I'm not quite sure how this log will turn out. The Wales part will be straightforward enough, but Edinburgh will be mostly movies, plays, and other performances in the various festivals, and Glasgow will be the World Science Fiction Convention. Still, there will probably be something to write about in those areas of general interest--or maybe I'll just inundate you with reviews.
August 11, 1995: Because we had a 7:40 PM flight out of Newark, we were able to work until 4:30 PM. Whether this is a good or a bad thing is a matter of opinion. (Actually, things were pretty slow at work and we probably could have left an hour earlier than that. This would have helped my usual pre-trip "will-we-miss-the-plane?" jitters. We did not miss the plane.)
The flight was uneventful, except for the fact that the woman in the window seat, after announcing that she didn't need to go to the restroom very often, proceeded to climb over us--literally, by stepping on the arm rests--an average of once an hour.
August 12, 1995: We arrived about a half hour early and customs and immigration were the usual breeze. Getting money was equally easy: you walk up to the wall, insert your card in the slot, punch in the magic word, and voila! money. Then it took about twenty minutes to get to Terminal 1 for our British Midland flight to Edinburgh. We managed to get listed as stand-by for an earlier flight to Edinburgh, but that ended up over-booked, so we had to wait another hour and forty minutes for our confirmed flight. Well, at least I could stretch out in the lounge and take a nap.
And as it turned out, we benefited a second way: when we got to the airport in Edinburgh, Kate was waiting at the bus stop to meet us! It seems she had been able to take an earlier flight from Gatwick, so decided to hang out by the bus stop and wait for us. Had we taken the earlier flight we would have already left.
We took the bus in (#3.20 each) while discussing flights, plans, etc. From the Waverly Bridge it was a four-block walk to the rental agency--not bad for us with our backups, but Kate had a large suitcase with no wheels. We picked up the keys and got a taxi about a half-block away to the flat (#4.10 plus 70p for something--luggage?).
I suppose I should give some basics. At the suggestion (or perhaps just following the example) of someone on the Net, we decided to try renting a flat for the basically two weeks we would be in Edinburgh. Conflicting information about when to start this process resulted in some scurrying (in April!) to find a suitable place (we went through Mackay's, one of the major agents), but we found a flat in Leith that would do for #375/week (a little over US$600). It's much cheaper than a hotel for three (ourselves and Kate Pott) would have been, and much more comfortable.
(Well, it's now 7 PM Sunday 13 August, and I've determined what will happen with the Edinburgh part of this log: I am so swamped with going to events that the most you'll get will be a brief summary.)
I should also explain the Festivals (though I know Mark is doing this as well). First there was the Edinburgh International Festival, a high-class collection of opera, theatre, music, and dance. This year there are seventy different events in the International Festival over the three-week period of 13 August to 2 September.
But not everything could get a slot in this cultural festival. For example, such works as Sherlock Holmes and the Giant Rat of Sumatra had inexplicable difficulties getting a venue. So was born (as I understand it), the Fringe Festival. Initially sprung up around the "fringes" of the International Festival, it appears to have become the tail that wags the dog, except the tail is the size of Smaug's and the dog is a very small chihuahua. For example, the Fringe has over three hundred theatrical events--in a single day! (I didn't count how many musical, comedy, or other events there were.) And finally (at least for us), there is the Drambuie Edinburgh Film Festival, with about two dozen screenings a day--fairly small compared to the Montreal International Film Festival we attended last year. We had initially planned to attend just the Film Festival, but as the schedules appeared it became clear that to maintain the mad frenetic pace we have come to insist upon for our relaxing vacations, we would need to branch out. (There's also a book festival going on that we probably won't get to at all.)
So here's a preview of the log to come: a list of what we actually did attend:
(Descriptions are given on the various days.)
The flat is quite nice, with a bedroom with two twin beds, a living room/dining area with a television and a futon bed, and a full kitchen with microwave and washing machine. The bathroom even has a bidet, but on the downside is the fact that except for the bidet, none of the faucets in the flat actually mix the hot and cold water--they come out as two parallel streams, and since the hot water is very hot, this is not very convenient. (The bidet provides an existence proof that there are mixing faucets in Britain, but I suppose it's more necessary in a bidet than elsewhere.)
We walked to the nearest supermarket, about fifteen minutes away, and stocked up on milk, bread, etc. The milk and juices here are all in those sealed boxes that you can store unopened for months without refrigeration, and when I asked if there was frozen juice concentrate, the clerk looked completely baffled by the idea. (I figured it would be lighter to carry back than the boxes of juice.)
We returned to the flat about 4 PM and spent an hour syncing up our plans, figuring out what we would all be going to together and so on. About 5 PM we went out to dinner, hoping to try the fish and chips place across the street, but that was closed for two weeks, so we walked to another one near the supermarket. Fish and chips are good, but there is an awful lot of breading and fat in it.
(British cooking, or at least Scottish cooking, seems to emphasize starches. You see menu items like "Lasagna and Chips" or "Calzone and Baked Potato.")
August 13, 1995: We got up, having slept moderately well, and after breakfast walked back to the supermarket, since on Sundays that's as close as the bus goes. (The rest of the week it stops about a half-block from us.) We got off at Princes Street and stopped in the Tourist Information Centre (mobbed!) for maps and information on tours (mostly for Kate), then walked to the Fringe Office on the High Street where we bought tickets for everything we were seeing as a group and for everything Mark and I were definitely seeing for the next couple of days. We want to check the pace before committing ourselves for the rather tightly packed schedule we have.
Then we walked (via a somewhat roundabout way) to the Filmhouse, where we bought all the Film Festival tickets we wanted, except for what was already sold out--which were most of the full-length films we were interested in, so we'll be seeing a lot of shorts.
By this point we were so confused about what we had scheduled that we went into the Bull and Bush Pub across the street for lunch and some time to sort ourselves out. We shared a "haggis, neeps, and tatties" specials (neeps are turnips), as well as some less adventurous food.
At this point Kate decided to see the Castle and walk around the Royal Mile, so we looked at what was on this afternoon and picked:
Oxford Brookes Drama
"Berkoff's Masterpiece. Based on Kafka's short story, follow Gregor Samsa as he turns into an insect and thus faces an extreme, an absurd, alienation." (Southside Community Centre, 117 Nicolson St., 4.05pm-5.40pm, #5)
Put on by a company of five actors heavily influenced by mime, this production seemed at times also inspired by the film The Fly, or perhaps it's just that the film was inspired by Kafka. One idea that Kafka had that various science fiction authors have picked up on was the idea of the "sample tray"--put out a bunch of stuff for trade with aliens (or, in The Metamorphosis, food for Gregor) and see what is taken.
