Wednesday 26 August 2015

The First Bad Man

I admire Miranda July, she is just so unpredictable. I reviewed her stories way back at the beginning of my blogging days, and her film, 'You, Me and Everyone We Know', a couple of years later. When I came across a mention of her most recent book I rushed to the library website and acquired a copy. It came to Edinburgh with us but was ignored, so I finished it over the last week.
'The First Bad Man' is an incredibly intense emotional tale, a love story, in so many senses of the word. Cheryl is a woman tied in knots, both physical and metaphorical, full of repressed passion and unspoken desires. With a weird hyper-controlled lifestyle and very little apparent social contact outside her work for a women's self-defence charity she still manages to be profoundly sympathetic and identifiable. When she is obliged to offer a temporary home to Clee, the wayward daughter of her boss, life begins to spiral out of her control. But at the same time as being utterly disruptive Clee also opens Cheryl up to all sorts of interesting new experiences, and, as a very strange relationship develops between them, to find a weird way of releasing some of her pent-up neuroses. 

"I stomped down on the gas pedal and the mini ATV jumped forward, roaring up the next block. The noise shook everything out of my head. What a magical way to get around. I'd always thought of these types of machines as toys for uneducated people who didn't care about the environment, but maybe they weren't. Maybe this was a kind of meditation. I felt connected to everything and the motor volume held me at a level of awareness I wasn't used to. I kept waking up and then waking up from that, and then waking up even more. Was everything redneck actually mystical? What about guns? I turned around. Clee and Kate were very tiny but I could see them, wildly gesticulating for me to come back. I tried pushing down all the way on the gas. In an instant I was zooming toward them and they were running out of the way, screaming." (p.103)

Some small spoilers. 
While Cheryl is goes to a therapist to try and sort out her obsession with Philip, one of the charity board members, Clee finds herself pregnant and their relationship takes a new turn as the baby becomes a focus of attention. Here, at the hospital, she encounters the couple whom Clee has chosen to adopt the baby. I love the casual intensity of her reaction to them:

"She looked older than her picture on, both of them did. They reeked of their house back in Utah, it's old carpets suffused with cigarette smoke. This would be the smell of his life, of him.
'Is it?' Gary said. 'Is it too late - legally?' He was scared. He really did not want the car the had bought. 'Yes it is', she said. Then she gave him look like Lets not talk about this in front of that woman. They were terrible people, even slightly worse than most. I stalled, fumbling with the sleeves of my gown. Should I introduce myself or try to kill them? Not violently, just enough that they wouldn't exist. Amy gave me a polite nod as they exited. I nodded back, watching the door swing shut." (p.186)

I loved Cheryl because she is a woman who seems on the surface to be so broken, and yet she has such resilience, picking herself up after numerous heartbreaks and finding new people to love. Miranda July presents us with some very weird situations and relationships, but makes them into real people, you can't help but be draw into their world. And I love too the way that minor characters pop up in unexpected ways and become more significant than you anticipate. A novel, and writing, that is quite unlike anyone else's.

Tuesday 25 August 2015

Love Sick at the Edinburgh Fringe

Steve has been one of Monkey's directors at Fourth Monkey so his show was definitely on the list of things to see. At Monkey's insistence we were first in the queue and had prime front row seats. Love Sick is bought to the Fringe by All in Theatre. Steve and Amalia play a couple of aliens, coming to earth to find the answer to their planet's decline and are learning from the human race all about 'love' and its consequent procreation. Using not much more props than what looks like a giant version of a pop-up washing basket and some minimal but very effective audience participation they manage to fall in love and save the day. While it is a clown show and thus very physical it has some very subtle things to say about the human condition. I have not managed to convey one ounce of why this show was so brilliant and hilarious; I think the skill is partly in the absolutely dead-pan performance, never finding themselves funny but staying in character as these slightly naive and curious aliens. Best line had to be, after we had thrown our ping-pong ball 'sperm' to fertilise the egg, he announced, 'Casey is the inseminator!' Playing until the 30th at the Assembly Hall (venue 35) at 7.00pm, don't miss out. (I guess they might be touring with it too, but no mention on their website.)

(Tickets for all events can be booked through the Edfringe website.)

