Reflections on the Edinburgh Festival? Nine shows in a weekend. That’s pretty good going for anyone. Something like 40,000 steps covered according to the Fitbit. It’s a big city.
What were the shows like, you ask. Here’s my rundown for anyone who has the chance to go and catch something in the last week of the festival:
Reginald D. Hunter – very funny, political in an intelligent way. Very insightful when contrasting British and Southern States US racism, but why the joke about drowning a crippled baby in the last five minutes? Hunter announces the joke, saying members of his audience at previous shows have walked out over it. He knows it’s offensive and he’s a smart guy, so he must have his reasons, but if it was making a point, I missed it. Left a bitter taste at the end of a set which surfed the edge of acceptability rather successfully, exposing political correctness to laugh out loud ridicule as it bowled along. Answers on a postcard about the last joke.
The Approach– a play about three Irish sisters meeting in successive pairings in a coffee-shop while their relationships crash and burn and friends commit suicide. Actually, this was hugely better than I’m making it sound, and superbly acted. In the end, I’m not sure the circular narrative structure worked, but the actors kept me hooked for most of the hour.
Casus: You & I — how do you describe this? Check out the link for a little preview, but in short, suppose two male acrobats – one tall; one short – decided to spend a rainy afternoon climbing over the furniture in their apartment, culminating in a precarious stacking of eight dining chairs and both of them doing hand stands on the top of the pile. Got the picture? These are the sort of people who have a trapeze hanging from the ceiling, and not because they’ve been watching ’Fifty Shades’. The energy and skill in this two-handed all-action performance is impressive. The show deserved its final standing ovation. If spending sixty minutes shaking your head, thinking, ‘Oh sh*t, this is going to end in tears,’ is for you, this is probably Edinburgh’s no. 1 show.
Lucy Porter – the show plays to a well-established audience. In fact, Porter spends the first ten minutes telling us exactly why her particular middle-aged audience demographic is going to enjoy her show. Basically, the idea is ‘old age hurts and I’m here to make you laugh about it.’ Whether the laughter is raucous or sardonic depends, I guess, on how many of the symptoms you’ve yet encountered. It’s safe and delivers exactly what it says on the tin… like Ronson’s Wood-sealer.
Circolombia – this is anything but safe, check out the YouTube link. It’s a sellout Columbian circus playing to 700 people a night. It’s big; some of the rope twirling, body bending, somersaulting off seesaws and generally holding up things than no normal human being could hold up without their knees collapsing will have you cheering and gasping. It’s all done to a back beat of Latin music sung by two dancing balladeers. Another, bigger standing ovation for this one. Stunning! Probably the highlight of the weekend for me.
Elise– the story of Elise Cowen told by a small troupe of Bristol University alumni. Who was Elise Cowen? Think beat poets. Think Ginsberg. On one hand, another drugged up, batshit crazy artistic suicide with proto-feminist undertones, dripping self-inflicted First World angst — ‘Who cares?’ you might think. On the other hand, some of the finest acting I’ve seen in a long time from the entire ensemble, and here in a small venue where you’re close enough up to see they really mean it. A gem that deserves a bigger audience and more attention. I stumbled into this one accidentally, having read nothing about it, as such I consider it my ‘Find of the Weekend’.
It’s True, It’s True, It’s True – a very committed play about the rape trial of a leading renaissance artist (Agostino Tasso) in good old Italy. Lots of people get very angry with each other, and while it faithfully records a rather disturbing trial involving figures from the art world, I’m not sure why that gives it the narrative punch to justify constructing a play around the events. In fact, having seen the play, I’m pretty convinced that it doesn’t. Plaudits once again for the acting, but of the four plays I saw in my Edinburgh weekend, this was the least successful.
Sindhu Vee – My favourite comedian of the weekend. Talks about her twenty year marriage and three kids for an hour. Unremarkable, except she’s a competitive, nicotine chewing Hindu and he’s Danish. Had all the edge that Lucy Porter did not, and avoided Reginald Hunter’s offensive transgressions. I laughed, a lot.
My Left/Right Foot – this is an interesting one, a musical that takes aim at stereotypical able-bodied attitudes to the disabled with a brand of humour borrowed straight from ‘The Book of Mormon’. In other words: let’s just show the ignorant culprits displaying their attitudes in the most offensive ways, sing about it with quirky lyrics and then laugh at them. Mostly the irony works, and I did enjoy the show, but when it strays onto anti-Semitic and gay jokes, its irony is less insightful and consequently appears uncomfortably less sincere.
All in all, after all those steps, expensive burgers, watery beers and paper-cup coffees on the run between shows, would I do it again. Tomorrow…. If I could.