We took the bus back to Princes Street and tried to get bus information at the bus station. Unfortunately, the information office was closed on Sunday. I think we'll take the train--it's cheap enough, and the Glasgow station is near our hotel.
We found the venue for our next event, but were quite early. So we sat in the park for a while, writing and relaxing, before returning for:
THE LOST CONTINENT
"Bill Bryson's hilarious best-seller hits the stage. A wickedly funny portrait of America as seen through the eyes of an American ex-patriot. Starring Steve Steen (Whose Line...)." (Assembly Rooms, 54 George Street, 7.40pm-8.50pm, #7.50)
I had really liked the book, and the show was just as funny, though of course much shorter. I think the American humor was understandable to the audience, but that may be because Bryson now lives in Shropshire and may have kept it to a minimum (as contrasted with the British humor in tomorrow morning's show).
We returned to the room and went to sleep without waiting up for Kate, who was seeing an 11 PM film.
August 14, 1995: Kate had hobbled in about 2 AM this morning, having twisted her ankle on the bus. Luckily, she did this after touring the Castle and walking down the Royal Mile, but she will have to delay her trip to Stirling until her ankle gets a bit better.
So our first stop this morning was Boots, a chemists' (drug store) for an elastic bandage and a cane. (We had one elastic bandage, but Kate wanted to be able to wash them out between wearings.)
After that was:
Shakespeare for Breakfast
"The original and best bring you a tempestuous triumph of coffee, croissants, culture and comedy from Prospero and friends. Start your day the Shakespeare way with this mouthwatering new production from the creators of S4B's first international hit!" (C Venue, Over-Seas House, 100 Princes Street, 10.00am-11.00am, #5)
This was humorous, but not really Shakespeare, and much of the humor was dependent on knowing British pop culture (like the current game shows). And has no one else read Measure for Measure? The whole key on which the denouement turns is that the friar in that play is actually the Duke in disguise, but when the actors asked the audience who had read it, I seemed to be the only one who raised a hand. (This came with coffee and croissant, but calling eating that balanced on your lap "breakfast" is perhaps an exaggeration.)
We sat in the park a bit while Kate rested her foot, then took the bus to the University of Edinburgh for our next event. When we got off the bus, practically the first thing we saw was the local branch of Forbidden Planet, so naturally we went in. Kate stocked up on Storm Constantine and Iain Banks (the name under which Iain M. Banks writes his horror fiction) and I bought Greg Egan's new collection Axiomatic. I suppose there is something peculiar about coming to Britain to buy a book by an Australian author.
Then we popped into the pub in the Chaplaincy Center (an odd combination to Americans, no doubt) where I had a vegetable pie and cider for lunch. Kate and Mark stuck to hot chocolate.
And then came:
Mother Wild Theatre Company
THE GOBLIN MARKET
"Victorian erotica! Two sisters struggle with suppressed memories of seductive goblins whose forbidden fruits spawn sour reminders of Victorian convention. Inspired by Christine Rossetti's lush poetry, Goblin Market is an enchanting musical journey into sensual self-discovery." (Chaplaincy Centre, Bristo Square, 1.45pm-3.15pm, #5)
When Kate heard that the director was from Hampshire College she feared the worst, and it did start slowly. But it turned out to be a surprisingly good combination of poetry, dance, and song in a faithful adaptation of the poem. The only regrettable fact was that this had the smallest audience of anything we saw (at least in the first three days). On the other hand, it was one of the best things we saw.
Mark and I then took our leave of Kate and rushed off to the Filmhouse, a trip that took only twenty minutes. We were headed for the 4 PM showing of:
DEFF: Grim Realities
"Not so much gloom and doom with a leaden air of depression; more a keen, sensitive and frequently sympathetic investigation of the darker aspects of life. "Minka" (20 mins) takes place in a modern town in Africa, and follows a ten-year-old orphan who lives with his abusive stepfather, the village chief. "Seven Days Under Mavis" (28 mins) is based on a true event in Australia, when an elderly man is pinned for a week after his wife dies suddenly, collapsing on top of him; as he hallucinates, past and present, love and hate begin to merge. Based on a short story by Kafka, "The Hunger Artist" (42 mins, World Premiere) is an emotional drama about a journalist chasing a story, which, in the long run, forces her to question the truth of her subject. (#6)"
"Minka," a film from Guinea, which was in Arabic and subtitled in French. To compensate for this, they projected computerized subtitles on a screen below the screen. This was distracting, and also caused the film to start late, because they needed to set it up. And they still were not perfectly synchronized with the dialogue. Given all this, it's hard to evaluate the film fairly, but it worked for me only as a picture of a different society.
The second was the best of the three. "Seven Days Under Mavis" is a 1993 Australian film which is based on a true incident, although I suspect the actual length of time was less than a week. It works very well as a horror story.
The third film was "The Hunger Artist," based somewhat on the Kafka story, but taking great liberties in interpretation. I'm sure there was deep symbolism and meaning in it, but I couldn't quite grasp it. Oh, well, I may get another chance, since we accidentally bought tickets for another compilation that includes it.
(At the second viewing I took a few more notes, trying to make sense of it. So far as I can tell, the film is about how someone leads a life of denial in order to entertain others, even though it's killing him. There seems to be some sort of AIDS parallel, assuming that what I think was Karposi's Sarcoma on the Hunger Artist actually was supposed to be that and not some other sort of sores. One line that did stick with me was the reporter asking the Hunger Artist, "In an era of hunger strikers what can a hunger artist have to offer?" And at the end, a note is found in the Hunger Artist's cage saying, "I couldn't find the food I loved.")
We had about a half hour between these films and the next batch and the cafe was packed, so we went down the street to a take-away donner kebab shop, or what we would call a take-out gyros place. I think what we call gyros is called donner kebab everywhere else (except Greece, of course) but the word "Donner" has an unfortunate connotation in the United States when attached to food.
DEFF: Australian Shorts
"90 mins. About a quarter of the hundreds of short films submitted to the Film Festival this year came from Australia, and the vast majority were of an exceptionally high standard. Some have been programmed with features, some in other shorts collections, but here we offer a selection of the very best in a single sitting. (#6)"
Well, I like Australian science fiction, so I figured I would like Australian shorts. And I did like some, though not as many as I would have expected of the seven short films shown. There were "Urn" (1994), "Saxa" (1994), "Strap on Olympia" (1995), "The Vegetable Mob" (1994), "What Comes After Why?" (1994), "The Despondent Divorcee" (1995), and "The Unforgiving Weight of Anatomy" (1995). No, the last is not a remake of "Seven Days Under Mavis," but a strange little tale somewhat like a "Twilight Zone" episode, and was probably the best of the bunch. I especially liked the "Great Prophets of Our Times" series of postage stamps.
