The Assembly Rooms is in trouble. Are in trouble. Whatever. It's currently running at a loss of £150,000 and desperately needs to raise money fast. There is a real possibility that it may not be able to host productions this time next year. An appeal campaign is currently under way, claiming that the Assembly is "the heart of the Fringe".
Hate to piss on your strawberries, guys, but that's not true. The Assembly is, if anything, the Virgin Megastore of the Fringe. From its humble beginnings nearly twenty years ago as a powerhouse of the experimental performing arts, it's now become a huge sterile monolith literally choking the life out of the smaller venues. As all the power in the Fringe gets concentrated into the Big Three - the Assembly, Pleasance and Gilded Balloon - anyone who can't wheedle their way into that charmed circle misses out on the publicity and the audiences. The closure of the Assembly Rooms would probably bring us back to a time where the Fringe was less commercialised and more willing to take risks. So die, Assembly Rooms, you hear me? Die! DIE!!!
Anyway, my last two events of the Festival this year are at the Assembly Rooms. Paul Sellar's The Bedsit is a useful contrast to the overblown fun of last night's exploding, raucous, buggery-free Cinderella: three actors, a tiny room, and tension slowly screwed up over the space of an hour (helped by a warning about "loud gunshots" when I bought the ticket). Veteran Irish actor James Ellis plays Brady, an old man living in a London bedsit. He's currently troubled by Dempster, a young friend of a friend wanting to hole up in his room for a few days while waiting for news of a "job". When Anto arrives with the details of the job, Brady starts to realise that his bedsit wasn't chosen at random for their rendezvous.
With all three protagonists being Irish, and the discussions of the peace process in the early part of the play, it comes as no surprise when it's revealed that there's an IRA connection to the events taking place. It's a little bit of a stereotype, admittedly, but you only think that after the play. As the three characters play cat and mouse games with each other - and as you become aware that there's at least one gun in the room - the suspense drives you to the edge of your seat. Fine writing and full-tilt performances push you all the way to the highly satisfying ending. A wee gem, even if it is playing at the Assembly Wildman Room, a space that's at least half the size of your average bedsit even before you put the audience in.
Lesley, Old Lag, Rob G and myself move into the slightly more breathable environment of the Assembly Ballroom for our final show: a matinee performance of Cookin'. The show's been playing to capacity audiences on a nightly basis and has just announced a couple of last minute additional matinee performances, of which this is one. Loud percussive dance shows have always been popular at the Fringe: Stomp, Tap Dogs, and current hit Gumboots, to name but a few. The unique selling point of this Korean show is that it's all set in the kitchen of a large restaurant, and every piece of equipment up to and including the kitchen sink is bashed for maximum effect. It even manages to include a storyline, as in the middle of all the percussive mayhem the four cooks have to produce a banquet in just under an hour.
The sheer dexterity of the performers is astonishing. They beat out ferocious rhythms on chopping boards using seriously big knives, spraying diced vegetables across the stage as they do so. They toss plates to each other at high speed and never drop a single one. All the pots and pans are called into service as the action and sound get more frantic. It's magnificently impressive from the front row: we're all deaf now and our clothes are encrusted with confetti and decaying vegetable matter, but the big dumb grins on our faces say it all. Special mention to female cast member Choo Ja Seo, who accidentally cut herself during the big knife number but proceeded to carry on with the performance, totally ignoring the huge amounts of blood gushing out of a hole in her head. Eek!
The train back to London takes six hours, due to "scheduled engineering works", as a GNER operative has to announce every ten minutes to ensure we don't complain. No matter: we drink, we chat, we make enough noise to piss off the OK! reader sitting near us. (As Grizelda pointed out later, just how much concentration does it take to read OK! anyway?) Old Lag shows off his just-developed holiday snaps, some of which are lovely views of Stirling like the one to your left, some of which are photos of us off our faces at the Annie Nightingale event which you're not going to see.
So it's the end of another Festival for Spank and the Pals. I've warned them, as I'll warn you now, that we won't be doing this again in twelve months time, or at least I won't: I tend to do two years at Edinburgh then take one off to do something else. I'll probably find something less ambitious for next summer, like Glastonbury or something. (Trouble is, I keep giving that as a humourous example, but I'm starting to convince myself more and more...) So no more Spank's Edinburgh Diary for at least another two years. Mind you, I may change my mind about it, just like I did about the man we've now got to call Al USELESS PERRIER-AWARD-WINNING BASTARD! Murray. Hey, it's my prerogative. Being a monkey, and all.
Notes From Spank's Pals (including a couple of late ones)
Rob D - Following a day of manic unsociability caused by alcohol, prescribed drugs and toothache, I went to see The Fall on Sunday. A bit like a civilised Sex Pistols concert - Mark Smith was totally off his face and we had stage diving, crowd surfing and pogoing. The band was great but overall, a bit like a Wishbone Ash concert I saw with Spank and the Pals a few months ago: good if you're a Fall fan, not so good if you're not.
