EdFringe No 5 230819 – Critics & more shows

a cartoon learned man with glasses looking down his big nose

I am so glad I am rarely asked to be a critic. I honour and respect these phenomenally hard working folk rushing around Edinburgh trying to encapsulate in too few words and at great speed the essence of a show and have a constructive/critical opinion.  My trouble is that I know too many of the folk creating shows and I prefer not to have to keep my distance, as a critic must.

It was lovely to be invited to Paul Levy’s gathering of Fringe Review writers early Friday morning before they headed out into the fray. One had just landed from Canada and was ready for action, others had been working throughout August. I know enough about etiquette not to ask them for favorites.  So we talked art and day-jobs and the state of the nation. There were two Scottish PR specialists there as well exploring how EdFringe was going from their aspect whilst being careful not to be pitch-folk.  Paul creates a wonderful Open Space for these discussions and, I feel sure, helps to make the reviewers feel less lonely.

Anyone who has seen my spreadsheet/wish list of shows will know I have a very eclectic set of choices, and leave a little space in the schedule for unexpected invitations/delights.  On Wed morning I did my 2nd Space Venues surgery. I meet companies who are looking to the future or struggling with the present. In an hour I hope to offer some hope, focus, bright ideas, or reality checks as well as help them revisit their core reasons for being at EdFringe in the first place. Occasionally I then manage to grab a ticket to oe of their shows. In this case I caught two of them.

The Berlin Open Theatre with Frankenstein which sadly finished yesterday. I hope this international collective of 6 actors all based in Berlin and working in English will return in 2024.  They were a delight to meet and their work is ideal festival fringe material – in this case an adaptation of the Nick Dear play really capturing the essence of Mary Shelley’s novel in a 1hr piece of physical theatre/ensemble work.  Later I caught up with Adrian Kimberlin’s new musical on Jill Morrell and John McCarthy After This Plane Has Landed .  It is so heartening to see really full buzzy houses across all the shows I am seeing at Space Venues. Charles and his Space team are giving opportunities for so much new work and so many new companies to get their first EdFringe experience.

From there I rushed hotfoot to an annual charity tradition in aid of a chosen Body Positive cause. First started in Adelaide and now a must-be-at event for many, the Naked Cabaret is just that. A naked audience, a naked company of fringe turns, and at the wonderful Voodoo Room a naked bar and tec team.  Total freedom from the confines of clothes for one hour with some great fun acts riffing on the unusual view they were getting from the stage.   Each year the numbers grow and I feel sure we will be in Pleasance Grand or the McEwan Hall one day.   Innocent joyous fun hosted by two amazing creatives with, no chance of losing the running order because they wrote it on their bum cheeks.

Clothes on, and off to see Counterminers new devised piece around the theme of the Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and a woman’s right to decide. I hope the company will learn loads from this Fringe run and take Hersterectomy  back into the rehearsal and development process to see where this work could go next.  A lot of fun was had by the company on stage as they explore what they have there. I sense a more scripted / directed play may develop, slowing the pace and allowing deeper consideration of the topic.  I think Audience Feedback / Jessica sums up what a lot of the student audience will have felt “Hilarious and such a cool message. Not enough people talking about PCOS

Two very contrasting shows added to my Thursday – Bric-a-Brac’s The Glass Ceiling Beneath The Stars produced by Grace Dickson (who’s Lady Dealer production I will be seeing today).  This was a complex weave of actor/camera work, video, miniature special effects brought live to screen and multiple-role playing across 40 years of NASA and American life. Wow it was complex but proves what is possible to achieve at EdFringe. The Queen Dome is a great comfortable space, but at times I felt the concentration was so much on film acting and delivering images to the screen, that the direct contact with the attentive audience was lost.  I am sure this is a learning curve for the excellent company of performers. The audience feedback and professional reviews I am seeing match my feeling – an important story to tell, the glass ceiling still needs smashing and, as one reviewer overheard “OMG, that was so cool!”, “So cool”. Is exactly what the company deserve and need going forward. Keep making amazingly complex theatre and then punch it out even more to us in the audience.

After a lovely locally made curry in the wonderfully welcoming in the BlundaGardens between the Royal Scottish Museum and the Pleasance Dome, I joined a packed massive audience for Alexander Bermange’s I Wish My Life Were Like A Musical, now produced at EdFringe by the prolific James Seabright and his phenomenally overworked team of assistants.  Enormous praise to Matthew Parker, director, and Alexander continuing as MD – together with a great cast of seasoned MT performers. This is laugh out loud in-joke pastiche cabaret for a theatre-savvy crowd.  If you’ve ever auditioned, understudied, played in front of an audience, witnessed (or god forbid been) a diva, or wondered how the business all comes together, then this is for you.   I first witnessed Alexander’s skill at composing original but strangely familiar and catchy songs when I ran an international training week for writers with the illustrious faculty of NYU Tisch School.  The legendary composer/lyricist William Finn predicted Alexander would become a millionaire – well who knows, he may prove to be absolutely right.  I am very sure this show will get done in High Schools and Festivals across the world.  You can catch it at EdFringe till the end of the festival (and I am sure again next year) or at Wilton’s Music Hall in London from Aug 29th for a couple of weeks.  Grab a pint and go enjoy being part of a very in-crowd joyfully seeing themselves/ourselves on stage.

Friday was an odd day with fewer shows than expected.  The wonderful Taylor Wilson, together with Neil Metcalfe on piano and Brian Branford on double bass delighted us with an hour of Shakespeare in Song. We were in the Scottish Arts Club which, I’m delighted to say has an excellent stair lift, since we brought Kath’s 96yr old mother with us.  Her very first ascent in a luxury lift – next time Blackpool rollercoasters maybe.  Taylor is a wonderful dramatic creator of Shakespeare worlds in which to frame songs from Purcell to Dankworth. Her rendition of the vocal line is haunting and rich, but even more than that… she gets inside the world of the song and connects it to our hearts.  Thanks so much Taylor.

Then I walked someone to Haymarket Station to help them board the train to Birmingham. But as I got the luggage settled the door closed behind me and I was whisked, a little reluctantly, to Carlisle. The train staff were lovely.  I was then redirected on a train back to Edinburgh just in time to get to a budget meeting with Kath and the AAC producer Kate Taylor.  Sadly I missed Common Dissonance which was my next show at House of Oz.  Maybe I will make it before the end of the run.

And my final show this blog was Berliner Ensemble in their 2021 production of The Threepenny Opera as reimagined by Barrie Kosky of the Komishe Oper Berlin.   I’m afraid I don’t get Edinburgh International Festival’s (and the world’s critics) celebration of Mr Korsky. I saw his Eugene Onegin at EIF in 2019 and my reaction to both was the same – overdirected, overdesigned, and leading to a truly underwhelming emotional connection to the piece. Depite Onegin being one of my all time favourite operas.  It wasn’t helped for me that we were in the stalls and the surtitles were at the top of the proscenium arch. I am not a giraffe.  Plus the surtitles were almost literal google-translate rather than shaped in any way to match the beat of the music. Given that there are many many excellent English translations / versions of the opera, surely they could have created a lyrical version to read.

A couple of shows on Saturday and then a break at home for a couple of days – and then Week 3 in all its glory will give me an array of other amazing experiences next week. If you are in Edinburgh – enjoy this extraordinary City. If you are a critic – thank you for your work.

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