The other one that sticks with me is "The Despondent Divorcee," which relies on a photograph by Iggy Sorgi, whom I assume is either an Australian Weegee, or a very lucky photographer. "Saxa" (about a man who had been told that his father had been killed saving his family when a train ran through their house) also had some interest, but the rest were either somewhat incomprehensible, or somewhat pointless. The Australian accents may have contributed to the former, but can't explain the latter.
One of the things I noticed was that there was no ABBA music anywhere--maybe it's required only in feature-length Australian films.
We took the bus to Princes Street, then decided to kill time before our next event by going into the Bargain Bookstore. I hadn't planned on buying anything, but they had Rachel Ferguson's The Brontes Went to Woolworths, a book that Kate and I had been looking for for years. They had a stack in their sales classics, which were all #1.50 each, or #2.50 for three. In other words, if you buy two, they will pay you 50p to take a third one off their hands! So I got two copies of the Ferguson and a Thomas Hardy I hadn't known of before.
We then proceeded to:
MODERN PROBLEMS IN SCIENCE
"'A tour de force of comic improvisation'--The Herald. Three Chicago performers prove a completely absurd hypothesis provided by the audience. 'Their quick wittedness is prodigious and their entertainment value unbeatable.'--The Scotsman." (Assembly Rooms, 54 George Street, 9.20pm-10.20pm, #7.50)
This time around the audience assigned the three performers their professorships in physics, wine tasting, and prosthetic philosophy, and were asked to prove "Light bulbs don't emit light; they suck dark." This is not as interesting hypothesis as some they have done in the past (such as "Reflection off of William Shatner's hairpiece is the cause of global warming" or "The core of the Earth is made up of live chickens," and the prosthetic philosopher never even mentioned Tycho Brahe's prosthetic nose, but it was a lot of fun in spite of this.
Afterwards we had a snack and Kate had dinner at a near-by restaurant; then we returned home.
August 15, 1995: Since we had nothing until noon, we decided to do a load of laundry (the donner kebabs had been a bit messy). Luckily Mrs. Petersen called this morning, because we couldn't figure out how to run the washing machine (I had set it for rinse only or something) and she told us where the instructions were. It still seems to take forever--an hour later it was still in the wash cycle, but the dial was moving.
We had bought one-week bus passes for #9 and I had wondered if they would be worth it. The answer is yes, in part because if you have a bus you're much more likely to take a bus for shorter distances than if you don't. (Well, at least that's true for me.) So at the end of the day you're far less exhausted than if you walked everywhere. Not to mention that now that there is this craze for "exact change only" on buses, collecting the amount needed is difficult, especially for the just-arriving visitor.
Our first event was:
Cambridge Amateur Dramatic Club
THE JEW OF MALTA
"Marlowe's black comedy. A new one-hour version. They take away his money because he is a Jew. Because he is a Jew they think he won't complain. Because he is a man, he wants revenge." (Adam House Theatre, 5 Chambers Street, 12.05pm-12.55pm, #4)
I thought that it was surprisingly favorable tp the Jew, and surprisingly negative towards the Christians, but Mark claims that's my biases showing. (I claimed that Marlowe was not accidentally killed in a bar brawl--he was killed by angry Christians who didn't like his portrayals.) It seems as though Marlowe's Dr. Faustus has far over-shadowed his Jew of Malta (and in fact we will also be seeing an adaptation of the former here).
(You know, I like this new system of spending all my time at things there's very little point in reporting on in detail, and so not writing as much. Just as well, really, because I will fall way behind at Intersection, and hit a more normal pace in Wales.)
We then went up to the Fringe boxoffice to fill in our tickets for the next three days. I can't plan much further than that without getting confused about conflicts and such (witness our double viewing of "The Hunger Artist") and it makes things a bit more flexible. Besides which, we're starting to hit sell-outs, and need to change dates around. (Actually, it's only one item so far, and that was "The Complete History of America" which involves the troupe using pump-action water guns on the front rows of the audience. We are planning to sit in back.)
While waiting in line, we were leafleted by one of the performers from "Modern Problems in Science" and got a chance to talk with him about the show and how it varies from night to night. We also saw a bit of:
Albert & Friends Instant Circus
LE PETIT CIRQUE DES HORRORS
"Silent movie melodrama in a circus setting provides the ideal vehicle for this exciting young troupe's return to the Fringe. Dazzling skills, youthful enthusiasm and a generous helping of humour make ideal family entertainment." (Wireworks Playground, behind Fringe Office, 1.15pm-2.00pm, #0)
I suppose for free it was okay, though it seemed to be basically juggling and mime. Then again, it may have been aimed at an audience one-tenth our ages.
We got our next batch of tickets and walked down the High Street, which was so crowded that I said to Mark that I would find the relative emptiness and calm of a Worldcon a relief. But eventually we worked our way down to:
MOZART AND SALIERI
"Before 'Amadeus' there was 'Mozart and Salieri.' Written by Russia's greatest poet Alexander Pushkin; this micro-tragedy tells the tale of one man's terrible envy for a man of genius (and his premature demise). Great Theatre." (Scottish Poetry Library, Tweeddale Court, 14 High Street, 2.00pm-2.20pm, #0)
Not only was there "Mozart and Salieri" before "Amadeus," but there was a lot of "Mozart and Salieri" in "Amadeus." To say that Shaffer was influenced by Pushkin would be an understatement. In spite of the somewhat peculiar venue (the performers were on the grass verge on one side of the wide alley that the Scottish Poetry Library was on, the audience was on the other, and occasionally pedestrians would pass between the two), this was a well-performed one-act play.
