Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Fringe Report

Three days at the Fringe.

Edinburgh is so lovely. Edinburgh at the Fringe is like New York City in a romcom. It’s the real star.

We started with Mark Thomas at Traverse in Red Shed. Thomas recalls being asked in an interview where his political beliefs came from and what pours out is a poignant tale of a miner’s strike in 1984 and an ode to his Labour Club, the owners of the Red Shed. As a piece of theatre, it was fantastic. In terms of political action, I thought he might have missed a trick. He has the audience sing songs of solidarity, but it is all in the old-fashioned and I believe unhelpful binary model: Tories are the enemy and we are the good guys. That narrative is boring as shit and untrue. The Tories are people with legitimate interests and hearts. Real solidarity to change the problems of this world doesn’t come from emphasizing our differences, but from embracing our common ground. I tire of preaching solely to the converted. I wonder if Thomas does too.  I wonder if Thomas has read Micah White’s book End of Protest -  he seemed to be advocating local action – local power. Interesting how activists seem to reach the same conclusions separately.  

I then went to a play by the amateur group Kirkintilloch players called Her Slightest Touch. This two-hander is a prostitute meeting a john in her flat.  The script was balanced, the acting will be better later in the run. What I liked about the play was its small moments. A jewel to be polished..

That evening we rounded things up with Mark Watson’s show I’m Not Here – standup comedy loosely based on a harrowing trip to Australia. I liked it, he is reliable.  To tell you the truth, I am recovering from whooping cough, not drinking much, so the comedians seem less funny this year.

Rob Drummond’s new show In Fidelity was the first of six Saturday shows. It really did not live up to the high expectations I had after the incomparable genius of Bullet Catch, the last show of his that I saw. Many people used a lot of audience participation in their shows, In Fidelity sees the singles in the audience weeded down to two who then go on a date on the stage. It has some good moments. It does. A subplot is Rob joining match.com on a ‘research’ mission and some flirtation that arises from it. That subplot seemed forced but the audience discussion about cheating on people – infidelity – was quite interesting.  He ends talking about his wife’s pregnancy. I’ve been to enough Fringes to really roll my eyes at that one. I mean really. Every performer who is expecting a child honestly thinks they need to communicate the life-changing wonder of it all. Sigh. They do not. Especially when it’s a bit shoehorned in.

After Rob we went to Goggles – a show about fish and friendship by two sweet women. It was a mostly engaging devised story with intermittent powerful observations. “There is something unsafe about the word ‘security’” was my favourite. The dynamics of female friendship are made theatrical. No small feat.  Plus the show has bubbles. Bubbles.

Next, The Duke. This is  show Hoipolloi are running starring Shon Dale-Jones as himself. It’s a free show seeking donations for the Save the Children Refugee fund. He tells the tale seated, with a sound board and a microphone. I am a great admirer of his work and sometimes I despair of actually writing anything that is as good as what I see from them. Shon weaves together working on a screenplay, his mother breaking a china Duke of Wellington and the stories of the refugees in a story that is part fictional but very authentic. Never maudlin but quite harrowing. He wrote the piece because he was questioning what good his work was in the face of the very scary world we live in. I question it too.  I have been to the Fringe about 18 times and the call to solidarity and social change is always made, but never followed. I put it to you – which is better for the world- a play where the performance is donated and the audience gives money to help the refugees or a play is that stirs people to solidarity but fades in fifteen minutes.  Perhaps the former. Don’t miss this one. Pleasance Attic at 3:30.

After The Duke I went to see Love and Canine Integration, Guy Masterson’s new comedy one man show. Based on the true story of Nelson, a Spitz, his future wife’s dog, it covers  smuggling and a great deal of dog urine. It’s a hoot.  Assembly Roxy at 17:40.

Next to Des Bishop, an Irish-American comedian. Rough and choppy but funny and smart. It was almost like a sociology comedy act. This man was raised in Queens but moved to Ireland when his mother thought he was developing a drinking problem at the age of 14. To Ireland. Definitely worth seeing. Pleasance 20:00

Then a lovely play by Daniel Kitson, still really in development, called Mouse: The Persistence of an Unlikely Thought. It reminded me of an Enda Walsh play with the use of recorded sound, it unfolded as a kind of philosophical fable about human nature and life.

The next morning our merry band kicked off with Jane Eyre – an autobiographical one woman show. While there was much to admire in the fine performance, it sort of didn’t work for me. Rebecca Vaughn has an enraptured following, and they adored it. I guess I don’t think the story lends itself to this format and it felt very long.

After that the new David Grieg musical Glasgow Girls. Sadly this got a pretty big thumbs down from the crowd. While the story of teenagers who band together to fight deportation of an asylum-seeking friend is a good one, it is told rather unsubtly. And as regular readers of this blog know, I have no time for mediocre songs in a musical. It did have a couple decent songs and the choreography was good. Of course the stories of dawn raids by G4S dragging families whose asylum status had been refused back to their country had me in tears, that is some serious police-state shit.  But what good are my tears? Is anyone else tired of going to see plays about injustice and never doing anything to right the wrongs? I don’t think anyone is actually helping the asylum seekers by going to see a play. I know theatre and activism are separate – and strong activism makes weak theatre. I know that. God, I sat through so many bloody – literally bloody – plays about the Iraq war in the 04-09 era. Maybe just knowing the stories is worth something? Not much in this dangerous world.


Last show was probably the best. Angel. The story of a Syrian woman – a would be law student- whose father taught her how to shoot who became a sniper fighting Daesh in Syria, looking for her father and defending her home.  Harrowing and riveting – the subject and the performance.  Masterful use of pauses and darkness. The actor was really present every second of the work, never rushing, inhabiting each character she played so thoroughly we somehow hardly noticed.  Much credit is due the writing, which was tight and funny with nary a needless word. It passes the Bechdel test one million times.  

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