There are flyer distributors at the Edinburgh Fringe who can tell I’m fully booked and let me pass by unhindered. There are others who understand the meaning of, ‘Sorry, I’m fully booked.’ There are still others who tell me I shouldn’t have apologised for being fully booked: I’m a reviewer and it’s a performing arts festival. And then there are others who simply do not listen: one insisted on interrupting me whilst sat down in between shows, wolfing down pizza and chips, to tell me about a show which I didn’t have time to see, having a rammed schedule before I’d even come up to “the ‘Burgh”. Not quite satisfied with having come between a man and his meal, they even go so far as to suggest I could extend my stay at the Fringe to ‘make time’ to see their production. Nope, nope, nope. I would name and shame, but I threw the flyer away and I don’t recall what production it was.
I was only up for longer than my usual flying visit because a friend of a friend had a spare place available in student digs, not far from Pleasance Courtyard, the famed ‘Venue 33’ at the Edinburgh Fringe, and so for less than £250 I had a room for eight days. Except I didn’t have it for eight days – I only had it for seven, but the group organiser had made a typing error. The problem was that I had committed to review five shows on my final day at the Fringe, the last of which would finish too late to catch the last train of the day out of Waverley Station, leaving the overnight coach out of Edinburgh Bus Station the only possible alternative to finding somewhere else to stay for the night.
Out of the question. So, I found a nice room with en suite shower and toilet, and bed linen that fit the bed. None of those options were available in the student digs, where the company managing the summer accommodation on behalf of the University of Edinburgh, supplied one knife, one fork, one spoon, one plate, one coffee mug, one glass per person, with stiff penalties for breakages (how do you break a metal fork?). They did at least provide towels (these weren’t available over at Safestay Edinburgh – fortunately I had brought my own towel and bathrobe).
Pat and Liz were my only flatmates for the first couple of days. Retired ladies, they weren’t in Edinburgh for the Fringe, though they did see the Military Tattoo one evening, but as they’ve known our collective ‘landlord’ for years, they took advantage of the special group accommodation rate. Their schedule was filled with trips to the great outdoors and historic places. They were lovely, and by the end of the week they were more than a little envious that I was taking myself off to somewhere where the doors didn’t squeak.
I was incensed enough to make my own arrangements already for 2019, such was the good time that I had at the Fringe this year that I’m going back next year, and staying in the place where a fellow reviewer is staying this summer, hosting an eclectic mix of people. When I mentioned the name where I had decided to stay next year, she immediately beamed, telling me that’s where she was staying now, and I was treated to a site visit there and then. It’s private student accommodation, an improvement on the University-owned rooms.
The Fringe shows I had secured a press ticket for have been reviewed separately, but there were a few that I caught just for the hell of it. ‘Care Not, Fear Naught’ (4 stars) from Temporarily Misplaced Productions was a passionate look at the life of Anne Bonny, an Irish pirate in the early eighteenth century. Some artistic licence was deployed in a show with ten actors – a huge cast by Edinburgh Fringe standards, especially given the number of solo stand-up comedy shows and monologue dramas. But the artistic licence is taken really because relatively little is known about Bonny’s life, though the salient points about her becoming a pirate and having relations with the ship’s captain (and thus receiving preferential treatment) are pretty much agreed upon by historians.
Just as engaging, even if the result wasn’t nearly as impressive, was The Extinction Event (3 stars), which sees David Aula and Simon Evans, both magicians, create the sort of magic tricks that, frankly, would just about work well in a high school talent contest. It came across to me more like The Memory Event, with a remarkable feat on Aula’s part, in which he accurately determines a word from a large book when given page number, paragraph and line.
I was amused by Rhys Nicholson (4 stars) telling his audience that they should see as many performances as they were able, and then see certain people they liked again and again, year after year. I caught Nicholson’s Fringe show last year, purely because I had some time to kill in between seeing shows that friends were in, and his stand-up set was, I think, in the same venue as The Upcoming, a show whose co-producer had tried to persuade me to come to the pre-Edinburgh preview in London of – I was otherwise engaged. I liked his fast-paced, frenetic style, and had come to see him again. As a gay man based near Melbourne, a fair amount of his set talked about the 2017 plebiscite on same-sex marriage.
I had tried, as far as possible, not to see shows I had already seen in London, preserving the limited time I had available to, well, shows I hadn’t seen before. But as ‘Statements’ from the Catapult Theatre Company (5 stars) was playing at the Fringe I couldn’t help but indulge in a repeat visit to this remarkable show about the provision of special educational needs in a mainstream secondary school. ‘Nine Foot Nine’ (3 stars), presented by the Sleepless Theatre Company, which I didn’t get around to seeing when it played at the Bunker Theatre near London Bridge Station, considers what it would be like if every woman in the world gained impressive physical strength commensurate with being 9’ 9” tall.
It’s written by Alex Wood, who used to speak to me quite regularly on the reviewing circuit but now doesn’t give me the time of day. I’d ask him why he now can’t abide my company but, um, he doesn’t give me the time of day, and frankly, I don’t care enough to probe further. He certainly won’t be inclined to resume cordiality if he reads this: the show is well-performed, but the writing lets it down. Not being in chronological order, the narrative jumps around too much and is made unnecessarily complicated.
‘The Beggar’s Opera’ (3 stars) was my only foray into the Edinburgh International Festival. Perhaps it was the relative comfort of the seating in the King’s Theatre, as opposed to the plastic chairs common to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, but I found it difficult to retain interest. The proceedings are brought into the present day, which means that bizarrely, hanging is still a thing in twenty-first century London. That isn’t the main problem with it: the sound balance wasn’t right, and the actors, mostly from musical theatre backgrounds as opposed to opera, couldn’t be heard properly above the orchestra. Just as well the lyrics were surtitled.
London lad, loving life and all that it has to offer.