We then had to go about four blocks along the High Street to the turn-off for the next event, but since it was all uphill we decided to take a bus (see what I mean?). What we didn't quite take into account was how long it would take the bus to go those four blocks--luckily we had plenty of time, because what with waiting for the bus and the slow pace, it took about thirty minutes to get that far. Even so, we got to the next venue about a half-hour early for:
"An adaptation of Shakespeare's last play is designed and directed by Japan's Risako Ataka--a fusion of East-West theatre techniques--(Indonesian Wayang Kulit; Japanese Butoh, European theatricality). Prospero's recollection a vivid theatrical experience; with Daniel Foley." (The Quaker Meeting House, 7 Victoria Terrace, 3.30pm-4.50pm, #6.50)
Well, it was different. Daniel Foley (who played Salieri just an hour and a half ago) was Prospero--and everyone else. Seeing someone do a one-man show of The Tempest (with the help of the set and some props) is an interesting, and there was what I thought was an interesting twist ending, but it was often slow-moving and hard to stay alert for. There is a problem with the Festivals in that there is so much going on that every room larger than a closet is turned into a venue, regardless of its lack of ventilation or sound-proofing. There seemed to be a circus going on outside whose music conflicted with the Japanese instruments providing the music for this, for example.
Dinner was at the Helios Fountain, recommended as a good vegetarian restaurant. The food was okay, and reasonably cheap, but it has a fairly limited menu and of the sort that appeals to me more than to Mark.
We did some writing and then went to:
EAMON, OLDER BROTHER OF JESUS
"From the new Radio 4 comedy. After waiting for 2,000 years, it's Eamon's turn to wear the mantle of messiah and return to earth as the Second Coming. (Jesus is ill.) Redmond is 'superb' (Guardian), 'hilarious' (Scotsman)." (Gilded Balloon II, Stepping Stones, West Bow, Grassmarket, 7.30pm-8.30pm, #6.50)
Recommending things is tricky. For example, Dale Skran and I have concluded that any book he really likes, I won't like, and vice versa. We know this, though, so it makes recommending things to each other more likely to be successful. "Eamon, Older Brother of Jesus" was recommended by a different friend, who said this was the one item at the Fringe she definitely wanted to see. While I found it amusing most of the time, I would never put this on a must-see list. She, of course, found my must-see list not to her tastes, so I think we may be able to work out an understanding.
After this, we returned to the High Street, where enormous mobs of people were struggling up the street to the Castle for the Tattoo. Since we had three and a half-hours until our next event, we decided to take a bus back to the flat for a snack and a rest. We got on a bus labeled "Leith" and though it went by a totally different route than our usual bus, it eventually took us to the Foot of Leith Walk.
I took the laundry out of the washer/dryer. It was still damp. It was also blue, except for my yellow shirt--which was green. I don't know if it was Kate's blue pants (at least I think they started out blue) or her blue socks, but we now have a lot of blue underwear. I'm just glad we didn't put in any good shirts. I hope Kate likes blue.
We returned to Princes Street for our last event of the day, or rather the first event of the next day:
EDINBURGH FRIGHT NIGHTS
"Edinburgh's bloodcurdling past is recreated in a collection of chilling tales guaranteed to unnerve even the most doubtful cynic. This nail-biting journey into the world of the supernatural will excite, amaze, terrify and thrill. Not for the faint-hearted!" (C Venue, Over-Seas House, 100 Princes Street, 0.15am-1.30am, #4)
Well, that was disappointing. The tales were okay (though the stage trappings of having the teller in a red and black cloak with long red fingernails seemed a bit artificial). The tarot reader was also a waste of time, not to mention not being very good at it--she sounded like she was fumbling through the whole thing. Still, if Kate can't manage a ghost walk some evening, this provided a substitute.
We then took a taxi back to the flat (buses stop at midnight), and after some conversation got to sleep about 3 AM.
August 16, 1995: Well, not surprisingly we slept late. We put another load of laundry in (towels, and a handkerchief to see what color it came out) and lowered the water temperature considerably. The washing machine seems to take a couple of hours for a cycle, and the dryer doesn't dry things completely, but it beats washing everything in the sink.
With as much to choose from as there is, it's not surprising that we also spent some time planning the day. Trying to see everything you want to see--well, okay, that's impossible, but even trying to see part of it requires a lot of scheduling. It's complicated by the spread-out nature of the venues, since two consecutive items at opposite sides of town wouldn't work very well. Add to this that though most items end before their listed end times, some end later due to one thing and another, and you have a genuine puzzle.
We stopped by a couple of venues to pick up tickets for future events, then spent some time in the Royal Museum of Scotland, looking at a variety of things, including an exhibit of old "optical, mathematical, and philosophical instruments"--at least that's what the old advertisement displayed there called them. This was very convenient because it was free and also right across the street from our next event:
Fossick Valley Fumblers
SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE GIANT RAT OF SUMATRA
"Fifteen years on, and still the Fringe's unchallenged masters of farce, present an afternoon whimsy combining classic Holmes' sleuthing, traditional Fossick fumbling, and massive rat droppings. Surely an irresistible cocktail?" (Festival Club, 9-15 Chambers Street, 1.30pm-3.15pm, #5)
Well, Kate and I liked it. It was reasonably respectful of the original Holmes stories, though there was a fair amount of humorous sexual innuendo added, and Mark pointed out that they again made Watson more of a bungler than the stories did. Still, I liked it as a play which was a change of pace from the more serious drama we had been seeing. (I don't include comedy shows in this group.)
(I could provide a more detailed description for the Holmes fans, but since the chances of them ever seeing this play are slim, I will make that available on request only.)
After the play we three walked through Grassmarket to the Filmhouse. Grassmarket is one of the older sections of Edinburgh and had some great looking row houses, as well as a fine view of the Castle above it, and Kate hadn't seen it yet. It also has a White Hart Inn, though not the same one as Arthur C. Clarke wrote about.
At the Filmhouse was:
DEFF: PO McLaren Animation 1
"The first of two programmes collecting together the best new British animation in competition for the Post Office McLaren Award. As Britain keeps up its winning streak at the Oscars, scooping this year yet another Best Animated Short award, here is your best chance for spotting the titles everyone will be talking about next year. (#6)"
The Post Office McClaren Animation Competition is an animation competition sponsored by the Post Office. One might deduce that from the name, but in the United States the Postal Service doesn't do this sort of thing. Just one more difference between the two cultures, I guess.
The films included "The Ticker Talks," "Ennui," "Sweet Heart," "Selkie Dancing," "Side by Side," "Block," "Oh Julie!," "Jumping Joan," and "Abductees." The first was in a style of animation that I couldn't quite identify--it seems to be partly three-dimensional, but not entirely--and was about a man talking to and about his heart. "Ennui" was about (surprise!) boredom, and was, well, somewhat boring. I disliked "Sweet Heart," some odd allegory with dolls, but Mark really liked some of the concepts. "Selkie Dancing" was the first one with a real plot, of three selkies who come up to the shore to dance at dusk and are captured by three fishermen.
