Category: Festivals

Edinburgh Festival 2009

We went to the Edinburgh Festival again for six days from 9th August. We were with my uncle and aunt, Rob and Rose. The formal festival has a limited number of full length drama and music events in conventional venues. The Fringe Festival has over 2,000 events, mainly only an hour long, between midday and midnight, being staged at every imaginable venue of very different sizes. These include halls, churches, rooms, attics, cellars, bars, tents and portable cabins with audience capacities of between 300 and 30. The venues have curious names like The Gilded Balloon, Bedlam Theatre, Demarco Roxy Art House, The Vault, Pleasance Dome, Sweet Teviot Place, Zoo Southside, The Liquid Room, Footbarn’s Big Top, Underbelly, Udderbelly and Delhi Belly. The venues for our shows were often a mile or more apart and so we did plenty of walking, often in the rain. This trip seemed to be wetter than last year and we often looked like drowned rats. A Jazz and Blues Festival ended soon after we arrived and the Film Festival and the Book Festival started after we left. The Edinburgh Military Tattoo is presented every night in August in front of the Castle. There are also several art exhibitions. The streets are teeming with activity as tourists are besieged by buskers of every sort, craft stalls and desperate actors handing out leaflets advertising their shows. It is very difficult to select what to see. There are several programme brochures backed up by websites and forests of leaflets. A few words might catch your fancy or a testimonial from someone well known or you get a recommendation from someone in a show queue. As the Festival progresses, reviews start appearing on the Fringe Festival website. We aim to go to four or five shows a day and accept that some will be duds. So what we saw:

Jools Holland was supported by 17 musicians, two backing singers and two singing guests and gave us a rocking, rolling two hours of jazz, blues, big band and rock music. We were close to the stage and could marvel at his dexterity and speed on the piano and could delight in the individual playing of each of the band members. There were some really uplifting saxophone, guitar and drum solos. This was the final event of the Jazz Festival and a wonderful way for us to start our Edinburgh visit. 10/10

My Darling Clemmie is a one woman show presented by Rohan McCullough (62) about the life of Clementine Churchill, told in the first person. It is principally about the joy and frustration of being married to Winston Churchill. I agree completely with the critic who said that ‘this was compelling, engaging, intimately and beautifully realised’. A wonderful show. 10/10

Five characters in search of Susan is rubbish, rubbish, rubbish! Susan Harrison acted five different characters pretty well but the relevance of what they said and how they related to each other remains a mystery to me. A waste of an hour. 1/10

Still Breathing are eight young men who completely intermixed ballet and break dancing, with an incredible control of their bodies as they pirouetted, somersaulted, dived, rolled and back flipped around the stage. Unfortunately we had seen everything after fifteen minutes and were then forced to endure another forty five minutes of repetition backed by horrible techno music in a hot and stuffy hall. The young girls in the audience seemed to love it but I couldn’t escape fast enough. 2/10

Soweto Gospel Choir is a regular at the Fringe and this was the third time in four years that we have seen them here. Their singing is sweet bliss and their enthusiasm is completely infectious. They represent a wonderful aspect of Africa and always leave me quite emotional. I loved them as always but would have preferred less new material and more old favourites. 9/10

Nicky Doody: Schizo is a very clever, articulate comedian with some funny ideas who ruins his show by using expletives every few words. I suspect that his show would be completely compelling without the filth but instead I was so offended that I turned off him after five minutes. 1/10

Three dud shows in the six we have seen so far. Not a good start!

Brel@Breakfast is presented by David Hawkins. He is a British translator in his fifties living in Amsterdam who took up singing a few years ago. He sang Brel songs in both French and English and also sang a few other songs by Piaf, The Eagles and even Cliff Richard. He was supported by two men on keyboards, one of whom was very funny. The show was well presented with a lot of emotion although I didn’t enjoy his singing as much as the rest of my party. 8/10

Knees up Mother Brown by the Durham Review was presented by six Durham University students and was a series of sketches, some of which were linked. There was some good acting and a few good laughs but also some lack of cohesion. 6/10

Circa is a gymnastic show by four men and three women. They were incredibly strong, agile and controlled and built the programme so that their most amazing feats were towards the end. There were some similarities with Still Breathing but this was far superior; and the music was dramatically better. 8/10

