64th Edinburgh Fringe was a roaring success with just short of 2 million tickets sold for 2600 shows. It’s settled into a good mix of comedy, theatre, music and exhibitions. The good news was the weather – not a raindrop over my entire five days. Another improvement is the food – had an excellent minced spiced lamb wrap at Underbelly Courtyard as well as excellent nosh at Dogs in Hanover Street, Scottish Whisky Society and a late night Chinese at the Rendevous.Ovid’s Metamorphosis – Pleasance (Edinburgh Fringe)
Fresh from reading Ted Hughes brilliant ‘Tales from Ovid’, I was oven-ready for this performance and loved the inventive use of music, physical theatre, dance and stagecraft. They gave it large in what is one of the Pleasance’s tiniest theatres, with one spot of sheer genius, in the Io myth when the cow characteristics interrupt her song and she jigs like a heifer.Kafka and son – Bedlam (Edinburgh Fringe)
Harrowing hour as Kafka writes a long letter to his father trying to untangle their famously estranged relationship. It rips into the usual Freudian themes as well as the father’s failed business and his contempt for Kafka’s attempts at writing. What’s touching is the more enduring father-son conceits, misunderstandings, suspicions and battles. This is a moving piece for any father with a son. I speak as someone who’s been on both sides of this fence.Poland 3 Iran 2 – Thistle Bar (Edinburgh Fringe)
Two guys slug it out with a family tale woven around a football match. OK but could have been better written, rehearsed and performed. Heartening to see some theatre about football in a real bar with some real (if not bemused) Scottish drinkers.Jeremy Lion goes Green -Pleasance Dome (Edinburgh Fringe)
Peter Crisp put me on to this guy, a large gent in a too-tight suit and a dash of rouge. The character is a drunk and chaotic ‘children’s entertainer’ but it’s a polished chaos. The running gag is his drink problem, as he downs a can of Carlsberg Special Brew at the start and continues to drink miniatures throughout the act, ending with his ‘Ten Green Bottles’ finale, where he downs the contents of the bottles for the purpose of recycling ‘boys and girls’. Throwing in a half bottle of Buckfast was a touch of localised genius. Hilarious.Lee Nelson (Edinburgh Fringe)
Nelson may be the most interesting comedian in the fringe this year, as he’s an outlier in a flood of once alternative, now mainstream comics. Sticking to a character (London chav) he avoids cockney clichés but knocks out a show that is high energy and relentlessly funny. Funny how quickly the lazy TV comics forget this basic rule. None of that cute observational stuff or whimsical gags, just plain ‘tell it as it is’ street humour.
The club beat is ratcheted up to full volume for a full ten minutes before he appears high fiving everyone within reach up and down the aisle. He ain’t afraid to mix it with the audience and this audience is an unusual mix of Scottish neds (all drinking pints of lager in the queue), Fringe strays and a few foreigners, who clearly haven’t seen his TV show. It’s not so much audience participation a as audience assault and abuse – but that’s what they’ve come for. They’re not coy, this lot.
First gag, “My sis just got pregnant, it’s OK though she’s 15. Problem is the age difference with the dad (6 years). Pause – he’s only nine!” Ho joshes with the disabled guy on the front row, claiming he’s just bought the gear to get into disabled parking spaces, then tells a cracker of a joke, “I parked in a disabled spot last week, policeman came up to me and said, ‘you’re not disabled’. Yeah I am, I said, I’ve got Tourettes……you fucking cunt!” The poor French girl got a ribbing, as did the family of four with two teenage daughters and the guy from Senegal. I laughed like a hyena for the full hour but it was the finale that took the show into the realm of dangerous theatre. The audience had to vote on a humiliating act for someone who had volunteered to go through with this game. Of course, it was a rough, shameless lad who stuck his hand up. Chosen act – to strip to his underpants and dance to ‘I like big butts and I cannot lie’. He did it with gusto, miming the old arse slaps like a pro.
Nelson’s real because he takes things right to the edge, sometimes beyond, then comes back again with ‘I’m only joking’. At last, someone who’s giving life to a tired old genre.Camille O’Sullivan (Edinburgh Fringe)
My third outing to see Camille as I love her choice of songs and the cabaret highs and lows, from the bawdy and raucous to songs of the heart. Brel’s Amsterdam, Cave’s Ship Song, Bowie, Cohen…… I wish, however, that she’d go back to the Darker, more intimate Assembly theatre on the mound. The George Street venue is dull and cavernous.Philip Blond (Edinburgh Book Festival)
Blond looks like a fat Robert Burns but Red Tory is a book worth reading, even if you don’t agree with the ideas and recommended policies. This is the book that has shaped current Conservative policy to such a degree that you spot key phrases as you read. His position is that the left bankrupted us through the expansion of the state and the right through a fanatical belief in the free market. In addition, he sees liberalism as having eroded our values, creating a context for both.
Blond’s an old-school conservative rooted in ‘civic values’ and ‘tradition but innovative on policy, looking towards a fairer society based on recapitalising the working class. This involves mutualising finance, smaller government bodies and encouraging local supply chains. He is a fierce critic of a system that pools all savings and money then gambles it way on lost causes. The centralisation of wealth is the problem. We need smaller banks, mutual societies and the post Office, not RBS.
