Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE, live from Edinburgh, where I arrived yesterday for a fast and furious three day stay: hardly enough to capture more than a mere fraction of the fringe, of course, but then no one ever does. Given that it stretches to — reportedly — 3,354 shows playing at 255 different venues, even the most diligent festival goer is not going to do more than scratch the surface.
The epicentre of the Fringe is now concentrated in two adjoining city squares — Bristo and George Square — with multiple outlets of Assembly and the Pleasance (both of which have their ‘home’ theatres elsewhere in the city), plus the Gilded Balloon and Underbelly colonising every available university hall or outdoor space around them, you don’t have to stray far from here to run into a lot of people you may know; on a short walk yesterday afternoon from the Pleasance Dome to Udderbelly (the purple tent in the shape of an upside down cow), this year pitched in George Square, I ran into my composer friend Richard Thomas (Jerry Springer — the Opera) and West End producer Edward Snape, both of whom had several recommendations, while soon after arriving in the morning I saw the West End legend that is David Pugh at the Traverse (who has already — possibly unwisely — tweeted his big find, which could mean other producers gazumping him — as he previously experienced on The Shark is Broken when Sonia Friedman transferred it to London — or pushing up the price for himself), .
Everyone is, of course, brimming with recommendations of discoveries they’ve already made — and eager to know of more. The grapevine works remarkably swiftly here, and at this point in the festival, two weekends in, there are plenty of shows that have already been anointed with critical approval. (There are, sadly, even more who’ve not gained any attention at all, as my inbox attests from PRs and companies still desperate to be noticed, and as Lyn Gardner has noted in a reflective column in The Stage today that is headlned, “Without reviews, so many Edinburgh shows are struggling to be seen”. As she points out, “I’m sad that all these dreams have turned to ashes, and something I suspected might prove to be an issue pre-festival has developed into a real and urgent problem. There is no guarantee that if a show gets reviewed it will get a good review, but I know there are hundreds of potentially wonderful shows that will come away from the festival this year without having been seen by a single reviewer – or have only had one person’s response to their work).”
Any single critic is but one one tiny cog in the vast machinery of Edinburgh, but it is nevertheless a huge responsibility: if you take a press ticket, the company may well be hanging on your every word.
So today, tomorrow and Wednesday I’m going to offer a few of mine on what I’ve seen.
I tweeted from the plane before I departed:
By the time I finally landed at 9.15am, I’d already received a reply from James Ley, the playwright of the first play I was seeing, whose WILF was being produced at the Traverse, who said: “I hope you’re airborne! Enjoy your flight and enjoy the show!”
Fortunately I was off the plane (even though Easyjet use remote stands that don’t have air bridges connecting them to the terminal) and on the tram to central Edinburgh within 15 minutes, so I made it to the Traverse in time. And it was the perfect start to a heavily gay — and often angsty — day in Edinburgh, since this gorgeous play about a man relieving and releasing his romantic obsessions with the help of his battered old car (and equally damaged driving instructor, a former psychotherapist) was entirely delightful.
In fact, I don’t think that I’ve loved a new gay comedy that so unashamedly embraces the hope of romantic connections as much as WILF since Joe Harvey’s BEAUTIFUL THING — and just as that was set the Mamas & the Papas, this has a soundtrack of Bonnie Tyler hits (and others). But here the connection we need to find is with ourselves first — and then it dangles the hope of happiness with a handsome gay comic appearing on the fringe. (We can all dream).
Four more shows filled my first day, which ended with Ivo van Hove’s harrowing and meticulous stage adaptation of A Little Life, presented as part of the Edinburgh International Theatre at the Festival Theatre.
Running for over 4 hours, it epitomises the extreme contrasts of the festival: after the contagious joy with which my day had begun at the Traverse, this was full of wrenching horror, but I wouldn’t have wanted to miss either. I doubt I’ll spend four more devastating hours in the theatre this year than I did in A LITTLE LIFE, but it’s entirely masterful. Using van Hove’s trademark layerings of video projection to set locations and mood — which here go to flickering interference at extreme moments — with live string musical accompaniment, it’s full of atmosphere but also overpowering dread.
As a member of a 12-step fellowship that deals in family trauma, I’ve heard some pretty shocking stories first hand in the rooms; A LITTLE LIFE brought the shattering impact of prolonged childhood sexual abuse into close-up and intimate focus. Ivo van Hove’s production is also surprisingly tender and rawly exposing.
By complete contrast, a portrait of a wonderfully happy childhood — and their parents’ unconditional love for them — was provided by Rob Madge’s gorgeous autobiographical solo show MY SON’S A QUEER, at the Underbelly (pictured above). I’d previously seen it at London’s Turbine Theatre last summer, and it is just wonderful that it is being brought to a much larger audience in Edinburgh now. I cried with joy, not horror.
Two more solo gay shows yesterday — Rob Ward’s The MP, Aunty Mandy and Me, presented in association with Curve Leicester, where Ward is an associate creative — and Alex Roberts’s No Place Like Home provided more glimpses into trauma and abuse as young men use their sexual currency to advance their lives on the political and gay scene to diminishing returns.
AND IF YOU’RE NOT IN EDINBURGH….
…but want to know what’s coming up in London, selected regional theatres and on Broadway in the coming months, my weekly updated list on coming attractions is here: https://shentonstage.com/theatre-openings-from-w-c-august-22-onwards/
SEE YOU TOMORROW
I’ll be back here tomorrow with my report on my day on the fringe today. If you can’t wait that long, I may also be found on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/ShentonStage/ (though not as regularly on weekends)