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The Edinburgh Fringe 2006

Saturday

We caught the train from Basingstoke to London and then on to Edinburgh, leaving behind (for the second time) a very sickly goldfish "Monster".

The journey was uneventful. David and I read though and discussed one of the chapters of my book. We concluded that it needed thorough revision. We checked in at our usual hotel before getting to our first show at the main "C" venue "Can't Pay, Won't Pay" [**]. This was by Daniel deFoe, and I think I've seen it before in London. It is a farce based on the idea that the working class of an Italian town refuse to pay for anything because they are too poor. It then turns in to a comedy of errors as one subterfuge leads to another, with one woman being forced to claim to be acting as a surrogate mother for her friend. One of the actors was particularly good, and kept up the verbal pace - which the text demanded. The others were a bit weak, however. We then had dinner in a rather nice Italian restaurant that we know of.

Next we saw "Parasites" [***] in "C central". This was an indictment of academia. One researcher rubbished another's work in public so that it could be taken forward by a government agency in secret. However, they got their comeuppance by being infected by the very nematode parasites that they were themselves developing for nefarious military applications.

Then we moved on to "Zoo Southside" where we saw "Vocation of a Whore" [****] This was a superlative one actress play. The story was of a woman who started off as a prostitute, but then decided to become the "perfect wife". She was frustrated in this mission by the facts that her fiancé was by no means perfect and that her ex madame wished to recruit her to entrap and embarrass a Catholic politician who was intent on outlawing the "sex trade". She finished up marrying the "hit mam" who had been hired by her ex madame to make sure that she did her job.

We then walked to the "Udder belly", where we met up with Andy - my "on-line" Dungeon Master - and his girlfriend. We discussed Dungeons and Dragons and philosophy over a glass of cider before going to see "GayDar Diaries" [***] This was better than I had expected and a lot less "raunchy" than I had thought it might be. Some of the stories were quite touching. We then caught a taxi back to the hotel, as it was late (00:30) and I was developing a nasty blister on the ball of my right foot.

Sunday

We started the day by walking to the Church in Edinburgh (St Andrew's Belmont Crescent) which hosts a regular Tridentine Mass with the Bishop's permission. We arrived quite early and waited outside for Mass to begin - discussing the immortality of the soul - until drizzle drove us indoors. The liturgy was very well done and the congregation sang the ordinary of the Mass enthusiastically. The priest preached a good sermon on the Transfiguration. 

We than walked to "Baby Belly" (the weather started to clear up and it then became rather warm) to see "Breaking the pope" [****] which was a very moving play about the infamous "Magdalene Laundries" where sadist nuns "thrashed the sin out of fallen women." This went on long after the Second Vatican Council supposedly "reformed" the Church and made it more humane.

Our next show, "Love Labours Won" [***], was at the "Gilded Balloon Teviot", we had a drink beforehand in my favourite student bar. It is very reminiscent of a Cambridge college, the walls being panelled and covered in paintings and heraldic shields. The play started well, but was very disappointing compared to the one that its author/director put on last year. 

We then walked to the Traverse theatre to see "Onysos The Wild" [***] We don't really like this venue, but we always seem to go to one production there each year. I almost fell asleep in this performance. I don't think that it was the fault of the play or the actor, though. It was about Dionysius' quest for revenge on humanity as a result of him being murdered as a new-born infant and then resurrected by his father Zeus.

We then walked to the "Underbelly" for "The sperm monologues" [****] This was much better than I had expected it to be. There was a wide variation in the messages left by "sperm donor dads" for their progeny. They varied from real messages of love (in the abstract) to harsh and unfeeling self justifications. Finally, we tottered back to "C central" for "Crime and Punishment" [***] This was disappointing. A good story, good acting, good set - but the text somehow left out most that is of value in Dostoyevski's novel. I think that it was simply edited too harshly and that an extra ten minutes could have made all the difference.