"Side by Side" is about two show business twins--if you like to hear people reminisce about their early, not very interesting experiences, this is for you. Mark and I both liked "Block," about a sculptor and a block of stone. "Oh Julie!" was cute (about how we put on all sorts of make-up, etc., to hide our flaws, but probably was popular because it had a lot of sex in it. I couldn't figure out the point of "Jumping Joan."
"Abductees" was the most ambitious, being a documentary about people who claim to have been abducted by flying saucers. Done as excerpts from interviews, it uses a variety of animation styles to depict what the abductees are describing, and was interesting in spite of the fact that I do not think these people have been abducted by space aliens.
After this we decided to eat and then catch an evening show. Mark had seen several Indian restaurants along the end of Leith Road nearest the center of town, so we went back there and ate at the Golden Bengal. This works differently than Indian restaurants back home. Back home the menus are arranged by main ingredient: lamb, chicken, vegetables (usually a specific vegetable), etc. At this restaurant, the restaurant is divided into different curries--sauces--and then you decide what the contents should be, and the vegetable ones are a vegetable assortment. We got the special six-course vegetarian meal--Mark got rogan josh and I got pathia. I don't think it was just that this was the first real meal we had eaten since we arrived; I think it's that it really was excellent.
We had planned to return for another event, but it was a bit too late for most of the things we were interested in, and we were pretty tired, so we decided to go back to the flat instead, picking up some groceries on the way. This also gave us a chance to go over tomorrow's schedule and firm up our plans.
August 17, 1995: Mark got up early this morning, saying, "Methought I heard a voice cry 'Sleep no more! The seagulls doth murder sleep.' Kate got up and reported she had gone to see a troupe performing classical guitar while juggling and, since she had sat in the first row, had ended up splattered with egg and orange juice: apparently they occasionally dropped things.
Our first event was:
Oxmad Theatre Company
"MOLIERE! Was his Marriage really incestuous? Or was it all a conspiracy? ... masked maidens, fornicating Frenchman and murderous musketeers ... brilliantly funny, passionate play by fiery Soviet dissident, MIKHAIL BULGAKOV. Music by The Wasp Factory ... Paul Garner designs." (Gilded Balloon II, Stepping Stones, West Bow, Grassmarket, Aug 11-28 12.15pm-1.30pm, #5)
Mark thinks this is the best thing we've seen so far, and he may be right. Having an author like Bulgakov doesn't hurt, but it's probably having professional actors that take the work seriously that makes the difference. I was a bit worried during the sword fights that those of us in the front row might get hit, but that didn't happen. In the final scene, Moliere dies in a stage bed during one of his performances. After the applause the actors left the stage, each carrying one of the props. The actor playing Moliere picked up the stage bed and turned to us, saying, "This is what is meant by "Take up thy bed and walk."
We took walked to the next venue, then looked around for a place to eat and eventually settled on the Marmaris Cafe. Mark had a chicken and mushroom pie; I had egg, bacon, and mushroom. Eating is getting much less attention on this trip, but frankly, Scotland is not generally known for its cuisine.
This was followed by:
National Youth Music Theatre
THE THREEPENNY OPERA
"Hard hitting new production of Brecht's biting satire set in a world of corruption, gangs and prostitution. Weill's jazz based score wonderfully evokes the atmosphere of decadent 1920's Berlin in this darkly humorous play. Not suitable for young children." (George Square Theatre, George Square, 3.00pm-5.45pm, #5.00.
This was certainly the most elaborate production we saw, and also the largest venue, seating several hundred in a lecture hall/theatre. The major problem was that the orchestra tended to overpower the singers, making it difficult to understand the words to many of the songs, even though it was sung in English, Also, saying it evokes Berlin when it's actually set in London might be a bit confusing, even though Brecht may have been inspired by both when he said, "The world is poor and man's a shit and that is all there is to it."
Then we walked back to the Filmhouse. Had a bus come along we would have taken it, but it turned out that we arrived without ever being passed by a bus. At the Filmhouse we saw:
DEFF: PO McLaren Animation 2
This included "John's Dream" (about a man who sees his doppelganger steal his television), "The Path with a Heart" (totally pointless story about characters wandering around inside a clock), "The Easter Egg" (based on a Saki story about an Easter parade), "Head," "The Happy Prince" (based on the Oscar Wilde story), "A Swim After Work" (with toy trucks going for a swim), "Windward of Ithaca" (based on a John Kincaid poem), "The Insect House" (full of spiders, scorpions, and even snails, along there were some insects as well--it was actually filmed at the Invertebrate House at the Zoo), "Mani's Dying" (a boy reminiscing about his sister's death from smallpox), "The Wooden Leg" (about a girl who gets a wooden leg), "Greed" (in which a greedy character consumes all the set drawn around him and finally himself as well), "A Fishy Tale" (a fish falls to Earth from space), something about brushing teeth (it had a title in Norwegian), "Ah Pook Is Here" (based on William S. Burroughs work), "Pib and Pog" (Aardman animation, but not up to their usual high standards), and "The Wrong Brothers" (in which a parallel pair of brothers finally achieve flight). We did not see "Where the Grass Grows Green," which was on the ballot, and since the Norwegian tooth-brushing film apparently was not, I suspect a lot of people voted for it under the wrong title.
This set was not as good as the first set, and "The Path with a Heart" was the worst of the lot. It seemed to go on interminably, and at the end only one or two people applauded (most of the audience applauded each short). One of the staff members later said that the jury had initially rejected it, but one person liked it so much they changed their mind. They should have stuck to their original decision. The ones I did like included "John's Dream," "Windward of Ithaca," "Ah Pook Is Here," and "The Wrong Brothers." I think the winners are being announced after we leave, so we may never find out what wins.
Then we took a bus back to Princes Street and went into Waterstone's, one of the two major book chains (James Thins is the other) and a real disappointment. It's more on the level of a big B. Dalton's than of a Borders or a Barnes & Noble. For example, there was no Erasmus that I could find, nor any Toynbee, and I'm sure I can find them in the larger bookstores back home. Maybe I've just elevated British bookshops to a higher pedestal than is warranted. I did find two books I was looking for (Greg Egan's Permutation City and Kim Newman's Famous Monsters, neither of which are available in the United States). We also stopped for ice cream, and then went on to our next venue where we started planning tomorrow while waiting for:
Tokyo Shakespeare Company MACBETH
"With an Oriental inspiration performed in English and Japanese. 'In the murk of the night the witches arrive from the far east...' Edo Kaoru as Lady Macbeth. Maekawa Shiro as Macbeth. Encounter a mysterious shock of the third kind!" (Roxburgh Halls, Roxburgh Place, 10.45pm-11.30pm), #5)
Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.... The proportion of English in this "English and Japanese" is about the same as that of the pork in "pork and beans." It certainly assumes that non-Japanese speakers know the plot already. The costuming and choreography at least was comprehensible in all languages, so it had something to offer us gaijin. (Oh, by the way, it turned out that Kate was also planning to go to Japan before L.A.Con next year, so we will probably rework our trip to overlap hers.)
