Monday, August 25, 2008

It's over...

There are only three things I won't miss about this year's festival:
  • the hangovers
  • the nightly taxi trip home
  • bleeding money away like a haemorrage

On the other hand, there is much, much more that I will miss:

  • people watching outside the upside-down purple cow at the Udderbelly
  • seeing performers in the streets around "the hub" (including a Caesar Twin deep in conversation with Jim Bowen)
  • sitting chilling out in the cultured and inspirational calm oasis of the Book Festival
  • the bean burgers
  • bumping into Patti Plinko at Camille and congratulating her for her show
  • the Terrible Infants strolling round Bristo Square serenading punters just because they felt like it
  • the organised chaos that was the High Street (especially when Drum Cat were there)
  • watching talented young performers mingling in the C bar at Chambers St
  • seeing South Koreans in traditional dress and samurai warriors wandering about the streets with no-one batting an eyelid
  • the Kirin in the Queen's Hall
  • slagging off War of the Worlds at every opportunity
  • the urban style of the C Socco
  • everything belonging to Lionel Ritchie
  • girls with megaphones
  • the Caesar Twins doing their Terminator stalking bit
  • medicinal beers
  • hell, I'll even miss the rain...

But now, it's all over bar the fireworks. It's been great.


Jerry Sadowitz ***

Jerry Sadowitz, despite any of his claims to the contrary, is bitter, boys & girls. And sick, twisted, offensive and foul-mouthed as well.

The embodiment of the "I'm not discriminatory, I hate everyone" mentality, Sadowitz rants, raves and spits through an hour of close-to-the-bone comedy interspersed with superb close-up magic.

Not quite the 'charming young conjuror' he ironically claims to be, with his wild hair stuffed into a top hat and bulging Marty Feldman-like eyes, he interrupts his magic tricks with diatribes against everyone: women, homosexuals, children, Chinese, Scots, English - all are treated to the ire of his acid tongued wrath.

Not to everyone's taste (a few people left early on during a particularly offensive spleen-vent on children), and, despite laughing at the outrageous things coming out of his mouth, there is a small, niggling suspicion that he is merely this generation's Bernard Manning with a few card tricks...

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Clive James in the Evening ****

This enjoyable show featured Australian wit and raconteur Clive James speaking for 90 minutes. Not many could pull this off and still hold an audience's interest, but James' delivery and charismatic, gentle style is extremely listenable and entertaining, as are his tales of Australia, Edinburgh weather and Margita Pracitan.

Part comedy, part reminiscence, part book flogging, this was a fine way to spend an evening in the company of one of the wittiest, most self-deprecating and charming speakers in the business.

The Jabberwock ***

The Jabberwock is an accomplished piece by theatre group The Scarlet Blade, a quintet of young professionally-trained stage-fighters.

Taking a Blair Witch style approach, it begins with a group of friends telling ghost stories around a campfire, until one of them is possessed by the spirit of the tale of the Jabberwock. The rest of the play switches between the imagined land of the Bandersnatch et al and the real-world setting of the camp.

With their background in stage fighting, the story is peppered with several visceral and violent fight scenes, including sword duels, hand-to-hand brawls and wooden stick battles. They are excellent at carrying this off, and at times it looks as though they are really hitting each other. Hard. The venue is tiny, and you are so up close and personal that you can see the sweat and spittle fly as the cast connect viciously and realistically.

With a bigger budget, allowing more in the way of set, costume and pacing, this could have been excellent. As it was, it was still extremely good and fascinating to watch the expertly portrayed action that at times felt as though you were part of.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Henry Rollins ****

Spoken-word performances are something which Henry Rollins is now well renowned for, and on the strength of this show it's easy to see why.

Barely pausing for breath, Rollins takes us on a rollercoaster monologue about US politics, world travel and Eddie Van Halen, seemingly pouring out streams of his own consciousness in a polished and powerhouse performance.

Funny and powerful, the greying tattooed former Black Flag frontman is adept at holding a sell-out crowd in the palm of his hand and the hour-long set flies past due to his charisma, talent and viewpoints.

Circus Oz ****

Circus Oz is, as the name gives away, an acrobatic and comedy act from Australia. Now in its 30th year (the show is subtitled '30th Birthday Bash'), the performers are all energetic and enthusiastic, and capable of some impressive feats of skill.

The usual routines, such as juggling and rope climbing are all present and correct, and carried out flawlessly and with visual flair. Highlights include a woman juggling / bouncing ping-pong balls (more impressive than it sounds here) and another female performer spinning around the stage inside a giant hula-hoop.

Live music is played by a band at the back of the stage throughout, and this gives a vaudeville burlesque feel to proceedings, especially as accordion is one of the instruments featured. Nods to Antipodean roots are also given though, most notably in an amusing and impressive routine where the performers - dressed as kangaroos - catapult each other and somersault off a see-saw.

It's all family friendly stuff and easily recommendable, due to its high spirits, amazing feats and comedy charm.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Tiger Lillies - Seven Deadly Sins *****

The Tiger Lillies are an acquired taste. A punk vaudeville burlesque freakshow. Right up my street, then.

In this show, the Lillies perform songs based on the seven deadly sins, the three musicians aided and abetted by the voluptuous Ophelia Bitz, burlesque star extraordinaire. Martyn Jacques falsettos his way through sick & twisted odes and ditties, including the classic "Kicking A Baby Down The Stairs", as Ms Bitz twists and cavorts, eating fire, stuffing her face or toying with a dildo...

You're either going to love this kind of thing, or hate it. The Tiger Lillies are that kind of 'all or nothing' group - indeed, after one of their slower piano-led pieces, Jacques berates one of the noisier sections of the audience: "if you're going to talk through my songs, just fucking leave". I'm right with him on that - these are songs that deserve to be heard, and the whole chaotic spectacle is an experience that demands attention.

The gay Punch & Jud(y)e sideshow that peppers the performance is a bit unnecessary, but it certainly adds to the whole freakish circus nature of the show, which, like La Clique, is perfectly suited for the burlesque interior of the Spiegeltent in which it is performed.

Mong Yeong (Love in Dream) *****

Mong Yeong is an original piece of theatre performed by an accomplished South Korean company.

A moving and thought-provoking piece examining love, loss and reincarnation, this is performed mostly in Korean, with some English interjections to help explain the story (and also for dramatic effect, in some instances).

It deals with a recently-widowed woman and her grief-stricken descent into madness and desperation. The simple set and strong lighting evokes the mood excellently, with a sheet being used to denote the barrier between this life and the next. Beautiful imagery, such as white-clad hooded souls crossing the boundary into the afterlife, is used evocatively throughout and the live music accompaniment is also first class.

As the tale unfolds, the talented cast spin a touching and contemplative tale that is at times intensely moving and beautifully portrayed. With its themes of loss, religion and - ultimately - hope, this is one of the finest pieces of theatre I've seen at the Fringe, and would not be out of place in the Edinburgh International Festival itself.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Samurai Spirit ****

Samurai Spirit is a visually striking and superbly choreographed show of Japanese sword fighting skills.

The cast demonstrate their prowess with katana & bo via a series of set-pieces (the lone samurai against attacking bandits, one man defending a graceful female with parasol, etc) in which the moves and fighting is excellently portrayed.

