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Spank's Edinburgh Diary, Postscript 2022

All this talk about what Edinburgh looked like during a bin strike, but I haven't shown you any evidence of it yet, have I? Well, here's some.2022 was our first full Edinburgh Festival in three years, so this'll be our first full Postscript in three years too. As ever, our coverage concludes with a few of Spank's Pals telling you about what they liked and didn't like this time round - the same ones as in 2019, in fact.

My own introduction to the 2019 Postscript concluded with the words "Time for me to start planning for Edinburgh 2020, I suppose," but I'll leave the optimism to everyone else this time, just in case...

I'll tell you what, Frankie Boyle has let himself go. (Nah, it's Mind Mangler really.)Nick

Sad to think, we could still have been staying at Riego Street or New Arthur Place student accommodation if it wasn't for the Scottish tenancy laws. But as it has given rise to new builds like the Bainfield student flats where we stayed this year, built and owned by a Canadian Pension fund and leased to Napier University, they can get round Scottish tenancy laws that way and rent out flats to the likes of us. And it's easily the nicest student accommodation we ever stayed in, no going back to shared bathrooms now, the en suite bathrooms are here to stay!

My favourite theatre show this year was The Last Return at the Traverse, described by the Times as a work of genius, it's a very funny absurdist piece with an unexpectedly gritty ending, a play that will stay in the mind. Best comedy, Mind Mangler, was a spin off from the London West End play Magic Goes Wrong, a throwback to a time when magicians used assistants to facilitate whatever deception was being perpetuated on the audience, but here done to hilarious effect, as the magician and assistant morph into a comedy double act, aided by some hilarious sound effects.

Tragically Shakespeare For Breakfast has gone down the swanny. If being thrown out of its old in-the-round venue on Chambers Street wasn't enough, the original writers have left and the performers have been reduced to three actors, none of whom had a clue about the mandatory croissant joke that regulars used to lap up every year (you still get a 3 day old croissant and a cup of coffee from a tea urn on entry), but the new lot didn't have the anarchic spirit of the originals. Les Dawson: Flying High wasn't much better, a complete waste of Jon Culshaw's skills, he spent an awful lot of time looking at the big TV screen on set, rather than engaging the live audience. The biography format really didn't suit this show, no one I talked to liked this show, yet it's touring the country, good luck with that!

The restaurant that goes under the radar every year is Bar Italia in Lothian Road, it must be one of the few remaining old school trattorias left in the UK, it's a total gem. Both times we went we were seated next to Italians, that can't be a coincidence, visiting Italians must be going there because of word of mouth recommendations, as it never features in any of the guide books. The grandson of the people who owned Henderson in Hanover Street has reopened the restaurant near Bruntsfield Links, but as a proper sit down restaurant, gone is the canteen style of the original restaurant, but they kept exactly the same food at more costly prices. I don't think this place will survive, the interior design was naff, it had the air of a restaurant that has had its day, we will try David Bann next year.

And finally a big thanks to Cha for organising our flat this year (3 years of waiting!), and our fave monkey for sorting out the horrendous travel arrangements and making it all happen.

Brusatte and Halliday, for those of us who complain that there isn't as much rock in the Edinburgh Festival as there used to beThe Belated Birthday Girl

Over recent years it seems an increasing number of Fringe shows are announced and go on sale way ahead of the official programme launch. I don’t really like this, as I think it makes more people more likely to book the big ticket shows early on before seeing what else is happening, for fear of missing out. We certainly did that with a few things, and I think that’s part of why we ended up seeing maybe a higher proportion of comedy this year than we may have done in the past (although I’ve not gone through previous years’ write-ups and checked if that’s actually true or not). Although I think another reason is us wanting to see in the flesh some of the people who kept us going through the depths of lockdown with the Stand Online shows.

Both of those factors were part of our booking early for Mark Nelson, which I am very glad we did, as he was definitely my top show of this year’s Edinburgh. Having only seen him compering before, and in very strange times, it was always possible that seeing a full show in something approaching normal circumstances, he might not live up to the hero status I have assigned him, but he absolutely did. My only regret was us filing out the wrong door so I didn’t get to pass him with the collection bucket and get to tell him in person, and do-NATE some extra money to boot! The other people we picked up on from the Stand streaming shows – Liam Withnail, MC Hammersmith and Lauren Pattison – all were great to see, too, but Mark Nelson was definitely my highlight.

