Festivals · Music · Theatre

Edinburgh Festivals Days Twenty, Twenty-one, Twenty-two and Twenty-three.

Edinburgh Fringe - 70 years of defying the norm


Monday 21 August, day 20 of the Festivals…

Mairi Campbell Pulse


Mairi Campbell’s Pulse was a thoughtful and graceful exposition of her own musical journey from the conservatory to the folk tradition, directed by my friend Kath Burlinson.  Very good.

Not so good was the second show that evening…it may have been called “Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men meet Spooky Bitch and the Rockers Uptown.”  At least, it should have been.  I’ll never get that hour back…

Day 21, Tuesday August 22 was a hundred percent day though.

Guy Pratt - photo by Steve Ullathorne


First of all I saw Guy Pratt’s Inglourious Bassterd at Frankenstein’s as part of the Free Fringe.  I had seen him years ago doing a show called My Bass and Other Animals and enjoyed it, so it was well worth going to see the updated version, where he tells anecdotes about his musical career as bass player with Pink Floyd and David Gilmour as well as the numerous superstar sessions he’s done.  Sadly I had to leave quickly at the end of the show so was unable to speak with him and thank him for the magnificent bass part on Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s “Murder on the Dancefloor.”

A little bit later we went to see Alan Johnson at the Book Festival.  His third volume of memoirs has just come out and he was able to speak mostly about the book – a couple of years ago, during a Labour Party leadership campaign, he was at the Book Festival to promote the second volume but was largely asked about the state of the party rather than his book.

When he was Minister for Health in, I think, 2009 he had mentioned in an interview in The Observer about music that he was fond of The Pearlfishers, so with the agreement of the composer, I took the opportunity to give him a copy of The Pearlfishers’ official bootleg.  I think he is the fifth person to have a copy of this – I hope he enjoys it.


Alan Johnson discusses The Pearlfishers with Stuart Ferguson at the Edinburgh Book Festival

Day 22, Wednesday August 23 – one show, Kieran Hurley’s Heads Up.  A successful shot in the dark.  Apparently this won a Fringe First in 2016 and I could see why.  In the lovely surroundings of the Anatomy Lecture Theatre at Summerhall, Hurley’s show is a powerful monologue about people’s reactions to nuclear apocalypse, delivered mostly from a desk where he triggers samples from a couple of pads in front of him.  Sobering and sadly appropriate to our troubled and volatile times.

Day 23, Thursday August 24.  Just one show, which was OK.  So enough said.

I also had a pleasant couple of hours at the Book Festival with my friend Alan Windram from littledoorbooks, where we discovered that he and his wife were coincidentally going to an event the next day, and we agreed to meet up.

Meanwhile, in Musselburgh, a revolution in publishing marketing was underway…


Musselburgh Courier - Get a Free Sandwich


Festivals · Theatre

Edinburgh Festivals Day Nineteen.

Edinburgh Fringe 2017

Sunday 20 August, three shows, two of which were sadly a waste of time, ill-conceived with little content and no point.  Such is life and that’s going to happen, it’s just the other side of the coin which sometimes yields unheralded and unexpected good surprises (like yesterday.)  I do love the three and a bit weeks of the Fringe and I have a great time – it just doesn’t always feel that way at the time.

However, Stellar QuinesThe Last Queen of Scotland made the day worthwhile. Commissioned by The National Theatre of Scotland and Dundee Rep, this was a newish piece by Jaimini Jethwa exploring the experiences of a Ugandan Asian girl expelled from Uganda by Idi Amin in the 1970s. Like the author, she ended up in Dundee and the play recounts the refugee’s experience in the UK and specifically Dundee. Rehanna MacDonald was outstanding in the central role.

I always try to see Stellar Quines.

The Last Queen of Scotland Stellar Quines

On a different note, does it say more about me than the refurbishment that St Cecilia’s Hall seems to be impersonating a can of Carlsberg Special?