There are a couple of moments of lighter relief, including one in which a female member of the audience is chosen to learn a few moves, but most are done with seriousness and grace. The cast were involved in the fight choreography for Kill Bill, and the last segment pays homage to this fact with the black-suited combatants attacking each other with flashing blades whilst the music from the movie pumps out in the background.

Sitting in the front row added to the experience, as did sitting beside a couple of Japanese girls in the audience who were loving every minute with infectious enthusiasm.

The Factory *****

Set in the dark, dusty and claustrophobic caverns underneath the Pleasance, The Factory attempts to give a taste of the experience of Jewish concentration camp victims during the Holocaust.

Given the seriousness of the subject matter, this was important to get right - any patronising trivialisation of the topic would have been unforgivable. Fortunately, this powerhouse production delivers an experience that is unlike any other and pays due respect to its subject.

From the outset, we are disoriented. Herded into a low-ceilinged cavern, we are shouted at, sworn at, threatened and immediately split into two single column rows, commanded to keep quiet and face straight ahead. Even when one audience member mutters something to his companion, one of the five-strong cast runs up to him and screams "no fucking noise" inches from his face.

The cast - one female and four male, all dressed in the striped and tattered 'uniform' of the internees - then proceed to spend 5 minutes banging metal plates hanging on the walls. The noise is deafening and by the end we are pummelled into submission.

We are then led through a series of rooms, ordered into our places by a screaming guard. The experience of the inmates is brought to life by two of the performers, one of whom is being forced to work for the guards; the other determined not to accept her fate without a struggle.

It is obvious as we continue that struggle is useless and this defiance turns into appalling acceptance and tragic inevitability. In the penultimate room, orders are given to strip, and the performers stand amongst us naked, shivering and crying. Then, with increasing fear and desperation, we are commanded one by one into a tiny room, crammed next to each other and the naked cast. The three victims in our midst speak desperately and ultimately end up singing a Jewish hymn of devotion and defiance before, suddenly, the lights go out. When they go back on, they are lying, dead in our midst. They are carried out and a lone performer appears at the door, desperately repeating the phrase 'remember us' over and over again.

We are then led out into the harsh daylight, the cast nowhere to be seen. Impossible to forget and equally impossible not to remember those that didn't get the luxury of ever seeing daylight again.

A stunning accomplishment.

The Aluminum Show *****

At last year's Fringe, a show called Fuertzabruta appeared out of nowhere and created a huge buzz through its use of artistic, striking imagery, dance music and sheer originality. The Aluminum Show isn't quite up there with Fuertzabruta's standard, but it's not far off it.

A cast of Israeli dancers and performance artists spend an hour bringing various forms of aluminum (tubing, foil sheets, balloons, etc) to life in ever-more original and visually arresting ways. 

At first, the stage is covered with giant aluminum tubes. These suddenly inflate and vanish off up to the ceiling, leaving several person-sized tubes alone under the spotlights. Of course, the performers are inside and move and dance, breathing surreal life into the worm-like pieces.

In another striking piece, Warhol-like silver balloons of varying sizes are filled with air and then used to assemble a giant metal mannequin, which looms over the audience before marching off stage.

All the while, techno / rave music pumps out and at times gigantic tubes or sheets of foil are passed out into the audience, turning the whole space into a writhing silver mass.

There is nothing particularly physically impressive about the show, but that's not what it's about - it's all about the imagery and the different interpretations and bizarre uses for normally lifeless bits of foil, strands and fragments of which are blasted into the crowd at the end.

Shows like this take on the feeling of being at a party rather than a performance, and the group pull this off well, meaning everyone's pumped up and elated as we file out into the by comparison grey and dull Edinburgh evening.

Drum Drama ****

Drum Drama is a joyous and exuberant percussion show performed by a troupe of young Chinese drummers.

Taking place in the rather incongrous setting of an Edinburgh nightclub, this show had enough dazzling costumery, synchronised percussion and cultural pride to be highly enjoyable.

From the pounding opening number, performed by the female members of the troupe dressed in striking Peking Opera costumes, to the closing routine, being a celebratory drum dance performed by the entire group, this was impressive and uplifting stuff.

There have been many Asian shows of interest this year, and although I've not seen them all, I've enjoyed all that I've managed to fit in. Drum Drama is no exception, and provides a fascinating glimpse into the culture, skill and elation of Chinese drumming done at its best.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Jim Rose Circus ?????

It's impossible to award a rating to the Jim Rose Circus on anything approaching artistic merit, so I won't even bother...

If La Clique is the classy, elegant and beautiful femme fatale of the circus, then Jim Rose is her sick and twisted little brother, pulling wings off flies and listening to Slipknot records in a pool of his own making.

If any of the following things offend you, stay away:
  • blood
  • genitals
  • blood on genitals
  • swallowing goldfish
  • genitals with knives in them
  • foul language
  • genitals in a raccoon trap
If you're still here, then strap yourself in - it gets worse. 

This isn't to say I didn't enjoy the show, in a voyeuristic sense at least. There's things that happen live on stage (and thoughtfully projected on a big video screen at the back) that wouldn't be out of place in a Bangkok sex club. There is a thin premise to the show (that the live heavy metal band, Warthog, are pleading with Jim Rose's Satan to let them into hell), but that is of course superfluous to all the filth and fluid on show.

He's a sicko, as are his cast. But then he made 16 quid per person from this mostly pissed-up crowd, so he's not daft.

Charlie Victor Romeo *****

Charlie Victor Romeo is the code for the Cockpit Voice Recorder, better known as the 'black box' carried on board every aircraft, which records all radio and spoken voice for the duration of the flight.

It is also the name of a show by this group of American actors, who dramatise real-life black-box recordings from air disasters from the 80s and 90s.

The set is impressive, consisting of a large nose cone behind which an aircraft's cockpit is set up, complete with security door leading to the rest of the plane. The cockpit is empty as we take our seats, and ambient music and radio chatter plays over the PA, creating an atmosphere of expectation and drama.

Two of the female cast members then give us a safety briefing, and the first vignette begins. A slide projection gives us information on the flight number, date and location, together with some indication of what impending disaster is about to unfold, such as 'incorrect altimeter setting'. Then, two actors in civilian pilot uniform sit in the cockpit and then begin to repeat one of the black box recordings verbatim. 

There are several things which impress and affect about this production. First, of course, is the fact you are listening to a dramatisation of something which actually happened, and are listening to the actual words spoken by the cockpit crew and air-traffic control staff at the time.
After the first, tense episode is over, the slide returns and indicates 'no casualties', but this is an atypical example of what is yet to come.

Each subsequent dramatisation, in which the eight-strong cast switch places and roles, is of a real disaster. What moves most here is the fact you are hearing people's final words - that, and the utmost professionalism and determination of the pilots and crew to avoid catastrophe. Each vignette ends with brutal abruptness and darkness, before the slide returns to, more often than not, inform us that there were 'no survivors'. This is relentlessly powerful stuff, and it comes as something of a relief when the show is over.

Special mention must go to the sound production here, as it is superb. Engine noise, instrument warning signals, explosions - all of these create a cacophony of noise, adding to the confusion and panic of each episode's last few moments. Acting is equally impressive throughout, and the straight, verbatim telling of the recordings is a concept that works well as a testament to those who lost lives, without being exploitative.