Away from the Fringe, my other top highlight would have to be the Book Festival discussion with Steve Brusatte and Thomas Halliday. I always like to fit in a few book festival events, which is maybe a little ironic as I’m not really a big reader. But there are always some fascinating topics, even if I haven’t read and in some cases may never read the books in question, and this discussion about the books of two palaeontologists was definitely in that category. Both books were wonderfully written, from the excepts we heard, and both men very entertaining and engaging. The event was excellent in itself, which would have been enough, but it also whet my appetite for the books themselves. Probably Thomas Halliday’s Otherlands attracted me the most of the two, but I hope we’ll get to read – or listen to, given our current audiobook habit – both books in full.

For the Film Festival, we’d expected only to get to see the closing film, but the shenanigans with having to get the overnight coach up meant we made it into Edinburgh early enough to fit in one more film, the excellent Your Name. I can’t remember why we didn’t see this when it was on release, but it really was delightful, and I am very happy finally to have seen it. The closing film itself, After Yang, may have been a bit of a disappointment – I wasn’t sure whether it thought it was trying to be deep, or just pretending to be, but either way it didn’t work for me – but as Your Name was only in the festival as a selection made by Kogonada, I guess we have him to thank for that, at least. Happy to see the Film Festival back in its August slot again, anyway.

In terms of music, I enjoyed Beethoven’s Fifth, but I would have preferred the Ninth, as it was originally meant to be. But moving away from classical music, I think my top music event was The Katet vs John Williams, which was only slightly marred by us not realising until it was too late that there would be a full dance-floor right in front of our seats, pretty much obliterating our view. Interesting that this is another event that we picked up on because of previous lock-down streaming, this time from the Edinburgh Jazz Festival, although we’d also discovered the venue in 2019, and would always have been looking out for a reason to go back there. Just next time we get there, we’ll know to grab seats in the raised area, not right behind the dance-floor.

I guess one final highlight to call out is the Ghosts Masterclass in the TV Festival. As the TV Festival is almost entirely an industry event, we don’t get the opportunity to do much in it, but as with the Rusty interview in 2019, this one event opened out to the likes of us was really enjoyable and actually pretty informative. It was also really interesting to get a peek at the goings-on in the conference centre for the rest of the festival that we weren’t allowed into. I do hope they carry on opening out the odd event to the public, and the two I’ve been to were both among the best things I saw in each year.

I don’t want to dwell on the lowlights, but to mention briefly, Frankie Boyle – one of those purchases early on to avoid the disappointment of missing out – was, erm, disappointing: of the two theatre events, The Last Return didn’t work for me: and of the exhibitions we went to, the Dovecot Studios did not live up to last year. But those aside, I think it was another good year, even if things aren’t quite back up to the full-on level of pre-pandemic festivals. Personally, I think I’d like to get back to seeing more Free Fringe events, and keeping things a bit more open for spontaneity. The lack of an easy-to-find daily program maybe doesn’t help that, plus the much-discussed lack of a Fringe app this year (not that I’ve ever used that myself previously). But I definitely had a good Edinburgh this year, anyway, and look forward to the next one.

Oooh, he's here again, the man with the washing up liquid in his eyesCharmian

In the dim and distant past of 2019 we last ventured north of the border for our annual Edinburgh Festival fix, and I was excited about returning, though wondering how much would have changed since then. The accommodation proved a good start: Napier University had obligingly let us carry over our booking made back in pre-pandemic days, and then the flats turned out to be the best we had ever stayed in, and not as far from the centre as I had originally thought.

And (apart from the rubbish on the streets) Edinburgh was as glorious as ever, and the presence of Mervyn Stutter reassured us that some normality was returning; not only that, but the Sunday morning show was one of the best I had seen for a while.

Turning to the shows, the standouts for me were the hilarious Mind Mangler: Member of the Tragic Circle; a show featuring a character from Magic Goes Wrong, it was a brilliant parody of old-fashioned magic and mind-reading tricks which got the audience thoroughly involved. On quite a different note, The Last Return was a very powerful and thought-provoking play, funny in parts but also with the ability to surprise and shock, and the clinical set was excellent.

There are a number of other productions also deserving an honourable mention, such as The Actress, An Evening Without Kate Bush, and the evergreen Tim Vine.

The only disappointments for me were Shakespeare for Breakfast: the show seemed a bit thin on material and lacked its old anarchic atmosphere, not helped by a move to a new venue which didn’t have the “in the round” layout of the previous one which suited it so well. I also felt Les Dawson: Flying High didn’t live up to expectations – there was too much emphasis on his early life and it glossed over his later successes, a missed opportunity for Jon Culshaw’s undeniable talent.

Very importantly, many of our favourite restaurants are still going strong – Bar Italia, Mussel Inn, Kathmandu – just as good if not better than before. The one casualty was the lovely Passorn Thai restaurant which closed in June - it will be much missed.

Now we’re back in the swing though, roll on 2023!


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