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The Edinburgh Fringe 2003

Saturday

Our holiday did not start well. The taxi David had ordered didn't turn up, so we rushed to Basingstoke rail station in the car, found that it was possible to park it for a week just behind the station and succeeded in missing our train by a few seconds. Fortunately, we were able to catch a later train - but the journey to Edinburgh then involved two connections and an hour's standing just outside the first class compartment. I spent much of the journey reading Plato's Theatetus: the foundation document of Epistemology! 

We arrived in Edinburgh, which is a very beautiful city, over an hour later than planned, and so missed the first play that we'd got tickets for. We walked the half mile to where we thought the Travel Inn was located, to discover that it was the Travel Lodge and that we had no idea where we were staying in the city! Luckily, we were able to flag down a taxi and got to the Travel Inn proper without difficulty. 

After freshening up, we walked a mile or so to our first show: "Waiting for Godot" [****].  Before the show started, we found a rather nice Italian Restaurant and had pizzas. We both enjoyed the play. I had seen it many years ago, in London, but had forgotten most of the details. It was both comic and profound, dealing as it does with the existential human predicament. Why Godot doesn't bother to show up, while repeatedly sending messengers assuring his friends that he will do so - without fail - is difficult to understand: as is why those who wait don't show any initiative and seek out Godot for themselves. The only problem was that it was so warm that the Church Hall in which it was held was rather too stuffy for comfort. 

That night the hotel fire alarm went off at 04:30. Everyone piled out of their rooms in disarray. The car park was filled with hundreds of dishevelled, half clothed and dopey tourists. Needless to say, it was a false alarm. An excellent way to start our holiday!

Sunday

We caught a taxi to St Mary's Metropolitan Cathedral, only to discover that the first Mass was at 09:30. The sermon largely avoided the Eucharistic teaching prominent in the Gospel reading. The priest seemed to be justifying the Mass in terms of a community - and especially family - celebration that marked significant points in our life. Enough! 

Our first play was "True Sons" [***]: an updating of the story of Orestes and Clytemnestra. It was effectively transformed into a story set in Northern Ireland, during "The Troubles": though in my opinion, it left unanswered some important questions about one of the main characters. This play over-ran slightly, and we also got confused about where the next one was to take place: so we missed it! 

Instead, we grabbed some coffee at Starbuck's (we spent quite a few happy hours here over the next few days) before proceeding to see a fully professional production of "The Thebans" [****], a two hour condensation of the Orestia. Lots of blood and guts and quite a bit of nudity. We enjoyed it. 

Then we rushed off to see "Hard Core" [*****] a play supposedly about the gay pornography industry. We arrived only just in time to see this and we were both very hot under the collar. I think that this was my favourite play of the whole week. Apart from having the advantage of featuring four handsome young actors (often prancing about in underpants) the play dealt effectively with issues such as honesty and love and friendship and "being in touch with oneself". 

The last two plays were in the same venue, so we were able to have a pizza conveniently between them. The first of this pair was "Pigtails" [***], a one-woman play about the experience of a girl brought up by her parents to live as a boy. She was mostly happy in her assigned gender role, and it was very disturbing to see the psychiatric system get its hands on her. Our final play was "Guts" [****], which was about a gay student with a mixed-up mother who we learn is dying of AIDS. The boy ends up being murdered when he has the guts to come out to his school mates, at the encouragement of his gay teacher. This was a very good play and is to be released as a low budget film, so watch out for it.

Monday

We started the day with a comic murder-mystery "Death in the Chapel" [***]. We then went to see "The blinding enlightenment of Nikola Tesla" [****]. This was a play about the inventor of the A.C. dynamo and motor, who had a predilection for pigeons and believed that he'd found a way to transmit electrical power without wires - but never patented it! 

Then we went to a production of "Godspell" [****], which I found very moving. "Prepare Ye" and "Save the People" are both very evocative songs, for me. 

Our next play was "Twelfth Premise" [****], which was performed by a talented young American company. It dealt with adolescence and the development and mutation of friendships and sexual relationships, both homo- and hetero-gender. I am much taken with gentle Californian accents, so enjoyed this play on that account alone. 

Our day finished with a play about the life of Alister Crowley: "the most wicked man ever to have lived" [***]. This was very well produced, rather along the lines of a "ghost train", with lots of atmospheric music and stroboscopic lights. At the end, I felt rather sorry for Mr Crowley, as all his designs came to nothing and the fulfilment that he sought in utter licence proved to be illusory.

Tuesday

We started today with a Christian play "Affirmation" [***], about the responses of three friends to being part of a militantly atheist society. One was in fact a covert christian agent, the second a spy for the atheist regime and the third a hapless convert to faith, who ended up being martyred on the geographical boarder of "The Holy Land". 

Then we saw "Love at First" [***], which was an amusing but serious play about friendship and love and how unrealistic expectations can get in the way of wholesome relationships that would be for the benefit of the people involved. 

Then we went to see a play called "Non Scene" [***], which was about a serial killer. Both the murderer and his victims were gay. Once he killed them, he adopted the decaying corpses of his victims as a kind of "pretended family", arranging them about his home and conversing with them. The play effectively portrayed the emptiness of contemporary urban life. None of the murderer's victims was missed, and the police never called to arrest him: no matter how much he wanted them to. 

Our last play of the day was Shakespeare's "Timon of Athens" [***]. This explores the idea of friendship and contrasts "fair-weather friends" with those whose respect, regard and concern are not founded on immediate monetary (or other) gain.