Friday 21 August 2015

Butt Kapinski at the Edinburgh Fringe

Wandering down on Cowgate on the Tuesday lunchtime we were handed this weird looking flyer, for what claimed to be 'the riskiest show in town'. I asked the guy if it would involve audience participation and he said 'not much, just making noises and stuff'. He lied. After loitering for a while in the courtyard the audience of a dozen or so entered a darkened space where chairs were arranged in an untidy semicircle. Butt Kapinski is a private eye, in the old fashioned sense, he aims to solve crimes, and there have been a lot of crimes, murder victims will shortly litter the room. He comes dressed in a scruffy raincoat from which protrudes a spotlight that is used to focus attention on whichever of the audience members is currently being engaged in the plot. The small audience meant we all ended up taking on multiple parts, and as the action speeded up we had to jump from role to role each time the spotlight was trained in our direction. The execution was mindbogglingly slick, adapting to the responses and input of new people each time must make this a really challenging performance. It felt chaotic at times but I am sure it was intricately choreographed and prepared, even down to what felt like spontaneous mishaps. I left feeling utterly exhilarated. If you are looking for a show that really is 'like no other' then this is the one for you.

(Tickets for all events can be booked through the Edfringe Website.)

Nerds at the Edinburgh Fringe

Dunk and I saw Steve Mould at a freebie event at the Banshee Labyrinth, and decided we had to go and see the Festival of the Spoken Nerd. 'Just for Graphs' is an event for the 'sci-curious', and the three Nerds, Steve, Matt and Helen, gave us a highly entertaining mixture of mathematical stand-up, witty songs and dangerous experiments, involving a lot of fire and running an electric current through the audience. What is so brilliant is that it is not an attempt to 'make science fun', they just assume everyone in the audience is already interested, and they share their own enthusiasms and expertise in a totally amazing show. They are touring through till December, so there's sure to be a show somewhere near you.

(Tickets for all events can be booked through the Edfringe Website.)

Wednesday 19 August 2015

Puppets at the Edinburgh Fringe

'Bruce' feels like a cross between an adult version of Spongebob Squarepants and the ultimate in minimalist puppetry; he's a sponge with a pair of eyes, and with the addition of a pair of white gloves and the occasional substitution of one of the eyes he became a cast of characters all by himself. Looking at their website The Last Great Hunt seems to be an incredibly versatile and imaginative theatre company. The tale of Bruce is a sad one as he chases his own tail through a timewarp to try and put right his own mistakes, but the execution of it is just hilarious, how something so simple can be so expressive is testament to the skill of the performance. This show will just knock your socks off, get yourself a ticket if there are any left.

Monkey and I noticed 'Sing For Your Life' when it was on at the Vault Festival earlier this year. It was sold out the night we were there, so when we discovered they were coming to Edinburgh it was high on the list of 'must see' shows. I mean, who could resist a show that contains taxidermied roadkill puppets. They are faintly disgusting while being utterly delightful. So a badger and a fox befriend a neglected dog in an attempt to undermine his attachment to human beings. The brilliant selection of songs catalogues the evils that humans mete out to the animal kingdom, and their plans to get their own back. My favourite were the squirrels who popped up as a chorus line throughout the show. Beautifully choreographed with the puppeteers swapping from character to character and flying back and forth across the stage to keep the story flowing seamlessly. Not for the squeamish, watch out for the mink!
We met a couple of the cast members the following day, touting for business outside the Underbelly. They are on every evening at 8.40 until the 30th.

(Tickets for all events can be booked through the Edfringe Website.)

Musical Entertainment at the Edinburgh Fringe

'Cautionary Tales for Daughters' was one from my list that we did make it to, and it was very well worth while. Tanya Holt regaled us comedy songs containing motherly advice for offspring venturing into the big bad world, cautionary tales against the evil temptations of tattooing, dieting and advanced consumerism. She makes an early start at 10.15 am in Space 53, every day until the 29th.
We met Tamar Broadbent outside her venue (32) down on Cowgate, like most solo acts she was doing her own flyering. Armed with a trusty keyboard she interspersed her songs with tales of her adventures in far flung places, and other places less far flung. Very human stories that anyone could relate to, a powerful singing voice and an engaging personality made for a very enjoyable show. A free event, so please give generously. I was only disappointed by the lack of a sword. 
Our only event on our last day was 'The Oxford Gargoyles'. Singing a cappella this accomplished group of young people gave a stunning performance of a selection of musical genres, all held together with amusing little skits where they played gargoyles on the cathedral commenting on the music. It was their last fringe performance unfortunately, though I am sure you will be able to see them elsewhere, so keep an eye on their website. Highly recommended. 