Monday

I risked a tee-shirt and shorts today, and it paid off. Our very busy day started at "C3" with a trio of films. "Cambridge Shorts" [**] The most memorable was about the eternal battle between good and evil: featuring a sword fight between the Archangel Michael and Lucifer over a magic book and its human female guardian. Not very original, but it still had me in tears. Then we hobbled to "Rocket at Demarco" to see "Scapin the cheat" [**] This was a play by Mollier. It was energetically acted by a young cast, but somehow did not entrance me, as it should have. We then walked to "The Lot" (via a rather nice pub), which was on the corner of Grass market to see "The butler did it!?" [***] This was an amusing "whodunit". Crime doesn't pay: 'nuff said.
"All I can say about this cleverly constructed and highly entertaining play, therefore, is that it lives up to its billing, having more than its fair share of unexpected twists and turns. It also has many of the usual ingredients of the country house mystery - the wealthy victim who is about to make a new will, a house full of visiting relatives, all with expectations and two of whom have brought partners with them who are clearly only interested in the money their intendeds might be about to receive, a detective who is fortuitously also among the guests and (naturally) accuses all the suspects by turns, an apparently unbreakable alibi, and even a butler! 
These elements are put together in a light-hearted, highly entertaining murder mystery which is exceedingly well acted by its cast and which defies anyone to work out all the ramifications of its plot before they are finally revealed on stage."
We then wandered back to the "Gilded Balloon Teviot" for "Fahrenheit 451" [*****] This was an excellent stage adaptation of the Ray Bradbury classic SciFi novel - complete with firemen dressed in fire-fighter's coats and leggings. It was both intense and moving. Then on to Old St Paul's church hall for "Tales from the Lost Stranger's Society" [***] This was a strange play about a group of people who mysteriously find themselves in an unknown environment and under the supervision of a games show impresario who insists on probing them for their darkest secrets - which include pedophilia and incest. 

We then had to rush up the Royal mile to get to "Diverse Attractions" for "The Bacchae" [**] We saw a more contemporary production of this in 2003. This one was more conventional - and much less well acted. I still cannot understand why the "bad guy" decides to go spying in drag on the Bacchae (and so come to a violent death at their hands) - unless it is a madness put into his head by Dionysius.

We then returned to the "Gilded Balloon Teviot" for "My brother and I are porn stars" [*] This was bad. The humungous talking phallus did little to make it any better! We then crawled back to Old St Paul's church hall (where I had a very welcome cup of tea) for "Dark North" [****] This was an excellent gothic horror. It featured a psychic who had no faith in his own powers. The production was very simple but most atmospheric. The twist in the tail was unexpected. I was very pleased that my blister hadn't got terribly bad today.

Tuesday

Our day started at "Augustine's" (after having missed the first show we were scheduled to see because of taxi problems) with "Lord of the Flies" [****] This was an excellent production with a cast of young teenagers. I had a brief word with one of them, who assured me that he and his friends were "nothing like that" in reality! 

We then walked (I hobbled - my blister was starting to play up) to the "Pleasance Dome" to see "The Coma" [*****] A man goes to the rescue of a girl who is being attacked on a tube train. He is kicked insensible and goes into a coma. The play is about his experiences while unconscious and his growing realization that he is unconscious and dreaming. The main actor was very, very good. There were some interesting ideas about consciousness and the mind, that were relevant to the chapter of my book that I am currently revising.

We then sauntered over to "C" for "Top Gun" [****] This was a well acted stage version of the well known film. The aeroplane dog-fights were portrayed very well. The solo rock guitarist was a nice addition to the cast. Our next show was back at "Augustine's", "Elegies" [****] David and I saw this with Matt and Karen, the first year that we came to the fringe. That was a better - more intimate - production, but this was moving too. We finished the day at the same venue, with "Murder at the Savoy" [***] A bit of light-hearted "Gilbert and Sullivan style" froth. Amusing and entertaining, nevertheless. We then caught a taxi back to our hotel.

Wednesday

My blister was somewhat better today. We caught a taxi to "Rocket at Demarco" where we saw "The Art of Silence" [****] A frighteningly direct portrayal of the effect of torture and imprisonment on "political prisoners". Some of the details do not bear recalling. We then wen to "C central" for "Eclipse" [**] This play had sounded intriguing, and indeed it was. The young cast acted it well, but in the end I was no clearer what had happened - who the mysterious stranger was, what had happened to her and what the group of friends had actually intended than I had been before the play started. 

We then walked to "Greyfrier's Kirk House" for "The Play's the thing" [***] An amusing story of a director who couldn't cast anyone to play Hamlet because he really wanted to do it himself, but couldn't bring himself to admit as much.

Our next show was in "The Cow Barn" - actually a rather plush concert hall. It was "The Irish Curse, by Martin Casella" [*****], a  sensitive and moving portrayal of a support group for men with a very small penis. One was gay and a self-confessed sex addict; one a Catholic priest - who felt that he'd been "forced" into the priesthood by "the curse", but now realized how blessed he had been; one a young man about to get married and terrified about the reaction of his wife when she found out about his "affliction"; one a middle aged man who had just been abandoned by his wife; and one a young man who had a healthy sex life with a loving girl-friend but still felt inadequate. This play is showing in the London at the The King's Head Theatre from 16th January 2007. The company is Steven Henry's "28 Productions Ltd" who brought "Corpus Christi" to Edinburgh in 1999.

