I got a bit behind over the last few days. We went to fourteen shows, only one of which I won’t mention, so quite a good strike rate. There does seem to be far fewer duds on the Fringe than say, fifteen or twenty years ago.
Friday kicked off with Chris Davis’ One-Man Apocalypse Now at Sweet Grassmarket, an hour long one man solo reduction of Coppola’s masterpiece, a film I think I have seen more often than any other. It was good; Davis seems to be a Fringe professional, doing some hard flyering and indeed another free show after midnight at The Counting House.
An hour or so later, we were at The Space in Niddry Street to watch our favourite company, Fourth Monkey, who have given so much pleasure over so many years now with their singular style and adventurous productions. This year they are visiting Edinburgh with a triptych of plays under the banner Women of Greece, based on Greek myths, opening tonight with Persephone. The company did not disappoint, all the familiar tropes were in place in the venue that they use so well. Every year seems like the best year. It was a shame they started about twenty minutes late, but I put that down to it being a first night.
Then we went a bit off-piste (for me anyway) and went to Underbelly’s Circus Hub in The Meadows to watch Elixir, performed by Head First Acrobats. If you enjoy watching handsome young men performing unfeasible acrobatic stunts, this is for you. I’m neutral.
Today’s Annoying Festival Git is shared among those who think their whispering is inaudible. By definition, it is not.
Saturday started gently with Bob Kingdom’s The Truman Capote Talk Show. This genre has become very popular; an actor appears in the character of a dead writer, actor or musician and addresses us from beyond the grave, including all the subject’s “greatest hits” and pithily assessing the successes and failures of their life. I’ve seen similar on Oliver Reed, Tony Hancock and Nina Simone in previous years. Kingdom’s show is fine and will get better as it eases into the run – it made me think and has given me a couple of additions to my reading list.
Big Brother Hamlet: A Surveillance Adaptation by International Collegiate Theatre Festival is a mouthful and a title that didn’t augur well. What it was turned out to be a perfectly fine Hamlet interpretation with some great ideas and acting that really didn’t need the “Big Brother” conceit of having about a dozen supernumerary actors on stage in cowls mechanically observing the action surveillance cameras. Maybe the show was devised so that all the members of the company could come to Edinburgh, hence these other parts? (In the UK now, we think of the Endemol show when we see the words Big Brother; the reference here was more to Orwell’s original Big Brother, however obliquely. It’s interesting how the phrase Groundhog Day now means something quite different to its original connotation subsequent to the film of that name.)
Pike St. at Roundabout in Summerhall was next and would be the first outstanding thing I’ve seen this year. The venue was deeply impressive, a bespoke theatre-in-the round with excellent sound and lighting options. This allowed the amazing Nilaja Sun to perform her piece most effectively, where she used her body and a variety of voices to portray several characters going about their lives in the Lower East Side of New York City (I think it’s called acting…) This would have been the second show in Edinburgh and it’s already entirely in place.
In the evening, we were back to The Space to see Fourth Monkey‘s Persephone, the second of the Women of Greece series. They went up twenty minutes late with no explanation or apology, really annoying because twenty minutes is not an inconsequential amount of time during the Fringe. People will have other shows to go to. The fact that Persephone was brilliant doesn’t sweeten the pill; rather, the fact they were late for the second night leaves a bitter taste. Once is maybe understandable, twice is arrogant. They know they are great, no-one is going to leave. I was discussing this very loudly in the queue because the guy in front of us had been in the queue for the Hamlet I was at in the afternoon and had been telling people he knew someone from Fourth Monkey who was in Edinburgh. It must have been the girl in the red dress, because that who he was filming covertly (annoyingly) one seat away from me. Saturday’s AFG.
We had limited time to get to the day’s last show, Frankie Boyle at the EICC. My heart lifted as I saw numerous signs around the venue saying if you left, there was no readmission, including toilet breaks (spelled out for the vodsels -put eight pints in, something will come out during Frankie’s marathon one hour set.)
The threat was balls. Fifteen minutes in, the exodus of weak bladders started and they all got back in. At least the couple in the first seats I went to had cut to the chase and already spilled their drinks on the floor, so I reconsidered and sat in row W next to quite a friendly bloke who texted and took videos throughout Frankie’s marathon ONE hour set. He at least didn’t need a piss.
Oh yeah, Frankie Boyle. He was quite funny, but not as funny as taking £17.50 a ticket for ten nights in a 2,000 seater. Sheep. More power to Frankie’s elbow.
Sunday then. At the back of twelve we were at Underbelly to watch the excellent Harry by Poor Michelle. Performed by the writer Caitlin McEwan and Sophie McQuillan, this is a play about two late teenage girls who grow up together devoted to the fandom of Harry Styles, then grow apart as one of them grows up and another crashes and burns because she can’t let go of her devotion to Harry. It was a great experience because it was a play about one of my favourite subjects – not Harry Styles, but being a pop fan; but slightly compromised by one of the actors not having as good projection as the other.
Peer Gynt by Gruffdog Theatre at Zoo was absolutely fine for fans of physical theatre. Lovely venue.
Blank Tiles at Assembly in George Square was better. A monologue by one Dylan Cole about the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease on a Scrabble winning, Star Trek loving, Rubik cube solving geek, it is at once funny and touching.
Later that evening, we went to Dance Base to watch Lady Macbeth, an investigation of the motivation and psyche of that imaginary character rendered in the medium of interpretative dance. It was very good, but sometimes I think “Stuart, you need a word with yourself…”
The evening finished with another visit to The Space to watch Fourth Monkey‘s take on Titus Andronicus. Predictably great. On time tonight, but running overtime. No problem, got the night bus home, which is a Fringe show in itself.