Ultimately, although shaken and beaten by the production, you leave it with a lasting impression not only of the frailty of life, but of also of its compassion, determination and bravery.

Dragon Lady - Being Anna May Wong ***

After a narrow escape where we started off in the wrong venue about to watch a comedy show about Shakespeare, we made it to Dragon Lady by the skin of our teeth.

In this show, Alice Lee plays Anna May Wong, a Chinese movie star who featured in Hollywood films in the 20s and 30s. During this one-woman performance, we learn of the challenges and inherent racism in the movie business at the time, with Wong forever being cast as the 'exotic' vamp or villain, and never allowed a happy ending.

Lee portrays Wong well, and we journey with her through her initial excitement and optimism through her frustration and spiral into alcoholism and loneliness. A thought-provoking and accomplished piece of theatre, Dragon Lady only suffers from having a rather abrupt ending, leaving those of us unfamiliar with Wong's life keen to find out more. But I suppose that's what Wikipedia's for...

Family ****

Family is a physical show featuring a troupe of South Korean taekwon & breakdance experts. Taking the concept that two families, one specialising in each discipline, are competing in a 'Best Family' competition, they backflip, kick, handstand and dance throughout the performance, injecting some typically Asian humour into proceedings as they do so.

The physical feats of the performers are impressive, be they standing backflips, high kicks or breakdance contortionism. The whole thing is done with such good humour and attitude, that it is hard not to enjoy and be caught up in the celebratory mood of the finale, where all of the performers are busting moves on stage at the same time.

Definitely one for all the Family.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Feasting on Flesh **

We were given free tickets to see this show whilst drinking in the Assembly Rooms and it fitted into the schedule (although the plans for an early night were quashed).

Feasting on Flesh is a burlesque cabaret show performed by 6 Australian players, four men and two women. The theme of food runs throughout, and we are therefore treated to the sight of a naked girl being tightly wrapped in clingfilm, a fat drag artist stuffing his face, and an impatient diner getting cake stuffed up his backside.

Bits of this worked, bits didn't, and despite the nudity and bawdiness, this wasn't quite as shocking as the cast probably believed it to be. That said, it was free and an interesting enough way to spend an hour.

We certainly weren't hungry afterwards...

Beyond Breaking Glass ****

Beyond Breaking Glass is an autobiographical show featuring post-punk star Hazel O'Connor, best remembered for her lead role in the film Breaking Glass.

Here, like Joan Rivers and Britt Ekland, she takes the stage to reflect upon her life, recalling events and episodes in punk Britain, America and Ireland, her current home. 

What makes this work is that her story is broken up by her performing some of her best-known songs, such as Eighth Day and Will You, accompanied by a talented young Irish harpist who also provides backing vocals.

I remember my parents not letting me go and see Hazel O'Connor live back in 82 because she was "too dangerous(!)" so it was a real treat to see her and hear some of the songs I remember so well from my misspent youth.

Part monologue and part gig, Beyond Breaking Glass doesn't contain much to make you think, but does feature some great songs, and O'Connor's folk-ish voice certainly hasn't diminished over the years.

Vincent *****

Vincent, a play penned by Leonard Nimmoy, is a one-man production in which Theo Van Gogh, devoted brother and benefactor of Vincent, ponders and reflects on his famous sibling's life one week after his death.

Based on the real-life letters Vincent wrote to his brother throughout his life, the play is moving, emotional and given impact due to its personal viewpoint. The acting is impressive, with the performer adopting a Dutch accent throughout (although, and I'm nit-picking here, this does sometimes seem to stray into Spanish...). Paintings and sketches by Van Gogh are projected onto a screen at the back of the stage during the performance, and these are used to illustrate points of his life, such as the period he spent as a preacher in a Belgian mining community.

Van Gogh's story is a tragic one, and this is brought home via the writing and the performance, which very quickly convinces you that it is actually Theo Van Gogh you are listening to, such is the power of the actor portraying the part. You feel you are being given a very personal and candid view of real events by a loving and grieving brother, and by the end, you share these feelings and are left pondering the nature of family love and of artistic madness.

Etcetera ***

Etcetera is an experimental piece of puppet theatre from Eastern Europe. As the show begins, the stage is filled with tables and lifeless and expressionless cloth dolls draped upon them and lying on the floor.

Then, three black-clad women take the stage and begin to circle the puppets, choosing one after another and bringing them to life. Without words, each puppet begins to move and acts out a small vignette, ultimately leading to the doll's doom. Some are hung by ropes they are unable to escape; others strapped to a bicycle wheel; even a tiny child puppet doesn't escape its fate.

By the end of the performance, each doll is taped up to a black backdrop, and they hang there, now even more lifeless than they began. The puppeteers, like Greek Fates, have toyed with them and now melt away once more into the darkness.

Although a little overlong and at times obtuse, Etcetera contains enough visually striking imagery and poignant moments to ultimately impress.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Return of the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre ***** (and a half)

For the uninitiated, The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre is, as the name would imply, a one-man comedy show with the performer hidden behind a Punch & Judy style booth whilst he acts out a routine using socks with googly eyes stuck on them with both his hands. In a falsetto voice.

I saw this last year and loved it, although I thought part of that may be the novelty. I can happily confirm that this stands well to a repeat viewing, especially as all the material is new. Taking the conceit that they are trying to impress TV execs in the audience, the socks spend an intentionally shambolic and hilarious hour ripping through sketches and routines both scripted and improvised.

It opens with the theme tune ("I'm a sock, I'm a sock, you wear me on your feet not on your cock") and finishes with an extremely funny version of King Lear (featuring the three daughters, Gonorrhea, Ronald Regan and Cordelia Smith...). In between, we are treated to everything from their Christmas special ("and an iPhone not in a pear tree") to a special guest appearance from Kraftwerk...

Inspired lunacy, then, and what is impressive is that after a couple of minutes, you are totally bought into the idea that these socks have a life of their own - and it's only when the performer gets up from behind the stage at the end of the show that you remember this fast-paced and hilarious mayhem is all the work of one man - a man who has spent the last hour performing a double-act with himself in a high-pitched voice.

They were the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppets. And so was him. And so was he.

The Elephant Man ****

The Elephant Man is a moving and accomplished one-man production of the story of John Merrick, most notably made famous by the David Lynch movie.

The actor does an excellent job in not only portraying the tortured prisoner of his own flesh Merrick, but some of the ancillary characters, such as the freakshow proprietor, and the surgeon who befriends and takes care of Merrick in the last phase of his life.

Using props such as tailors dummies, hospital screens and a trapeze to excellent effect, the performer takes us from moments of humour and vaudeville to episodes of deeply moving emotion and drama. None of this feels forced, and it is to his credit that he captivates throughout, even though the sound of the fan in the small, stuffy theatre threatened to drown him out at times.

A tragic tale, excellently told and with just the right balance of emotion and mood - this is an easy show to recommend.

The Terrible Infants *****

I've never seen a show quite like The Terrible Infants before. Five performers - three male and two female - dressed like vaudeville circus performers, use music, puppetry and props to tell several original Roald Dahl-like morality tales. 