Then we were back at "C central" yet again for "My brother's keeper" [****] A sad story of the only two jews living in an Afghan city. They hate each other and are very cruel towards each other. In the end one of them sits idly by while the other dies of being crushed by some fallen masonry. He then gets his just deserts, because he is then mistaken for his dead enemy whom he had previously denounced to the muslim authorities.
"Not the sort of show I'd normally go and see but very glad I did. A play based on the bizarre true story of the last two jews left in afghanistan, who apparently hated each other. I was expecting it to be heavy going, but it was actually really funny. Excellent cast, great characterization and a nice staging of two neighbouring apartments with action going on in both. A very engaging and satisfying play. It's worth reading about the original story it was based on. I found it here: http://www.haruth.com/JewsAfghanistan.html"
Our next show "Cast Aside" [****] was at "the Zoo". It was an excellent play about "theatrical types". A narcissistic director puts on a gender bending production of "The Merchant of Venice". Everything then goes wrong and it seems that the play is a disaster. In fact the audience love it - thinking that it is supposed to be a comedy; and the director pretends that this is what he intended all along - so everyone is happy. The next play we intended to see at "C3" was cancelled so we decided to watch another set of short films. The most memorable "Heavy Metal Drummer" [***] featured a teenage arab living in a muslim country who wanted to be a "heavy metal drummer". Needless to say, this didn't go down very well with his family and friends.
Our final show was also at "C3". It was called "Apollo/Dionysus" [****] This was a superbly acted play about the conflict between "reasonable moderation" (Apollo) and "violent excess" (Dionysus).
"A quest to understand the psychological, physical and emotional conflicts faced by man - and woman - throughout time, throughout today. Dionysus - the Greek god of wine and fertility - challenges the hypocrisy of Apollo - the Greek god of order and truth. Why do we do what we do? Why do we say what we say? Why don't we do what we think? A compelling assault on the morals of humanity and the gods..."
The two gods were played by naked young men. It was quite a shock to walk into the theatre to find them sprawled on the floor at one's feet. The other unique aspect of the play was the fact that the audience was expected to participate by swigging back generous supplies of wine - courtesy of Dionysus. The only thing that spoilt the play was that no clear answer was suggested to the problem posed. Dionysus had all the best lines and arguments, but was apparently killed by his brother Apollo at the end. So "violent excess" was defeated - rather than answered - by the excessive violence of "reasonable moderation".

Thursday

The weather today was a bit marginal, but I decided to risk a tee-shirt and shorts. We walked to our first show "Animal Farm" [*****] It was at "Assembly, St Georges" - quite close to our hotel. An excellent solo performance of the story - complete with a few jabs at Tony Blare.
"Gary Shelford takes us in the palm of his hand for nearly two hours without an interval and leads us into his farmyard. We are surrounded by pigs, cows, horses, dogs, hens and crazy sheep in Orwell's fairy tale world. Shelford has presence and stamina in buckets and it will only get better with time. This has always been one of the greatest one-man shows on the fringe - a real test for an actor and Shelford makes light work of it! And even though it is the same wonderful, tight and topical script, Shelford makes it his own. If you only see one one-man show on the fringe, this has to be it. The quote on the poster says, "Gary Shelford IS Animal Farm". They're not wrong. WOW!"
We then walked to "Hill St Theatre" (actually the Edinburgh Masonic Lodge) - via a branch of Starbucks where I enjoyed observing a group of teenagers - for "Mary and the stripper" [**] This well acted play was spoiled by the un-necessary interpolation of evangelical theology. The author was clearly aware that he was making God seem petty - he had one of the character's say exactly this. The author's only answer to the charge that his god is vindictive was that "it is all very complicated". This is simply not good enough. The play reminded me very forcibly why I am not an evangelical and why I believe evangelicalism to be hellish.

We then walked to "Rocket at Demarco" (where there proved to be a warm and comfortable cafe) for "Boom Bang-A-Bang" [****] This was a pleasant enough gay themed story, where a soon to be married couple split up and instead "boy gets boy" and "girl gets girl": just as it should be! It started a bit slow, but gained pace and character soon enough. We then returned to the nice Italian restaurant for a leisurely dinner, while it rained outside. Our next play "Killing Time" [*****] was on the top floor of "C". This was a fantastic "thriller". It was superlatively acted and had a first-rate plot with a totally unexpected twist in its tail. 

We finished the day with "Jack the Lad" [*****] This was also at "C", but one floor down. It was a cross between the story of "Jack and the Beanstalk" and "Confessions of a male prostitute". Just like the previous play: it was superlatively acted and had a first-rate plot with a totally unexpected twist in its tail. At the end, I felt a great sympathy for the main character, who had had a very bad deal out of life - including seeing his bitter mother kill his beloved father with an axe!

"wow..wow..wow!!!! came out feeling battered and bruised, shocked and disturbed. China Town Meets '7'...eeeek!!! Its an awful long time since any piece of drama has managed to produce that effect on such an old cynic. Definitely not for the squeamish or faint hearted or people with any kind of sexual insecurity, but anyone with an open mind who likes a bit of psychological horror now and again and wants to experience something a little scary and out of the ordinary should be very entertained.

