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The Edinburgh Fringe 2004

Saturday

This year got off to a much better start than last. We caught a bus to the rail station and were in plenty of time for the train to London. Getting to King's Cross by tube went fine too and the journey to Edinburgh was uneventful. I spent much of it re-reading "Dune Messiah", of which more later

This year we knew where the hotel was and got settled in before essaying out for our first three shows. I had spent many hours planning the schedule and hoped that this would pay off.  I am pleased to say that it did. The first play we saw was "Our Father" [***] which was about the conflicts within a family caused by the eugenic policies of a totalitarian government that the father was a central figure in. None of the characters came out of the drama very well, all failed their responsibilities in one way or another. It was a good start to the week. 

After grabbing dinner at a rather nice Italian restaurant, we saw Tom Stoppard's "Galileo" [*****]. This was an excellent and amusing account of Galileo's (largely un-necessary) conflict with the Vatican. It was well acted, and Stoppard's script was both incisive and fair. The day finished with an experimental ghost story: "The Haunting of Hill House" [*]. This wasn't at all successful, basically because it relied on audience participation and most folk were much too self-conscious to get into the spirit of things! We caught a taxi back to the hotel and spent a peaceful night - unlike last year!

Sunday

We were fortunate to participate in the last regular Tridentine Mass to be held at Miss Neilson's house in Edinburgh. Fortunate because it was a mass of celebration in thanks of the fact that the Archbishop of Edinburgh had given permission for Una Voce Scotland and the Society of St Peter to have regular use of a local church for Sunday Mass. I helped to lead the singing of the Te Deum. This was one of the highlights of our holiday. 

After lunch we saw "Instant Karma" [***] which was about four friends who met up after one - a professional photographer - had been abroad for a while: running out on his girlfriend. Just as it looked as they might just reconcile their differences, we learned that the central character (the photographer) had been killed - so the characters were denied the opportunity ever to come to terms with each other. We then saw "Then Again" [***], a portrayal of a rather strange funeral at which three estranged friends have to come to terms with the death of a fourth friend who had been very close to each of them, but who had passed out of their lives some time ago. The proceedings are convened by an eccentric lawyer who prepares for the occasion by singing along to Prince’s "I Would Die for You". The guests are marginally more decorous. A failed playwright is soon joined by a depressed accountant with the tact of a bison, and Martha, who has been involved with both men and now has a family of her own and really does not want to be there at all! 

We then saw "Party Time" [*] by Pinter, which was disappointing. Mainly because neither David nor I could make much sense of the plot.  The action was set in a cocktail party and was focussed on a character who the party-goers were trying hard not to talk about: for unexplained but obviously party political reasons. At the end of the play we were introduced to this character, who had a soliloquy - after which David and I were no wiser as to what was really going on or what the point of the play was supposed to be! 

We than saw "Play This" [***] which was a play containing a supposedly autobiographical play about the break-up of a marriage. This was very entertaining - but not because it contained entirely gratuitous male nudity. It must be said that this year we saw much less naked flesh of either sex than we did last year. 

We then had dinner at Pizza Express before discovering that our next play had been cancelled. We substituted another production at the last minute called "Disconnected" [***]. This was surprisingly good, being three playlets about "communication problems". The second was particularly memorable, being based on the two actors re-using the line "The number you have dialled is not available. Please check this number before dialling again" over and over again with variations of tone and emphasis (and limited re-wording). 

The day was rounded off by "Sub" [*] a monologue detailing the experiences and "testimony" of a female "submissive" sadomasochist. This would have been a lot more interesting if it had been written by a woman, but David pointed out to me afterwards that the playwright was male. One worrying aspect was that this was the first of two plays that could easily be portrayed as arguing that it is OK for men to physically abuse and rape women: on the basis that "women like this really". 

"This is a pernicious little play that serves only to perpetuate the misapprehension that female submissives are just deeply dysfunctional women who like rough sex. This is shallow, arrogant work. Mainwaring ought to be soundly whipped. You know, you wouldn't have written a play like this if you didn't want to be punished, James."
  [Kate Copstick, The Scotsman]

Monday

We started today with "Endangered Species: Waking Up" [***]. This was a play about a class of heterosexual American teenagers discovering - one by one - that they are all HIV+.  This caused their relationships to change, first for the worse: as they experienced fear, suspicion and recrimination, and then for the better as friendship won out. The production was very moving and there was a collection for an AIDS charity at the end. This is what a member of the cast had to say: 
"This show was a very heavy show, and it was a message the cast and crew wanted to spread and also learn more about ourselves. We had numerous people come and talk to us about it. We had two ladies come to our school to talk to us about the effects of HIV and Aids and also about how it can spread. A man from a neighbouring town who is living with the HIV virus came and talked to us twice and even to our audience. I just want everyone to know that we did know what we were talking about and we hope it was a message that you will take back to your schools and spread the word."
At about this time, it started to rain. After lunch we saw a production of Oscar Wilde's "The Picture of Dorian Gray" [****]. The central actor was very handsome and very convincing as Dorian, for that reason alone! We then dodged the raindrops (I understate the reality of the situation) and arrived rather damp to see "K-pax" [****], the story of a number of inmates at a mental hospital. One of them claims - very convincingly - that he is an extraterrestrial from the planet "K-pax". He helps the other inmates to recover from their mental illnesses and then vanishes mysteriously. This was a very heart-warming story and the main character had some excellent observations to make about the sad state of affairs of our society and about how easy it would be to put things right if only we had a mind to. 