(Tickets for all events can be booked through the Edfringe Website.)

Tuesday 18 August 2015

Eating at the Edinburgh Fringe

Though we did take some porridge with us to make breakfast we found ourselves awake well before the campsite shop opened for milk at 8 o'clock, so mostly we caught the number 11 bus to town and browsed the streets for somewhere to eat. I was determined to use small local businesses, which was very successful I thought as we found plenty of lovely places to eat. Top of the list is Café Turquaz on Nicholson Street, where we had breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner, on different days. It is very reasonable and the staff were lovely and friendly. Their tea came in a proper pot, the chocolate cake was great and the felafel/hummus salad was just perfect.
One morning we took a slight diversion and, attracted by the baking smell, were drawn to an unassuming little bakery called 'Preacher's Patisserie' on Lady Lawson Street (just off West Port at the end of the Grassmarket). I had tea and freshly baked scones that were still warm from the oven. Breakfast for both of us was less than a fiver.
The Grassmarket has a slightly continental feel to it, with lots of cafés, pubs and restaurants, many with seating on the pavement, definitely something for every taste and budget. There is a selection of pizzerias and to be honest we just went into the first one with empty tables. We ate at Ristorante Gennaro before going to see 'Love Sick', and Monkey was very anxious not to be at the back of the queue, so we did not linger over dinner, but I had the seafood spaghetti and it was lovely.
Dunk and I spent quite a bit of time loitering in cafés between shows. This is the Cow Café in the Underbelly on Cowgate, where we were tempted in by the offer of a comfy sofa. We also went to the one in the Storytelling Centre and the library, and mum highly recommended the one on the roof of the museum. All the eateries on the Mile seemed perpetually crowded but we found if you went off the main path a bit there was always somewhere nice to stop off, and often much more reasonably priced.
Over Langshaw Ice Cream sells out of a former police box at the near end of the Grassmarket, and for £2.50 you can have a scoop of pink peppercorn and heather honey ice cream. They did have other much more sensible flavours but why would you want them?
Pies are definitely the perfect food when you are on the go, warm and filling, and, more importantly, portable. You can sit down in Auld Jock's Pie Shoppe (also on Grassmarket, just behind the ice cream stand) and have yours with mash and gravy but the place is tiny so we took out and ate them sitting on a bench under the trees.
Monkey had already made her way to Piemaker on South Bridge, where she discovered they serve the perfect food: macaroni cheese pie! I had a haggis roll (distant cousin of the sausage roll) which was excellent, though they do also do a haggis, turnip and mash pie. Highly recommended by all and sundry (no eating in here, it is takeaway only).
We also passed time randomly at Saint Giles Café on, unsurprisingly, St Giles Street opposite the cathedral, and another little place on the Grassmarket, neither of which seemed to know how to make a decent cup of tea, giving me hot water with a teabag on the side. 
In spite of how much coffee he gets through at home Dunk would frequently turn down my suggestion of a cuppa, so I did not eat nearly as much cake as I had intended. I will be making up for that next year. 

Circus at the Edinburgh Fringe

If you take the George IV Bridge down from The Mile you eventually come to The Meadows, where you might encounter random people Slacklining between the trees:
But it is also home to the Underbelly Circus Hub where two geodesic domes provide space for some more adventurous acts to perform:
Our first night, after collecting Monkey from her performance, we had dinner and went down to see 'The Elephant in the Room' brought to the fringe by Cirque Le Roux. It is a fantastic display of acrobatics under the guise of a strange story about a woman who is killing off her husbands.
We returned later in the week to see 'The Hogwallops' by Lost in Translation Circus. This time acrobatics, trapeze and some amazing juggling were combined with a bizarre story about a man and his banana. It was a wild ride with people, fruit and clothes all flying back and forth across the stage. This one was much more family friendly with plenty of slapstick and silliness.
Up next, my recommendations for places to eat in Edinburgh.

(Tickets for all events can be booked through the Edfringe Website.)

