Being the traditional roundup of what we did at Edinburgh Festival 2013, featuring reports from Nick, The Belated Birthday Girl, Charmian and me. We wrote each of our bits independently of each other, so feel free to be lightly amused by the overlaps between the selections of Nick and Charmian, and the different overlaps between me and The BBG.
Well what a treat to return to Napier student accommodation this year, where we stayed on my first visit 15 years ago, and I suggested a show that still gets a mention every year by our fave monkey. The location is near perfect, the staff are really friendly and there is a real buzz about the place, only let down this year by one flat setting off the fire alarm twice in one week.
And so to my roll call of fave shows. First place goes to The Events at the Traverse (same venue came top of my list last year), a two hander with the addition of a choir (the choirs change during the run). This must have been as much of a joy for the choir to appear in as it was for us the audience to listen to. With only two set songs to learn, the choir is free to showcase some of their work, and they also join in some of the dialogue which they read from their songbooks.
Second place goes to La Clique for one reason only, the return after 8 years of the amazing Skating Willers. The bloke does Elvis impressions before skating at high speed around a small platform stage, lifting his partner above the audience's heads at terrifying speeds.
Third place goes to an old fave, Pip Utton with Churchill, a highly entertaining hour of Churchill anecdotes. Did you know he won the Nobel prize for literature, covered the Cuban revolution as a journalist (where he started smoking cigars), was a keen bricklayer and kept pigs at Blenheim Palace?
Fourth place goes to Credible Likeable Superstar Rolemodel. Artist Bryony Kimmings shares the stage with her real life nine year old niece Taylor, who invented the alternative pop star Catherine Bennett. Bryony then promised to embody her and turn her into a superstar: well, they have made it to several videos on YouTube, and a run at the Soho Theatre in London.
Fifth place goes to Julie Madly Deeply, an accomplished tribute to Julie Andrews by Fascinating Aida star Sarah Louise Young. She could have given us a great show just singing all the popular tunes, but instead she turned it into more of a cabaret with her entertaining pianist and Liza Minnelli impressions.
And finally a huge thanks to our fave monkey for organising the trip, pointing us in the direction of my fave bar of the week, The Brauhaus, which did a range of black wheat beers I used to drink while windsurfing in Greece. Also, a welcome return to form for Howie's Restaurant, now back in its original ownership.
Probably my favourite show of this year's Edinburgh was the screening of La Belle et La Bete, accompanied by a live Philip Glass score performed by the Philip Glass Ensemble. As well as being a lovely film - one which I had not seen before - and technically innovative for its time, the music was terrific, and the way it all combined to make a unique operatic experience was rather wonderful.
Philip Glass was also a significant part of another one of my top three: The Poet Speaks. This was another very special event, and it was a particular pleasure to see Patti Smith giving wonderful readings of Allen Ginsberg's poetry.
The final one of my top three shows was also poetry: Scroobius Pip - Words. Both the actual poetry and Pip's relaxed and entertaining introductions made this a definite highlight. I am not a particular fan of his musical work with Dan le Sac - I always want to like it more than I do - but this really worked for me.
Poetry features yet again in another of my favourite shows this year. Phill Jupitus Is Porky The Poet may not have actually featured very many poems, but this was a bit of a treat, and it's good to see someone of Jupitus' stature performing on the Free Fringe, and using his drawing power to give exposure to other performers.
My favourite act at this year's Mervyn Stutter featured yet more poetry, with the beatbox delights of Mellor and Steele. It was one of my disappointments this year that we were unable to fit in either this show or their Free Fringe show, although we did get a bonus appearance from Ben Mellor at Marcel Lucont's Cabaret Fantastique.
In terms of other disappointments this year, my main one was just that we didn't really pick up as much to see which wasn't already on our list before we got there. About the only show we did see which we hadn't considered before was the Tolpuddle musical We Will Be Free!, which was very much the sort of thing I think is in the spirit of the Fringe. Of things we did see, sadly the Traverse provided the main disappointments, although Sabrina Mahfouz's Clean was pretty good, and I would definitely be keen to do more breakfast plays there in future years if we're in the area.
And talking of the spirit of the Fringe, I think Richard Herring yet again was the best stand-up show I saw, although Bridget Christie was a worthy winner of the not-Perrier, and it was good to see how she is now delivering on the promise she showed in earlier years. Another standup I hope will deliver on promise is Michael Fabbri, whose show I enjoyed again this year. It would be good to see him in front of a larger audience in future years.
Finally, the beer. As well as our BrewDog trips to both Edinburgh and Glasgow, we had some good times in the Hanging Bat, the Brauhaus, the Potting Shed and Holyrood 9A, as well as enjoying a 5am Saint with burritos at Illegal Jacks. All that tasty craft beer certainly added to the pleasures of this year's Edinburgh.
A week earlier this year, it was a welcome return to Napier, familiar territory in the past. It still takes some beating for Festival accommodation: great location, washbasins in rooms, friendly staff, no parking charges – and in the five years since we were last there, if anything it seems to have improved (apart from their fire alarms!).
And it was another great week, and probably the first time I can remember not unpacking any of my warmer clothes. There was still the traditional Saturday night jinx, but it took a different form this year – instead of seeing a disappointing show, we didn’t see one at all, Henning Wehn having cancelled at quite short notice. However, a leisurely meal at old favourite Bar Italia was a pretty good substitute.
