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An irregularly updated blog (mostly) about theatre.

  • Edinburgh Fringe '16 roundup 13 August 2016 | View comments

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    Yes, it’s not even halfway through this year’s Fringe and so a ‘roundup’ might feel premature, but a) it’s already a week since I was up in one of my favourite places in the world, having scrambled the only time up in Edinburgh I could manage and b) it’s not like I’m a major news outlet who’s going to claim that my limited show-seeing/recommendations comprises some comprehensive and unequivocal ‘best of’ list, so I figure this is fine. 

     

    My visit this year (4 days, 3 nights, 20 shows) was a pretty damn good one - a mix of knowing venues, companies and artists I either enjoy or am likely to, and a healthy dose of luck on a few random punts. (I still saw a couple of bad shows. I’m not invincible.) I even saw a couple of potential all-time mega-favourites (Us/Them and Mr Swallow: Houdini, for the most unusual combo possible). I don’t want to talk so much about shows though, but a few moments that have really stuck with me. Quite a few involve singing. Make of that what you will.

     

    Warning: technically spoilers follow. Not necessarily narrative ones, but I’m aware that in talking about moments that were often wonderful by dint of them seeming spontaneous and being unexpected, I’m taking the air out of them a bit for anyone who’d want to see these shows/experience these moments.

     

    • Both Pulse and Puppet Fiction (an autobiographical piece with a mix of song, storytelling and viola all performed by the incredibly skilled Mairi Campbell, and a marionette version of one of the story strands from Pulp Fiction) featured semi-spontaneous singing. That’s about where the similarities end. In Pulse, maybe 3/4s in, Campbell is playing her viola and begins to hum and ahh over it - just fluid, free notes. I can’t quite remember how many people seemed to naturally join in with their own voices and how many came in after Campbell gave the gentlest of encouragements. But I actually feel phenomenally emotional even remembering it now. Softly, kindly, with feeling, the audience began to sing; no set tune, no set sound, just hums and ahhs, whatever felt good to sing. I can bang on a lot about not wanting to spend an hour sat next to strangers in the dark and this moment - of suddenly all those strangers sat side by side in the dark sharing in that activity, feeling safe to sing without any guidance but Campbell’s viola, and making such a beautiful sound together, that absolutely surrounded me - this moment felt like a really beautiful antidote to that. I think it maybe lasted a minute. I can’t quite express how genuinely magical and mercurial it felt. 

     

    • With Puppet Fiction, it was the Pulp Fiction theme. After the opening scene, the titles kicked in (on the flatscreen TV that acts as a brilliant backdrop to the show’s action, rolling through video of Edinburgh so it looks like Jules and Vincent are driving down Nicholson St) and the three-strong case began singing the theme. No one had to be told to join in, it was just natural - sure, it wasn’t ethereal in the way Pulse was, but a basement full of people going ‘dunnnnnnnn - dun nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nunnn’ still felt like the best room to be in at that precise moment. It feels like something that lets you know everyone else in the audience is on the same page you are. Which is a really lovely feeling.

     

    • One more singing mention: I went on Guru Dudu’s Silent Disco Walking Tour out of a mix of curiosity, an interest in the use of headphones in performance, and a genuine fondness for silent discos (though zero previous experience of public, daytime ones). Above and beyond the general joy of dancing wholeheartedly in a group of strangers for an hour (sure, I’m not the most self-conscious person, but it’s still impressive the effect just blocking out the sound of the outside world and replacing it with disco can have), there was the genuinely brilliant feeling of singing as a group, as we were encouraged to do during certain songs. Sometimes just out to the world, sometimes to specific people, always with a very poor grasp of what we sounded like, due to the headphones.

     

    [So I think what I’m saying is: more shows that get people singing, please.]

     

    • I’ll just do one other moment, since I should be doing other things and this could go on for ages. I started one morning with half an hour in a rooftop garden area at Dance Base (main Fringe ’14 souvenir: a vacuum-packed tube of toothpaste used in the bizarre Olympic event finale of a show at this venue), drinking green tea and watching some silent clowning. During the show, as part of the action, the performer finds a stone in his coat pocket. He has fun throwing it around, feeling its weight, testing how far he can throw and catch it whilst keeping his eyes closed, that kind of thing. Then, just before the show’s end, he finds a small bag at the base of a tree. Filled with similar stones. Ritually and with so much care, he goes to each individual audience member and gifts them a stone. I’m struggling to think of any other show I’ve seen where it essentially gives you the means for recreating - or expanding on, or exploring, or devising anew - the performance at the end of it. It was a brilliantly executed expression of a brilliant sentiment: well, you can do this too now. Enjoy it. 

     

    Good Fringe.

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