Monday 17 August 2015

Poetry at the Edinburgh Fringe

Sadly we did not go to anything like as much poetry as I intended. 'Scale' was one of the first flyers I was handed and is a mixture of poetry and music presented by Colin Bramwell. I enjoyed it very much but I found myself caught up in the images and the atmosphere he created more than being able to follow the story that he was telling. It was slightly spoiled by having merely a curtain dividing us from the bar and the noise from the adjacent space was a little disruptive.

'Building God' on the other hand was in a wonderfully atmospheric space in the depths of the Banshee Labyrinth (the most haunted pub in Scotland) on Niddry Street. David Lee Morgan gave a very powerful and passionately political performance, a challenge to the next generation to not give up on the idea of revolution. His idealism was a real inspiration to me because I so often find myself feeling disillusioned with what is possible in a world where capitalist ideology has come to dominate so completely.
On our last night we stopped out a bit later than usual and went to see the wonderful 'Loud Poets'. They are appearing nightly till the 31st with a selection of different guest appearances at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, we were graced with the wonderful Hollie Mcnish
Here is a taste of what was going down:

(Tickets for all events can be booked through the Edfringe Website.)

Sunday 16 August 2015

The Streets of Edinburgh

We spent the first couple of days doing a lot of back and forth as we learned our way around, but it was never dull with an ever changing lineup of performers. Some more photos now to give you a taste of the street entertainment. 
Down the Mile there were always people out, from magicians to acrobat acts, often doing a twenty minute spiel to hold the crowd's attention for a thirty second stunt. Here is the bubble man, bewitching passing children with enormous bubbles:
and a girl doing hoola hoops:
Hunter Square on South Bridge seemed to be an official performance space, occupied by a series of performers throughout the day.  
Friday we saw Basketball Man doing stunts in the rain. 
He is one of the performers with the 360 Allstars
Down the Meadow Walk there were musicians, it's more open there with space to loiter or sit on the grass to listen:

We spent quite a bit of time down on the Grassmarket too:

But my favourite street entertainment was being able to walk past the ticket queue, usually half an hour long:
to the 'Friends' booking office. It was worth every penny.
Coming up tomorrow, circus and poetry.

The Grim Tales

The Fourth Monkey Theatre Company are presenting four productions this year; Year of the Monkey participants are putting on three Grimm's TalesRapunzel, Little Red Cap and Hansel and Gretel, while the two year course are doing 'The Bloody Countess(which we did not see), based on the true story of mass murderer Elizabeth Bathory.
While they have all been directed by different people the three productions have all used a dual narrative, with the original tale running parallel to an alternate more modern story. Their interpretations have more in common with the disturbing original tales than any sanitised version that you might be familiar with, and are not suitable for families. In fact Steve had to insist that one parent who came in with a young child was asked to leave by the box office staff. Rapunzel gives us three witches who jealously guard the innocence of their 'adoptive' daughter, with the parallel story being about a modern day mother suffering from post-natal depression. Little Red Cap follows the naive young girl sent into the woods to face a fantastic wolf. The second story mirrors it more directly with a tale of a young girl coming to work in a care home, and finding that there are unpleasant goings on beneath the benign surface. Hansel and Gretel gets to grips with the big issues of child abuse, neglect and incest, in a dark and disturbing story told without words. Their second story tells the life of Antonin Artaud whose theories about the Theatre of Cruelty have influenced 20th century theatre, and this production. They have had one 'bad' review (all publicity is good publicity so they say) and one good one, and they have enjoyed counting how many people walk out each evening (only three on Friday), but the flyering has obviously been going well as they have been consistently packed and even sold out several nights. 

They are preforming in Space 9 on Niddry Street every day until the 29th, at 4.30pm, then 6.00pm and 7.30pm. I left Monkey my camera so hope she will get some other photos of them in costume/on stage, but Dunk caught some of the cast doing an impromptu rehearsal outside just before their performance earlier this week:
(Edited 15th September) The cast of Hansel and Gretel looking awesome after their last performance.

Theatre at the Edinburgh Fringe

The 'What was your favourite show?' question is really impossible to answer, because everything we saw was so different. I have divided the shows we saw up, roughly, by genre.