August 18, 1995: On the way to Roxburgh Halls, we stopped in G T Books, a used bookshop on South Bridge. Going to bookshops is dangerous when we are traveling--we always end up with more books than we want to carry. Here we found a coffee-table book about the solar system with paintings by someone working in the style of Chesley Bonestall--for #2! The only drawback was that it was in German, but the illustrations only were worth it, and we decided we could probably add this to Kate's package home and pick it up later. Of course, we still have to carry it all day today.
Our first event was:
Elizabeth R & Co. - Pioneer Theatre USA
"Written & directed by Lebame Houston, starring Miss Barbara Hird. One-woman show focused on Queen Elizabeth 1. Expect the unusual. Here's a Queen alive with passion, pain, anger, wit, love & hate. 'Houston brilliant ... Hird electrifying ... a don't miss hit show'. Vera Evans" (Roxburgh Halls, Roxburgh Place, 11.00am-11.45am, #3)
This was a one-woman show consisting of Elizabeth R talking to the audience for forty-five minutes about being a queen, as well as about her childhood experiences, her sister Mary, her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots, and why she never married. Throughout the show is the thread of the approaching Spanish Armada. This is one of the best shows we've seen here.
While we were waiting for the show to start, who should come in and sit next to us but Jane Yolen (a well-known fantasy writer and editor)? I said hello and introduced myself, since I'm sure she can't remember everyone she meets at conventions, even small ones like Boskone. The three of us talked a bit about what we were doing during the Festivals. She lives in St. Andrews, so she's comes in for a day, then rests up for a day. When you've come all the way from the United States, resting seems inefficient. She recommended "Borrowed Plumes" and "Animal Farm," two shows we were considering, and said her two rules for the Fringe were 1) no student productions, and 2) no topical humor.
I suppose one might ask if seeing five events in a day really gives one time to think about any of them very deeply, but we do try to vary the seriousness of them, and the lighter ones are not the sort that require a lot of contemplation.
We walked over to the Filmhouse for:
DEFF: Comic Shorts
Luckily I pulled out the tickets about ten minutes early, because it turned out they were at the Cameo, three blocks away. Did I copy it wrong, or did they change it from the initial schedule? Oh, well, it worked out okay.
The shorts included: "Half a Shave," "Pudel Film," "Great Moments in Science: Falling Cats," "I Think I Was an Alcoholic" (which I think we also saw in Montreal), "Redback," "Swinger," "Midday Crisis," "Gran's Big Adventure," "Bernie's Magic Moment," "Prickly Heat,"and "EnvironMENTAL." The last five were done by the same people (a production company called Five Easy Pizzas) and all involved pizza delivery). I won't describe each one, but I will say that the compilation violated the rule (just formulated by me) that unless it is billed as a compilation of gruesome shorts, a compilation should not include more than one gruesome short.
This was followed by a Fringe event that in a sense joined the Fringe Festival and the Film Festival together:
"Two original comedy pastiches that celebrate select cuts of prime British cinema. Espionage, intrigue and romance from two sparkling era's of the silver screen lovingly recreated complete with spellbinding soundtrack." (Marco's, 51 Grove Street, 3.00pm-4.00pm, #4)
The first skit was a take-off on all the James bond films, with our hero Crispin ... Crispin Shortbread. The second was based on the 1950s "weepies"--a woman falls in love with another man while her fiance is off at war, but marries her fiance anyway out of loyalty. They weren't great theatre, but they were fun.
After this we walked to the Theatre Workshop in Stockbridge (a neighborhood further north than we had been), and tried to find some place to eat. There were some take-away places, but no real place to eat a quick meal, so we ended up having something in the cafe in the Theatre Workshop: Mark had mince and leek bake, and I had asparagus quiche. This area is also at a somewhat lower elevation than the center of town, as evidenced by the sign indicating a 10% grade on one of the streets we walked down. Luckily there are buses that go from the stop near the theatre back up to Princes Street.
We were at the Theatre Workshop to see:
Balloonatics Theatre Company
ZANY OF SORROW
"Irrepressible pleasures, flamboyant wit, brilliant writing - this new solo show recreates Oscar Wilde as our most phenomenal contemporary. 100 years after the trials, relish kisses and conundrums that still inspire convulsions." (Theatre Workshop, 34 Hamilton Place, 5.45pm-7.15pm, #5)
This was a good show, but because I didn't know Wilde's work as extensively as I might have, I feel I didn't appreciate it as fully as some. In particular, it wasn't always immediately clear to me when the actor (Paul O'Hanrahan) segued into selections from Wilde's works. And it didn't use Wilde's supposed last words, spoken while lying in a cheap hotel room in Paris: "Between me and this wallpaper, one of us has to go."
Then we caught a bus back uphill and got off at St. Andrews Square, then walked to the MGM theatre for
Mark and I both agreed: we really wanted to like this film. It was about well-known British authors and artists at in the first third of this century, it had Jonathan Pryce and Emma Thompson, and it appeared to be a major quality production. Alas, it spent far less time concentrating on the intellectual lives and far more time concentrating on the sex lives than either of us were hoping. Kate disagrees, and enjoyed it a lot, so it's probably good (for the filmmakers, anyway) that she rather than us was interviewed by a camera crew on the way out.
After debating the film, we returned on the last bus, while Kate still had another film to see.
August 19, 1995: I made a quick run to the corner newsagent and (extremely) mini-grocery to pick up a few items we needed. Then we took the bus in and stopped at James Thins Bookshop on South Bridge. This is a real bookstore, as opposed to the disappointing Waterstone's. Two more floors of books spread out above the somewhat narrow ground floor, including a used book department. Their selection of academic subjects is much better than Waterstone's, but they also have popular fiction as well, and in fact I found a copy of Stephen Baxter's Time Ships here that I couldn't find in Waterstone's. (It's an "authorized" sequel to H. G. Wells's Time Machine. I'm not sure if other sequels, such as Egon Friedell's Return of the Time Machine or George Pal's Time Machine II, were authorized or not.)
