Friday 29 August 2008

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2008

Rather than head for the hills I spent last week in Edinburgh attending shows at the famous Fringe. Given that this has been the wettest August on record and I had spent a day in torrential rain on Beinn Eighe just a few days before heading for Edinburgh I was not unhappy to forego the wilds for a while. Especially as it rained heavily much of the time I was in the city, my rain jacket seeing more use than it often does during a week in the hills. I went to fifteen shows at the Fringe - three serious and grim Lorca plays, free and excellent folk music in the National Museum, the amusing Shakespeare for Breakfast (spot the references!), an energetic and intense solo performance of Beowulf, a rather less intense though still good solo version of Candide, an entertaining play based on Terry Pratchett’s Mort, two thought-provoking plays with music called Who’s Afraid of Howlin’ Wolf (one of my favourite singers – though none of his music was played) and Kerouac and All That Jazz (bringing back memories of a writer who influenced me greatly as a teenager), the strange and intriguing Henry IV by Pirandello, and one show by a star, Simon Callow’s engaging telling of two little known Dickens stories.

Unlike last year shows with outdoor themes were rare. One of the few was stand-up comedian Mark Olver’s Ramble On. As Mark walked 500 miles from his home in Bristol to Edinburgh I felt I really couldn’t miss his show if only to show support for another long distance walker. The show was based around the walk, which had clearly been a challenge for someone who hadn’t done any long distance walking before. Mark Olver was sponsored by Berghaus (and he thanked them profusely during the show) and there’s a blog on his walk on the Berghaus website. Some of the show was very funny. I loved the rant about using his tiny one-man tent for the first time in pouring rain, though I’m not sure which tent has so little room that you have to get in your sleeping bag outside! However some of the exchanges with the audience were a little too long and a bit predictable (is it required for stand-up comedians to question audience members on their sex lives?). Mark did say that some of his audience expected more about the walk (and I guess I might fall into that category) whilst some expected less so he had a balancing act to do to try and keep everyone happy. I wasn’t asked about my sex life but I was picked out as a serious rambler – and there was me thinking I looked the part of a sophisticated, urban arts lover (perhaps I should have left the rucksack and fleece jacket behind).

I also saw one show in a tent, albeit a big top, and the play was A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, which is set in a forest. The production by the travelling Footsbarn Theatre Company was magical, with excellent acting, beautiful and strange costumes and banners, a lovely set, intriguing and atmospheric music and a sense of wonder and mystery. By the finish it was easier to believe there was a forest outside the tent than a city.

However the drama that had the most impact on me was Lorca’s Blood Wedding by the Colet Players, a young all-female company. This bleak and shocking story of love, revenge and death was portrayed with power and passion with a stand-out performance by the actor playing the Mother, one of the central figures. So compelling and potent was this actor that my partner and I felt overwhelmed and privileged to have experienced such a performance. We had a feeling that we had seen a great actor in the making. The rest of the cast were good too, especially the actor playing the Bride. Blood Wedding is the first in Lorca’s trilogy of rural tragedies and we saw the other two plays as well – Inside Yerma and The House of Bernando Alba. Both were good productions but neither had an actor with the presence or authority of the one playing the Mother in Blood Wedding. There were only 15 or so people at the performance of Blood Wedding and little information was available about the cast or the production with no promotional flyers or advertisements. It would be a shame if this production vanished due to this as it really was magnificent.

The photo shows Calton Hill, where the Footsbarn Theatre pitched their big top. Photo info: Canon EOS 450D, Canon EF-S 18-55 mm IS@55mm, f8@1/320, ISO 100, raw file converted to JPEG in DxO Optics Pro


  1. Sounds like you had a great time.

    I live in Edinburgh and work in the Council Hq with view from my desk very like the one in the photo. I did not get to many shows this year - but one on learning to play the ukelele in an hour was great! Everyone in the audience was handed a uke on the way in and was taught to play along...

    Most of last month I've been watching torrential rain and waiting for a decent forecast........

  2. I saw The House of Bernaldo Alba at Manchester's Royal Exchange some years ago - a powerful play, as indeed are all of Lorca's. His poetry was a huge influence on Leonard Cohen, who also gave some stunning performances in Manchester - and indeed Edinburgh - recently.

  3. The Colet Players' website is

    I am glad you enjoyed our production!

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  5. Howlin’ Wolf & Kerouac

    Go man go!