Probably my highlight of Edinburgh this year was James III: The True Mirror (Festival Theatre) in the International Festival. Perhaps the play as a whole was slightly uneven, but Sofie Grabol’s wonderful performance as Queen Margaret of Denmark ensured that the overall momentum was maintained throughout. Also excellent was Michael Morpurgo’s Private Peaceful (Underbelly), which powerfully evoked the horrors of the First World War in its 100th anniversary year.
I enjoyed Spoiling (Traverse), an intriguing two-hander that portrayed a distinctly off-message Foreign Minister of a newly independent Scotland, refusing to tell her increasingly frantic spin doctor what she intended to say in the keynote speech that she was about to deliver. The Trial of Jane Fonda (Assembly Rooms) was a powerful drama that focused on a meeting in 1988 where Ms Fonda (Anne Archer), confronted by a group of war veterans, attempted to justify her trip to North Vietnam at the height of the conflict. And This is My Friend Mr Laurel (Pleasance) was a touching one-man show by Jeffrey Holland (best known for Hi-de-Hi) in which he portrayed an elderly Stan Laurel visiting an ailing Oliver Hardy in hospital, reminiscing about the highs and lows of their double act, and their long-standing friendship.
I was pleased that I saw Bridget Christie: An Ungrateful Woman (Stand Comedy Club) before departing on Wednesday afternoon. This was the first time that I had seen her perform, and I admired the skilful way in which she combined comedy with speaking passionately on some really serious issues relating to women’s rights, and created a powerful show.
In terms of music, I enjoyed the concert by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra (under Donald Runnicles) at the Usher Hall on our first evening (again part of the International Festival). In particular, Holst’s Planets Suite was very well played, as were the Seven Early Songs by Alban Berg (beautifully sung by soprano Michaela Kaune). In a different musical idiom, it was good to hear The Poozies again (at The Famous Spiegeltent) although it was a shame that their accomplished performance was truncated somewhat because of the overrunning of the preceding show.
I should also mention two perennial favourites. Mervyn Stutter’s Pick of the Fringe (Assembly George Square Studios) was as enjoyable as ever; as was Shakespeare for Breakfast (C Chambers Street) – well worth the early start.
Finally, I would like to thank Spank for organising the trip, and the whole group for their company.
Visting Edinburgh after quite a few years, I jumped straight in and attended a lunchtime show at the Jinglin Geordie pub. Early Doors is a site specific play showing the lives of staff and punters in a typical Newcastle pub. We the audience were involved in the action and it was a good start to my short stay.
The festival really started for me the next day when I spent the whole day and evening at The James Plays. This trilogy of history plays, written by Rona Munro, received its world premiere in Edinburgh. When I confessed my lack of knowledge of the monarchs of Scotland, The Belated Birthday Girl assured me it didn't matter, and she was right. The plays, although they told the histories of James I to III, were essentially about relationships. They showed the interaction between people and the wider world in an ever changing environment. In this way they resembled Shakespeare's History Plays which are known for the portrayal of the characters as well as the events of the age.
I found the plays witty, contemporary and insightful. They showed that the human condition really hasn't changed much since the dawn of time. My particular favourite of the three was James II: Day of the Innocents. James II was crowned King of Scotland when he was eight years old. The drama was seen through a child's eyes with the pain of abandonment clearly demonstrated. I loved the multi layers of time action so it became near impossible to know what was reality. Well, after stumbling out into the rainy night I thought - this is it - I can go home now, Edinburgh can show me no better, but then ---
A couple of days later I went to see The Silence of Snow. This was a solo show written and performed by Mark Farrelly, and directed by Linda Marlowe (her of Berkoff's Women). The show was a mixture of new writing and extracts from the novels of Patrick Hamilton. He is not everyone's choice of novelist, but he is mine. Mark Farrelly for me was Patrick Hamilton during the hour length show. He showed the novelist's decline from bright young popular writer to alcohol-soaked brute taking refuge in a mental institution in Highgate. Heavy thought provoking stuff, and my number one for this year's Fringe.
Thanks everyone for a great time, and special mention to Lesley for organising tickets for The James Plays.
Well, it was the seven year itch for this Aussie. I really don't remember a lot of the 2007 visit, just a heap of comedians, being at The Pleasance and the Udderbelly a lot, a last minute ticket to the Tattoo (not actually part of the Festival, I know) and wandering around the city just being a tourist.
What was different this time? Heaps!
I only booked four tickets in advance: to the "must see" comedians, if the flurry of emails was anything to go by, plus Arthur Smith Sings Leonard Cohen Volume Two - booked purely because I am a Cohen fan from way back, but what a brilliant vocal and comedic performance it was, from Arthur's touching commentary on his mother's Alzheimers right down to the pudgy naked man in the mask doing an exuberant jig across the stage for no apparent reason.