Then we returned to Roxburgh Halls for:
"Best friends, sex and drowning frogs - chilling Theatre of the Absurd from Vaclav Havel, former dissident, now president of the Czech Republic. 'The Unveiling' draws on Havel's experiences as a writer determined to be true to himself despite state repression." (Roxburgh Halls, Roxburgh Place, 12 Noon-1.00pm, #4.50)
Well, the description is a bit deceptive--while drowning frogs were mentioned, they're hardly a major plot element. It's about a well-to-do couple who invite their somewhat worse-off (financially) friend to see the "unveiling" of their newly redecorated house. I found the characters of the couple very reminiscent of some people I know, but since it's possible that you may actually see or read this play, I won't say who.
Because the play was short (about forty minutes), lunch was also included--a sandwich, a candy bar, and a fruit drink, served and eaten before the actual performance began.
By the way, this seems to be the "Post-Communist Eastern European Leaders" Fringe Festival--in addition to two plays by Vaclav Havel, the Fringe also features Vyvautus Landsbergis, first president of post-USSR Lithuania, playing piano works by Chalonus. Our President plays the saxophone. (Well, I suppose that's a step up from co-starring with a chimpanzee.)
Then we went back through Grassmarket to the Filmhouse for:
DEFF: THE SEARCH FOR ERIC CAMPBELL
Well, David Robertson (who wrote the biography Chaplin), discovered that Eric Campbell, who played the heavy in seventeen Chaplin films, was born in Dunoon, Scotland, and decided that Campbell was be a great subject for a lecture at the Edinburgh Film Festival. Unfortunately it was scheduled before the research had actually been done, because when he and others tried to find out more about Campbell, they couldn't. The best they could say was that they were sure about the last few months of his life: his first wife died on 7 July 1917; he met and married his second wife by 7 August 1917, but she divorced him two weeks later on grounds of cruelty; and he was killed in a car crash on 20 December 1917 in which two other people in his car were injured (he had been driving at sixty miles per hour, a very high speed for the time, and hit a car going forty miles per hour).
However, other than that, and his films, there was not much record of Campbell. Though he claimed to have been born in 1881, it might easily have been 1871, and it appears that Eric Campbell was not his real name. No one in Dunoon has been able to help the researchers, and the whole thing is sort of like Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock in its lack of denouement.
We saw clips of many of Campbell's roles, though we had just recently seen the one of which there was the second longest clip ("The Immigrant"). Other films included "The Floorwalker," "The Fireman" (for which there was no clip), "The Vagabond," "The Cure," "The Count," "The Rink," "Behind the Screen" (which Robertson claims has the first reference in mainstream film to homosexuality), "Easy Street" (which they showed in its entirety), and "The Adventurer" (his last film).
Robertson claimed that Campbell, along with Chaplin, is the earliest film face known throughout the world, and that they made a "perfect David and Goliath coupling": Campbell was 6'5" and weighed 20 stone (280 pounds); Chaplin was 5'6". After Campbell died, Chaplin had various other actors as villains who resembled Campbell (perhaps the best known was Mack Swain).
After this, we had hoped to eat at Sinatra's, which Kate had recommended, but it was closed from 2:30 PM to 5 PM, so we went to Lanzio's instead and had pasta. I had Fusilli a la Putanesca and Mark had something with pepperoni and chilis. Just as the British seem to over-cook their vegetables, so was this pasta overcooked, but otherwise it was very good.
Then back to basically where we came from for the next event. Since in fact our next three items were in this venue, the back-tracking was not overly annoying. The first of these three events was:
"Anouilh's masterpiece relates the tense and dramatic events leading to Henry II's betrayal of his friend Thomas Becket in war-torn medieval Europe. This highly physical and exhilarating production emphasizes the sinister qualities of one of Europe's greatest modern plays." (Adam House Theatre, 5 Chambers Street, 5.20pm-7.10pm, #5)
Though the play is excellent (and I don't think I had ever seen it performed except as the movie, which cut some of the lines out), and the two main actors very good, there were some distractions. One was that the rest of the cast was fairly mediocre (including one woman who was awful, and could not help smiling no matter how serious the scene was). The second was that there was one audience member who seemed to think it was a comedy and kept laughing--very loudly--at anything even slightly humorous, as well as some things that weren't. She seemed to be trying to crack the actors up, and since most of them weren't very good, she tended to succeed, to the amusement of everyone but the audience. Mark was bothered by the fact it was done partly in modern dress, but I didn't find that distracting, probably because it tended to be black outfits rather than very showy modern fashion.
After a brief break for them to change sets (and companies), we went back into the same room for:
Northern Theatre Co
"By Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman. A thought-provoking musical and challenging look at a tiny island in the pacific, that through a world's arrogance, became the most successful nation in the world - Japan." (Adam House Theatre, 5 Chambers Street, 7.30pm-9.30pm, #6.50).
I was familiar with some of Sondheim's other musicals (such as Sweeney Todd, Into the Woods, and Assassins), but I had never heard the music for Pacific Overtures and if I had heard the plot, I had forgotten it. So this was all fresh and new to me, and luckily the actors could sing well enough that I could understand the words. (Being in the front row helped, of course.) This is the story of Commodore Perry's visit to "open up" Japan and the subsequent visits from other countries, with an "epilogue" about Japan today. I enjoyed it as much as I would have a Broadway production (the orchestra was done from a recording so it was professional quality as well), and I though it had more content than many "fluff" musicals done these days--but then most of Sondheim's musicals are like that. There were also other similarities. For example, there was one song in which two people are singing about how they were witnesses of the actual treaty talks, though they are unable to report anything of value, which reminded me of the song from Assassins where several people each sing about how he or she was the one who saved Roosevelt from Zangara's bullet. Since I like Sondheim's work in general, it probably won't surprise you that I liked this as well, and I plan on getting the CD when I get back.
We then had an hour between shows, so we went outside for some fresh air (most of the theatres seem to be about 90 degrees Fahrenheit, or 30 degrees Celsius if that means more to you), and we feel like we're in a sauna for a lot of the events. We also got sodas at the shop next door and stood around watching the bus loads of people from package tours leaving the theatres (there are several along this block).
The last show of the day started late, but even so Kate missed the first five or ten minutes because she was late from her movie (which also ran late--which seems to be almost standard). This show was:
ALL HALLOWS EVE
"A provocative adaptation of a Scottish myth by the sister company of Fringe First Shoestring Players. A tale of love, violence and magic. As the young and beautiful Jennet MacKenzie battles the Fairie Queen for the soul of her lover Tam Lin." (Adam House Theatre, 5 Chambers Street, 10.30pm-11.30pm, #6.50).
