Thursday, August 28, 2014

Edinburgh Festivals 2014

28 August 2014

Last week we were in Edinburgh, marking the 20th anniversary of our first visit to the Edinburgh festivals. For several years we went every August but then restricted our visits to every other year, so I'm not sure how many times we have been in total but we've certainly seen a lot of shows. This year we saw 26 performances in the 6 days we were in Edinburgh.

As usual we took advantage of some of the free BBC Radio shows at Potterrow, starting the day with BBC Radio Scotland's 'MacAulay and Co', with Fred MacAulay and Susan Calman introducing a wide selection of the best comedy acts on the Fringe. We also enjoyed an excellent edition of Radio 3's 'The Verb' hosted by the inimitable Ian McMillan.

The PBH Free Fringe continues to grow in scale and stature. We saw some wonderful free shows, including 'Prufrock and Me' – a personal account of one man's relationship to T. S. Eliot's poem 'The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock' by Dave Williams – and stand-up comedian Josh Howie's clever, edgy and hilarious show 'AIDS: A Survivor's Story' in which nothing was quite what it seemed.

We saw two Edinburgh International Festival performances - both in huge venues that were completely sold out. The James Plays – Rona Munro's new history play cycle, directed by Laurie Sansom for the National Theatre of Scotland and the National Theatre of Great Britain, have been the talk of the festival. We saw 'James I' at the Festival Theatre and it did not disappoint – it was ambitious, spectacular, fascinating and surprisingly funny. Munro has created a drama that bears comparison with Shakespeare's history plays, but uses modern language to give the action a contemporary feel. Having recently seen 'Richard II', 'Henry IV Parts 1 & 2' and 'Henry V', 'James I' felt like a natural next step as it starts with Henry V of England releasing James after 18 years in captivity to take his place on the throne of Scotland. We also saw a fantastic concert at the Usher Hall where Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti got a deservedly rapturous reception for her performance of Erich Korngold's 'Violin Concerto' with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Jiří Bělohlávek. The concert concluded with Martinu's lovely 'Symphony No 4' with the Czech Philharmonic on top form.

We visited the Edinburgh International Book Festival in Charlotte Square to see our new favourite novelist Ned Beauman promoting his latest book 'Glow' (reviewed here in June 2014). He shared the platform with the young Austrian novelist Clemens J Setz and I am looking forward to reading the first of his novels to be translated into English, 'Indigo'.

It was great to rediscover the zany musical world of New York's Kenny Young and The Eggplants who we first saw on the Fringe about 18 years ago. They played at the Acoustic Music Centre at St Bride's in front of an enthusiastic audience who seemed to know all their lyrics - 'aubergenius!' as one review said. We saw a few comedians including the ramblingly brilliant 'Simon Munnery sings Soren Kierkegaard' and an old Fringe favourite of ours, Owen O'Neill, this year performing in the 'spoken word' section of the Fringe with a mixture of storytelling and poetry.

But most of our week was spent watching some wonderful fringe theatre, the highlights being 'Last Christmas' – a monologue by Matthew Bulgo about a man returning home to Swansea a year after his father died of a heart attack, performed by Sion Pritchard at the Assembly George Square Studios, which was warm, funny and very moving – and 'The Initiate' by Alexandra Wood, performed by Paines Plough at Summerhall, which told the story of the reaction of a Somali-born taxi driver in London to the kidnap of a British couple by Somali pirates. It was a very clever play, excellently acted by three actors (Andrew French, Sian Reese-Williams and Abdul Salis) without the need for any set, props or costumes, in which the unseen events between the scenes created an intriguing ambiguity and really made you think about the morality and motivation of the characters.

We had an exhaustingly wonderful week in Edinburgh.

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