Thursday, August 30, 2007

Schemey guddle

Bondi posing on the bus; Next time just send a postcard
Catching up on sleep and reading now that the festival is done.
I learnt two new words this week:
schemey (n): a highland chav or scally; refers to someone from one of the housing schemes.
guddle (n): a mix-up (like muddle). The verb form refers to groping for fish under rocks.
Taken together, Schemey Guddle would make a good name for a character from a Scottish version of Dogpatch.


Event #41: Fuerzabruta

One enters a large black tent, even bigger than Demis Roussos' mumu, herded with about 400 other punters to watch an Argentinian spectacle of dance, acrobatic story vignettes, dreams tumbling in the air and curtains rolling across the crowd.

S(p)inning on the ceiling; wet dream
It's like an indoor rock-and-roll version of the performance spectacle I saw in Salamanca's Plaza Major in 2005.

That brings my first experience of the Edinburgh Festival, Fringe, Bookfest and Filmfest to a close. Definitely got the best bang for buck from the Fringe, with too many of the main Festival events disappointing either because of the nature of the performance or because the venues were too cramped, uncomfortable and poorly air-conditioned. If you're going to pay £50+ for a show or sit for 2 hours through an intellectually-challenging work, then the last thing you want to worry about is staying awake or keeping blood-supply to your feet.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Mabou Mines Dollhouse

Henrik Ibsen's 1859 play A Doll's House is presented in this adapted form by the NY-based Mabou Mines group. Lee Breuer's ( who also did A Gospel at Colonnus ) concept is to have all the male roles played by midgets, symbolizing stunted male thinking and sexual repression. Meanwhile, I was sitting high in the Grand Circle of the King's Theatre, acting out my own ironic commentary by biting the heads of jelly babies so that I'd get enough of a sugar hit to stay awake, and trying not to let my cramped feet turn into a fully fledged DVT attack.

This production reminds me a bit of the ballet I saw last week: a technical tour de force, but piled high to the rafters with symbolism like some metaphysical junkshop. The cast all speak in cod-Norwedish accents, the lead Nora also affecting a childish voice when with her husband in order to underline her dollness. At times I thought she might really have been channelling Bialystock and Bloom's Swedish assistant Ulla.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Potted Potter

Enjoying view from top of double-decker buses

Event #39: Potted Potter, the unauthorised Harry Potter experience

Potted Potter is primarily directed at children, but there's enough going on (and the show is short enough) to entertain adults as well. At one point the audience is divided into Gryffindor and Slytherin houses, so that a game of mock-Quidditch can be played out. My favourite line was when Dan tells a little girl in the front row that "you could have brought a broom with you, but you didn't ... and you've let everybody down."

I'm not going to count my attendance for the last 20 minutes of the final Seriously show. While intending to see the whole show, I had some car problems that prevented me getting there earlier, and I needed the car as I was bringing Bondi in to say hi to everyone.

Anthony Costanzo

Final bows: Anthony, Tania, Maria, Michael, Paul

Bondi checks out performance space as Seriously bumps out.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Yann Martel / Ricky Gervais / Seriously #4

Event #36: Yann Martel

Yann Martel won the Booker Prize for his novel Life of Pi, about a young Indian trapped in a lifeboat for months with a Bengal tiger. Today he was talking about the new illustrated edition of the book, Tomislav Torjanac, the creator of these illustrations being selected in an international competition. All his images for the book show the protagonist' point of view, so you only see his hands and feet. This new edition is not officially available till late September, but the local publisers, Canongate, made copies available for the festival.
Martel also spoke about his current project, slated for a 2008 release. It's called "A 20th Century Shirt" and it has two components - a novel and an essay. They will deal with the same material, essentially a non-mimetic analysis of the issues at the core of the Holocaust, much as Orwell examined a totalitarian society in Animal Farm.
It was revealed that Jean-Pierre Jeunet, director of Amelie, Delicatessen, ... will be taking on the film version of Life of Pi.

Event #37: Ricky Gervais - Fame
Not bad stand-up gig at Edinburgh Castle - the steep ticket prices supposedly because of "venue hire". I would have expected more though for £40 quid than an hour show that started 20 minutes late which the audience huddled on very exposed bleachers. The seat I book was positioned right behind a (small-p) pole, which completely blocked any view of the stage. After complaining, I was given a seat up towards the front on the side.

Ricky and his giant Emmy (or is that ME?)
The show was pretty well structured, but I thought there was too much stuff that he had already aired repeatedly on talk-shows over the last year.

I didn't see the big RICKY neon sign from my seat.

Entertaining David Hume.

