Edinburgh Festival Reviews
Every year I try to have a quick run around as much as I can in a day at the Edinburgh festivals. Every year I underestimate how long it will take me to get from venue to venue when the pavements are all choc-a-bloc with people dragging wheelie suitcases or trying to hand out flyers. So as usual I tried to squeeze in too much.
Here are some quick reviews of the shows that I managed to catch, in case you are planning to take in a couple.
Issues of refugees are being discussed in several shows at the Fringe this year. The Sleeper (by Henry C. Krempels in a pokey space in the top floor of the Jury's Inn Hotel) starts with the testimony of real Syrian refugees. An Englishwoman on an overnight train across Europe returns from the bathroom to find "a pair of eyes" in her couchette. Reporting it to a world-weary staff member on the train he asks her to decide if she wants him to deal with it. They replay the confrontation, to see what choices we can all make in such a situation. The person who seems powerless to determine her fate is Amena, whose voice we struggle to listen to in all this (well played by Aya Daghem with a startled air of confusion). A quick wake up call to your brain in its 10.30am slot in the fringe programme. (Their shows have a later 11.40am time for the remainder of the run).
Also apparently very angry is Lucy Porter, with her show Choose Your Battles at the Pleasance Courtyard. However it is the middle-class rage of losing the keys for the Volvo that is the subject of her show. Where Eleanor Morton was earlier talking about faking it by going about on public transport with a yoga mat prominently displayed under her arm, Lucy Porter was talking about her yoga classes. All a bit cosy.
The one name that jumped out at me when I saw the programme for this year's Edinburgh International Book Festival, was James Kelman's. With a new collection of short stories released this month (That Was A Shiver available now - go buy it at your local bookshops). He was on top form, and I was delighted that instead of reading from his new book he decided to talk to us about his thoughts on literature in general and the position of artists in Scotland today. TV's Brian Taylor was a good host, reflecting on his university studies of Descartes as they talked. Kelman talked about his own learning, starting from the Realism of Zola and moving on to Camus, Kafka, Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky, Pushkin, and so it goes on. A curious mind exploring his world, and finding his voice in trying to express the subjective experience of his characters. Nobody else in Scottish (or British) literature comes close to this existential ventriloquism. Good painters start by first observing people and the world around them, and Kelman is a master of his art because of his ability to observe, and to listen, to people.
|Over the Town 1918 by Marc Chagall|
|Goalkeeper Emma Clarke, in the back row here of Mrs Graham's XI in 1895|
Reflecting on these works an evening of Burns's poems and songs was promised, with new works by Jackie Kay and a live performance by Ghetto Priest and musicians from the Scottish Ensemble. It was a terribly Edinburgh affair, stilted and old fashioned. Instead of trying to see Burns differently much of it was based around old fashioned, churchy performances of Burns's works from bass singer Brian Bannatyne-Scott and counter-tenor David James. Away from the Caribbean angle, the international works were a bit dry. I like Avro Part's version of My heart is in the Highland's but like much of his work it feels very religious and churchy. I know the Shostakovich Burns stuff in Russian as I heard many earnest renditions of them at the Scotland-USSR Friendship Society, but again that took me to the late 1970s/ early 1980s. Jackie Kay brought fresher moments with her playful poems on Douglas Gordon's sculpture and on Burns, such as Resume The Plough, where she spoke of Burns getting "Awa frae polite society/ And Edinburgh literary soirees". I bet she was thinking the same thing. I have never been to a Jackie Kay reading which wasn't filled with laughter and applause and I have never, ever heard such a fussy rendition of A Man's A Man, in which I seemed to be the only person wanting to join in. All in all it was a very strange programme.
I was maybe getting a bit tired by midnight when it finished, but I was now ready to go back to Glasgow, where audiences are a bit more bawdy.