The story of Tilly, the girl who tells so many tall tales she grows a tail, runs through the performance and is interwoven with other, self-contained stories, such as Thingamiboy, the boy who wasn't there; and Tom, the lad that ate his mum - you kind of get the gist of where they're coming from here.

The whole is performed in a completely charming manner with a childlike glee and delight expressed by the players and some effective and at times haunting music played throughout. Even some problems with one of the microphones being used didn't dampen proceedings, and the Terrible Infants succeeded in transporting us all back to our childhood.

Given the subject matter and the family-friendly nature of the production, I was surprised not to see many children in the audience - though I suppose that goes to show we all still nurture that child within us, and delight in a stylish and bewitching show like this to bring it to the fore again, even for a short while.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Footsbarn's A Midsummer Night's Dream *****

Travelling theatre company Footsbarn's performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream takes place on a big top erected on Edinburgh's Calton Hill.

Featuring an international cast of players, the stylish production takes place on and around an apron stage, with a quartet of musicians providing live medieval style music off to the side. 

Costumes and set are all visually pleasing, and are used to good effect to evoke the ethereal atmosphere of the forest at night. The actors are all wonderful in terms of timing and comedy, and you can tell this is one of the plays that the company have spent their 35 years of existence honing to perfection.

Special mention should go to the actor who plays Bottom (and Lysander - most of the troupe take on dual roles during the performance), whose facial expressions and comedy timing suit the performance perfectly. Also to the Japanese actress who plays Titania, flitting between English and Japanese to memorably portray the faerie mysticism of her character.

Part bawdy and burlesque, part stylised and physical, you can imagine this is how Shakespeare was performed back in Elizabethan times. As the performers circle the stage, dancing slowly whilst the musicians play a madrigal, the true spirit of Shakespearean theatre is conjured up before us and casts us all under its spell.

Children of the Khmer *****(*)

Another show which deserves more than five stars, Children of the Khmer is one of the most stunning, uplifting and moving shows I've seen this year.

Incense fills the air as you file in to the church hall in which this takes place, immediately setting the atmosphere and mood. Then, each holding candles, the young troupe of male and female performers come on stage whilst live traditional music and singing play behind them. Then, after a simple yet beautiful temple ceremony, the show proper begins.

Elegant and evocative temple dances, joyous and uplifting drumming, masked dance routines between monkeys and birds, traditional folk dances - each segment of the show is as stunning as the last. Wearing gorgeously colourful traditional costumes, the young performer look energetic, happy and - most notably during the temple dance - beautiful.

Towards the end of the show, two of the performers hold a large white sheet onto which a video is projected, explaining the background of the youths we have just spent a memorable 50 minutes enthralled by. Most with parents and family killed in past conflicts and living in poverty-stricken condition, they are all members of a school which tries to teach youngsters the tradition and culture of their country, to ensure it is not forgotten. Based on the performance, they have been taught well, as the dancing, music, singing and attitude of the troupe is faultless.

At the end, the entire company line up at the exit and create an uplifting cacophony of drum and cymbals, each one bowing and saying thank you to us as we file past them. Impossible to leave without a smile, then - and equally hard to not be immensely touched and uplifted by the whole performance.

Chess *****

Chess is an ancient Chinese legend performed in a stylised and physical manner by a Taiwanese theatre group new to the Edinburgh Festival.

Telling the tale of two warring generals sparring for the love of a beautiful queen, the cast adopt costume and movement reminiscent of Peking Opera performance, moving gracefully and in exaggerated fashion around the stage.

Costumes are stunning, and the onstage choreography is fluid and visually striking. Performed mostly without dialogue, there is however some English narration provided by an attendant maidservant and the traditional Chinese percussionists who sit at the side of the stage, providing live accompaniment to the unfolding action.

Performances like this are special in that they give a glimpse into another culture and style of theatre that is otherwise hard to find. And when done with such grace, beauty and style as this production, the sense of wonder and magic is complete. Based on this show, I hope the company return again next year, and once again open a door into another time and place for us fortunate enough to step through.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Phantomysteria **

It is a common misconception that the Edinburgh Festival is filled with experimental and impenetrable Eastern European theatre. However, if you only went to one show this year and chose Phantomysteria, then that conception would probably be pretty accurate...

Performed outdoors in Edinburgh's Old College quad, this is a daring and brave attempt to bring avant-garde performance mime to an audience more used to seeing big name comedians. Unfortunately, the attempt, whilst brave, is misguided, as the pacing and left-field style of Phantomysteria is a bit wide of the mark, even for those of us that had an idea what to expect.

There are moments of style and visual impact, such as a performer barking out lines through a walkie-talkie whilst images of war and conflict are projected behind him; or fire and flames surrounding the performance area whilst bodies writhe and dance. Sadly, these moments are two few and there are two many long-drawn out parts where one character seemingly takes an age to crawl towards another. Only to crawl away again, equally slowly.

That said, this is another aspect of what the festival is all about, and if it was all stand-up comedy and the like, I wouldn't be here at all...

Gamarjobat *****

Gamarjobat are a pair of distinctive and expressive Japanese comedy mime artists, specialising in humourous magic routines and mime theatre. 

After the first twenty minutes of hilarious mime and magic, the audience is left in no doubt as to how to pronounce their name, as they have divided us into three sections ('Ga', 'Mar' and 'Jobat' respectively) and then use us to conduct a gigantic remix by getting us to shout out our allocated parts. Very funny, especially as they berate and scold us throughout for getting timing wrong or not being loud enough.

Then we're into the second half of the show, and definitely my favourite. This is The Western, during which the duo use expressive and clever mime to act out a typical tale from the Wild West, featuring gun showdowns, lynchings and romance. 

Yep, romance. By two Japanese blokes with mohicans. Although the tale is shot through with some excellent comedic moments, the story centres on one man's struggle for revenge, aided by a beautiful Spanish senorita...they pull this off excellently, and there's some true emotion and pathos in there that is actually very moving in parts.

Gamarjobat are firm festival favourites, and seem to appear all over Edinburgh during the Festival (at their shows, doing their magic routine on the High Street, Fringe Sunday etc). They have an appeal to young and old alike (although some of the younger kids were a bit lost by some of the nuances in The Western) and, although I've seen a lot of their act before, I never get tired of them.

Graffiti Classics *****

Now a Festival favourite in their fourth year, Graffiti Classics are a young string quartet with a twist. Featuring an English guy with a Nigel Kennedy style barnet, two attractive blondes (one English, one Scottish) and an Irish double bassist with beetling brows and an expressive face, Graffiti Classics play classical favourites with great talent and aplomb, but also inject each number with humour and comedy.

This ranges from a version of Air on a G-String, where the quartet start playing standing up and finish lying flat on their backs (the comedy coming from the double bassist's struggling attempts to emulate his comrades); or to a fantastically energetic version of the can-can, where by the end, all four are managing to play their instruments in perfect time and tune whilst can-can'ing around the stage.

They look good as well (particularly the blondes in their red evening dresses) and the double-bassist's expressions are a delight to see. A hilarious encore caps the whole thing off, where they get the whole audience standing and waving Scottish flags, singing Donald Where's Your Troosers to the tune of Jerusalem.  Trust me, it works, and it'll ensure I never hear either tune again in the same light...