Earlier in the day I bumped into Paul Ross from the Seriously cast, who suggested I join them all for a trip to the Spiegeltent after tonight's show. Ricky's show got out late, so I didn't think there was much chance of catching Seriously one last time. I dropped into Starbucks to wait it out, as there was nothing else open along the Royal Mile. I got round to the Roxy at 11.15 to find the show just going in as they had been delayed by the previous show at the venue. So I got to see
Event #38: Seriously
and was pleased to find that everyone was in particularly fine voice that evening. Dean said that they were all finding little nuances to explore through the week and he'd been particularly pleased by the way it was going. With one more night for the Fringe run, he offered me another comp ticket for tomorrow night.
We all traipsed down to the Spiegeltent for a couple of drinks, and then to some underground nightclub off the Royal Mile. It was a bit too noisy and stale-smelling to really enjoy, so I slipped home at 3am.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Dean Village

Artisan Roast, Broughton Street


I still have a really sore back, not helped by seeing 4 shows yesterday. Walking is fine, it's just bending and twisting that are most 'orrible.
Some of the guys from Seriously said that there was a new Aussie-run coffee-place on Broughton Street. I got this confused with Broughton Road, not to mention B- Place. If the Scots confuse people, it's brought on by naming adjacent streets thus.

no coffee, but still wired

We found the correct place, and then I did some chores in the New Town, and then set off to follow the Leith a bit further west to the Village of Dean.

A "dean" is a deep valley, and this old milling town lies way below the rest of Edinburgh, although not more than 2 minutes' drive from its heart.

The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art is signposted as being off the walk to the west of the village, but after one sign after another saying it is always 1/4 mile away, you finally reach a sign that omits it, and you're still none the wiser as to where the gallery lies. I had to give directions on how to follow the Leith Path (due to the poor signage along the route) to one couple. He said "We've lived in Edinburgh for 74 years and it's ridiculous that you have to give us directions..."

Dean Bridge (Thomas Telford); St. Bernard's Well - ach is he now?

I don't know whose statue sits in the structure over St Bernard's Well. While the mineral waters have done wonders for St Bernard's skin, he looks more like a Bernadette to me.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Bashmet & Maisenberg / Lynch / Bacchae / Famished

Stumbling half way down the stairwell of a doubledecker bus as it lurched along Leith Walk, I jarred my back. Waking this morning, the lower area is so inflamed, I can't even put on shoes and socks without whimpering in pain.

Event #32: Yuri Bashmet & Oleg Maisenberg

Bashmet plays Benda

Back to the Queen's Hall for another classical recital. Pianist Maisenberg opened with Brahms' three Op117 Intermezzi, his approach to the piano a complete contrast to Mustonen's "never less than mezzoforte". Caressing the keys, he reminded me a bit of Richard Goode, another pianist known as much for his chamber as his solo perfomances.

Yuri Bashmet, currently the world's most acclaimed violist, joined him for Brahms' Viola Sonata in E-flat, a piece I know better in its form as clarinet sonata. Maisenberg was more to the fore here, yet a sensitive collaborator.

At the conclusion of this half of the program, my back was too to continue sitting in the cramped rows of this venue, so I went back home immediately. The pieces I missed were Britten's Lachrymae and Schostakovich's Sonata Op147.

Pub lunch in Leith.

Event#33: Lynch

Documentary on film-maker David Lynch should have held me spellbound, but walking into the darkened theatre I found myself struggling to stay awake. I wasn't sure whether I was conscious or dreaming some of the dialogue.

Event #34: The Bacchae / Black and White Rainbow

Another go around with Euripedes' The Bacchae, and a return to the Black and White Rainbow company. This highly compressed adaptation by Simon Evans, who also took the role of Pentheus sets the action in 1930s USA, with Dionysus a travelling magician. It's an interesting idea, but I'm very divided on the result. Broadly speaking you have two big things going on in The Bacchae: gods vs humanity, and passion vs reason. The supernatural aspect is completely taken out of this version, so there is no opener from Dionysus, nor the closing grief and shame of Agave. While this still leaves fertile ground, the characters of Dionysus and his mortal cousin Pentheus (now a prince of industry) are presented somewhat at odds with the qualities they represent. Pentheus (Simon Evans) is proud and angry, but all quivers and twitches. Dionysus (Miles Bullock, with Shakespearia clarity) is stern and aloof, commanding only his trio of vaudeville assistants, rather than a pack of warrior women.

After the show spoke to a gentleman who had seen it twice. We were both impressed by the performance, and I commended their Dracula to him, which shares about half the cast with The Bacchae. Both of us wish we knew more about the company, which has almost no web presence and no supporting literature at the events. I did find this record of a version of Twelfth Night with two of the principals. I had a little time to discuss my reservations about the adaptation, but I will have to think upon them so more independently, as I had a call for the house opening of ...

Event #35: Famished

A Victorian horror-comedy musical with zombies is an almost unmissable event at a Fringe festival. By the time I got to see it it had nominated in the categories of "Best New Musical" and "Best Musical Lyrics".

The story opens with 3 explorers somewhere in darkest Borneo in 1857, one bemoaning the lack of any stimulating life over the previous three weeks. Another suggests that "the patisserie we stopped at yesterday was rather charming" to which the first retorts "I wouldn't give one of their florentines to a black!". So we know we're in ludicrously politically-incorrect (if temporally correct) waters.