St Cecilia's Hall Edinburgh




Festivals · Theatre

Edinburgh Festivals Day Eighteen.

Edinburgh Festivals

Saturday 19 August.  Turned out to be a great day!

Shakespeare on a Shoestring’s Cymbeline was an inauspicious start – while the production itself was fun, witty and energetic, I had to ask a man with an SLR and a woman with a bright iPhone sitting in front of me to put them away…again, a production by an American school, so possibly something of a vanity production which parents would want to photograph and film to death…I think we will be avoiding the schoolies in the future.

A couple of hours later we saw Essential Theatre‘s reading of Julius Caesar and it was superb. A female cast delivered a powerful distillation of the play in just over an hour; wonderful acting and passion. This is the sort of thing that makes attending the Fringe so sweetly fruitful, to suddenly and unexpectedly come across theatre of the highest standard for a few pounds, brought to us by people who have travelled halfway around the world to be here, Australia in this case.  Thank you, Essential Theatre!


Essential Theatre's reading of Julius Caesar


I had no idea what James Rowland’s A Hundred Different Words for Love was going to  be like and it turned out to be the second excellent show of the day.  A monologue about meeting the girl and losing the girl set to occasional looped piano accompaniment (truly the year of the loop pedal at this year’s Fringe,)  it was unusually touching.  Great writing and performance in a lovely atmosphere, the Anatomy Lecture Theatre in Summerhall, which is acoustically perfect.  They knew how to build lecture theatres back then…

St Peter’s Church in Lutton Place hosted C theatre‘s stunning Shakespeare in the Garden; The Tempest. This is the same company who do Shakespeare for Breakfast and Dickens for Dinner, which I’ve already eulogised.  This is a more traditional take on the work; in fact, entirely traditional as it takes place in the open air in the gardens of the church.  I just loved this meticulous production and marvelled at the projection of the actors who had naught but the open air to work in, the lightness and charm of the direction.  This is fast becoming my favourite part of the Fringe –  I first saw this last year, I think it was Twelfth Night and look forward to next year already.  These people can turn their hand to anything.

The last show was a name comedian of which I can remember nothing, sadly.

Festivals · Theatre

Edinburgh Festival Day Sixteen.

Death on the Nile presented by Livewire Theatre Company

Clearly, sitting here on 30  August, I have got way behind in writing about the Festivals…but with a few alterations to tenses, I’ll carry on.  There were so many good things happened throughout the three and a half weeks that it makes the atmosphere in the city on August Bank Holiday quite poignant as many people are packing and leaving the city, or doing their final show.

But I’ll come to Monday 28 August eventually…

I only saw one show on Thursday 17 August, Death on the Nile presented by Livewire Theatre Company, who, according to their programme, were “celebrating 18 years at the Edinburgh Fringe.”  I’m sure I would have remembered if I’d seen them before.

This was quintessential am-dram, by which I mean am-dram at its finest, performed with skill and passion and a lack of pretension.  They don’t seem to have website (there are others with the same or similar names on a Google search) and there are no lists of Twitter or Facebook contacts on the programme, so decidedly old school, which is quite refreshing.  There seem to be many members of a family involved, so I’m guessing this has been an inter-generational project if they have been coming to Edinburgh for eighteen years.

The play itself was an original work based on Agatha Christie’s novel of that name and was not really worthy of the acting and production talent…no-one was credited with writing it, so I guess it may have been devised by the cast, it had that feel.  But no matter, the package as a whole made for an enjoyable evening.

Festivals · Music · Theatre

Edinburgh Festival Day Fifteen.

2017 Edinburgh Fringe

Wednesday 16 August…

Put the Book Down Theatre Company have devised Mine, a superbly acted and directed monologue played by Maisie Barlow.  Written by Doug Deans in collaboration with Barlow and Thomas Carter, the play explains and explores the feelings of a mother who, it turns out, did not know her son as well as she thought in the wake of his unidentified crime.