Great fun from start to finish, Graffiti Classics deserve to be the festival favourites they by now are.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Beating of the Russian Heart *****

Beating of the Russian Heart is a show performed by Kolenso, a seven-strong group of female Russian singers who perform traditional folk music and dance.

Dressed in traditional costume, they look beautifully colourful, but when they sing, there are times when their harmonies and vocal range cause shivers to run up your spine. 

They manage to evoke the feelings and sounds of Russian peasant celebration and lament perfectly, and never miss a note nor step in the proceedings. When singing unaccompanied by the sometimes-used backing tapes, their unified voices are a sheer delight and have enormous vocal power.

Some of the lighter-hearted numbers, usually based on traditional dances of celebration, also delight - not least when they get male audience members (myself included, in what is becoming a worrying trend for this year's festival...) up on stage to join in the fun.

It's over far too quick, but for some time afterwards, that Russian heartbeat can still be felt. 

Day four / five / whatever

One of the things I love about hanging around the 'hub' of the Festival (which for me is the area around Bristo Square and the Spiegel Garden) is that you can find yourself drinking at a table next to a Caesar Twin; shaking hands with Patti Plinko after the Camille gig; walking past the aforementioned Camille in the street, dressed in fishnets and a leopardskin fur coat (her, not me) without anyone batting an eyelid; having the door held open for you by Britt Ekland, etc, etc, etc

I've probably been to the toilet next to countless stand-up comedians as well, but then I wouldn't know them from Adam...

La Clique *****

One of the stars of La Clique, a bawdy, burlesque late night circus show is the venue it's held in. The Famous Spiegel Tent is an Edinburgh Festival institution, and the city is a brighter place for the month every year it pitches up its mirrored doors and wooden & stained-glass interior.

The human stars of the show are no less impressive though, and feature such acts as the English Gentlemen, two acrobats who perform incredible feats of strength and agility whilst wearing bowler hats and Union Jack underpants. And Captain Frodo, a rubber-limbed contortionist whose signature act is pushing his whole body through a pair of tennis rackets. And that's all before we get to the stripping magician, who pulls handkerchiefs from ever-more risque places...

The audience are encouraged to clap, cheer, whoop and holler whenever they feel like it, and that just adds to the whole vaudeville atmosphere of proceedings. Indeed, with the world-class acts, the noise and smells of the circus, the sounds of the crowd, the magical music and the venue itself, there are times when it feels like you're back in some early 2oth century entertainment.

Some circuses of this kind have filler material between the main acts. It's to La Clique's credit that it has none - just an ongoing procession of amazing feats and acts that you definitely should roll up for.

Britt on Britt ***

Britt on Britt is a one-woman monologue relating the life, loves and fortunes of Britt Ekland, iconic Swedish movie star of the 60s and 70s. Fortunately, the one-woman show is performed by Ms Ekland herself, still looking great at 65.

Standing onstage in front of a projector screen displaying photos from her life and career, Ekland takes us on a personal journey, describing how she was discovered, her relationships with Peter Sellers, Rod Stewart and others, and her feelings and emotions at the times. As well as setting the record straight once and for all as to whether it's her bare backside in The Wicker Man...

She has ample charisma and obvious charm to carry the show, although at times it does feel a little self-congratulatory (like when she reads a list of all the movies she's starred in over the years). On the whole, though, it is an interesting and intimate experience, especially when you remember this is a woman that has met nearly every famous person in the last few decades.

War of the Worlds *

War of the Worlds is a one-man adaptation of Jeff Wayne's classic prog-rock concept album from the 70s. Hence most of the small audience were people like me and my friend who look back on it with fondness (and probably a possessive desire to see the source material done justice).

Pip Utton makes a brave attempt to perform the tale, though three things (one not his fault) let this down.

Firstly, and here Mr Utton is blameless, is the source material itself. Try as he might, there is no way anyone could rival Richard Burton's authoritative tones as the narrator, or the likes of David Essex of Justin Hayward.

Which leads into the second issue...yes, we knew it was an adaptation of the album, but maybe didn't quite expect the actor to actually sing some of the vocal pieces himself. He just about pulled this off, but due to a vocal range that was fairly limited, there was always the potential for this to be toe-curling, which affected the whole performance.

Thirdly, although the technical achievement of performing this as a one-man show was impressive, there was a suspicion that Pip had consumed a few shandies prior to the performance, as he stumbled over more words than would have been within the threshold of expectation. 

The chances of anyone bettering the source material are a million to one. But still they try...

Mr Gong's Hair Salon ***

A family show from South Korea, Mr Gong's Hair Salon is performed by four actors, each changing costume many times throughout the show to portray a wide number of characters.

What makes this show a little unusual is that each character sports a large, full-head mask with a fixed, comic expression and the entire tale is told via mime, music and slapstick.

The plot, such that it matters, involves an aged hairdresser reminiscing about past glories and the scrapes and japes that his fellow employees, customers and pet dog get into. It's all good fun (mostly clean - there's not many family shows out there that feature Viagra and excerpts from porn movies, I suppose...) and performed with a great deal of energy and good timing. There's also some truly funny audience participation, which I know only too well from first-hand experience...

The hour whizzes by and I defy anyone to leave this without a big grin on their face.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Camille - The Dark Angel *****(*)

I'd give this 6 stars if I could. 

Wait a minute, this is my own blog, I can do what the hell I like.

6 stars then for Camille, a show I've been looking forward to since booking it several weeks ago. Camille O'Sullivan is a stunningly emotional and vivacious Irish/French singer, in the style of 1920s cabaret artistes but with a modern and at times humourous twist all her own. This show, the last of her Festival run at the Queen's Hall in Edinburgh, was one of the most powerful and emotional things I've experienced in a long time.

She takes songs by Brel, Nick Cave, David Bowie and others, and shoots them through with power, passion and pathos - at times even moving herself to tears with the emotion of each performance. Backed by a 5-piece band of talented musicians, she struts and stomps through the loud numbers and stands transfixed and transfixing throughout the slower, pared-back ones.

For the first half of the show, things are fairly light-hearted and fun - Camille has a great style of interaction with the audience and an arrestingly charming line in banter. Then, midway, she sits, lit by a single spotlight, and applies white stage makeup to her face. She then brings us into darker territory, with songs of bare emotions and angst delivered in an amazingly bewitching and compelling style. A thousand hairs on the backs of a thousand necks stand up during numbers such as Brel's Marieke, where she sings, unaccompanied, tearing swathes of soul and passion out of a movingly doomed lament.

It's over too quickly, even with an encore and her being presented with flowers by the staff of the Queen's Hall at the end. A definite stand-out show from this year's lineup, and it will be hard to surpass the power and emotional impact of this one.

And she spat a cork in my face at the beginning. 

I still have the cork...

Joan Rivers - A Life in Progress ****

US comedy legend Joan Rivers has two shows at this year's festival. One is a stand-up routine, and this, the other is a comedy play based on her life and experiences.

I'm definitely glad I chose this one (stand-up is not my bag anyway). For 90 minutes, we are treated to Rivers in fine form, impressing equally with her (at times foul-mouthed - I've never heard a 75 year old grandmother use the 'c' word before...) humour and her acting.