I thought that the main actor playing Jack - apart from looking delicious - handled the various different characters convincingly and interestingly. In my opinion he made an obviously very difficult role look effortless. The supporting actor who plays a further set of characters (the clients of Jack the prostitute) makes each one very plausible, and different and had me totally convinced. 

The fact that the story told is the well known children's tale of Jack and the Beanstalk, I found fascinating - as the way it is told (through the eyes of a rent boy on the road to destruction) just makes it a bit of a.... no a total mind f..k. Despite its sinister nature it is also often very funny and had me laughing out loud, mainly about the hypocrisies surrounding sex, religion and convention. 
Also, a couple of weird little twists near the end had me questioning my sanity. Oh! and some of the music..... Creeeeepy!!! As I say not for the faint hearted or squeamish but I was in Edinburgh for four days saw some good stuff, bad stuff, boring stuff - as you do. I would definitely put this play at the top of my list. By far the most thoroughly entertaining piece of theatre that I saw!!! Just off for an extended session with my therapist...."

Friday

The weather today was quite threatening, so I took my bomber jacket with me and was glad of it. Our day started with "Moby Dick Rehearsed" [****] at "C3". I almost fell asleep during this play. Once more, I do not think it the fault of the text or actors. The production and acting were both very good and could easily transfer to a bigger stage. The story of Moby Dick is that of a pathological thirst for revenge which leads to ultimate catastrophe. We then walked to "Greyfrier's Kirk House" for our next two shows. "Teacher's Playground" [**] was disappointing. The plot was promising, involving the psychological conflict between a bully of a headmaster and his disreputable teaching staff; but somehow it failed to deliver. "Help, I'm a teenager" [***] was also disappointing. It was a "modern day morality play" setting out some of the dangers of alcohol. I think that the only thing really wrong with it was that it had too many good ideas in it. They somehow crowded each other out. The acting was good, especially allowing for the age of the cast - except for one obvious but minor case of "fluffed lines".
We then had a long walk down Cowgate and beyond to "Venue 13" for "Cantata for Acquiescence" [****], a play by Brecht. It involved lots of "physical theatre" which was performed very stylishly. It was very humane and gentle in spirit; being a plea for humility and kindness in the face of conceit and cruelty. We then stopped off at a very nice Mexican restaurant for a wonderful vegetarian dinner and a bottle of rose Spanish wine before seeing "The same - but different" [***] at the "Pleasance Dome". This was a simple but heart-warming play about love and honesty. The wife invites her internet lover into her home to try and evoke some kind of response from her well-meaning but inattentive husband; one of their sons is unhappy in a claustrophobic relationship - dares to express this and then decides to marry his girlfriend; another of their sons is so shy that he has to kidnap the girl that he has fallen in love with - but eventually convinces her to forgive the outrage and "give him a go"; the last son - a soldier - comes to realize that he is gay and has fallen in love with his best friend. Our prepenultimate show was "Iliad, fall of Troy" [*****] This was a superlative production, at "Old St Paul's". All of the actors seemed to be teenagers and yet were totally confident in their too adult parts. The play told the entire tragedy of the Trojan war, making it clear that there were no true heroes on either side - except, perhaps Petrochlus and Hector who killed Petrochlus thinking him to be his bisexual lover Achilles, who was sulking over the abduction of a concubine.
"‘Iliad, The Fall of Troy’ is an energetic and captivating play that beautifully depicts the horror of the ten years of the Trojan siege. During 1½ hours of action packed adventure the attractive youthful cast brilliantly relate one of the greatest stories ever told with some humour and much violence. The acting is consistently excellent. The performers capture our imagination leading us to weep for the futility of the conflict and the inevitable slaughter of the Trojans. The show is brilliantly acted, well produced and directed, and has some of the best choreographed sword fighting on the Fringe. In fact, the prospect of a member of the audience becoming one of the Trojan casualties often seemed all too likely. It is to the credit of the actors that the fee paying public left intact. Homer wrote that ‘It is tedious to tell again tales already plainly told.’ Well, this ‘Iliad’ was never tedious, was told with great energy, and was always enthralling. The show is another success for Live Wire Theatre and a ‘must-see’ at this year's Fringe. Only one niggle; no programme or list of actors’ names was available the night I was there. Even a typed sheet would be appreciated. Please ‘Live Wire Theatre’, post a list of the cast here."
Our last show of 2006 was "Metamorphoses" [****] This was a series of Greek myths (including the famous myth of Midas) portrayed alongside (and also in) a hotel swimming bath on Grass market. It was done very well.

Saturday

Our journey home was uneventful. We returned to discover that "Monster" was still alive - though very sick indeed.

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