Mine - Doug Deans - Put the Book Down


Many plays throughout this Fringe have directly addressed the issues of our weird times; politics, mental illness, dementia, homelessness, alienation, often with collections for related charities afterward.  I don’t remember this sort of subtle campaigning-through-art having been so prevalent before.  It’s a sad comment that it is needed and that these societal problems are now needfully so often raised and dealt with by our artists rather than our elected representatives.

Put the Book Down don’t preach (or take a collection), but highlight the need for tolerance in society by showing us the plight of a woman who is demonised because of the actions of someone she has borne.  There must be loads of people in that position.

Mine ran for almost all of the Fringe’s three weeks, finishing on Sunday 27.

Indie as Fuck by Pinched! Theatre Company was a good way to end the evening – a revue built around the story of a school band getting together again to play one last show.  I especially liked The Cliché Song…

Cabaret bar - Edinburgh Festival 2017

Festivals · Theatre

Edinburgh Festival Day Fourteen.

Edinburgh Fringe - 70 years of defying the norm

Tuesday August 15, two shows, one worthy of comment, one of which we shall not speak.

First was Hamlettes, from American High School Theatre Festival, on its last night.  I gleaned quickly from the programme that I would probably have enjoyed this more if I had a knowledge of the film Mean Girls, but all the same, there were many deft touches in the language and the staging, and with a bigger, more receptive audience it could have gone down really well.  Unusually for an AHSTF production, there were only three actors – usually they have large casts.  One of the actors has the same surname as one of the sponsoring companies.

What really sabotaged a promising production was the photographer the company had hired, who sat in the front row with a digital SLR.  The camera had a bright back screen, a huge telephoto lens and of course, SLRs make a clicking noise.  And this guy was taking on average three shots a minute, for all of the 75 minutes of the play.  I was in the back row and it was driving me nuts, so the people in the first few rows must have wanted to murder him.  At least I could interpose other people between me and the screen, they had to contend with the screen and the swinging about of the lens.

On the way out, we did point out to the “freelance” how annoying his photography was; a lady with lots of laminates, whom I assume was with the company, dismissively said she would “take our comments on board.”  But clearly, the vanity nature of the project had overtaken the needs of the paying audience.  The kids have their snaps, but I doubt we will attend AHSTF presentations in future.

AHSTF Edinburgh Fringe 2017

Festivals · Theatre

Edinburgh Festival Day Thirteen.

Monday August 14…just the one today.

The Course of True Love - SE Theatre Company

SE Theatre Company’s The Course of True Love is a new piece by Samão Vaz, directed by Elliott Wallis, acted by Vaz and Imogen Parker.  It uses words from apparently ten Shakespeare plays (I recognised five or so) to chart a relationship between the two characters from the first flush of love all the way to it going right round the bend.

After a short preview run in Stratford it is debuting in Edinburgh.

SE Theatre Company The Course of True Love - Edinburgh 2017

It is well devised, skilfully acted and staged. What made it special for me, though, was that Vaz and Wallis are alumni of probably my favourite ever Fringe troupe, Year Out Drama Company, who would present Story Shakespeare for a week each year at The Fringe…until 2014, at least. When there was no entry for them in the 2015 programme, we found out that they had lost their rehearsal space earlier in the year so would have been unprepared for Edinburgh. Sadly they have never returned…

On top of that, Imogen Parker trained with the much lauded Fourth Monkey, probably my second favourite Fringe troupe. I would have seen her in their interpretations of Grimm’s fairy tales two years ago.

I was passing the theatre a couple of days later just as the show would be coming down, so went in the ask Elliot or Samão if they knew how Deborah Moody, the producer of Story Shakespeare was – I met Elliott who told me that she was fine and spending time with her family…Story Shakespeare is sadly now no more.

Below is our picture from 2013.

Stuart Ferguson with Deborah Moody

The Course of True Love plays at 5:10pm at C Cubed in the High Street until 28 August and is highly recommended.