Again, the shows I saw generally sustained the standard of the last couple of years, and despite there being no one stand-out show, these were some particular highlights for me:
The Shawshank Redemption – I’m probably one of the few people who had not seen the film (although I have subsequently), but this was a very impressive production. It was very poignant, the claustrophobic atmosphere of the prison was well realised, and the acting powerful. The one downside was the rather rushed ending, suggesting they ran out of time, which was a shame.
Pip Utton: Churchill – Another tried and tested favourite, whom I first saw in Adolf, which remains one of the most chilling performances I have ever seen. A very well-rounded, thought-provoking performance. Excellent.
Eric and Little Ern – A touching portrayal of the comedy legends, this was notable for the incredible likeness the actors portrayed to Morecambe and Wise, and their routines. A real gem, in which you could have been watching the originals, and as impressive an impersonation as Clive Mantle’s Tommy Cooper was two years ago.
Peter Doig – No Foreign Lands – Having been a bit disappointed at the choice of art exhibitions in this year’s Festival, I nearly missed this wonderful display by this Edinburgh-born artist, now settled in Trinidad. However, the multicoloured wrapping round the columns of the National Gallery encouraged me to check him out, and am I glad I did. With influences of Gaugin, Rousseau, and others, this artist impressed on many levels, and was notable for his variety of styles. A real discovery.
Although a largely “turkey-free” year, the biggest disappointment for me was Banksy: The Room in the Elephant. I have seen worse (Frisky and Mannish are still etched in the memory!), and all credit to Gary Beadle, who acted his socks off. However, this was a weak play which could have been so much better with a lot more depth - an opportunity missed.
On the food and drink front, it’s welcome back to Howie’s, two branches of which have been bought back by its original owner – it’s early days but it seems like it’s returning to its old form.
Sadly, however, goodbye to the local Monboddo Bar at Point Hotel as we knew it – we were looking forward to a few of their legendary G & Ts and cocktails, but it has been taken over by the Hilton chain and now succumbed to its corporate blandness. On a positive note, though, the nearby Brauhaus is a bit of a discovery for a late drink (if you can get a seat!).
Thanks to everyone for their company, and to Spank for all your organisation. Only 50 weeks to go to the next Festival!
Assuming you treat Scotland as a foreign country – and regardless of Nate Silver’s opinion, I’m going to do that anyway – then of the thirty-one days in last August, I spent twenty of them abroad. By the end of this year’s Edinburgh, with a trip to Sweden scheduled for just two days later, I was starting to go… well, whatever the opposite of stir crazy is. It’s taken me the first week of September to just get settled in back home and collect my thoughts.
So, what are those thoughts? Well, in previous visits to the Festival, there’s usually been one thing that’s stood head and shoulders above everything else, which has made for a handy answer when people tell me they can’t be arsed ploughing through the blog and just want me to tell them about the best show I saw. Trouble is, this year, there wasn’t really one show that fits that description. And if I’m honest, it’s part of the reason why I’ve been sitting on my Edinburgh summary for a few weeks to see if a favourite makes itself known to me.
Over a month after we headed across the border to the sound of Simple Minds, I still can’t narrow it down to a single favourite. I could say that Philip Glass had a really good Festival, with La Belle et La Bete and The Poet Speaks showcasing his music in two very different ways. He confirmed something I had my suspicions about when I saw his opera The Perfect American a few months ago – he’s become a focal point for interesting collaborators, and how successful the resulting work is depends on how good those collaborators are. When they’re of the calibre of Jean Cocteau, Allen Ginsberg and Patti Smith, he works just fine. So if I had to pick one thing above all others, it would be Glass’ overall presence in the International Festival this year, with a slight twinge of regret that it was impossible to get tickets for his third event (an on-stage interview with Patti Smith).
But there were plenty of other highlights too. Scroobius Pip’s solo poetry show was a delight, never pulling its punches with its subject matter but always careful to leaven it with comedy. In a year when all the best stuff at the Traverse sold out before we got into town, Clean was the best of the rest: a smartly written, tightly produced caper that grabbed the attention with just three women and three boxes on the stage. Bridget Christie pulled off the rare double of having the best stand-up act in the Fringe, and having it acknowledged as such with a Let’s Keep Calling Them The Perriers To Piss Off The Sponsors award. And Devon Sproule’s gig may not technically have been part of the Fringe at all, but seeing her play in some guy’s front room strikes me as being exactly what a Fringe should be about.
Choosing highlights of Edinburgh 2013 was damn hard work, and choosing lowlights would be even harder, so I’m not even going to try. Let’s just say that once again, taking one year off in three has paid benefits, in that even the less good parts of a Festival show just become part of the overall texture of the week-long experience. I’ll be back again next year, and so will the Pals, whom I'd like to give huge thanks to for their company - even though there’s a detail to the story of our dual fire evacuations that I’ve held back till now, one which suggests a possible incompatibility between me and The BBG and the rest of them.
You seen, when we were forced out of the building at 8.30am on the Thursday morning, The BBG and I were the only ones who were still in our nightwear, while all the rest of the Pals were fully dressed. When it happened again at 2am on Saturday morning, the positions were completely reversed, with everyone else wandering out blearily in their jammies, and The BBG and I not having quite made it into bed yet. I may need the next twelve months to work out what that means. Being a monkey, and all.