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The Edinburgh Fringe 2005

Saturday

We caught the train from Basingstoke to Gatwick and then flew to Edinburgh, leaving behind a very sickly goldfish "Monster". For some days now, he has been floating upside-down in the aquarium. I was sure that he would be found dead when we returned. 

The journey was uneventful, except for a delay at Gatwick. We just about managed to check in at our hotel and get to our first show "Minor irritations" [****] on time. This had been chosen by David. It turned out to have a gay theme, though this had not been explicit in its advertisement. It was about friends and lovers and ex-lovers and work or the lack of it. 

We then met up with Simon, our Basingstoke Dungeons-and-Dragons referee, who was visiting his partner. Together, they had been attending the Si-Fi and Fantasy Convention. The only dampner on this had been the fact that Stuart had been pretty poorly for a few days. Needless to say, he was over his sickness now that the convention was finished. We had dinner in an Indian Restaurant that David and I knew from last year.

David and I then said goodbye to Stuart and Simon and went on to our second Show, "Miss Julie" [***]. This was about the machinations of a bored and disconnected socialite (Miss Julie) and her Father's butler (who she managed to seduce).

The last play of the day was "Corpus Christi" [****]. I had been looking forward to seeing this play for months, ever since I learned (by accident) that it was to be put on this year at the Fringe. I had very much regretted not seeing it when it was first performed a few years ago. I was not disappointed. The production was good and the performances professional. The only real surprise was that the text continually avoided all the "obvious" gay content or subtexts of the Gospel accounts: for example neither Lazarus nor John the Apostle featured and the Centurion's boy became his wife - and she died at that; and instead substituted other extrinsic matter: for example Judas was presented as having been the life-long lover of Jesus.

"At its heart, Corpus Christi is an update of the gospel story to the circumstances of today. The message remains one of love, hope and the strength of faith, told through a deft mix of emotion and light comedy that is never cliched. Whether taken as an outreach or an allegory, the taboo-challenging portrayal of the Jesus-character (Joshua) as a homosexual cannot be dismissed out of hand - or worse out of prejudice.

Corpus Christi is not a historically revisionist play. It does not allege that Jesus was gay. It uses artistic licence to portray a fictional Jesus-character that is. In an ideal world this would be no more controversial than a female or non-Caucasian messiah. The cast and crew are united by acceptance and open-mindedness. We consist of both Christians and atheists, both homosexuals and heterosexuals, and both men and women."

Sunday

We started the day by taking a taxi to the Church in Edinburgh (St Andrew's Belmont Crescent) which hosts a regular Tridentine Mass with the Bishop's permission. The liturgy was very well done and the standard of singing (both from the two-man choir and the congregation) remarkable. I was quite taken back to my Methodist days when people just got on with making best use of the resources and talents they had to do the very best that they could "for God". The priest preached a good sermon about the relationship between the Jews and the Catholic Faith.

Our first show was "How to build a time machine" [***]. This was an amusing presentation of some of the more fantastic aspects of modern physics and featured a portable black hole creator; some oven gloves and Mr Universe (made out of chicken wire). Unfortunately, most of the physics went over David's head.  Our next show was one of the most controversial. It was Stoppard's "Dog's Hamlet, Cahoot's MacBeth" [*****] and had received a terrible review. I thought that it was excellent, and went out of my way to tell some of the cast so. I can only imagine that the reviewer couldn't understand what the play was all about.

Other people who saw the show said:

"Tom Stoppard's play or two linked plays are not easy. The first act plays around with language and we see a group of school boys talking Dogg, where words in English have been jumbled. They are in the process of preparing to put on a production of Hamlet.  There is then confusion as a delivery driver, speaking normal English tries to communicate and get help with his delivery. We then cut to the second act a production of Macbeth in an Eastern bloc 'normalized' society. Where actors and intellectuals are lorry drivers and cleaners. As they put on a play, in someone's house they are raided by the police . As first the situation looks bad as the sarcastic inspector abuses them. However they start using the language Dogg, which defeats the inspector's case. In a way I feel the concept is to show that the state cannot suppress intellectual freedom. A message that Bush and Blair may take on board. The production was excellent. I only feel Stoppard should have cut a little of the material - it would have greatly strengthened the impact, e.g. the school play went on a little too long."
and:
"In my opinion this play is the theatrical event of the fringe. Many fringe productions tend to go for safe plays, or try to shock. This play is not easy to perform, but the cast show great enthusiasm, commitment and talent. The performers cleverly transport themselves from schoolboys acting Macbeth to ‘Normalized’ actors having been censored from performing in public theatres to secretly performing in people's living rooms. The play is interrupted by the menacing inspector from the secret police. He threatens to arrest the actors and audience for breaking censorship rules. The plays are united when Easy from the first play arrives and teaches the actors Dogg. When the inspector returns, he cannot arrest them as they are speaking in Dogg and he does not understand them. It is a very sharp, witty and skilful play, full of rich dialogue. All the actors excel themselves. It is a difficult play, but this talented cast, together with their production team, make you leave the theatre speaking in Dogg. The performance was Marmalade! Gym shoes! Geranium!"
We next saw Shakespeare's "The Jew of Malta" [**]. This was wonderfully presented with excellent costumes (worthy of Dr Who!), but the language was very difficult to follow. The moral of the plot - for me - was that revenge is generally a costly folly that rebounds terribly on those who seek to exact it.