Set in a dressing room prior to a red carpet show in the States, Rivers interacts with her fellow performers (a Russian make-up artist, a gay Jewish assistant producer and an acerbic TV network manager) and with the audience. Both angles work well, and there are some viciously hilarious moments in the play, mostly at the other actors expense. When speaking across the fourth wall, Rivers truly comes alive and this allows her to vent her infamous spleen and also to reflect on some of the more intimate and moving episodes from her own life.

At several moments throughout the show, she makes the point that theatre and the entertainment industry is her life: she knows no other way and she's not finished yet. On the strength of this show, I can believe that and hope that she's right.

Osaka 1837 **

Osaka 1837 is performed entirely in Japanese by the Akagumi theatre company. I knew that before I went, and have seen many shows in the past that haven't been in English: where the performance itself is evocative and descriptive enough to convey the story without having to understand the words.

Sadly, this is not the case with this play, and although the cast are all excellent and look wonderful in kimonos and period dress, the story is simply not powerful enough and is too dialogue-heavy to translate. A small synopsis in the programme helps a little, and from that you can glean that the plot concerns deep-rooted passion, betrayal and revenge, but sadly all nuance and detail is lost.

Again, I stress this is not a criticism of the company themselves, as their energy and passion were vividly displayed on stage. Though maybe next time they should choose a play which is grander in its visual telling.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Day Three

Was very wet.

Dada Noir *****

The flyer compares Patti Plinko to Piaf, Bjork and Tom Waits and - unusually for Edinburgh Festival flyers - it's spot on.

Patti (and her Boy) perform Dada Noir, a bewitching set of dark cabaret numbers. A petite creature with 50s hair and clothes playing a ukelele, when Plinko opens her mouth to sing something amazing happens.

Here is voice that performs tonal tricks - from deep seductive purring and caressed vowels to guttural moans and grunts, with the odd yelp and laugh chucked in for good measure. Musically, things are also spot-on - Plinko's ukelele playing battling against the acoustic guitar of the Boy - an anonymous figure in a boiler suit and gas mask, looking like a member of Slipknot on a quiet day.

Influences are as the flyer stated, plus a healthy dose of Dresden Dolls / Amanda Palmer, but Plinko has a style all her own, and one which, in the course of 50 minutes, I've become a definite fan of.

And maybe one day she'll beat the Boy in the ukelele / guitar strum-off...

The Caesar Twins *****

Two identical twins from Poland, the Caesar Twins are a pair of world-class gymnasts and acrobats, who over the years have perfected their circus skills to the extent that they can hold a sell-out crowd spellbound for over an hour. They could have doubled the length of the show, and no-one would have complained (apart from themselves, perhaps - this did look quite an exhausting affair).

Unmistakable with their long blond hair and muscled bodies, the twins perform a series of ever more impressive stunts and feats of physical wonder. The hour speeds past quickly, and in that time, you have witnessed some marvellous examples of what the human body is capable of, shot through with some moments of comedy and pathos. Any dead time is filled with some great live guitar and saxophone music and with projections of silent movie stars of the past on the backdrop.

But it is to the twins' credit that there is hardly a moment where one or both of them is not on stage, doing something you're not quite sure you actually saw or not. And the finale, featuring their signature water-based act is breathtaking and, thanks to some excellent stage direction & lighting, quite beautiful.

It is testament to the fame and popularity of the Edinburgh Festival that it attracts acts of this calibre, and I feel fortunate to be here for it. World-class stuff.

Pericles Redux **

There are moments of sheer brilliance and beauty during Pericles Redux, which, as the name implies, takes a remix approach to Shakespeare's original.

Those moments are when the youthful, energetic and talented cast play it straight, emphasising the pathos and emotion of the original whilst offering striking visual and physical theatric interpretations of a storm-wracked ship, a burial at sea or visions of the goddess Diana.

If only the director had stuck to this vision, rather than schizophrenically jumping between that and embarrassingly cringeworthy pantomime. Yes, the majority of Shakespeare's work contains moments of light relief and clowning. But to undermine an impeccably-choreographed scene with a throwaway line in the name of humour doesn't work. Nor do the sixth-form revue shenanigans that begin to appear with depressing regularity throughout.

Other reviewers, and most of the audience, seem to disagree and have lapped this up, and I can agree to a point - the cast are excellent throughout and the stage direction is tight and visually striking. However, the misplaced and laboured comedy effectively ruined what could have been one of the stand-out shows of this year's festival.

A frustratingly missed opportunity.

Rich Hall - Fifty-Cent Words ***

This intimate and enjoyable show sees US comedian Rich Hall reading excerpts from his own writing - both from one published and from another in manuscript form.

Like his stand-up, his writing benefits from impeccably timed, caustic delivery. Here though, in a show that would be equally suited to the Edinburgh Book Festival, Hall's observations and characterisations are given much more room to maneuver than the space normally allowed by spoken-word routines.

Vitriolic then apologetic attacks on Aberdeen; musings on trying to teach a London-based advertising company the finer points of baseball; slices of David Lynch-style Americana - all work, and all are shot through with a vein of dark humour.

Hall's charisma is also evident, and he has a sell-out crowd hanging on his every word - only twice was moaning heard. Once, when he ran out of time and therefore left a half-read tale untold; the other as a result of the corniest joke in the world...but both times, he was quickly and easily forgiven, and I left wanting to read more of his work - not least to find out the ending to that unfinished tale.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Day Two

Only two days into my festival-fest, and I've already lost track of days, dates and time. 3 shows yesterday, plus Yiyun Li at the Book Festival. And I got let into the Spiegel Garden. 

Another four shows today, no doubt interspersed with manic eating and drinking at every opportunity.

I'm getting into the rhythm of it now and having a ball. 

And it's only Tuesday. Or is it Wednesday? Who cares, let's go again...

Arirang Party *****

For me, shows like this are what the Festival's all about. Arirang Party gives us a privileged glimpse at a different country's culture, music and dance - and at the same time provides uplifting and colourful entertainment.

Performed by a mixed troupe of dancers, martial artists and percussionists (the show features Choi So-Ri, apparently a drummer of international reknown), Arirang Party is the kind of show that has you smiling broadly from start to finish. Whether it is the sublime grace and beauty of the fan dancers, the impressive high-kicking feats of the balloon-busting martial artist or the amazing percussion skills of So-Ri and his cohorts, this is wonderful stuff throughout.

And, as with previous world music type shows such as this, the performers' sense of enjoyment and pride is as pervasive as the sights and sounds on stage. It seems a shame then that shows like these play to small audiences in modest venues, whilst so-called superstar comedians play to thousands every night in the grandest halls Edinburgh has to offer.

You can forget your sell-out shows - give me an Arirang Party every time.

Bombay To Beijing By Bicycle **

Bombay To Beijing By Bicycle is a one-man show performed by an Aussie physical comedian, relating anecdotes and adventures from a true tale of a cross-country cyclist's epic journey between the two cities of the title.

