Books · Music · Theatre

The bitter end – Edinburgh Festivals Days Twenty-six and Twenty-seven.

What's the norm? Edinburgh Fringe - 70 years of defying

Sunday 27th August and the Bank Holiday Monday 28th August saw the end of this year’s Festivals.

First show on Sunday was Girls from Talawa Theatre Company, a powerful piece about three young women captured by, I guess, Boko Haram after an attack on their village; it’s never made explicit.  The play explores the girls’ different ways of dealing with the atrocities meted out to them.  It ends well for nobody, but neither does Hamlet.  Girls was an excellent play magnificently performed.  I’d like to think  the title is a riff comparing the tribulations of Lena Dunham’s titular girls with some real suffering – the chronology would be about right.

Dear Home Office 2 – Still Pending by Phosphorus Theatre was a sequel to their Dear Home Office, which had lightly fictionalised the stories of nearly all members of the company in their attempts to gain British citizenship and subsequently, security.  I believe that Phosphorus is the project of the two British nationals who set up the company to highlight the plight of the other amateur actors on the stage, who had come to the UK from a variety of countries on several continents.  The show was strangely moving in its presentation of the players’ realities as theatre.

Jess and Joe Forever by Zoe Cooper at The Traverse in the early evening had an advertising poster around the town with a puff-line “You’ll want to punch the air,” so I was afraid this would be the sort of thin that would make me want to punch the writer, director or actors…but no, it was a grand wee play about a couple of kids growing up and growing in love.

Nicola Coughlan (Jess) and Rhys Isaac Jones (Joe)

(Nicola Coughlan and Rhys-Isaac Jones in Jess and Joe Forever.)

It’s the first play I’ve seen that had dealt with gender fluidity, or at least gender fluidity in our times.  To be hipper-than-thou, the Trav had taped hand-written signs over the gender signs on all of their capacious toilets to indicate that any gender could use any toilet.  Of course there was a woman in the men’s – you don’t have to run after the bus once you’re on it, I suppose.


Cosey Fanni Tutti Ian Rankin


We finished Sunday by going to the Book Festival to see Cosey Fanni Tutti talk about her book Art Sex Music, which was fine, but would have been better if it was a better edited book and if the Book Festival interlocutor had been a bit more incisive.  Having read the book, you certainly can’t say her life has been uneventful.

The Fringe ends on the August Bank Holiday and this was the first time for many years I had been in Edinburgh on that day.  I have always been keen to avoid the inherent sadness of the city on that day, when people are doing maybe their final show, or are more likely loading vans with bits of scenery and suitcases before they take their leave with dreams of…something; maybe coming back next year, or maybe never setting foot on a stage again.

Monday 28th August, the end.

Joanne Hartstone gave us The Girl Who Jumped Off the Hollywood Sign based on the true story of a girl who did just that when her movie-acting career wasn’t all she had expected.  Hartstone has toured a lot with this one-woman-show, which was well presented and acted.  Poor girl got a bit emotional when she was thanking everyone at the end of her final performance, so it’s not just me who feels the end of the Festival strongly.  Got a nice little badge on exit.

Second show on the last Monday was Moonlight After Midnight by Concrete Drops Theatre from New York. The company is a man and woman duo who produce and act all their own work, and very good this was too. I checked their Facebook page after this and the seem to have had a great time in Edinburgh; they warmly wished all the audience goodbye outside the theatre.

Unfortunately, the third and last thing we saw on the last day was fairly poor. The actor seemed to be doing the sort of things actors should do, without being very good.

Never mind. We saw tons of good stuff, occasional great stuff and none of my concerns about the city’s superstructure collapsing happened.

It’s noticeable that the locus of the Fringe is becoming more and more concentrated in the Teviot/Meadows/Southside – we only made a couple of trips to George Street, so it is all easily negotiable as long as you have patience with the crowds, or a good working knowledge of the backstreets and shortcuts that will help you avoid the really densely packed streets.

I was personally impressed that we used no taxis this year…

Music · Theatre

Edinburgh Festivals Day Twenty-five.

RashDash's Two Man Show Edinburgh Fringe 2017

I realise that writing about the Edinburgh Festivals in October is hardly hot news and a bit fanciful…but there are still things which should be memorialised (from the month before last.)

Saturday 26th August saw us take in six shows and may well have been the best day overall.  We started fairly early with Stage by Stage’s ska-influenced take on The Comedy of Errors, which was performed with youthful brio and a good soundtrack of 70s/80s UK ska.

Lunchtime took us to Luke Wright’s (what a great name) What I Learned from Johnny Bevan, a superb dramatic monologue, or maybe even epic poem – the protagonist meets the titular Johnny when he sees him performing, wildly passionate, at a poetry event at college and becomes entranced with this figure, the like of whom he has not come across before.  He gets sucked into the radical politics Johnny spends all his time researching and espousing and has a great time until Johnny disappears, to be found again years later via social media, but not really wanting to be found – his far left views are now abandoned and have been replaced by equally strongly held right wing views.

