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Posts Tagged ‘Comedy’

I’ve never done an e-postcard from here so, as this year’s trips are more frequent but shorter and all European, I thought I’d have a go…..For those of you not ‘in-the-know’, this is the world’s biggest arts festival; in fact, it’s several festivals – the main festival, the fringe, the book and film festivals with the jazz festival preceding it, the TV festival (closed to the public), the tattoo for the tourists and something called the ‘politics festival’ which appears to have no real purpose other than allowing politicians to indulge in even more introspection during their long holiday (in case they get withdrawal symptoms) and a use for the over-priced Scottish parliament – 10 x budget – though this year without using the debating chamber as its roof is falling down already (please note the Welsh Assembly was on time and on budget and was still standing when I last looked).

For me the fringe is the main event – almost 2000 productions in c.250 venues over 3 weeks – theatre, comedy, dance & music and many other things that defy categorisation. They run from 9am to 2am with 20-30 min gaps between shows, so the typical venue has 10 shows. Some venues have as much as 14 performance spaces. It’s a logistical marvel, but it has no artistic policy and no quality assurance, so it’s an anarchic maze which gets easier to navigate the more you do so. This is something between my 15th and 20th year (I’ve rather lost count), so I’m getting better. The city takes on a unique atmosphere, with performers providing samples of their shows on the streets, leafleteers finding ever more original ways to promote their shows, performances in ever more bizarre places – this year including Ovid’s Metamorphoses in a hotel swimming pool and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a tree!

If you go to fewer than 3 shows a day, you’re a festival wimp. Most things are kept at 1-1.5 hours, so this isn’t as hard as it seems. The best things are often ones you haven’t planned. Word-of-mouth (particularly from people you meet in queues) is often more reliable than reviews. At some point you end up in the pews of a de-consecrated church watching a Czech company performing an indescribable show about emigration with east European folk songs, no dialogue but extraordinary choreography and you realise why you keep coming.

For me this year it will be 32 shows and 12 exhibitions over 11 days and it has been a good Edinburgh. It has been particularly good for music – Antonio Forcione, Loudon Wainwright III, Mazaika (Russian accordionist plus English violinist with an eclectic set) plus the two mentioned below. The highlights, in addition to the Czech company above (yes, they do exist – look up their show ‘Sclavi’ on

www.infarma.com), have been many and include:
Mark Thomas’ one man crusade against arms dealers turned into a very funny hour of political comedy. See him on tour (www.markthomasinfo.com) or buy his book ‘As used on the famous Nelson Mandela – underground adventures in the arms & torture trade’
‘Black Watch’; a magnificent play created from interviews with the regiment’s soldiers returning from Iraq. It takes place in a drill hall with bagpipe music and spotlights sweeping the space. It has a lot to say, but it does so in a superbly entertaining (and often very funny) way. Look out for tipped London transfer.

A Welsh comedian called Hugh Hughes, who – with another actor – performs a charming and very funny ‘play’ (with flip-chart, overhead projector, powerpoint presentation, slide-show, film projector and other visual aids!) about the day Anglesey split off from Wales and drifted into the Atlantic. It is as if you are in some eccentric’s front room being told a story. Look him up on

Three Scottish folk singers (Karine Polwart, Annie Grace and Corrina Hewat – have a listen on www.myspace.com/girlytrio) performing a wonderful set (much of it accapella, though with harp, guitar, whistle and celtic pipes too) including many Burns’ songs and a unique version of Kylie Minogue’s ‘Can’t get you out of my head’!

A very original comedy musical about British spys in Ireland during the second world war with the corniest puns you’ll ever hear (www.rough-magic.com)

A recital of English songs, Brittain, Shubert and Brahms by barritone Simon Keenlyside & pianist Malcolm Martineau – sheer perfection (Radio 3 Weds 30th 1pm)

There have to be disappointments, of course; this year’s big one had a promising premise – a show about hairdressing with a limited audience as the show was centred on a live haircut for an audience volunteer. It brought rave reviews from it’s home in Ireland. Well, it will vie for the most pointless hour of my life award and if I was Irish I’d be picketing their Arts Council offices to protest about their grant! Helen thought the best thing about it was the programme and I admired and envied the man who had the nerve to walk out about half-way through.

Exhibitions are often things that fill the space between shows, but this year has been an exception, with a small but fascinating Van Gough exhibition, wonderful Art Nouveau posters (including, but much more than just, Toulouse Lautrec), three contrasting world-class photographers (posed and stylised Robert Mapplethorpe, fashion and style by Albert Watson and documentary photos from Henry Adams), the miniatures of a 16th / 17th century, largely unknown, German genius called Elsheimer and spooky lifelike sculptures by Ron Mueck.

The city is now packing up. The main festival goes on until Saturday, but today is the last day of the fringe. It really is rather infectious and I’ve no doubt I’ll be back next year; which means I’d better reserve the house before I leave – the festival is rather popular too……

 

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