It's a very amusing show, with an ending that Terry Gilliam would be proud of. My only substantial criticism is that a couple of the male voices were so lacking in power that the lyrics were nearly inaudible. I was only in the third row of a not overly large room. Particular memories were the London streetwalker crying "fresh 'ore, fresh 'ore", the heroine's polite rebuff of her zombie fiance as one of the legion of the undead, and the two evil scientists ("the human race won't enslave itself you know") and their backing chorus of tropical birds.

I hope the production team resists the temptation to turn this show into something bigger (which would ruin the rather excellent conclusion) - it seems perfectly pitched as a sort of "pub musical" at its curren length.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Symphony / Nina Conti / Dracula

Edinburgh Castle, from Grassmarket

Event #29: Symphony without Orchestra
Once upon a time, long before MP3 players and LP vinyl fetishists, the only way to hear the great concert works was through home piano recitals. Symphonies and concertos (for almost any instrument) were commonly rendered as four-hand piano works, either because the composer worked out their ideas thus (Brahm, Dvorak, Stravinsky, ...) or because publication of such arrangements was an important mechanism for disseminating the work.

Today's lunchtime concert was Tchaikowsky's Symphony No.6 "Pathetique", begun in February 1893 and premiered in October that year, one week before the composer's death. The four able hands at the piano belonged to Stefan Warzycki and Adrian Sims, who really delivered an exciting reading of the work, especially in the third movement. A special round of applause for that effort.

My friend Rob put me onto the works of Jane Jacobs earlier this year. I just finished her slim but intensely rewarding volume "Cities and the Wealth of Nations" (1984). Really heady stuff, provocative and accessible. I have her "Dark Age Ahead"(2004) on my shelf, and look forward to reading her major work "The Death and Life of Great American Cities." (1961).

Event #30: Nina Conti: Complete and Utter Conti

I think I laughed more in the first 15 minutes of this ventriloquist show than in any other period during the festival. Nina's principal sidekick is a monkey, painfully "aware" of its existence as a ventriloquist's puppet. Nevertheless it attempts to take over the proceedings, hypnotising Nina so that she is "possessed" by her grandfather, also a ventriloquist, who "speaks" to his late wife in the kitchen. If you're following this, you can see there's a lot going on at one time; Nina does not restrict her voice-throwing to puppets on her arm.
She also plays a northern housewife, who is about to achieve her dream of becoming a mermaid, through the aid of a local butcher and a sturgeon with a beautiful tail. The mermaid-to-be claims that little will change in her life post-op, just a plunge-pool in the living room and getting the sofa laminated. Otherwise it will be telly and ciggies as usual.

In the close of the show, Monkey finally takes control of Nina's mind, forcing her to don a monkey-suit and hold a Nina puppet...

Event #31: Dracula / Black & White Rainbow

As far as I can tell, Black & White Rainbow is a company of young Cambridge graduates, led by Simon Evans. They're doing 2 plays and a close-up magic show for the Fringe. Tonight I saw "Dracula", a one-hour retelling of the original Bram Stoker story. Although rarely scary, the production plays up the sexual elements of blood and the vampire legend.

I was especially impressed by the unidentified actors playing Dracula and Lucy Westenra, his first victim. The staging was simple but effective, actors unused in a scene carried long mirrors to delineate a space or act as window shutters. The choreography for such a young company was also impressive, especially in a concluding fight scene.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Event #28: Newley: The Singer and His Songs

One of the first movie musicals I remember is Doctor Dolittle, which featured Anthony Newley's songs (with music by Leslie Bricusse) Talk to the Animals, and My Friend the Doctor (sung by Newley as character Matthew Mugg, mugging to the audience?). Follow that up (for me) many years later with the music for Willy Wonka ( The Candy Man, Pure Imagination ) , or for that matter his lyrics for Goldfinger, or the song Feeling Good, covered by Nina Simone amongst many.

This show was neither a tribute, nor a bio-musical, but a curious musical reflection on the impact of Newley on performer David Boyle's own life. This is the stated intention of this one hour show, but it sometimes falls flat with too much emphasis on Newley's skill as a mime, and pauses for meaningful(?) reflection. Except for all the lovingly evoked renditions of Newley's songs, one could almost come away thinking the show was about another mime/actor/composer ... Charlie Chaplin.

Here's an excerpt from the show:

or try Newley himself (with Bob Downe!)

Man tries to escape from coat-hanger; dog confused.

Robert Henryson: Blessed be simple life

Blessed be simple life, withouten dreid;
Blessed be sober feast in quiete;
Who has enough, of no more has he need,
Though it be little into quantity.
Great abundance, and blind prosperity,
Ofttimes make an evil conclusion;
The sweetest life, therefore, in this country,
Is of sickerness*, with small possession.


Adam Read.

Dinner at Hector's gastro pub