Old Lag - I wasn't allowed to do anything in Marc Almond's show. All that there was left was to fall asleep in the fourth quarter. The woman next to me kindly tried to take my drink out of my hand, but I only really came to for the much protested hit finale. I was told off for standing in my pew (church) as this blocked sightlines. Went right to the front and hid behind a pillar, but that was no good either. No advising Marc to have his tonsils taken out. Arriving after the advertised starting time, but before His Maj came on stage was also an offence apparently. What is wrong with this country. It is worse than Stirling station. If Spank thinks Marc's simpering into slipperdom is a 'brave move' then he is entitled to his opinion. [Actually, it was just a cheap setup for the gag about spunk - Spank] Still love the music though after all these years, even the new stuff.
Sylvia - The Orient Express Moving Schnorers. Not Snorers: it's a Yiddish word for beggars, who go from village to village, playing their instruments and collecting money as they go. They played a mixture of jazz and Israeli music, and were very good. Nick criticised the fact that the technical presentation wasn't that great, but since I'm not very technology minded it didn't make much difference to me: I enjoyed them very much.
Rob D - Annie Nightingale has been my female John Peel for nearly 30 years, so I felt I had to go and see her Book Festival show, and frankly it was crap. Annie was so stoned she could hardly string the words together. Old Lag graffitied my name on the gents toilet and our Muswell Hill correspondent poured several double malts over me. But hey, it was fun!!
Old Lag - Saw Scratch on Monday: it has taken me all week to think about this one. Will start with a stolen quote: 'Visceral Physical Theatre'. A man and a woman work for a number of years in the same office. We hear their assessments of themselves and each other, the woman's being particularly acute. One February the 14th, they have a one night stand. What follows is the tactics adopted not to expose themselves and manipulate their images,despite both their loneliness. This oscillating probing and exposure is symbolised by the actors' physical use and relationship to an 8ft wooden cube. Where the drama required, the actors could project a full size black and white video image of themselves on to one face of the cube. This could be overlaid with real action. You will have to believe me in saying all this as you were not there! Mesmerising!
Sylvia - Theatre Talipot performed a mixture of African and Indonesian acting. Very dreamy and mystical, and really very interesting indeed.
Rob D - What can I say about Late 'N' Live? Shite comics, shite band, gallons of drink, loads of laughs - this is surely what the Fringe is about.
Old Lag - Spinback. It's great seeing some enthusiasts take a good crack at the Edinburgh Festival. In this case they did not entirely seem to be professionals or am drammers, and got themselves five stars from The Scotsman in 1998. Two multimedia productions - Spinout and Spinback - on alternate nights. Spinback documented the first ten years of the dance scene using physical theatre, live experimental DJ's and original video interviews with top DJ's. Members of the audience talked of it describing the scene well. Great fun and a great crack at the festival. Worth a plug Spank, they were self funded? (Inflate, Lindsey Pugh & family 0421 051224)
Sylvia - I went to Stirling for the day on Friday, which was a remarkable experience. I went to the castle, which was in very good nick, very reminiscent of James V and Mary Queen of Scots, not to mention James VI who became James I of England and is thus fairly topical.
Rob D - Arbora Musica. At last, something cultural. Bach, Vivaldi and Heineken (composer not beer) played on the harpsichord - peaceful, cerebral and gorgeous. Venue not licensed, sadly.
Old Lag - Came to Cookin' thinking that it was a formal play. What we got from the front row seats of a full house, courtesy of Rob G for our last show, was Stomp with vegetables. From Korea, it was a high energy percussion show cum kitchen drama that had it all. On stage drumming using Korean instruments initially and at the end, but in between all the equipment to be found by the four chefs in the kitchen. A story line - Banquet by 6, intrigue and love among the staff and the battle with the Head Waiter in charge. Juggling, dancing, rock music and a touch of panto. A fantastic final swing out of the festival to the station.
Rob D - Phil Gould's Book Festival talk on Modernising The Labour Party. Sounds boring, but memorable for a New Labour spin doctor thrashing the BBC political correspondent. An hour of reinforcing people's prejudices.
Sylvia - the National Portrait Museum was very enjoyable, with portraits of James V and other Scottish personalities, by people such as Antony van Dyck and Charles Dodgson. Then I found there was a free bus from there to the Modern Art Gallery, so I took that and saw the Picassos and so on. A marvellous place, an 18th century house that has been very well adapted for displaying modern art, all white and gleaming. Really very interesting, with lovely grounds as well.
Rob D - 80 Shilling Literary Pub Tour. Scottish literature in two hours: drink, bawdy songs, whoring, drink, pox, hangings, drink, pox, whoring, oh and, er, poetry.
Old Lag - What I Did On My Holidays - by Old Lag. We did lots of crayoning and went on lots of trips. Uncle Spank took us to some strange cafes. When we grow up we want to do it all on Vespa mopeds and mobile phones, all ten of us! And what was Uncle Spank doing coming out of the flat of the cast of Forever Plaid at 8:30 in the morning? I don't think he had really been to CostCutter like wot he said (see Friday). The carrier bag must have been a disguise.
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