Tuesday 21 August 2007

Edinburgh Festival Review Part 1

Urban landscapes are not my favourite places but as cities go Edinburgh is one of the most diverse and interesting. And it has the Festival, a summer of art and entertainment. I'd never visited the Festival until this year, always preferring the hills, but invited down by friends and with my partner going I decided to risk a few days of city life. I went open-minded, with no real idea what to expect, and came home replete with artistic satisfaction and delighted with most of the shows I had seen. There are many festivals of course - official, fringe, film, book, art. The Fringe is the big one, with over 2000 shows, of which we saw six - five theatrical, one late night comedy. One art exhibition and one film added brief visits to those festivals. There was an outdoor element - one play was about Scott and Amundsen, the art exhibition about walking.

Edinburgh itself becomes part of the event, with crowds wandering its old and twisted streets and gathering to watch street performers. Characters in costume amble out of their venues for sustenance, barely meriting a glance. Posters, often plastered with reviews, scream for attention and show promoters thrust leaflets at you constantly, the most vigorous and determined street sellers I've seen outside Kathmandu. It's all very colourful and exciting but eventually I did find pushing through the hordes and the roar and smell of the traffic wearing and I was glad to seize an hour away from the clamour and climb Arthur's Seat in the rain to look out on a misty Edinburgh fading away into greyness. This little 250 metre rocky volcanic remnant had been my first ever Scottish hill back when I was eleven and here on a school trip. I'd sneaked off with a friend, drawn by what seemed a huge mountain, and we'd found our way to the top, returning to a telling off by worried teachers that washed over me. Nothing could crush the feelings of wonder and triumph. Brought up on the flat Lancashire coast and never having climbed anything higher than a 20 metre sand dune before I was astounded at this little hill. All I remember now is how good it felt to climb it, to be there on a summit, above everything else.

Of the shows I saw one had the same stunning effect on me as Arthur's Seat all those years ago.

Macbeth: Who Is That Bloodied Man? Biuro Podrozy.

Held in the open air in the cobbled Old College Quad this Polish theatre production was an astonishing sensory feast that has left strange images floating in my mind that I suspect I'll never forget. Black robed witches, their faces hidden by white veils, stalked the cobbles on stilts, sinister and powerful. Macbeth and Banquo were gun toting soldiers roaring round on motorbikes. Snatches of Shakespeare floated in the air at times and there was some powerful singing but overall this was a visual show. Fires flared from posts and walls, gun shots rang out, tall poles toppled and fell, representing deaths. Lady Macbeth went to pieces, seen hazily naked as she tries to wash out all that blood. Earlier a naked prisoner in a cage symbolised the victory of Duncan. Macbeth and Banquo, on foot, shoot the witches, now down from their stilts, repeatedly only to find them leaping back to life. Banquo's son tempts Macbeth with a crown rolled along the ground on a stick as a child's toy, a strangely unsettling image. At the finish the tall poles appear again, now as Birnam Forest come to Dunisinane, and Macbeth burns in his blazing castle. Intense and absorbing, this surreal drama drew me in and held me spellbound. I'd love to see it again.

The photo shows people watching a street show in the drizzle on the High Street. Photo info: Ricoh GR-D, f9 @ 1/320, ISO 400, raw file converted to JPEG in Photoshop Elements 5 then processed in DxO Optics Pro.

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