Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily, live from Edinburgh for the second full of my fast three day jaunt up here. And the rubbish has started getting to me — no, not the shows (I’ve chosen wisely, and have avoided them mostly), but the piles of it, literally, in the streets, where a bin collectors’ strike has meant that garbage is piled up everywhere on the pavements, and every litter bin is overflowing.
This is hardly the sort of welcome Edinburgh should be affording its visitors at any time, not least now in the midst of its first full festival in three years. Yesterday, the Fringe Office feebly acknowledged the situation, ineffectively tweeting:
They may have just noticed what a tip (literally) Edinburgh is. Yet it is contributing to it by not suggesting companies stop flyering. But then given the Fringe Office’s disastrous failure to provide a mobile app this year, which would make the fringe electronically accessible, they have to allow companies some form of promotion.
Meanwhile, another worrying feature emerged yesterday: Theatrical blogger and provocateur Carl Woodward noticed this.
The pricing may be a new fringe high, but it is also a new low for the fringe to have caught the premium pricing bug that has now made such a farce of West End and Broadway audience gouging.
I realise that when supply outstrips demand there will always be opportunists who jump in to make extra profit — and McKellen’s producers are nothing if not responding to demand by adding talk-back events with their star to raise even more money — but there’s already increasing price resistance on the fringe, with audiences cutting back on the number of paid shows they can see when tickets cost more than £10 each (the ‘regular’ McKellen price is £30, for a 70 minute show), and an ever-expanding ‘free fringe’ where audiences choose what to put in the bucket.
As in the West End and on Broadway, the fringe is in danger of outpricing itself — and premium pricing like the ones being used here for McKellen are a dangerous harbinger of the future. What’s to stop all the star comics from trying something similar?
MY SECOND DAY ON THE FRINGE…..
I had a four show day yesterday, down from a planned five when I mistakenly turned up in George Square instead of the adjoining Bristo Square for one of the shows being presented under the Underbelly venue umbrella — complicated by the fact that they have venues in both squares (as does Assembly Theatre, while the Pleasance — the last of the big four operators — is also a presence in Bristo Square).
Normally it wouldn’t be a problem to make a mistake like this — the two squares are only about five minutes from each other for the most able-bodied, but I’m not able bodied and getting around Edinburgh is a bit of a struggle since my spinal surgery. In fact, there’s a whole column to be written about disabled access here on the fringe — access to the Pleasance Dome’s 10Dome, for instance, is up a steep spiral staircase with no disabled access at all (I had to ask someone to carry my bag up the stairs for me), though provision is made when they can. (Last night at Summerhall, for instance, I was found a seat to wait at when the show I was seeing was delayed, and I was then shown into the auditorium first to choose an appropriate seat before the rest of the audience were admitted).
But I’ve rescheduled the show that I missed to this afternoon, so all is well.
Meanwhile, yesterday I began my day at the original Pleasance Courtyard, which over the years has expanded from a handful of rooms around it to 19 separate spaces there; some are barely bigger than a broom cupboard, and it was both dispiriting (but also kind of appropriate) to find James Holmes — toast of the 1992 fringe with a solo show ANORAK OF FIRE that was propelled to the West End after Edinburgh — playing to a tiny audience in the downstairs Pleasance Cellar, as he portrayed a long-time bit part player on EastEnders (and obsessive fan of the series) who thinks his character is about to be expanded into a fuller role. Tim Fountain’s play — entitled EAST ENDLESS — directed by former Bush artistic director Mike Bradwell, is sad, funny, and heartbreakingly well-acted.
I followed this with another one-man show, CANDY by Tim Fraser at Underbelly’s complex of subterranean performance spaces beneath McEwan Hall, that I was actually lured to thanks to an approach via my Direct Messages on Twitter from its star Mike Waller, a 43-year-old full-time respiratory doctor at a leading South London NHS hospital, who has taken August off to pursue his passion for acting. He found the play while doing night acting classes at Morley College in Lambeth, and set about producing it to bring it to Scotland.
As he wrote to me, “Proving oneself and benchmarking against other shows is more exhausting, stressful and ferocious than any day on the wards. The journey to Edinburgh and that whilst here is almost more of a drama than on any stage!” (It involves train delays — almost inevitably — and just as inevitably, COVID interruptions, but also a private bereavement only last week).
But the show must go on…..And I’m glad it did, because this play about the complexity of sexuality and desire as a man falls head over heels in love with a friend who he knows is in drag, is performed with riveting conviction in Nico Rao Pimparé’s production. As his fantasies come to dominate his life, his life starts spinning out of control. Obsessive love can do that to you — full disclosure: I’ve worked a 12-step programme that deals with it! — so maybe I related to it more keenly than most (though I’ve never fallen in love with a mate who is an even more alluring woman than man).
After missing my planned 5.40pm musical, I headed to Usher Hall — the grand classical music hall on the Lothian Road — for a classical concert by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra presented as part of the International Festival, with guest artist violinist NIcola Benedetti playing a programme that included Bruch’s Violin concerto. This proved to be a welcome palette cleanser, and a wonderful break from the theatre, too!
It over-ran a little on the scheduled time, which made getting to my next venue, Summerhall, a tight fit for my final show of the day, KATHY AND STELLA SOLVE A MURDER at Summerhall’s Roundabout space. But en route, I checked my e-mail and discovered that the venue had thoughtfully already messaged about a delay to the start time, due to a fire evacuation having taken place in the venue earlier in the day causing the programme to run behind.
For once, this was a delay that was actually welcomed by me, and I was impressed by Summerhall’s communications around it. That’s called treating your customers and their time with respect.
And the show was worth waiting for, too (eventually starting about half an hour later than advertised): a quirky offbeat musical about obsessive podcasters on the subject of murders who seek to solve one that happens on their watch. With West End worthy performances from such stellar talents who’ve actually appeared in West End musicals like Bronté Barbé and Rebekah Hinds (above right and left, respectively) in the title roles, and the utterly wonderful (and powerfully voiced) Jodie Jacobs as the victim, this show has legs (even if one or two limbs get cut off in the show).
SEE YOU TOMORROW
I’ll be back here tomorrow afternoon with my report on my third and final 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)