding the 7/7 bombings was poignant and insightful. She writes of her generation:

Somebody once said we were something, and we haven’t forgotten yet. // Nobody here will become a teacher and teach others how to teach. For us, there is everything wrong with a lack of glamour and we’re finding out how far we can reach // how many pints // how many overdrafts // telling stories about our experiments// the subtext that life will save us. // It won’t // but we don’t know this yet. … // Somebody once said we were something and we haven’t learned anything yet.

I spent some time at the book festival, too, even though I didn’t actually go to an event. Still, the book shop there is full of books by writers I know of but far more I don’t. I thought I exhibited remarkable restraint by buying just one book by Hanif Kureishi, who is a new-to-me author.

[UPDATE: I got an e-mail late last night from friend Em, subject line: Smile, You're on the Review Show! While I was at the book festival, there was a camera there shooting B roll. It was, rather often, pointed right at me. So, I dutifully read the stack of stuff I picked up on the way in -- the London Review of Books, the Book Festival program, etc. Turns out the cameras were shooting for a BBC book show, which Em spotted me on and I watched this morning on iPlayer. I am not, however, reading the London Review of Books.
Photo of Em's telly, with me on it. Not reading the London Review of Books.
Me playing on my phone made a great intro for a story on David Shields' claim that the the 21st century has ushered in a digital age, complete with mobile phones, twitter, and so on that render the novel obsolete. [You can read about this in his BOOK (though not a novel), Reality Hunger.]

I turn up again later on in the program - for somewhat of an opposite reason: a piece on e-books and e-book readers.
There we go. NOW I'm reading the London Review of Books.

There you have it: My 2 nanoseconds of fame.]

Of course, there’s nothing like some good music, and the Orkestra del Sol had the audience jumping around for a good 90 minutes with their Balkan Gypsy beats. Out of the Blue, an Oxford acapella group, always impresses. And Storm Large: Wow. Totally filthy and raunchy, but holy smokes, can she perform. I cringed on behalf of the middle-aged woman in front of me with the Princess Diana hair, but she was singing right along to Storm’s big finale, the chorus of which starts “my vagina is 8 miles wide.” A real toe-tapper, that one. (Here’s the video for that song; the video itself is mostly parody but don’t say I didn’t warn you about the lyrics.)

And we went to the circus. Not one with clowns, balloon animals, elephant rides, and sword swallowing. (Actually, there might have been sword swallowing.) Tabu was closer to Cirque du Soleil, but not quite. The audience stood throughout the performance while acrobatics, trapeze artistry, Chinese pole climbing, hula hooping, and so on went on over and around us, all to music of a live band. It was positively incredible – a circus for grown-ups, complete with a bar.
One of this year's features - Festival in the Sky. Have lunch, tea, or dinner suspended 100 feet above the ground while taking in the view! (We did not do this.)

A typical scene in Edinburgh during the Fringe.

Here’s what we saw, and in keeping with the standard 5-star rating system used for Fringe events, we’ve thrown in our own ratings:


Orkestra del Sol – 5 stars! Good fun – Balkan Gypsy band that had everyone jumping.

Kate Fox News – 4 stars. Kate Fox is a journalist, writer, and poet. This autobiographical show takes us through her challenging childhood, the search for her real father, her career as a journalist, and her journey to poetry and to finding her true love. She was funny, moving, and sweet. I want to have her over for a cuppa.

The Vanishing Horizon – 4 stars. A lovely physical theatre piece weaving together a woman’s personal journey with her husband’s project on the history of aviation. By the same company that did a show we really liked last year (Borges and I).

Storm Large – 5 stars. Whoa. She’s amazing. Raunchy and filthy and a sad, hard life – that she has made the most of through her abilities as a performer.

Out of the Blue – 4 stars. All male acapella group can rock Lady Gaga and Billy Joel with skill.

Memoirs of a Biscuit Tin – 3 stars. Such a sweet premise – a house has lost its owner, so the chimney, wall, and floor set out on a journey to find her. The acting was lovely and innovative, but the script needs much work.

Tabu – 5 stars. Amazing circus. See above.


Midsummer’s Night Madness – 5 stars. A futuristic hip-hop adaptation of Midsummer Night’s Dream, complete with soliloquies performed as R&B songs. Positively fantastic.

Others – 4 stars. A refreshing piece of theatre in which 3 women portray/recite/emote their exchanges of letters with a prisoner, Iranian woman, and a celebrity. That’s what most of the reviews call it, though that doesn’t really begin to describe it, and mostly it shines for being an innovative script with brilliant acting and staging.

Whenever I get Blown Up I Think of You – 4 stars. Molly Naylor’s recounting of her life and how it changed after surviving a 7/7 bomb attack on the London Tube.

Skeryvore –Free music from a modern/traditional Scottish rock band at the National Museum of Scotland. Beautiful venue, great music, bagpipes, men in kilts. A very valid way to spend an hour.


Rupert Pupkin Collective—3 stars. About 20 viewers in a hall seating maybe 300 isn’t a good start but this foursome of middle-aged guys persevered with a solid set of improv. They had fun and so did the audience. Some veteran British comics from the TV quiz shows.

Otherwise—4 stars. Stuffed into a moderately-sized conference room, with little more than a table and chairs as the set, this well-written drama kicks off when a young man wakes up in a police station interrogation room after a drunken night out. His girlfriend is murdered and he’s the prime suspect—to defend himself, he has his best mate and the girlfriend “appear” during the interrogation, but they don’t tell him what he wants to hear, and the girlfriend turns out to be something surprising (saying more would be a spoiler). Excellent.

Not What I Had In Mind-2 stars. A celebrated dancer interviewed a random selection of people and had them choreograph his movements to depict their emotions and dreams. Unfortunately, they’re not dancers so he does stuff like jump, flail arms, and scratch his head. Intriguing concept that fails.

120 Birds—4 stars. A much better dance show for my 5 pounds. Loosely inspired by the travels of a 1920’s dance troupe, 3 women and 1 male show off a myriad of dance styles, and costumes.

Closest to the Moon—5 stars. I kept trying to talk myself out of seeing this “musical in development” about a mountain-climbing but I’m so glad I didn’t. Minimal staging and acting for the 10-strong chorus and 2 leads—a mountain climber tackling Mt Everest and his wife who wonders why he risks it—but some brilliant singing, especially by the wife, make me wonder if this could be a musical that someday makes it to the West End. In any case, I predict some of the impressive cast will.

Invisible Atom—1 actor on a stage tells a compelling story of his gradual descent into suicidal depression after he survives a terrorist attack that kills many others—9/11?—and discovers that finding his biological father solves nothing in his life.

Wonderland—3 stars. A world premiere of a new musical about the eccentric Oxford professor who wrote Alice in Wonderland and his complicated interactions with the first actress to play the part.  Strong cast do justice to the witty songs but the the dark side of “Lewis Carroll”—biographers differ over allegations that he had an unhealthy albeit non-sexual obsession with young girls—ultimately intrudes into the fairy-tale romp and the script isn’t strong enough to pull off the complex tale. 

Two—3 stars. Two actors play bickering married pub-owners and 12 other characters in a night at the pub. Fitfully amusing for first half but then ends powerfully as couple finally deal with the emotions of an old tragedy. One for acting schools.

Scotland, as seen from a moving train.

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