At the Bedlam Theatre we saw Ada (trailer on Youtube here), the story of Ada Lovelace, who worked with Charles Babbage, and whose notes on his Analytical Engine is considered to be the first computer programme. The piece blends technology and creativity, with cast members explaining the science behind their work alongside telling the story of her achievements. They incorporated imagery of computing into the play with a repetitive cycling of some of the dialogue, and people mimicking the workings of Babbage's machine. A fascinating and beautifully put together production, this was the only thing that Dunk chose for us to go to. Venue 49 is a real theatre (unlike many of the spaces that are often function rooms or spaces carved out for the purpose) and there were many other interesting productions going on there. Their tea was only £1 and there are comfy seats in a room papered with posters from years of past productions.

The second morning (I think) we were sitting on the Mile early discussing our plans when we were approached by Teresa herself and handed this flyer. I said what a coincidence that we had no plans for twelve o'clock. 'Wing It Dusty' sets its scene in the bedroom of a middle aged lesbian couple discussing the history of their relationship. It was one of those plays that seems small and intimate, and yet touches on universal themes of belonging and acceptance, just quietly getting under your skin. We ended up seeing a lot of things in Space 39. I began to notice a theme developing, we saw an awful lot of plays where people changed their costume on stage ... is that just the way they do things these days?

 'Consumption' was another spur-of-the-moment choice, also in Space 39, is by Two Forty Two Theatre. It is the story of Sebastian and Penelope who fall for each other at a speed dating event. Sebastian finds himself sucked into the aspiration lifestyle that Penelope enjoys, sinking further and further into debt, while his mum seems to be having problems of her own. A morality tale certainly, and while it was really well executed I was not convinced by their relationship and sat through it thinking 'stupid people' and having very little sympathy for his troubles, a bit too much 'Made in Chelsea' for my taste.

I went to see 'The Beanfield' by myself. Produced by Breach Theatre Company it is a reconstruction of the events surrounding the 'Battle of the Beanfield' that took place in 1985 when the police, enforcing an injunction to prevent a festival that had been taking place at Stonehenge, instigated a violent confrontation with Travellers in a nearby field. The story is told through correspondence between the participants as they researched the story, the testimony of eye witnesses in pre-recorded interviews, but also recounts the experiences of the students themselves as they piece together the story and try to discover the truth about the events. It highlights the change in policing tactics that had been taking place during this period, that coincided with the miner's strike. A very emotionally charged piece that got me caught up with the story, taking me back to a period that I remember quite vividly.

The thing I enjoyed very much when walking the Mile (people did flyer other places, there was just such a concentration of them there) was stopping to let people tell you about their show. And so it was with 'The Very Grey Matter of Edward Blank', where a man painted orange was sitting on the curb and another in a brown suit introduced us to his imaginary friend. Produced by Familia de la Noche this was probably the most 'straight' theatre that we saw, as in it was a single story, told by a set of fixed characters, on a stage with actual scenery. But I think it was my favourite. Edward's troubles seem to be quite deep seated. His imaginary friend from childhood never left him, and in fact has been joined by several others, and in spite of 'treatment' he choses not to silence them with pills, and so hides in his flat and makes a living by typing up, and editing, bad manuscripts. It is a very vivid portrayal of mental illness; the voices of his 'friends' lurch from being companionable and encouraging to being chaotic and threatening. It moved me to tears, which is high praise indeed. We saw 'Edward' when we were queueing to see 'Bruce', but I was too shy to ask him to sign my flyer. 

(Tickets for all events can be booked through the Edfringe Website.)

Flyers, flyers and yet more flyers

Walking the The Royal Mile in Edinburgh during August is not for the faint hearted, even on a damp day it can be quite an ordeal (though fortunately for us the sun shone most of the time). Everyone has a suggestion for how you might like to spend an hour or so of your day. I had browsed the Edinburgh Fringe Festival website quite extensively and had a handy list of things that I thought I might see. As you might imagine, I did not see many of them, because there were so many other, much more exciting things to see.
People turned up with banners, in costume, and with puppets of every shape and size:
From the monotone:
to the vibrant:
to the downright scary:
Some with interesting techniques for staking out their spot:
It is part of Monkey's responsibilities to spend a couple of hours flyering every day (that's Casey, not everyone is so enthusiastic):
Though it is exhausting work, so you do get to take a break:
Flyers, and more flyers
and yet more flyers
inside and outside, on every available surface...
And then you carry them home and use them to repaper the living room.
Coming up next, reviews and recommendations.