We got there about 12:30 on Friday night/Saturday morning, and kicked off early the next day. Stuff bullet pointed is show reviews, the rest is 'stuff I did'...
- Carl, Christian (also known as Fish, for those that don't know), Nikki (randomer loosely associated with Carl/EUSOG), and I went to see Little Red Things: The Boy Who Wouldn't Listen, by Gomito at Bedlam to begin with. Carl and I always see the Gomito show when up, and this was its last day. They're a great company, with fantastic physical work and magical storytelling. The whole experience is usually one of delight in what they're doing in front of you, and it's regularly my highlight of the festival. This year was not disappointing from that point of view, but I felt that they hadn't been as imaginative as they have been in the past. The show was a sequel to last year's sell out Little Red Things, and that allowed them to do more of the same, rather than thinking further and showing us new things. It was still good, but I was slightly disappointed by that.
- We followed up Little Red Things with The Quest for the Divine Bottle, a piece put together in association with Gomito (there's a link to the Divine Bottle page from the Gomito link above) and based on the work of Rabelais. He was a particularly dirty French medieval monk, and this gave the group plenty to work with. I actually preferred this show to LRT in many ways, because it had the freshness and strangeness that I look for in a piece of theatre, continually making you see everyday things in a different way. The plot did certainly, as Fish puts it, lack cohesion. It felt very dreamlike though, jumping about from line to line and being difficult to follow, and I felt that that was no bad thing. Less polished, perhaps, than the previous, but still thoroughly entertaining.
- I wandered over to PGP to catch up after that, and saw Melancholia by the Latino Theater Company. The stagecraft was excellent, and I was thoroughly engaged by that aspect of their work. However, the bare anti-war agenda of the play was a little annoying after a while - it was aimed explicitly at the Iraq war, which might be fair enough, but just saying 'war is bad' is not really profound enough these days, especially at the Fringe. It lost marks for being slightly trite, and n0t recognising, for example, that Iraq is different from any other theatre of conflict.
- Sweeney Todd was next up. This was a Cambridge show I'd been planning on seeing for ages anyway - it's by Fitz Theatre (and Sondheim), who seem to have a holding site instead of a website...job for you, Hugh? It was good, don't misunderstand the following - I think I judge musicals more harshly than other things. The music has to be spectacular, as does the singing and the acting in order for me to really enjoy it. These guys did great, and I could see why so many people were saying it was fantastic, but it didn't completely bowl me over. Reasons for this included the lack of full orchestration that meant that some of the texture was lost, dodgy high notes partly due to the fact that it was last night, and a Joanna who needs 6 months of lessons after which time she'll have a voice blended across the registers. She was good, but missed out on being REALLY good.
- Rounding off the day was Jesus: The Guantanamo Years by (Elaine's ex) Abie at the Underbelly. I was knackered by this time, and Fish and I were both pretty drenched, so I was not in the most receptive of moods when we went to sit down in the steamy damp cave that passes for a theatrical venue to the Underbelly (I LOVE the Underbelly). However, the writing in this was fantastic. The general premise is that Jesus returns to the stand up scene after 2000 years and tries to get past US security, as well as moaning about the Monty Python spin off. He's a bearded Middle Eastern guy prepared to die as a martyr, and is convinced that his mission is a holy one. Ends up in Guantanamo, strangely. Very well observed and very well put together - what you'd expect from someone who makes his living mostly as a journalist. Prevented only from being my pick of the Fringe by the fact that Abie is not a performer, I don't think. What was needed was for the audience to believe in the character they were watching, rather than just laughing at and being enlightened by what he was saying. It was a shame, that. All the same, thoroughly entertaining, and I was in a much less horrid mood when it was finished than I was when it started.
This concluded Saturday, and we'd made good inroads into the weekend's shows. I only saw two shows on Sunday, preferring to laze, chat, get fed by relatives and get drunk with the PGP/EUSOG crowds.
