Thursday, 18 August 2011
An Urban Diversion at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe
Emerging from Waverley Station into the urban roar of Edinburgh is always somewhat disorientating after the quiet of the hills. The noise, smell, traffic speed, crowds and buildings all amount to an overwhelming sensory onslaught. This is even more so during the festival season, when the throngs multiply and there are buskers, entertainers and stalls crying for attention, not to mention the hordes of leafleters thrusting flyers for a myriad shows at you. But it was for the Festival Fringe that I had come to Edinburgh, for a few days dose of theatre and entertainment. And the carnival atmosphere is exciting and there is a feeling of creativity and imagination that ripples everywhere.
Choosing a tiny sliver of shows from the many hundreds available is a difficult task. Luckily my partner Denise likes going through the Fringe catalogue to see what catches her eye – and I am happy to go along with her choices. There are some companies whose productions we’ve seen before to look out for but overall it’s good to see new people. This year we saw several excellent shows and one real stand-out. The latter was The Girl With The Iron Claws by The Wrong Crowd, a powerful and atmospheric version of an old Nordic myth that involved puppetry, music and the clever and effective use of some simple props. This is an enthralling production that hung in my mind long after it was over. There’s an outdoor angle too – the iron claws are needed so the heroine can climb the Glass Mountain.
Also good, though not quite as compelling, was River People’s Little Matter, another show involving puppets and music. With elements of quantum theory and mythology included this play told the story of one man’s struggle to overcome his apparently miserable and dull life. The setting was interesting in itself – a wagon theatre set up in a cobbled courtyard. The tent-like covering for this little travelling theatre can be seen in the photo above. It was held in place with an interesting structure of poles and ropes. During the show there was a storm with rain and wind rattling the canvas, which added to the overall atmosphere of the play.
Shakespeare always seems to be a dominant presence at the Fringe and we saw four shows derived from his plays. Macbeth made up two of these, a fairly straight production by Flatpacktheatre that reminded me of how powerful the language of this great play is and Shakespeare for Breakfast, an entertaining version of the same play as a high school musical (and with free coffee and croissants). Also less serious was Shakespeare Bingo, a fun look at Titus Andronicus with bingo cards and some very good acting. Different again was Backhand Theatre’s acrobatic The Tempest with performers on ropes really creating the feeling of a magical world.
Perhaps the strangest show we saw was Belt Up’s Outland, an intense play about Lewis Carroll and the effect of his fantasy world on his health – or was it the other way round? Performed in a small room with most of the audience sitting on the floor round the walls it had a claustrophobic and slightly disturbing air, jumping abruptly from manic action and humour to quiet seriousness and sadness. There was an excellent rendition of The Hunting of the Snark but rather too much of Sylvie and Bruno, a work I hadn’t read and doubt many others have either.
Away from plays I was pleased to have a ticket for a recording of a favourite radio show, Just A Minute, courtesy of James Baster, whose Festafriend looks a good way to meet up with others if you’re in Edinburgh alone or would just like a companion for shows your friends don’t want to see. Just A Minute was excellent, as expected, and I was delighted that Paul Merton was on the show, as his sharp wit is always one of the highlights when he appears. It was good to share some of the humour that doesn’t make the radio version too!
The lunchtime before we left gave a dose of scientific humour from Robin Ince and others at a free event (part of the PBH Free Fringe) called Carl Sagan Is My God, Oh and Richard Feynman Too. This was a good mixture of comedy and science and very entertaining. There were even experiments!