Other than that, I just booked on word of mouth or on a whim: and other than Colin Cloud, the self-styled Mentalist whose performance did not really go much beyond his teaser with Mervyn Stutter, and Stewart Lee, who just didn't do it for me, I was not disappointed.
So for six full days I ran frantically from venue to venue, texted people to try to coordinate meetups for meals, and still managed to squeeze in visits to the art galleries. And of course there was SeaPea's Pancake Breakfast and the ensuing Fire Evacuation! [Two separate things, technically, but let's gloss over that for now - Spank] Somehow I am starting to associate SeaPea with fire, remembering a particular BBQ of 2012...
The standouts from the twenty-five shows I attended?
Bianco, a troupe of acrobats and trapeze artists, set the scene on the first night, and the Umbilical Brothers (from Down Under, and so funny although there is no way to describe what they do) were runners-up to Bridget Christie in the comedy stakes. Although then again, there was Shakespeare for Breakfast!
There were quite a number of performances relating to the upcoming Scottish Independence vote, and also to the anniversary of the start of the First World War. Spoiling and Small War, both at The Traverse, stood out here, while on another note Chef, the one-woman performance about the cook in a prison kitchen and her back-story, was mesmerizing.
By the time I climbed into the taxi at 5.00am Saturday on my way to Amsterdam, I was exhausted but exhilarated, and determined to do it all again, and more, next year! After all, there was SO much I didn't see.
I had a very good festival this year, with only one poor show - the Taekwon Percussion - and even that was more a case of enthusiastic amateurs not living up to what I'd hoped for than anything else. There wasn't one single show which stood head and shoulders above the others for me this year, but quite a few excellent ones worth highlighting.
Andrew O'Neill gave us not one, but two excellent shows this year, with his free one possibly just having the edge for me. I feel a bit guilty about seeing him twice and missing out on some other people completely, but both of his shows were great, and I'm glad I saw both. I was also glad I saw Sara Pascoe's not-Perrier nominated show. As I didn't see the winner, I can't comment on whether she was robbed or not, but it was good to see her recognised with a nomination.
Moving away from comedy, two musical shows stood out. Thrill Me was a terrific musical, beautifully performed and staged, and another great find from our traditional Sunday at Stutter. And The God That Comes was not at all what I was expecting, and another highlight.
The Traverse managed to provide two highlights. The breakfast play The Day the Pope Emptied Croy was very well written and acted, and I really liked the concept behind this year's series, giving an expanded platform to 6 of the 50 new playwrights from last year's 50th year of the Trav: I'll be interested to see what Martin McCormick goes on to do next. And Mark Thomas gave us another stunning, thought-provoking and righteously angry show.
The final show I'd like to highlight was Off the Top, a wonderful blend of entertainment and science from the ever-reliable Baba Brinkman and neuroscientist Dr. Heather Berlin (who is also his wife). This was one of three shows Brinkman had in Edinburgh this year, and the only one in the PBH Free Fringe. Although this year we neither dedicated a full day to the free fringe nor made sure to have one free event each day, we did average only just under one per day, and the free shows we did see were all of high quality, with two featuring in this summary of top shows. So overall I'd also want to mention the PBH Free Fringe as a highlight of the festival.
That's it for shows, but a few words are required about food and drink.
The best new find for me was Iris, with a great value set lunch available into early evening, a lovely atmosphere and a terrific glass of Calusari Pinot Noir from Romania. Another decent value set menu was had at Restaurant Mark Greenaway, whose cooking at 12 Picardy Place had impressed me hugely in 2011. Though not as low in price as Iris - particularly when you add in sides, and pricier wine options - it was still a treat to have such high standard and inventive cooking, and the Market Menu brought it into an acceptable price range for running between shows. The most notable other new find was the excellent Indian street food at Tuk Tuk, conveniently located for the flats at Riego Street.
Old favourites David Bann, Spoon and The Outsider also did the job, although the mix-up between sea bream and sea bass at The Outsider left us tight on time for our next show, but the sea bream was worth the wait, and the waitress was suitably apologetic. The only real disappointment food-wise was the Mussel Inn, where the food was overpriced and clearly not freshly prepared: resting too much on their laurels and taking advantage of the increased tourist trade.
As for beer, a couple of Williams Bros. beers accompanying dinner at David Bann were the Scottish highlights, but the real highlights were London brewer Weird Beard's Decadent Stout at The Potting Shed, and Berkshire brewer Siren's Caribbean Chocolate Cake at the BrewDog bar. A couple of visits to The Hanging Bat supplied a couple of good meals and several tasty beers, and rounds off my summary of food and drink highlights.