- The first one I did see was The Gently Progressive Behemoth, again at least loosely Cambridge show, put on by Luke Rogers and Nadia Kamil. They did Staggered Spaces in Greyfriars last year and it was great - silly, poignant, honest comedy. This time, it was mostly silly. Quite fun silly, but definitely not as good as before. We did share the audience with Jimmy Carr though, and as he left he said that it was 'kinda fun' and he had 'had a giggle', so their careers are continuing upwards - they have quotes from Daniel Kitson in response to Staggered Spaces...perhaps I should try and pass that on to them?
- Then it was time for The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, the floor of whose flat I was sleeping on. I was actually very impressed by this, having gone not really expecting great things from a kids' show with what was considered a bad script. The performances were universally great though, and I really don't think they could have done more with it.
I met Jacqui (Company of Ten old friend) for breakfast at the Elephant House, 'Birthplace of Harry Potter' as it is now, on Monday, and then went to see:
- Smile and Say Thanks at Bedlam with her. This was a typical Bedlam show; new, sweet, and with a few corners not yet cut off. It was loosely about random acts of kindness, I suppose, each characters telling different stories that eventually came together in interesting ways. Very entertaining and enjoyable for first thing in the morning, though there were definitely bits that could have been cut. They had badges. Always a good deal.
I was going to see the Harry Porter Prizewinner (more Cambridge) play Coat that lunchtime, but was too keen on eating and not rushing around too much that I didn't.
- I saw Can of Worms instead, which was a play about torture, but very funny and very entertaining performances. I met up with Rachel there, by accident. She's writing a play on contemporary theatre, and I like contemporary theatre a lot, so we tend to run into each other. She felt that, like Melancholia, its message was a bit lacking in depth, which spoiled an otherwise thoroughly excellent piece of theatre. That a piece doesn't have a particularly profound moral does not prevent it being good art unless it has set out to do so - then it fails on its own terms.
- Next was Mouse; a piece along a similar lines, I guess. It was a monologue, set in a garage where a second, silent character is committing suicide with a car due to the manipulations of the speaker. As an example of its type, it was great. The performance was strong and the story quite interesting. It just wasn't really new - we've all done monologues, and they always go the same way, with the audience discovering more about the character than the character realises. Robert Browning did that to death 150 years ago. Still good, but not new.
- My final show of the Fringe this year was Eurobeat. It had a pretty good reputation by the time Fish and I saw it. It's in the Pleasance Grand, one of the biggest venues on the Fringe, and as such it doesn't really feel like fringe theatre. It was supposed to be a spoof of Eurovision, taking the mickey out of that institution. The thing was, Eurovision is universally acknowledged as a really silly event in any case. They didn't take their mick-taking far enough, I think. There were a few more dirty jokes and entertaining mistranslations, but frankly there are actually quite a lot of those in the contest itself. It missed an opportunity to be absolutely hilarious, and instead didn't do much more than just put the Eurovision on stage.
And that was my Fringe, really. Slightly odd to have family up there, but that HAS happened before, even if not since about 2002 when I last did a show. It was nice to get to know Fish as well, as a person and not someone on the other side of a computer screen. I can nearly think of him as a real person and not the goldfish he has as a userpic on MSN now... I was very glad he was there actually, or I'd have spent a lot more time on my own. I don't think I really assisted him in his attempt to work while he was there, but I think I did manage to drag him to some theatre he wouldn't otherwise have seen. I get the impression he's mildly impressed with my dragging him to see Little Red Things straight off, because he keeps hearing people talking about it and saying how good it is, which is quite gratifying. I'm becoming a Fringe veteran though - this was my 6th since 2001. I may well have spent more time in Edinburgh than I have in Cornwall. Weird. Not working was PGP was a bit strange this year, but I did hang around and stuff, which was sort of nice. I even turned up to the brand new kitchen in the bowels of Augustine's and made them lemon cake yesterday morning, just to get the full Fringe experience. And to make myself feel I'd earned the free ticket to Melancholia Jeff gave me half by accident because he thought I was working. Train back was dull, though I was glad I managed to persuade Carl to get my train back. In Cambridge for a couple of nights before the next theatrical adventure starts in Cornwall tomorrow. New cats on Friday! Woohoo! Need to see what can be done about llamas, too...