Wednesday

We started the day by attending a seminar called "How to be successfully mad" [**] which was an account of sanity, madness and psychiatrists given by a practising hypno-therapist and poet. 

Appropriately, so far as form; but most inappropriately, so far as effect was concerned: we then went to see "4.48 Psychosis" [*], a play about a schizophrenic girl and the male psychiatrist that attempts to treat her condition. It was all rather too much for me, being performed as it was in one of the cavernous rooms of the Smirnoff Underbelly - a set of dark and oppressive cellars. I found it difficult to concentrate, drifted off into semi-slumber, and emerged feeling as if I'd been "savaged by a dead sheep". 

We then went to see "The Control Experiment" [**], a play about "Attention Deficit and Hyperactive Disorder", developed and performed by Newbury Youth Theatre. I was recognized there by one of the adults in charge of the production. She had been a teacher in the drama department of QMC for one term! The youngsters gave a good account of themselves and showed considerable sympathy towards and understanding of the condition. 

Then back to the Underbelly, this time for "The Principle of Motion" [****]. This is another new play being developed by the company that presented it at the Fringe. It was the true story of an inventor to the Austrian Court who produced a mechanical mannequin that seemed to be able to play chess. A clever parallel was established with the work of Prof. Alan Turing in decoding German intelligence at Bletchley Park during the Second World War. It was never clear whether the mannequin was some sort of conjuring trick or a real chess playing machine: though for most of the time its inventor insisted that it was nothing more than a "trick". 

Then we went to a "performance" of extracts from St Matthew's Gospel [*****]. This was magnificent. It struck me forcibly how different was both the tearful-joyful experiences of Godspell and this event from the dull and dreary portrayal of the scriptures in Church, Sunday by Sunday. 

We finished the day with a cabaret based on the works of Brecht and Weill [*]. This was not good. The female singer was unclear in her enunciation, and as David remarked to me: "much of the value of the material lies in the acidic lyrics".

Thursday

Our first play was "Love Sex and Cider" [***]. This is a new play that the company takes round to schools as a means of starting pupils discussing issues of adolescence. Unlike "Duck", our next play, which also dealt with teenage angst and portrayed immature attitudes to sex, it struck me that "Love Sex and Cider" had a positive message behind it: that with some effort it was possible to integrate and make sense of the disparate parts of one's life, if only one had respect for oneself and one's friends. 

The audience for "Duck" [*] was large and enthusiastic. I though that the play was generally vacuous. I felt almost as if I was watching an episode of "Big Brother". Only at one point in its second act, did the play rise to some level of interest - where it portrayed the absurdities of family life in a surreal and incisive episode. 

We then rushed off to see "The Water Engine" [****], a play about the inventor of an engine which has water as its fuel. Needless to say, big business gets involved, the inventor and his sister come to a sticky end, and the blue-prints for the engine end up in the hands of someone who has no idea what they mean. This play was entertaining visually as well as having a good plot: though I am not convinced that some of the visual clevernesses did anything to enhance or advance the plot or wider dramatic experience. 

We then sauntered to see "The Bacchae" [***] by Euripedes. The production brought the story up to date by identifying the Avatar of Dionysus with Jim Morrison and Pentheus, the straight laced conservative patrician with Tony Blair. Needless to say, the conservative's impiety in refusing to recognize the divinity of Bacchus and his disparaging of the god's rites led to his early and gory death. 

We then saw "A leap in the dark" [***], a moving new play about racism and how individuals can combat it when politicians and family structures reinforce it. 

We finished the day with an expensive Chinese meal and the "J-boys: a Gay Samurai Review" [****]. This was very entertaining and rather risqué: involving a good deal of suggestive dancing, semi-nudity and simulated gay sex. Underneath all the froth and glamour, however, were some clear messages. Indeed they were made explicit by the performers: gender isn't important; love and mutual respect are important. Amen to that!

Friday (The Assumption of the BVM)

We attended Mass at St Mary's Metropolitan Cathedral. The congregation was almost non-existent. I was convinced that the irish priest who presided was on the brink of loosing his faith. He said that the Faith was not based on dramatic divine interventions, but all about individual human beings struggling to find meaning in their personal experiences. Very existentialist. Very unCatholic. "If Christ is not risen from the dead, then we of all men are the most to be pitied" - The Apostle Paul. 

Our first play was "Hard Sell" [***]. This was a clever two actor (and female mannequin) play exploring the parallels between the power relationship of two businessmen and two police officers: both of which led to murder. 

We then visited "Old St Paul's", the not so old Anglo-Catholic church whose congregation traces its origin to Edinburgh's Jacobite minority. 

Then we went to a fully professional production of Shakespeare's "Titus Andronicus" [***], which involved lots of violence, blood, guts and cannibalism: together with a last helping of male nudity. David spotted the male actor from "4.48 Psychosis" having lunch in the same pub that we were in before the production. 

We finished the day and our holiday by walking a couple of miles to see some American high school kids put on a show of "Hair" [***], the 1960's hippy musical. When this was written it was quite scandalous, but now it seems quite restrained - except for its equation of all recreational drugs as equally acceptable. The digs it makes at Christianity are, I'm afraid, largely justified. It was sad to see Claude "our long-haired hero from Manchester, England" be overwhelmed by the U.S.A. War Machine and die, just as he'd predicted, as crew-cut canon fodder in Vietnam. 

When we got back to the hotel, we found that the restaurant had closed prematurely, so we wandered up the street to the local "chippy" for cod and chips twice.

Saturday

Our journey home was uneventful. I am pleased to say that though some of my plants suffered from a week without being watered, only one or two actually died.

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