Europe | United Kingdom (UK), Great Britain | Scotland | Edinburgh – Dark, with a lightness of being
Arriving in the centre of Edinburgh is like arriving in another world. It’s cliffside castles stretch up amongst a skyline filled with dark spires, domes, and arches. Even when it’s sunny and warm with the streets and parks full of entertainment, it retains a gothic magic – mysterious like a dark glass of scotch – with a lightness of being.
My first impressions in cities, towns, or countries often are formed by the contact with local people while I get directions. In Scotland, where people are quite readily helpful, the exchange often goes something like this:
‘How do I get to the Braides?’
‘Well laddie, you just go strrraight on doon thair and you’ll see a rrroond aboot, so you go thrrough thair and arroond and then strraight on, and then you’ll come to a Vee intersection – no first you’ll come to an intersection with three roads, so take the middle one and go straight on, and then you’ll come to a Vee intersection with a one road going one way and ta other road going the other way, so you go strrraight on, taking yuurr next left, and you’ll get thair after you go up over the hill and then down and turrn left again after you pass the main road – but it’s farrr though. Ya moost be fit! Or mad! Or part Irish!’
Note to self: Straight on, does not mean go straight. Also note to self: Repeat directions back again at least twice.
There are loads of tourists here at this time. The International Festival of the Arts is on, the International Tattoo is on, and the legendary Fringe Festival is on as well. And the Fringe is a big part of the reason I’m here paying ?15.25 per night to camp at Mortonhall Campground(That’s about $130 CDN for three nights).
The Edinburgh Castle is the setting for the International Tattoo. After touring through the castle during the daytime, I found out from the Tattoo box office at the castle that the tattoo has been sold out, but there might be some tickets available at the door. Later in the evening, I made my way with the crowds up to the castle gates, through the security checks, and right up to where they took the tickets. Apparently, I was now supposed to go all the way back through the hoardes of people to some box office way down below in the city and check with them there to see if there were cancellations. I told my story a couple of times and next thing you know, they handed me a ticket and said come on in. Thank you! So I watched the tattoo/show, which included dancers from India, Slovakia, a drum and bugle core from the People’s Liberation Army of China, pipers, pipers, and more pipers from Canada, England, and Scotland, plus a few nicely timed gunshots and fireworks. Then it was home to try and figure out which shows to see at the Fringe that still had tickets available. There are over 330 venues with shows at some of them going from 9:00 a.m. right through until past midnight. That’s 1695 shows with dozens of performances in the Fringe Festival alone. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest starring Christian Slater is definitely sold out.
Productions at the Fringe are always hoping for the five-star review, which inevitably means successful ticket sales. Audiences should be advised that critics wouldn’t necessarily know a good show if it ran them over, so five-star review, celebrity appearances, or hot advance ticket sales aside, patrons are still taking their chances and sometimes finding shows that are so bad (or brilliant), they make good stories to tell the grandchildren.
Among a who’s who of classic plays including almost a dozen by Shakespeare alone, here’s a sampling of some of the shows from the 2004 Edinburgh Fringe:
Who Wants to Be The Disco King by Adrian Page – Lost Theatre Company, London: A cast of nine young thespians from London, rhyme out a brand name and cliche riddled experimental expression of their trials and tribulations at a dance club. There are a few good performances, in particular by Lara Agar-Stoby, Shola Adewusi, and Anthony Topham. This show bragged that they recieved the first five star review of the Fringe and like a sucker, I bought a ticket.
Say Sorry by Alex Baker – Slice of Life Productions, London: An abusive domestic relationship play with tragic results from a first-time playwright. You can take that both ways.
I walked out of Glenn Wood – Relax – even if he is Canadian.
Craig Hill – One Man and his Kilt was pretty funny, but not much more than a camp and yet more camp. He managed to kill the first three minutes of his show by dancing to Celebrate or I Will Survive – who cares? It was obvious that he is on TV – not from his performance – from his audience’s adulation.
I saw another show that was not too bad – when it kept me awake – but regrettably, I can’t remember the title.
So really, the shows were okay, but not what I expected – which was, well a level of excellence that I had been led to believe existed, by Fringe performers who have toured to Canada. Maybe it exists in the International Festival.
The International Festival highlights for 2004 include an eleven-hour theatrical presentation of Paul Claudel’s Le Soulier de Satin (The Satin Slipper). The Berliner Ensemble will present Peer Gynt and Hanover State Opera brings three operas including a stunning production of Pelleas et Melisande by Debussy. In the dance category, Nikolais Dance Theatre from Ririe-Woodbury Dance company, three presentations from Ballet West USA, and the British premiere of ‘Ma’ by the outstanding young choreographer and dancer, Akram Kham lead the way. Soprano Measha Brueggergosman tops the musical roster and every night of the week, late evening presentations are available starting at just five pounds per seat ($12.50 CDN)
Other festivals in August include: the Edinburgh Book Festival; a Film Festival (Robert Le Page’s new film version of his acclaimed theatrical production, “The Far Side of the Moon” is being presented); a Jazz Festival; the Edinburgh Mela; and forty-five officially listed visual arts exhibitions. Add a few hundred buskers and a few hundred thousand visitors and Edinburgh still has the perfect recipe for non-stop entertainment and visual stimulation.
And then came Belgium.
Next up: More than Chocolate? Who knew?