Just back from Edinburgh, where I saw 20 shows in 5 days. OK, 19. We were 2 minutes late for one, and missed out. Two of the shows were at the Book Festival, one at the International Festival, and the rest on the Fringe. I also gave a reading at the Fruitmarket Gallery with some friends.
This was the view from our B&B.
Yep, that’s Arthur’s Seat, which we summarily failed to climb despite plans for a 7am ascent.
I’ve been coming to Edinburgh every August for about six years (including one year to produce a play) and it’s always thrilling to experience the organised mayhem of the festivals. The city throngs with tourists from all over the world, students flyering for shows with increasingly desperate promises of “five star reviews” and “it’s actually quite funny”, producers and arts types with their fancy lanyards, performers in various stages of costuming rushing from sweaty basement venues. I love it.
This year Sarah and I sat through over 24 hours of theatre and as ever it was a real hotchpotch of the good, the great, the inspiring and the ill-conceived. We enjoyed plays about growing old and aerial displays that captured the fragility and absurdity of human experience. We experienced total darkness as well as total tedium. Political theatre seems to be having something of a resurgence: from police brutality to an independent East Anglia; from tax evasion to the Quebec liberation movement. Each piece made its own way through these, and other ideas, and the best were those able to create a personal, visceral experience that felt embodied in the space of the theatre. The least effective plays were those that presented a doctrinal attitude, rather than being open-ended, complicated or deliciously ambiguous.
Anyway, here are my top five shows (listed in alphabetical order):
887 by Robert Lepage (Ex Machina)
Edinburgh International Festival
The Beanfield (Breach)
theSpace on the Mile
Confirmation by Chris Thorpe
Tomorrow (Vanishing Point)
What I Learned from Johnny Bevan by Luke Wright*
* I declare a bias here: I am Luke’s editor and will be publishing this play in Feb. Still, it’s bloody good.