We then squelched our way to see "Men" [***] a play about the three members of a "boy band" having a crisis about whether they can carry on in their roles as shallow pop icons. This was well played, though the script was nowhere near as "deep" as that of last years' comparable offering: "Hard Core". 

At this point the heavens opened and incredibly large quantities of water fell from the sky. Luckily we were able to shelter quite comfortably in the venue where we had seen "Men", and grabbed a small meal there. Eventually the rain stopped and we walked to the famous Pleasance Courtyard, where we saw "Adam Bloom" [****], the half Jewish comedian. As always, he was very amusing, and also thought provoking in a moralistic - though not at all "politically correct" way. For me, this was more like listening to a very superior sermon rather than a stand-up comedian. This is meant to be a compliment! 

We finished the say by seeing "Sprout" [***] a comedy about a duvet that caused the lady that bought it to fall in love with it and then to turn into a kind of human-bird hybrid: the process costing her both her job and live-in boyfriend. We returned to our hotel to snuggle under a less magical and so much more satisfactory quilt.

Tuesday

I bought an umbrella first thing, before breakfast.  It was needed. 

The first play of today was "The Grapes of Wrath" [*****], which was a very moving story about the migration of a destitute farming family from the American dust bowl to California in search of work. On the way a good number of them died, and when they arrived they found little work and the kind of floods that were also becoming a feature of our stay in Edinburgh. 

We then saw a play based on "Alice through the Looking Glass" [**], which almost got me snoring: not because it was boring, but because I associate this book with reading last thing at night before going to sleep. We then saw "Forbidden" [****], a play about a lesbian couple in Nazi Germany, whose lives were torn asunder because one of them was a Jewess. This was very well acted and very moving indeed. It was played with a light touch. The situation was so bad that it could have given rise to a very "preachy" or "sombre" and depressing play, but the Jewess reacted to her plight with such equanimity and detachment that the play did not get bogged down in the shear awfulness of what was going on. Instead of this, the positive character and value of the devotion that was at its heart shone through. 

After dinner we saw "Blood Wedding" [*] by the Spanish playwright Federico Garcia Lorca. This was disappointing, being an inferior quality story of vendetta, strangely frustrated lovers, and a disrupted wedding that ended in the death of both the husband and lover of the bride.  The day was rounded off by "The J-boys" [***]. This was the only "show" that we saw as a repeat of last year. It was great fun and just as raunchy as last year, but not so "meaningful". The best bit, arguably was how the performers are so keen to shake the hands of everyone in the audience on the way out. One feels that a real personal contact has been made, though this is entirely illusory.

Wednesday

We started our day with "Shakespeare For Breakfast" [****], which purported to present a recently discovered "musical" by the Bard of Stratford. It was very well done and highly amusing, though of little significance. This was followed by "About Face" [***] a play about a gay man, his best friend (a woman) and his new boyfriend - who finish off pairing up with each other: much to his surprise and dismay. This was well presented but a bit trite. At this point I discovered that the batteries in my camera were flat - which explains why there are no new photographs on this web page. 

We then squelched off to the next venue, where we saw two plays. The first was "The Ghosts May Laugh" [****]. This was set in a WW-I trench.  A number of officers tell Ghost stories in a misjudged competition. They get more and more believable and of immediate significance, until a real trauma is revealed. The final crisis is the stark decision to be made: is there an immortal soul or not? One of the characters says that the reason that the others are all so keen to tell these stories - however oppressive and ghoulish they might seem - is just to bolster their own irrational hope in an afterlife that would compensate for the horrors that they are having to endure in the present. 

The next play was "Night train to Maduri" [****].  This was about four "gap year" friends who were back-packing round India. Three of them ganged up on the other (who was from a very affluent background) to organize a kidnapping. Unfortunately their ill-conceived plans went horribly wrong and one of the plotters died of dysentery while and it was far from clear at the end of the play the the fate of the other three foolish young men would be any better. This was acted very well. 

