I’m still in Edinburgh. In spite of all the theatre, it’s quite fun although you have to watch out for dodgy currency. They keep trying to palm me off with very unrealistic banknotes which rather unconvincingly claim to be from a “Royal Bank Of Scotland”. On the plus side, every street has a barber’s shop which is handy when you’re suddenly in the mood for a haircut.
Did I tell you I got turned down for media accreditation by the Fringe? It was rather exciting to feel like a maverick outsider again. Thankfully the PR people at the venues and for the productions have been bending over backwards to help out.
I think I saw six shows yesterday. You’re Not Like Other Girls, Chrissy was a rather charming little monologue told by a mostly Parisian but occasionally Welsh woman. Sent to live in England in the 1930s to save her eyesight (it’s a long story) she meets and falls in love with a man who became her fiancé. But then the war intervenes: Paris falls to the Germans and her hopes of being reunited with him are thwarted. It was rather sweet and lightweight yet saved from blowing away on the breeze by a reveal that I shan’t reveal. Imaginatively told, feel-good and human. (***)
Then it was on to another monologue: the “Fringe First” winning (it’s an Edinburgh thing) Lockerbie: Unfinished Business, written and performed by David Benson, in which he presents a lecture with slides (no, really!). Benson plays Jim Swire, the father of one of the victims of the terrorist attack which brought down Pan Am flight 103 in 1988. The piece is based on Swire’s ceaseless quest for the truth about what really happened and who was responsible. It is of necessity a fairly one-sided view but it’s a convincing argument and movingly told without allowing the personal tragedy to swamp the science. You could have heard a pin drop in the packed auditorium for the entire 70 minutes. I left feeling betrayed by the shoddy morality of governments, their agencies and the judicial system. (****)
Fortunately Mister Benson was still around to cheer me up when I returned to the Gilded Balloon Teviot (another Edinburgh thing) an hour or so later for The Singalong Glee Club. Resplendent in natty blazers, Mister Benson and pianist Stewart Nicholls run a singalong which took me back to my days as a Butlins Beaver. The lyrics are projected on a screen and whisk you from Victorian songs to Edwardian music hall to Disney to Oliver! to Barry Manilow to the Andy Stewart Song Book! There was also a “sing the jingle” competition and I am still crowing to anyone who will listen about being one of only two people in the room who could sing the entire Whitbread Trophy Bitter ad from beginning to end. And that is where the big money is, of course.
The only things wrong with TSGC were that the seating was arranged “theatre style” and that it was at 5pm – I know you have a more liberal approach to suns and yardarms but I was stone cold sober. Still, immense fun if that is the sort of thing you like. And we do. (****)
With so much going on, the big question in Edinburgh is: how do you choose what to see? I have discovered one sure-fire trick for sifting the wheat from the chaff: before you do anything else, read Michael Coveney’s reviews and check out the things he really admires and then avoid them like the plague. I failed to follow this golden rule and paid the price (£10 and an hour of my life I shall forever resent losing). I found myself – along with about six other people – at the MC-four-starred Naked, Live and Never Again – My Last Discourse On Dramatic Discourse which I think was attempting lampoon the excesses of precious theatre makers. But if it sought to prick the balloon of pretentiousness I’m afraid it just succeeded in inflating it a bit further. (*)
Fortunately I had Pete Firman: Jokes and Tricks to cheer me up. As the name suggests, Firman does tricks – some of them successfully- and tells jokes – some of them successfully. It’s a winning blend of modest magic and self effacement. His trickery is in the tradition of Tommy Cooper and he’s got something of Eric Morecambe about him. I do not know how he solved a Rubik’s Cube by simply tossing it into the air. (****)
I’m afraid that by 9pm I had got too cocky and I flew rather too close to the sun, dropping into a cellar with terrible sightlines to catch Frisky and Mannish – School of Pop. This undoubted talented duo have some good ideas: correcting pop lyricists’ syntax and grammar and translating songs into new genres: there was a “Come On Eileen” in the style of Blood Brothers and “No Limits” re-imagined as a ballad (in the pop sense of the word). But I was way out of my depth. What is JLS? Florence and the Mystery Machine? Mark Morrison? Diana Vickers? I shrieked with relief when they did a joke about Dana, not because it was funny but because I was anxious to let it be known that I was in on at least one of the jokes. Still, they seem to have quite a following. I found them a bit strident and rather full of themselves. Rather like looking in a mirror. I don’t recommend it. (**)
Finally, I just had to let you know that the Lady Boys from Bangkok are here. I know you don’t find them attractive, just confusing.