The performer tries hard and is difficult to dislike, throwing himself around with boundless energy and putting on some great facial expressions and accents. But whilst being entertaining, the story isn't really that interesting, and some of the episodes and comedy falls a little flat. That said, it doesn't drag, and the small venue brings an up-close-and-personal atmosphere to the whole thing (perhaps a bit too up-close, particularly during the 'aftermath of the hottest curry in India' anecdote).

And, by sitting in the front row, I did receive oral gratification from a giant mosquito, so it wasn't all bad... 

My Grandfather's Great War ****

My Grandfather's Great War is a powerful and moving one-man show by Cameron Stewart, grandson of Captain Alexander Stewart, who served as an officer in the First World War.

Based on his grandfather's journals and letters written at the time, Stewart weaves a compelling and at times harrowing account of life in the trenches, interspersed with personal family recollections and his own thoughts & opinions.

Performed in a dank, dark vault in Edinburgh's Old Town, the grim atmosphere of the front is recreated not only by the surroundings and sound effects, but by Stewart's energetic and passionate performance. The anecdotes from the war are brought to life effectively and give a glimpse into the hell that men of the time had to endure. This stoic bravery and unflappable sense of duty are what Stewart muses on when out of character and playing himself - with mixed emotions of pride and respect for his grandfather, and incomprehension at the futility and violence committed in the name of king & country.

Tales from the First World War have been told many times in the past, and it is important they keep on being told, not least to make us think how we would have reacted in a similar situation. What makes this particular story different is the personal nature of its telling - best summed up by Stewart reflecting after a particularly gruesome and detailed episode that, had things played out differently, he would not be here to tell it at all.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Bert Jansch ****

I didn't even know of the existence of Bert Jansch prior to the Festival, but my mate was keen to see this solo acoustic guitar show from ex-member of folk supergroup (so it says on Wikipedia) Pentangle.

A quiet, unassuming character sitting on a chair underneath a single spotlight, Jansch proceeded to hold a capacity crowd at the Acoustic Music Centre spellbound for 90 minutes with his guitar mastery. Apparently hugely influential on a generation of guitarists (Neil Young and Johnny Marr rank amongst his celebrity fans), the set of gentle folk and blues numbers was captivating. Jansch's skill with the guitar is undisputed - his left hand moving spider-like across the fretboard, with his right picking out melody and rhythm from the strings. I'm no muso, but it was mightily impressive stuff.

Equally impressivlely, he also sang vocals to each number, only once during the encore making a mistake on his instrument, which he shrugged off affably and was immediately forgiven by a captivated audience.

Witnessing talent like this live is a privilege, and one of the many reasons the Festival is so enjoyable.

Day one, week two

Was all a bit bonkers. Three great shows, Camille at Fringe Sunday, food & drink wherever we could grab it and being refused entry to the Spiegel Garden for 'having had too much to drink' (I hadn't, I think I just had a funny expression on my face...)

I've got another 14 days of this ahead (hopefully they'll let me in the Spiegel the next time) - and I can't wait.

Dream of Cat *****

It would be hard not to give Dream of Cat five stars.
  • One star for the infectious and ribcage-pounding percussion performed by a seven-strong troupe of all-female South Korean drummers
  • One for the synchronised hair-flicking.
  • Another for the matching black velvet catsuits and patent leather boots.
  • One specifically for the short-haired mistress of high-speed drumming (her skill behind a rock drumkit was a wonder to behold).
  • And one final star for the fact that Drum Cat, the troupe behind this fast-moving and spectacular show, look simply stunning.
I did consider knocking off a star for the fact they played some of the numbers to backing tracks of guitar and rock music, but their full-on percussive assault and synchronised high-speed skills more than made up for that. Plus, they all looked as though they were having as much fun as we were - which, like the Brazilian capioera a couple of nights ago - is an infectious and uplifting thing.

The charming young manageress also let me photograph the show, which was an added bonus.

Six stars then.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Paul Merton's Improv Chums ***

Paul Merton's Improv Chums is good, old-fashioned comedy entertainment, just like what they used to do on Friday night TV when we only had 4 channels.

The eponymous Merton and four 'chums' (including Whose Line Is It Anyway veteran Mike McShane) spend an entertaining hour riffing on audience suggestions for household objects, movie genres, Sherlock Holmes mystery titles and the like, creating sketches on the hoof. Luckily, most of these hit home - although it's the nature of the improv beast that some fall a little short of the funny-bone target.

For the most part, however, this was good, (mostly) clean fun and the sell-out crowd lapped it up. It would seem churlish to pick fault with something as good-natured and clever as this, so I won't. Except maybe a little (with a spatula, in the style of a silent movie, whilst pretending to be a fireman).

Capioera Knights ****

Capioera Knights is a joyful, energetic and spectacular show featuring a cast of dancers and musicians from the favelas, shanty towns in Rio De Janiero.

The 8-strong male dance troupe somersault and backflip their way through a fast-moving hour, with a loose narrative explaining the roots of capioera, the 'dance that kills', which African slaves used as a form of martial art, disguising it as fluid and graceful dance moves to avoid the watchful eyes of their oppressors. The potted history of Brazilian musical and martial culture continues and culminates in two stand-out routines: a football-inspired number featuring some amazing acrobatics and dancing; and an uplifting samba routine which had the audience up on their feet.

As well as the dancers, a full samba band plays throughout, featuring some great heart-pounding percussion and some infectious rhythms. Between the displays of acrobatics and dance, the band is fronted by a lively female vocalist who sings traditional samba numbers whilst the musicians behind get lost in their respective rhythms. Sadly, this was the one weak spot in the show. Although these numbers were obviously included to allow the dancers a well-earned rest, unfortunately her voice was not quite strong enough to carry some of the songs, meaning these slices of the show felt more like filler than perhaps they should.

That was quickly forgotten though as soon as the finale started - a carnival number featuring the entire troupe which started on stage and ended up spilling out onto the street outside. The sheer energy and enthusiasm, coupled with the performers' obvious joy and pride at showing off their culture and skill meant everyone that left had a massive smile on their face.

And that is pretty much what the festival is all about.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

And so it (officially) begins...

That's it - I'm on holiday now for 2 weeks...54 shows...late snatched from vans whenever I can...drinking in the open air (weather permitting)...

...I may not survive.

Last day at work yesterday, and managed to do everything I needed done in the morning. So headed up the High Street again, to take advantage of the dry weather. Treated to performances by Drum Cat and Mudslide who were both very impressive. Then headed to the hotel where the Unreal Edinburgh photo exhibition was launching and had a few wines and a mingle with fellow Flickrites.

Then passed through the High Street once more (witnessing a quite amazing African contortionist en route) then home again via the Grassmarket (which lived up to its usual reputation - i.e. there was a big fight in the street between pissed-up stag-do members - sad).

Today, it's raining again...

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Another damp day at the Festival

Despite it having rained solid for 48 hours now, I still made a rather wet trip up to the High Street at lunchtime to snap off a few shots of bedraggled performers. Not quite sure how was most dedicated / daft - me or them.

And this evening, did another photoshoot for Kayla Kavanagh, a young Irish singer and multi-instrumentalist who blends traditional folk with electronic music in a pretty effective way. Her looped effects and vocoded vocals were pretty impressive and I enjoyed taking the shots and watching her perform.

Only one day left at work now...

