Edinburgh Diary

My four days in Edinburgh

Monday, September 04, 2006

8 shows in 4 days, with a trip to Roselyn Chapel stuffed in:

My first day in Edinburgh I was mostly asleep. Having arrived from a transatlantic flight from the night before (time was amorphorous the first few days), and not being able to check into my hotel in Glasgow, I decided to not waste time and take the train to Edinburgh. Chucking my bags at the hotel, I caught the next train and arrived shortly after noon.

One of the most hilarious shows that I caught a glimpse of along the Royal Mile was Symphonia, performed by a group of comedians from Italy. The section consisted of a mimed water ballet. The 4 guys had bathing suits and caps on and did some synchronized swimming on the tiny stage. Despite my fatigue, I began to laugh out-loud. There was a little fence in front of the performers, the top of which served as the water line, and so they would often dive down, and return in hilarious formations. And just like Olympic water ballet, they pretended to dance with their heads below the waterline, but their feet straight up in the air. Only the legs were mannequin legs, which gave them the opportunity to seemingly contort their bodies. As part of their routine, they would loose synchronization at times. At one point, a guy lost his bathing suit. Just remembering the show, I'm chuckling to myself. I'm just sorry I couldn't get to see the full show.

That first afternoon I went to see Hamlet: The Gloomy Prince. Two guys in an excellent show. I gather at least that much despite the fact that I was asleep most of the time. Thankfully I was in the second row.

My second day there, I saw Dario Fo's An Open Couple. Unfortunately not well attended, but in every respect an excellent show. A lighting person sat in back, and a musician sat up front and performed the music that he had written for the show. It was about the stereo-type of men wanting freedom in marriage, but if their women do the same, they are not happy. My only criticism is that the actress played attitudes a bit much. I had seen her earlier in the afternoon as she tried to hand me a flyer for the show. I explained that I had just bought a ticket, and she was really shocked. Bumped into someone else from the show the next day who was equally shocked I had seen it the day before. I guess attendance has been pretty poor for the run.

BTW, if a show has any chance of succeeding it has to run the full length of the festival, and most shows loose money. Interesting start times, like 12:05. This must be a way to have a show stand out from all the others that start at 12:00 in the program . The big hope for many is that their show will be picked up for a television series.

That evening, I went to see Maria Bamford do Plan B. Excellent show. She did many character voices and talked a lot about her family, many of whom are in the medical profession. She was outstanding at her characters, but I felt sometimes the story was lost as she moved from character to character. An American! I recognized clearly that naturalistic style. I had hoped to see people from other countries.

My third day saw a new one-woman play by Dostoevsky called Netochka Nezvanova--Nameless Nobody, in an adaptation of an early work. The actress, Vera Filatova, was outstanding! She walked in and stumbled poorly, and I thought at first that it wasn't going to be very good. But the performance turned out to be both an outer-inner and an inner-outer portrayal of a character that as a child had a love for her step-father that borders on unhealthy. She often had a frozen smile that was both beautiful, as the actress was beautiful, and neurotic. Intense! This was one of the 12:05 shows that was held in a basement cave, which I was told was once where poor people slept.

That afternoon, I got to see Levelland written by and staring Rich Hall. I went solely because it was directly by Guy Masterson. It was an excellent production at the Assembly, with a larger stage than I had seen and with a rich set. It was about a radio talk show host in Texas, who speaks the raw truth. In stumbles not-so-likeable characters--one of whom is manipulating another. Eventually they all find truth. Americans again.

That night I went to see My Name is Rachel Corrie, directed by Alan Rickman. The show had me in tears. Great story taken from the diary and emails of the American activist who was killed by an Israeli bulldozer as she was doing peace-activist work. Great story, but text was a bit uneven. Actress was OK. Sections were pre-recorded, such as the postscript of an unidentified man who described how she died, and a video of her as a child speaking to a group of people stating that she wanted to help the children of the world. The show was supposed to make it to Broadway, but negotiations fell through. You saw how she matured from a naive young woman to a woman wise to the world. Unfortunately it ended with a pro-terrorism message, which lost me. I may be naive but I think people should be able to solve their problems politically. I thought the actress was American; either that or British with an excellent American accent.

The morning of my fourth and final day in Edinburgh I visited the Roselyn Chapel and castle. Amazing! Deserves it's own blog. That afternoon I went to see Adult Child Dead Child, by Claire Dowie. Outstanding performance by two young woman. Intense actresses, both of whom were Equity performers working non-Equity. Apparently in the UK you can do that and not risk getting expelled from the union. All about how childhood experiences affect adulthood.

My experience in Edinburgh was so positive I hope to return next year as either a visitor or a performer.

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Overall Impressions:

I had four days to do the festival, and it was not enough, especially as there are other things to see. Do the math: there are over 1800 shows, and all I could possibly hope to do is get a sense as to what it all about. There is a frenzy about the festival that I have not seen elsewhere, and try as hard as I could, I couldn't shake the tourist syndrome. Like first-time arrivers to NYC who stare at the tall buildings, I could not help gawking at the street performers. Along High Street, also called The Royal Mile, you see excerpts for shows going on, full street shows, people trying to get you to go to their show by handing out flyers.

High Street is located at the top of a hill--no surprise with a name like that--and it slopes upward, with a castle at each end. At the very high point Edinburgh Castle is located:

You can see in the photo that the Scots tended to building their castles high on cliffs.

There is a section closed off to traffic where everyone gathers, and where the primary Fringe office is located. You'll find along the closed off stretch of High Street comedians, musicians (traditional Scottish and other), acrobats, jugglers, sections of shows, and people painted and gotten up like statues. One group that I particularly enjoyed were the Asian tap dancers. They were Michael Jackson wanna-bes.

Throughtout Scotland you are never far from the sound of Bagpipes, and when I approached the Edinburgh castle I started to hear them. Actually there were 2 groups, one near the castle consisting of two pipers, and further on down the street a piper with two highland dancers. Both were good.

Because of the crowd, I could only get one dancer in the photograph.

From the Fringe shop, I picked up the program, a sumptuous booklet listing all the programs for the month. Each day you can pick up a summary of what is happening that day. How do you choose? This had me befuddled. Since most of the shows are of new material, you don't have a frame of reference. You can try to see which ones received good reviews; you can see the excerpts along the Royal Mile and decide which ones looked interesting; you can go by reputation or name; you can pick according to location and time; by venue; by subject matter. I did a little of all this.

Choosing carefully and wisely, I'm not sure I made the best choices, but it is difficult to see anything bad at the Fringe.

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