I rather like this message. The problem is twofold. First cost: fragmenting delivery means higher costs, as you don’t get economies of scale. Secondly, relying on ‘tradition’ is a problem, as it cannot be readily created. Tradition emerges over time. Creating tradition, as has been done in Scotland, with a phoney history of tartan, clans and romantic heroes just doesn’t wash.
The other speaker focused on the ‘editorial class’ claiming that most people in society have been squeezed out of the equation through a cabal of publishing, journalism and politics that represents a narrow social class. Yip – and most of them are at the Edinburgh Book Fair.Polly Toynbee (Edinburgh Book Festival)
Fine list of successes and failures of the Labour, delivered as a double act with Frank Walker, Polly Toynbee’s writing partner. They were pretty much spot on with the failures; Iraq, inequality, intrusive state, kowtowing to finance, housing bubble, abolition of 10p tax rate, faith schools etc. But they scored them 6/10. My own view is that the flaws were flaws in leadership, both Blair and Brown. Many of the above listed flaws can, I think be attributed to flawed leaders. These are two people who are on top of their game, and in a good position to deliver a verdict. It makes a change from these awful Mandelsson, Blair memoirs that simply repeat the errors, without any signs of remorse or real reflection.Frank Close & Ian Semple (Edinburgh Book Festival)
Great talk on Anti-matter (it’s used in PET scans – P stands for positrons) but can’t be stored or used in weapons. Particle physics is going through a renaissance with the work at the LHC at CERN. Close gave a layman’s overview of anti-matter, taking a swipe at Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, but more importantly, showing that this area of physics is unfolding as we speak. The money’s on the Higgs-Boson particle being found around 2014. Some think there’s evidence in the data already. What I didn’t know is that there’s a squabble between three groups concerning the badly named ‘God particle’. It’s important, as there’s a Nobel Prize at stake. Semple told a nice physics joke, when he visited one of these octogenarian physicists, he asked to take a photo, and the physicist rplied, “Of course, it’s only photons!”. Another, when asked about the controversy said, “It’s a bit like having your mother-in-law driving your brand new BMW over a cliff – I have mixed feelings over it”. Funny folk these physicists.John Lanchaster (Edinburgh Book Festival)
Lancjaster’s ‘Whoops’ is my favourite financial meltdown book. He’s a novelist, and therefore writes well, he’s also a layman, so not representing any side of the story. He emerges, however, as a critic of the stupidity of bankers, regulators and auditors. The book is full of incisive observations and his point here was that ‘finance’ is swept under the carpet as a subject, not taught in schools and ignored by adults. When do quiz shows ever have questions on ‘finance’?
This was Edinburgh, so there were a few banking apologists in the audience. However, the guy who lost his job was pretty angry as were most of the audience. This anger is still swishing around, waiting to erupt. My bet is that another bank will fail, probably Lloyds, and that the brown stuff really will hit the fan. On the bright side, it will give Lanchaster a chance to write a sequel. ‘Whoops I did it again!”.Harlequin (Edinburgh Fringe)
The Harelquin story is a strange tale of unrequited love and comic ridicule and this group kept the strangeness going by not being too polished or straight in their direction or performance. It was a weird, rough, unclean version and that’s exactly why it worked.Irish Comedy (Edinburgh Fringe)
Traditional three acts and a compere. Maybe this is the luck of the Irish but all four were excellent, with not an awkward moment in the entire set. First up was a loquacious Irishman with a few choice tales, second the gay Irishman (his dad always thought he was ‘funny’) and the third, and best, a hard hitting guy from Belfast (Al Queda – they come over here, taking our jobs). Glad to see that Irish comedy hasn’t sunk completely into it’s own clichéd maudlin worldChristan Kobke Scottish National Gallery
A small collection from this resurrected Dane. The portraits are middling to good but the landscapes are really something, with their unusual compositions from roof ridges or oblique views from river banks and across bridges. The landscapes have people with their backs to the viewer, so that the subject is the landscape and not the people. The image of the two women on the boat landing with their backs to the viewer and the receding boat is the masterpiece.Surrealism - Dean Gallery
The Dean Gallery is a former orphan’s home, a strange Victorian pile, with high ceilings, iron railings (on the inside) and a claustrophobic feel. Many of the paintings are from the galleries own collection, which is world class. I have mixed feelings about this as I prefer the Dadaists, seeing Surrealism as a backward step, with it’s attempts at capturing the unconsciousness and dreams. They were slaves to Freud, whereas the Dadaists were slaves to no one. There is one exception here and that is a Dali drawing in the corridor that shows just how good a draughtsman he was, all flowing lines and tension.Martin Creed - Fruitmarket Gallery
Much as I love abstract art, this show is just shallow. The fact that these banalities are placed in a bright, white-walled gallery with all the seriousness that a posh girl with a History of Art’ degree can muster, doesn’t hid the fact that this is pure, adulterated shite. It is so consciously designed that you can see the stupid thoughts of the artist behind each and every piece. Plodding piles of chairs and tables. Sequences of felt tip pages, piles of wood. A lego brick tower. It’s not shocking, it’s not ironic and it’s not funny.