Jo Caulfield Won’t Shut Up featured this comedienne who is very comfortable with herself and amused us greatly. We laughed as she tried to gather together people with useful skills and interviewed audience members about what they could contribute. The obvious subjects of MPs, bankers, relationships and sex were all dissected to our delight. 8/10

Been So Long is a musical taking place in a South London bar. It has some good singers and music but a very weak story line. Life in that area might be tough but I found one of the songs and some of the references extraordinarily and unnecessarily explicit. I don’t view myself as a prude but I find I do tire of extended and very explicit crudity. 4/10

The Early Edition presented by Marcus Brigstocke and Andre Vincent and two guest comedians is a review of that morning’s newspapers. While Brigstocke is a comedian he is a very intelligent and thoughtful person and I do enjoy his approach. This show must work with the news of the day and they did a good job and gave us a light hearted hour. 7/10

Booking Dance Festival is a presentation of seven US dance companies. I thought that we would be safe with a new programme every eight minutes but I was wrong. Perhaps I do not understand modern dance and thus do not appreciate it but I found almost all the shows frightful. There was a lot of contortion and falling to the ground supported generally by horrible music. One older woman performed some more conventional ballet movements which for me was the highlight of a disappointing show. 3/10

Chauntecleer and Pertelotte includes Abigail Smith, the daughter of our friend Phil, as Pertelotte, the hen and is an unfaithful adaption of a Canterbury Tale. This two person show is completely focused on sexual matters as they relate to the cockerel and the hen and the farmer and his wife. Unlike so many other shows this was very clever and very funny. It was all in a made up language, which needed the audience to concentrate hard, but it was hilarious and also allowed the actors to say outrageous things without appearing to be explicit. I thoroughly enjoyed it. 8/10

The Edinburgh Tattoo is always my emotional high point of the Festival season. Tibby introduced me to the sound of the bagpipes as a teenager, as her grandfather was a pipe major. I have loved them ever since and delight in the massed pipes and drums at the Tattoo. The programme was wonderful, the presentation was impeccable and the rain stayed away. Sheer bliss! 10/10

Oxford Imps is a group of six from Oxford University who call for suggestions from the audience and then improvise songs and sketches. These boisterous puppies impressed with their quick thinking and humour and were entertaining. 7/10

Parents’ Evening includes Ed Rigg, the son of our friends Mary and John. It is a typical school parents’ evening with orange squash at the door and name tags for all, including the audience as the parents. The teachers made presentations and forced interaction with the ‘parents’. There is the prim headmistress, the charming governor, the English teacher flirting with the school secretary, the crusty history teacher, the incompetent music teacher, the sexy French teacher, the invalid PE teacher and his Australian gap year assistant and the South African school caretaker. The audience squirmed as we were forced to participate and were told how our children needed to do better. This was light hearted fun. 7/10

Adams and Rea are two women who sing their own compositions in a country music style about their lives, the corner shop, litter and a host of other contemporary subjects. They were not as good as last year but were still lots of fun. 7/10

I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change is six students from Exeter University singing the tale of love from youthful hopes to retired realities. It was well put together, had singers of mixed abilities, had scenes that we all recognised and was pleasant. 7/10

Jewish Chronicles is presented in song by Daniel Cainer who is in his mid fifties and who has returned to his Jewish faith in recent years and has as a result also explored the stories in his own family. His songs, in English with several Yiddish references, tell the stories of his ancestors and his own experiences as a child and more recently when visiting Israel. An absolute delight! 8/10

Nicholas Parsons Happy Hour has this 86 year old TV and radio presenter wrapping some of his jokes around short interviews or presentations by other Festival acts. Today he presented an 18 year old comedian who told one good joke but was otherwise too inexperienced; Barbershopera, an acapella quartet who tell the story of a matador who moves to Norfolk, who were fun but not captivating and Jo Caulfield, who we already know and love. This show can only be as good as the chosen performers. This year 7/10

Tao are eleven Japanese drummers who used skill, humour and a wide variety of drums to entrance us for an hour. 8/10

Stephen K Amos is a comedian who does not need to get crude to entertain and who regaled us with the experiences of a black man in Scotland, tales of his family and lots of interaction with the audience. A delightful way to end the Festival. 8/10

So we saw 23 shows of which five were duds, seven were entertaining and eleven were outstanding.