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Magical & Gorgeous

One of my festival photos was published in today's Metro, which was nice.

Week Zero, Day Two

Another day at the Festival (with boring work bits in between)...

Wandered up the High Street after work, but it was all rather quiet - it looks like its busiest time is lunchtime / early afternoon, so will take that into account for future trips. Sadly, it's pishing down today, so it will have to go unvisited...

Popped into the hotel where one of my photos is being shown as part of an exhibition and chatted to Max, the organiser - great to see it printed professionally and looking forward to the launch night on Friday.

Then I went and took performance shots of The 'American', the Coloured and Me, a play taking place as part of the free festival. Enjoyed this a lot, both the experience of taking performance shots and the show itself. It's a funny and moving well-acted piece about stereotypes and racial issues, and is well worth an hour of your time.

Sadly, the weather has scuppered any festival-related plans I had today. At least I'll get a chance to remind myself what my house looks like, I suppose...

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Well and truly started

Even though I was at work yesterday, it really felt like the first day of my full-on festival period.

Went up to the Royal Mile at lunchtime and took over 300 shots of the performers and artists there - including the ever-photogenic Two Sopranos (one of whom is pictured to the right).

Then, after work, I went to the Tracey Emin - 20 Years exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. I didn't really know a huge amount about Ms Emin prior to seeing this, but it was a truly fascinating retrospective of her work to date. Using media ranging from video to tapestry (and with the infamous 'My Bed' installation an undisputed highlight), the exhibition was moving, harrowing, narcissistic, revealing, disturbing, confessional and compelling all at once.

Learning of her troubled childhood and traumatic life experiences (via a self-narrated video piece entitled 'My C.V. 1963-1997') put her provocative and arresting work into context and made me view her in a completely different light than previous. Emin deserves to be called an artist in the truest sense of the word, and as my friend observed, it will be fascinating to watch how her work evolves - and I'll definitely be making a point of seeking it out in future.

After the exhibition, I collected the final two tickets for the shows I have booked...then the call of the Spiegel Garden was too strong to resist. It's slightly smaller than last year, but the atmosphere is the same - whilst sitting outside drinking beer and watching people enjoying themselves, it didn't take a huge leap of faith to imagine you were in 1920s Berlin or similar.

Then, after a couple of drinks there, we moved on to Bristo Square, beside the Udderbelly tent where the likes of the Caesar Twins, Gerry Sadowitz and the Jim Rose Circus are all appearing. A couple more drinks and we spent the rest of the evening pretending to be invisible...

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Don't rain on my parade

Fortunately, it didn't, and this year's Edinburgh Festival Cavalcade enjoyed dry weather.

It pished down immediately before and after it though.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

My favourite place

For a very quick 4 weeks in August, the Royal Mile in Edinburgh is transformed into a crazy, chaotic, colourful, exciting, loud and vibrant place...there's nowhere else quite like it (and it's certainly nothing like that for the remaining 11 months of the year).

I've already been up there three days in a row, and plan to be up there again on pretty much a daily basis until the last of the performers crawls back exhaustedly to where they came from. 

But, until then, I'll be soaking up the atmosphere every chance I get.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Cat Women

Had an hour to kill after work yesterday, so snatched a wander up the High Street to see what was going on.

Luckily, this was going on. Dream of Cat is a troupe of all-female percussionists from South Korea, who demonstrated an incredible amount of joyous and infectious energy during their sample of their full show (the tight black outfits helped add a certain je ne sais quois to things as well...)

Booked tickets to see this lot without realising they were Korean (and wearing tight black outfits) - I'm now rather glad I did...

Hopefully I'll get back up the High Street later today - though it's currently pishing with rain, so only if that clears up...

Thursday, July 31, 2008

I shouldn't be greedy I suppose...

The festival has started...kind of unofficially - with a lot of preview shows beginning today and this weekend.

The hum of it all is beginning to be audible now in the town and I get the feeling I get every year - that there's stuff happening 'out there' that I'm missing.

I'm not off work until the 10th August, but I wish I was off now...still, I'll take a half-day tomorrow to wander up the High Street (where the performers are already descending); and it's the Festival Cavalcade on Sunday. Then, next week, I've got every lunch blocked out and plan to spend them up the Royal Mile; as well as going to see the Tracey Emin exhibition and a couple of shows I'm doing photography for - not to mention the exhibition one of my own shots is featuring in.

So, I suppose I shouldn't really complain...

But it's happening. Already. Without me.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

All that jazz

The festival is almost here (it starts, officially, this weekend).

However, the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival has already started, meaning there's already a festival atmosphere in the city.

Indeed, when I went for a walk after work yesterday, the usual venues are springing up around town; and the usual eager theatre companies are already thrusting flyers into anyone's hands that pass by.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

They're here...

My 50-odd tickets for the (50 odd) shows I'm going to see have finally arrived in the post (all bar 2, though I'm cautiously optimistic), meaning the prospect of standing in a 50 mile queue to collect them is no longer there.

Now, if only the weather would clear up...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Going ahead

The photo exhibition, featuring one of my photos, is going ahead at the Edinburgh SAS Radisson hotel in the High Street.

Which is nice.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Ticket fiasco

The Fringe online booking system has been dogged by problems this year.

Now it transpires the system they use to print tickets has broken down, and ordered tickets will have to be collected in person from some as-yet unspecified location.

Which, for me, either means queuing up for hours at their office in the High Street, or doing some Grand Tour of Edinburgh to collect them from the venues themselves...

Ah well, it should be worth it...

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Two Sopranos

Multi-talented opera singing duo The Two Sopranos have appeared on some Fringe publicity material of late.

Looking at their website, I was not only interested to see they are returning to this year's Festival, but that half of the photos on their site are uncreditted ones I've taken of them over the past couple of years (well, they are a little bit photogenic...)

I'll have to have harsh words with them when I see them again.....

Friday, July 11, 2008

Photo opportunities

I put a message on the Fringe website forum offering my photography services free of charge to anyone that wished them.

This has already borne some fruit, and I've now got an invite to take photos at a performance of an Irish 'electro-folk' singer and to take publicity shots of a 'struggling actor' for his portfolio.

Of course, I'm really hoping that last year's Dracula troupe read my offer and get in touch...

Thursday, July 10, 2008

I've always wanted to appear at the festival...

Got a comment on this photo on Flickr yesterday from someone organising an exhibition running as part of the festival at the Radisson hotel on the High Street.

Apparently - although there is always a risk these kind of things don't come to pass - my shot is one of 50 that will be exhibited in hotel, and the print will be available for purchase.

This will be nice if it happens...

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Godspeed, Royal Mail

I've just realised the tickets I'm waiting for the postman to deliver are the single highest-value item I'll have ever had drop through my letterbox...

I will be so relieved when I hear that particular thud on the doormat.

Monday, July 7, 2008

One month and counting

Only one month until this year's Edinburgh Festival kicks off...

So far, I have two weeks off work and tickets to over 50 shows.

Everything from physical theatre, vaudeville shows, modern dance, Japanese drama, Shakespeare in a circus tent, Will Self at the Book Festival...and much, much more.

This blog is intended as a place for me to blog events, show reviews, the best of the photos I take - and to give my daily hangover a mark out of 10...

Bring it on...