Our last play for the day was "Haunted" [***]. This was the story of a man haunted by his late wife's ghost. She forced him to review their life together and to admit (after much resistance) that her death was as a result of his drunken reckless driving.

Monday

The day began with another gay-themed play, "Edward II" [****] by Marlowe. I had never seen it performed before, but read the text in the midst of my "coming out" experience while I was madly in love with Paul Hammond. It was performed very well on a set largely constituted from tangles of video-tape. It's language was remarkably easy to follow and the portrayal of the relationship of Edward, with his Queen and his lover Piers Gaviston very poignant.

The second play we saw was "Dark horse, Indiana" [***]. This had intrigued me as it was advertised as an "anti-gay" story. Not in the sense of being homophobic (quite the opposite), but in that it was to be based on a total role reversal. It tells the story of a lone and isolated heterosexual man forced to "live a lie", immersed in a remorselessly gay civilization. My only criticism of the play is that on the one hand it had nothing new to say while on the other being certain to offend anyone who was in the slightest uneasy about homosexuality. For example, it opened with a graphic portrayal of anal sex.

Our next show was "Clockwork Orange" [****]. While I have never seen the film, I was aware of its reputation; so I was quite apprehensive. In fact the portrayal of violence was quite restrained; though the actuality portrayed was terrible. One was seduced into having considerable sympathy with the main character - in spite of the fact that he seemed to live for gratuitous violence and nothing else (except for the music of Beethoven!) 

We then returned (by taxi) to St Andrew's for Mass of the Assumption before seeing our final two shows of the day.

We saw a production of "Hair" in 2003, but I so enjoyed the story that I couldn't resist a re-run. Last time it was performed by a group of American College Students. I had hoped that this year's performance [**] would be more professional, but it wasn't.

Our final play was "Crimes of Passion" [***]. This was about a prostitute who was presented with two paths of redemption. One was a real prospect, courtesy of the real love of one of her clients who had been rejected by his wife. The other was no true prospect at all; being the abusive and finally murderous abuse of a seriously messed-up Catholic priest.

David and I then walked back to our hotel.

Tuesday

Our first show was "Being Earnest: it's Rather Important" [****] This was based on the obvious play by Oscar Wilde and was well and enthusiastically performed by its youngish cast. Our second show was a monologue "Spilling more beans" [**]. I had hoped that this would be a cross between "Hinge and Bracket" and "Up Pompeii", but it was more like a 1930's edition of Woman's Hour on the Home Service of BBC radio!

The next show that we saw "Halo Boy and the Village of Death" [*] had rave reviews. While accepting that it was technically excellent and performed magnificently, I have to condemn it as being basically wicked. It presented the idea that revenge is correct and "might is right". I refuse to say any more about this pernicious play.

I had chosen our next play "Lady in red" [****] just on the basis of a striking advertising image in the "Fringe Listings". Amusingly, I had taken the image to be that of a handsome young man, in fact it was of a woman (as I should have realized from the title). The play was a powerful one-woman treatment of the dilemma of the emotionally and physically abused wife.

We next saw Satre's "No exit" [****]. I have never seen this play before, and was not disappointed. My only criticism is that Satre's text did not convince me that the three souls were nearly bad enough to be damned. It seemed rather to me that among the three of them, they had all that it would take to discover wholeness.

Our last show for the day was "Out on the Fringe" [***]. This was a gay-themed medley of cabaret songs and similar. While entertaining and competently presented it lacked any real verve. After this show David and I were quite exhausted, and got a taxi back to our hotel.