We then had dinner, before seeing "OFSTED The Musical" [****], which was a wonderful finale to my experience of Further Education. Unrealistically, the OFSTED inspectors were presented as the "bad guys" and the school's management as the "good guys". The reality, in my experience, can be far from this! The day concluded with "Drag King Richard III" [*****], which was a moving portrayal of the ongoing relationship between a lesbian and her best girl-friend, Laurie, who feels that, like the malformed King Richard, she is a misshapen creature who is doomed to wander the Earth. Laurie eventually decides that she wants to undergo gender reassignment. The setting was intimate and one felt very involved in the drama. I have every sympathy with people who have to go through such a traumatic experience without love to uphold them.

Thursday

Our first play of the day was "Glimpses" [***]. It was a set of playlets presented by some American students. They dealt with various aspects of teenage angst, on the whole very effectively. The sketch based on a pair of red pumps was particularly enjoyable. The next production, "Bang Bang, you're dead" [**], was not so successful. The play was about a shooting incident that took place at an American High School. While the acting - again by a set of American students - was fine, the script did not convincingly explain the motivation of the young man who shot so many of his class-mates. 

We than went to see "The Laramie Project" [*****]. This was amazing. It famously deals with the murder of a young gay man, Matthew Shepherd. The acting was excellent and the script powerful. Both bigots and decent folk were portrayed convincingly. For once, I was proud to be a Catholic, because the local priest was portrayed as sensitive and compassionate! 

After dinner, we went to see "Bangers and Slash" [*], which was a somewhat disappointing play set in Hell. We rounded off the day with "A Weekend in the Country" [****], which I had expected would be an Agather Christie like "whodunit". In fact it was much superior to this. It was both a comedy (based on the idea that the host of a weekend house party had committed murder and that the guests had to be inveigled into helping him dispose of the body) and a serious study of the insecurities and obsessions of the various characters represented.

Friday

The weather was good today: warm with lots of sun. If only the rest of the week had been like this! 

We began the day with "Sweetness Follows" [***] this was about six people trying to understand their inter-woven lives. It was a bit difficult to follow as the following summary might suggest: 

"Alan has realized he's not in love with Sylvia anymore but with the skinny cornershop teenager, who's also once entranced George, who's wife, Violet, has taken him back against her better judgement. Alan prefers a bulimic figure; Charlie can't remember ever loving his mother; Julia is furious her gay son doubted she was fine with his sexuality."
After lunch we went to "Son of the Father" [****], which was a very non historical but very thought provoking play about the relationship between Mary and Joseph.  The scenario was that Joseph was in fact alive when Jesus was crucified and that he blamed his wife for "egging" Jesus on in his "Messianic delusions" out of a hunger for personal power. While I thought that as an attempt to re-write history it was absurd, as a piece of drama dealing with love and ambition and conflict it was superb. 
We then saw a powerful play called "Say Sorry" [***]. This dealt with a physically abusive romanto-erotic relationship between two men, and the inadequate response that it elicited from the best friend of one of them. It ended in the abused partner being killed: partly because he would not flee his abuser and partly because his friend failed to make him see sense or alert the police to the developing situation. 

The final play that we saw was arguably the best of all. It was called "The Lifeblood" [*****] and dealt with the last days of Her Royal Majesty Mary Stewart: Queen of Scotland. She was presented as a kind and noble lady who was the victim of merciless and devious men. Her conviction for treason against Elizabeth Tudor was shown as being both unjust and illegal on many grounds. Before she was executed, she made it clear that it was not her will to re-impose Catholicism on anyone, but just to obtain some solace and respite from persecution for English and Scottish Catholics. 

In the evening we set off to see the show "Ladyboys of Bangkok" [*]. It was quite a long - but pleasant- walk out from the City centre. We arrived in the vicinity rather too early, so popped into a pub for a "wee dram". While we were enjoying our malts, a young man approached me and remarked on the fact that I had a copy of "Dune Messiah" with me. Hence started a long conversation about politics, philosophy and religion which I felt to be a real "moment of grace" for him. 

This conversation almost made us late for the start of the performance. In fact it wouldn't have mattered if we'd missed it altogether as the show was dreadful. Simply tacky, but mostly just dull and boring. David and I walked out after about twenty minutes. Given that it was the most expensive show that we'd paid for I very much regretted buying the tickets. I also regret curtailing my conversation with the young man in the pub. I only wish that we had exchanged 'phone numbers or email addresses so that the dialogue might have been continued. I hope that some things that I said made a difference to his life and that he finds faith. 

We walked the long way back to our hotel.

Saturday

Our journey home was somewhat fraught. The train from Edinburgh was delayed three times and arrived at King's Cross just over an hour late. By the time we got home, David and I were quite shattered. Our tiredness persisted though Sunday - when we were fortunate to be able to attend a Tridentine Mass for the Assumption held in Reading. We didn't really recover until Monday: which was the day I started my new job: teaching electronics to the soldiers of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.

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