In a parallel timeline where a bat and a pangolin didn't conspire to bring down the planet (allegedly), The Belated Birthday Girl and I would have been in Edinburgh between August 22nd and 29th for the Festival, along with a dozen or so of our pals.
But we weren't. Which is why the Fringe Society, desperate to make a bit of cash, was reduced to the stunt you can see illustrated here - printing a replica of the 2020 Fringe programme with entirely blank pages, and selling it as a notebook for eight quid. Tony Cowards was, I think, the first person to make the observation that "the financial impact of cancelling the Edinburgh Fringe due to Coronavirus shouldn't be underestimated: potentially it could mean hundreds of comedians being thousands of pounds better off." But there were an awful lot of people out there who'd suddenly lost a source of income. As a result, during August many Festival regulars moved online in an attempt to fill the gap and raise a few quid for themselves, as I've previously documented here.
As I said back then: "even if you can't make it physically to Edinburgh (and most of us can't), there's still plenty of stuff happening. How many of these The BBG and I are actually going to see this year is another matter entirely, of course." Well, here's your answer to that: 23. We put aside a week at the end of August to catch as many of the online shows as we could across all the major festivals - International, Film and Book. Various scheduling issues (including watching the finale of Kodo's Earth Celebration 2020 online) meant that we couldn't stick to our original dates, so our week ended up being August 24th-31st. But we still covered a fair bit, and you can read about it now. It's only a month late.
Unofficially, I guess I'm calling it The Furlough Trilogy.
Back in April, work gave me three days notice that I was about to be put on furlough - probably for six weeks, maybe more, maybe less, they weren't sure at the time. I considered the possibilities of what I could do with this newly-acquired free time, and felt pretty sure that I could get the long-overdue Edinburgh Diaries Volume Three assembled and ready, and possibly even make a start on the even-longer-overdue LFF Diaries Volume Four and the not-quite-as-long-overdue LFF Diaries Volume Five, depending on how long the furlough actually lasted.
It ended up being the advertised six weeks, and I managed to get all three books into a nearly-finished state. You already know about the first: now here's the second.
MONTH END PROCESSING FOR AUGUST 2020 [Adventures in the Real World special]
Art [postponed]: At 5.08pm on Wednesday March 4th, I received an email from the Odeon Leicester Square telling me that I'd successfully booked tickets to see No Time To Die. At 5.38pm the same day, The Guardian reported that the film's release had been delayed by eight months, for reasons which seemed a little overblown at the time. Over the next couple of weeks, every future artistic event I'd arranged in my diary vanished in a puff of Covid. So let's start this roundup of August by celebrating the first of those events to get rescheduled after a hiatus of several months. Electronic: From Kraftwerk to The Chemical Brothersis an exhibition at London's Design Museum (now running till February 2021) celebrating the history of electronic music from its earliest beginnings. Gratifyingly, the Design Museum have done their safety homework - they've limited the numbers, asked you to bring your own headphones for the audio displays, and have put 2 metre dividers along the exhibition route to help you achieve what they call 'social dist-dancing' (groan). As with most exhibitions, the biggest scrum is in the opening section: a glorious collection of historical noisemaking equipment, which fizzles out when you get to the late 20th century and musicians are just pushing blocks of rearranged bits along a timeline on a computer screen. In mathematical terms, the rest of the exhibition moves from pure to applied, looking at the dance music scenes in various cities around the world and the subcultures they spawned, climaxing in a bold attempt to cram the Chemical Brothers festival experience into a single tiny room. Your main takeaway from Electronic may be a gnawing nostalgia for the days when you could jump up and down to a filthy racket in the company of strangers, but there's much more to it than that.
Comedy [relocated]: Throughout the unpleasantness, comedy is one of the main artforms that's been desperately trying to keep things going, and I wrote about some of my favourite online shows back in May. But audiences and comics both know that, much like with dance music, comedy thrives best in the live communal experience. So hooray for The New Normal, a just-finished festival of performing arts held in the ravishingly spaced-out open courtyard of the Royal Victoria Patriotic Building in Wandsworth. A quick skim of the programme confirmed your suspicions - it's a festival of acts that would have been at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, but aren't. The festival had theatre, music, magic, lots and lots of improvised sketch troupes, and - courtesy of our mates at Good Ship Comedy, who normally operate out of a pub in Camden - two nights of standup, hosted by regular compere Ben van der Velde. The night we caught attended had a ridiculously strong bill of Sara Pascoe, Nathan Caton and Jessica Fostekew, all of whom looked as delighted to be performing in front of a real audience as we were to hear them. (Fostekew described her recent experience of performing at one of those newly-fashionable drive-in shows, where the only way people can express their amusement is by honking their horns, a sound that in every other circumstance we interpret as meaning 'LOOK OUT YOU'RE GOING TO DIE'. Laughter just works better.) Good Ship Comedy are looking to restart actual gigs in an actual room from September 7th, and it'll be interesting to see how that pans out.
Theatre [new]: Indoor shows are going to be a whole other kettle of worms, though. Lots of people crammed into a very small space with Victorian-era air conditioning, all facing towards some actors on an elevated platform projecting noise, air and spit directly at them: it's no wonder that most of London's theatres are still shut. But in August (and now extended through to September 5th), the Donmar Warehouse got around many of those problems by reducing the audience size to a few dozen, having them all face in different directions, and then getting rid of the elevated platform. And the actors. Blindness, adapted by Simon Stephens (from the previously-filmed novel by José Saramago) and directed by Walter Meierjohann, is a creepily topical story about the chaos caused by a worldwide contagion, in this case one which causes people to lose their sight. It's effectively a radio play narrated over headphones by Juliet Stevenson - if you remember what she was like in Truly Madly Deeply, be warned that she's in full tears 'n' snot mode again - and played back to an audience sitting inside an art installation, which focusses your attention on the audio through its use of light and, inevitably, darkness. It's an intense piece of work that gets some of its power from parallels with current events, sure: and if it feels a little over-apocalyptic in parts, there's a weird catharsis to be found in experiencing what our worst case scenario might feel like. But for me, it's most fascinating as an experiment in alternative ways of producing theatre. That's what interests me now about this cliche of 'the new normal': the new bit.