Wednesday

Our first play was "The found man" [****]. This was at the venue where we had seen "Duck", which didn't augur well. In fact this was a very good production of a very good play. It was similar in theme to Golding's "Lord of the Flies", showing how profound amorality lies just beneath the skin in the most respectable and idyllic society.

I chose to see our next play "Zigger Zagger" [***] because it was the play that I acted in in my last year at St Peter's High School. My close friend David Bickerton had played the lead role "Harry" and I had played the second largest part: "Les". I wasn't disappointed. Much of the text came flooding back to me, and it was quite an emotional event.

Our third show for today was "Table Manners" [***]. This was a light-hearted but poignant study of restaurant etiquette, from the point of view of a waiter. Our next play "Hello Dali" [**] was quite a walk, but had promised to be one of the highlights of the week. It disappointed. The venue was Edinburgh's Theosophical Society and the doorman was remarkably unfriendly. When we turned up half an hour early, he directed us to a nearby (very up-market) coffee shop where the service was so slow that we walked out in disgust. We then caught a taxi back to the top of the royal mile where we had dinner in a Mexican Restaurant that we had discovered last year (in the middle of a torrential down-pour). The food was as good as we had remembered and the ambience was very pleasant.

Our final show was at "the Quaker Meeting House" and was called "Candles in the window" [****]. This was a touching dialogue between the widow of an English serviceman who had shared a cell with Dietrich Bonhoeffer for a while, just before he was executed and the jewish-protestant housekeeper of the Bonhoeffer household. It was a marvellous binocular view of Bonhoeffer the man and of his philosophy and theology. 

Thursday

Our first play was "Tales from the Dirty Dog Café" [*]. This was rather avant-guard and somewhat disappointing. It was such a weird performance that it wasn't obvious when it had ended and the audience didn't know when to applaud!

The next performance we saw was "Corpus Christi" [*****], but this quite different from the first play of that name that we saw. This one was a selection of Medieval Mystery Plays. It was executed very well. The enactment of the crucifixion was remarkable. One could almost believe that the actor portraying Jesus was in extreme agony. The antique language was no barrier to the effective communication of the story. This was David's favourite show.

We next saw "Boston Marriage" [**] another gay-themed play. This was about the machinations of two well-to-do lesbians and the virtual break-down and then re-establishment of their relationship. My basic criticism was that the play simply had too many words!

The fourth show we saw today was "Wilde by name" [*] and was more of a documentary than a play. It said little new about Oscar Wilde's life, character or work and the standard of execution was low.

The last of today's shows was "Thrillseeking" [***]. Its start was delayed by quite a few minutes and the audience consisted of David and I plus one other person! In fact, I rather enjoyed this psychological murder-mystery: though at the end I wasn't at all sure either who had done it or what in fact they had done!

Friday

The day began with a performance of Shakespeare's "Twelfth night" [****]. It was well done and I enjoyed the comedy. David found it pretty difficult to follow: he generally finds Shakespeare to be tedious and obscure.

We then saw Aykborne's "Relatively speaking" [***]. I think that the absurd plot of this comedy is worthy of Shakespeare at his best. This production had received a terrible review, partly based on the assertion that the text was somehow "dated".

Next we saw "Sweet love adieu" [*****] which was an excellent pastiche (if such a term does justice to the text) of the typical Shakespearean romp. It was - very loosely - based on Romeo and Juliet. The acting was wonderful. The bits that should have been "hammed up" were hammed-up wonderfully.

Our penultimate play was Shakespeare's "Richard II" [****]. I have never seen this before, to my knowledge, and I found it deeply moving. It once more dealt with the topic of revenge and showed how the tragedy of the Wars of the Roses all resulted from feuding and the seeking of vengeance for real or imagined wrongs. Whatever Richard II's failings, the usurpation of his throne by Henry Bolingbroke and the subsequent murder of Richard Plantagenet could be no safe fundament for the rule of England; the spirit of which was extolled by John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster in his famous speech made close to the  beginning of the play.

Our last show was "The Laramie Project" [*****]. We had seen a production of this play last year and found it very moving. This performance was by a group of American College Students and was all the more moving for this. At the end of the show, many of the cast were themselves in tears. While Matthew Shepherd's death was in itself meaningless and tragic, in God's providence it has become a great force for good. 

Saturday

Our journey home was uneventful. We returned to discover that "Monster" my sole remaining "fancy" goldfish was still alive, against all my expectations. 

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