Friday 24 August 2007

Edinburgh Festival Review Part 2


Arriving in Edinburgh at Waverley Station we made our way through the sudden and startling throng to the Half-Price Hut on Princes Street and bought tickets for a play called Babble that my partner had marked as sounding interesting in her Fringe guide and about which I knew nothing. Within a few hours of arrival we were in a small, dark, almost claustrophobic room listening as a strange, dark, somewhat claustrophobic monologue unfolded. Babble is about a world consisting of an endless library full of books no one can understand, a nightmare world of futile quests for meaning. A disturbed and disturbing Gothic figure welcomes us in and tells us, haltingly and with many asides, about his tragic and seemingly futile life. This sounds potentially depressing and possibly dull but in fact the play is engrossing and thought-provoking and there's an excellent performance by Jonathan Clarkson as the at times sinister, at times pathetic Librarian. The play was written by Eric Conway, based on a short story by Jorge Luis Borges. As an introduction to the Fringe it was a serious and intense work, presaging much of what was to come.

The Last South: Pursuit of the Pole

A few days later we saw another play that was, in its own way, about meaning and purpose. This tells the story of Scott and Amundsen's race for the South Pole and was adapted from expedition diaries by GM Calhorn. The two protagonists, played by Adrian Lukis (Scott) and Jamie Lee (Amundsen), describe the planning and execution of their journeys, at times directing comments and looks at each other. Lukis and Lee, dressed in appropriate polar costume, even down to old ski boots, are superb, capturing well the different personalities of the two explorers and their feelings of trepidation, exhaustion, excitement, wonder, triumph and despair. The final tragedy is poignantly told. The world of the Antarctic is captured well too and at times I expected to see the audience shivering, as I was inside. An excellent interpretation of one of the epic stories of exploration that made both men more human and sympathetic than they are often portrayed in books.

Richard Long: Walking and Marking

This exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art was the only show I had planned on seeing in advance. Ironically it was the only one I found disappointing. Fascinated by the idea of walks as art works and liking the idea of art that explores relationships with landscape I really wanted to like this exhibition but it just didn't make any significant impression on me. I went round twice, in case I'd missed some vital clue or connection, but to no avail. I saw some nice patterns and some intricate circles and spirals but these had less effect on me than a well-made dry-stone wall let alone a rock face or a tree. The photographs, snapshots in the main, left me unimpressed. Many had words about the walks and the places written on them and some of the art works were just words. None of these conjured up anything. Some just seemed statements of how many days Long had walked and how many miles in a day. I can see that some of the works were fun to do. Throwing muddy water at a pristine gallery wall and letting it drip down to form streaky patterns was probably entertaining. The result left me cold though - to my eyes it looked like what it was, muddy drips on a wall. A map of Britain consisting purely of rivers did stir me a little. If that had filled a wall I might have been impressed. And at the end of this extensive exhibition there was a short poem that touched me. Finally the artist had succeeded in communicating a love of wild places. I'm sure Richard Long enjoys his walks and they are meaningful for him. But if I want to be inspired or made to think about walking and wild places I'd rather look at photographs by people like Colin Baxter, Colin Prior, Ansel Adams and Galen Rowell or read the works of Colin Fletcher or Edward Abbey.

Outside the gallery is a lawn leading to sculpted grass terraces reflected in curving pools. This is an art work by Charles Jencks called Landform. I found it soothing and graceful, a modern reminder of the great landscape gardeners of the eighteenth century. The image above shows part of Landform.

Photo info: Ricoh GR-D, f9 @ 1/200, ISO 100, raw file converted to a JPEG in Photoshop Elements 5 then processed in DxO Optics Pro.

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