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.

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 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 · Music · Theatre

Edinburgh Festival Day Ten.

Edinburgh Festival 2017 - The Man on the Moor, written and performed by Max Dickins

Only three shows today, Friday 11 August…

The Man on the Moor, written and performed by Max Dickins is a fascinating back projection of drama onto reality. In 2015, a body was found on Saddleworth Moor and the police appealed for information from anyone who knew him, publishing CCTV pictures in the press. The body turned out to be that of one David Lytton, but Dickins’ character in this one man show is convinced for a time that the pictured man is his father, who had left his family and gone missing twenty years earlier.
This device enables Dickins to explore the sense of unrequited loss those who are left behind by the missing (or “unmissed”) feel, as well as the subsequent struggles they have with their own identity.


The Man on the Moor, written and performed by Max Dickins.


The Man on the Moor runs until 27 August at Underbelly and is highly recommended.

Beethoven in Stalingrad took its text from letters written home by German soldiers in Stalingrad at Christmas 1942. The letters were confiscated by the Third Reich as they were almost all negative about the war, so never reached their intended recipients. Jesper Arin recited selections from the letters while gradually dressing in more and more pieces of soldier’s clothing which lay about the set as if abandoned; throughout, Ian Peaston put his electric violin through pedal and laptop effects to gradually build a rendition of a Beethoven Piano Sonata at the climax of the show, as one of the letters’ author reported he had heard. Interesting and bold theatre.

Several hours and drinks later we saw Trumpus Interruptus; The Impeachment of Donald Trump, presented by Mea Culpa Theater Co. In last year’s Fringe, there were many references to Donald Trump as being your worst nightmare; now that the nightmare is incarnate, it must be very difficult to satirise. These guys did a pretty good job on their penultimate show of the run, especially the actor playing the multiple parts to his partner’s Trump.