It was stunningly well performed and written by Wright, who will be worth looking out for in the future.

Desert Bloom by plush tiger productions was good, a monologue (quite the thing this year) about a woman who was under the impression she was the lovechild of Marilyn Monroe, or JFK, or both…I can’t remember a lot about it, but it was a pleasant enough hour.

Late afternoon we were at Dancebase again for John Scott Dance’s Lear – yes, King Lear expressed through interpretative dance, with a female Lear and three male dancers portraying his daughters.  Gee whiz, this sort of thing is firmly in my surreal/ have a word with yourself zone and I wondered about going to it but in the event enjoyed it very much.

Valda Setterfield, playing Lear, was a few weeks away from her 83rd birthday at the time of the performance and is a bit of a legend among people who know about dance – she performed the part with grace and humour although most of the heavy lifting was done by the male dancers.  There was also quite a lot of witty dialogue, which lifted the burden of “interpretative dance” for me.

Alan Bissett’s (More) Moira Monologues at the Scottish Storytelling Centre was a great laugh.  A monologue (see?) from his fictional Moira, this is the second show he’s done on this theme.  Moira is a catty, sarcastic but often tender single parent living on a scheme and it’s not one of these self-consciously “Fringe” shows – if he wanted, I’m sure Bissett could play this in Scottish theatres as a Christmas feature.  From what he was saying, it had sold very well again this year.

Finally, for that Saturday of rich pickings, the richest – RashDash’s Two Man Show.

What a pleasant surprise.  The bland picture and blurb in the Fringe programme didn’t really suggest what this would be and I think that was intentional.  RashDash is comprised of three performers, two mostly acting and dancing, the third providing impressive sound textures (these loop pedals again – 2017, the year of the monologue and the loop pedal…) It’s mostly about the patriarchy…they explain it much better here;

The young man in the queue before us for this had seen it before and kindly didn’t give too much away. I’d definitely see this again.

Books · Music · Theatre

Edinburgh Festivals Day Twenty-four.

Edinburgh Fringe 2017

Friday 25 August – all killer, no filler…

Fleabag by Phoebe Waller-Bridge



Early evening we saw this year’s iteration of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag, performed by Maddie Rice this year rather than the author.

I got interested in Fleabag from hearing about the TV series which grew out of Waller-Bridge’s performance of the play at the 2014 Fringe, it being frequently suggested that if one liked Lena Dunham’s Girls, this was cut from the same cloth.  So I watched the TV series earlier this year and it was good, but not nearly as good as the simply presented hour that is Fleabag on stage; the stage version is both funnier and more sinister than the six half-hours of television. Grim humour, a character who is desperate to be liked but fairly detestable.

Waller-Bridge also appeared at the Edinburgh Television Festival and reportedly said that although Fleabag was conceived as a one-off, she has finally thought of a way a second series can be done…I hope the concept is not stretched too far, but you can’t grudge her capitalising on such a successful play.

From the Underbelly to the Museum…

Jarrow road to the deep South - Stuart Maconie


…to watch Stuart Maconie’s Jarrow Road to the Deep South, a talk based on his latest book of social history, Long Road from Jarrow.  This was a Fringe rather than a Book Festival event; Maconie is as good a performer as he is a writer, so needs no interlocutor to discuss the work with him.

The book describes Maconie’s 300-mile walk from Jarrow to London, following the route of the Jarrow March of 1936.  The walk allows him to compare the hopes and dreams of the marchers of sixty years before with the social conditions now in the villages and towns they both passed through.  I haven’t read it yet, but the show makes it essential – well, it was anyway, I’ve enjoyed all his books.

Finally that evening, I met Alan and Susan from littledoorbooks as we had arranged the previous day to attend The Unthanks‘ show at The Book Festival. The Unthanks have recently released an album of their interpretations of the songs of Molly Drake, which I have been enjoying for the last few months, but an appearance at a Book festival seemed tenuous…it turns out that the author David Mitchell, who was a guest programmer and the presenter of the evening’s event, just really likes The Unthanks and is also researching a book about musicians and was keen to ask the band about their processes.

Understandably, and unusually for the Book Festival, there were several musical performances by way of illustration of these quiet, gentle songs performed to piano accompaniment…the pounding rain on the marquee was loud against this, but couldn’t have been foreseen.

What probably could have been foreseen for an event starting at 9:45pm would be that the noise of the fireworks at the conclusion of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo (at the Castle, over the road,) would have been intrusive. What definitely should have been foreseen was the noise of the band playing their gig in the Spiegeltent across the square, at a different Book Festival event…you could have forgiven The Unthanks a flounce as they tried to play over three different intrusions, but they carried on in good spirits.

Finally, some local colour in the restroom of one of our overflowing city centre taverns this evening, where we sure know how to welcome our visitors!

Edinburgh pub urinals




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 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.