It occurs to me that the story of Tam Lin is almost unique in Western fairy tale and legend, at least the ones I know, in that it is the story of a woman who rescues a man. (I'm sure everyone will rush to tell me all the other ones I've forgotten.) And even Tam Lin is not among the best known marchen, a fact that may be because the woman is the hero. Oh, I know what you're thinking: that I've turned into a radical feminist or something. No, but I do wonder. (People who want to read a modern reworking might try Pamela Dean's Tam Lin.)
The production itself was a combination of narration, dialogue, and modern dance, the latter adding immensely to the wild spirit of Faerieland. For example, the members of the company formed themselves into the enchanted rosebush with their hands as the flowers. The production company is apparently based in New Jersey, so if people reading this get a chance to see it there, they should.
After this let out, Kate wanted to eat dinner, so we went to Bann's Vegetarian Cafe just off the High Street near the Bridges. Since it was midnight, they were out of almost everything, but we managed to find a few items left. I thought it was very good, better than Helios Fountain in Grassmarket, which had been recommended, and I would suggest people try this if they are looking for vegetarian food.
After this we went out to get a taxi back to the flat, which Kate said would be easy. But all the taxis appeared to be full. We walked to Princes Street. Still no empty taxis. We walked to the taxi rank at Waverly Station. There was a very long queue for taxis which, for lack of a better plan, we joined. It seems that the Tatoo had just gotten out and several thousand other people were trying to get taxis as well, but eventually (sometime after 1 AM) our turn finally came.
August 20, 1995: Well, our weekly bus pass has expired, so we'll be buying daily bus passes for days when we expect to take four or more rides, and pay individually when not. Today we bought bus passes.
Princes Street was closed off for the parade today of 8000 pipers (to celebrate V-J Day, as we later heard, and as part of the Festivals). This is supposedly the largest band of pipers ever assembled, but this parade happened during our first event:
Reduced Shakespeare Company
THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF AMERICA
"500 YEARS IN 90 MINUTES - THE MOTHER OF ALL HISTORY LESSONS. From Washington to Watergate, from Civil War to Civil Liberties, the RSC's cultural guerillas speed through the glorious quagmire of America's struggle. 'Breathlessly paced ... slapstick merriment' New York Times" (Assembly Rooms, 54 George Street, Noon-1.30pm, #8)
It may have been a commercial enterprise instead of art for art's sake, but it was funny. It started with an analysis of the word "American": "A" being the first letter of the alphabet and also meaning "one"; "mer" being French for sea and representing both the seas on either side of America and the sea of humanity; and "ican" meaning "I can." They also pointed out that "American" was an anagram of "I can ream," "George Washington" was an anagram of "Gaggin' on wet horse" and "Spiro Agnew" was an anagram for "Grow a penis." (Apparently yesterday when Kate went, someone asked who Spiro Agnew was.)
The three-man cast did a variety of historical recreations, including Amerigo Vespucci; the early colonists in Salem; the "shot heard 'round the world," Revolutionary War, and flag; Lewis & Clark; the Civil War; World War I (this involved shooting the first half dozen rows of the audience with pump-action water pistols--be warned); and World War II. At this point they said that the audience might be in information overload and be confused, so they asked for questions from the audience. Mark asked, "Why is the Siege of Gibraltar considered part of the American Revolutionary War?" and got a really big laugh (and almost applause) from the audience, and the response from the cast that that was one of those Zen-type questions like "If the shot heard round the world had been fired in the Pacific Ocean and no one had heard it, would it still have been the shot heard round the world?"
The post-World War II era was more a mish-mash, with a private detective going to Hanoi with Lucille Ball for some reason having not much to do with history that I could tell. In spite of that, I would recommend this, though I suspect it might be more meaningful to Americans than to anyone else--unless they know who Spiro Agnew is.
Since the parade was over, there was no point in trying to see it, so we went with our original plan to see:
CADS, Cambridge University
"Rouen, 1431. The trial of Joan of Arc. Anouilh's powerful play, translated by Christopher Fry. From mysterious hillside 'voices' to triumphant coronation a politically, spiritually and sexually charged production as much about 'playing' history as history itself." (Hill Street Theatre, 19 Hill Street, 2.00pm-3.45pm, #5)
Well, this is probably one of those student productions of the sort that Jane Yolen warned against, but it was one of the best--perhaps the best--play we've seen this Fringe, due in large part to the amazing performance by Justine Waddell as Joan. As Mark and I both noted, she "listens better than other people talk," and it was difficult to stop watching her to watch the other actors when they were talking. Anouilh (and how do you pronounce that name?) has a different view of Joan than the one most people are used to from George Bernard Shaw's Saint Joan. For example, Anouilh has Joan making a speech about how man is good and how God expects him to strive on his own rather than to pray for a miracle, and how one can do good and achieve salvation without the intervention of the Church. Also, Anouilh's Joan retracts her confession not when she hears that she must be confined in a cell (as does Shaw's Joan), but rather when she considers what a shallow life she would have when she is released. One almost gets the impression that had they promised to confine her forever she might have been happier.
After this we decided to sit in the park and listen to the free concert rather than rush off to another play--we needed some time to absorb this one. We sat there until the concert finished (about 5:15 PM), then took the bus to the Golden Bengal to meet Kate and possibly Jack and Marion for dinner. Luckily we were able to find a bus going there, since all the Princes Street buses were running on George Street instead.
Also luckily we went in at 6:10 PM and ordered without waiting any longer, because no one else showed up. We hadn't really expected Jack and Marion (it was more like, "We'll be having dinner at the Golden Bengal; feel free to join us") and Kate accidentally got on a bus going the wrong way, which then got stuck in a procession and couldn't let her off for almost 45 minutes).
And to top it all off, service was even slower than last time, probably because of a large group ahead of us. About 7:40 PM, we finally put the money on the table and left without being able to get dessert and coffee. Then the buses were running late. When we finally got to the Filmhouse, the movie was also running late (because of the previous movie, aptly named Bad Timing), and "The Hunger Artist" (which we had already seen) was first, so we probably could have stayed for dessert and coffee anyway.
At any rate, this was:
DEFF: 3 & THE HUNGER ARTIST
It's a bit difficult to explain "3," but I'll give it a try. It appears to be about a current-day man rediscovering the pagan and shamanistic religions, and features footage of the annual Beltane Fires. In the question-and-answer period, Mark asked the director if she was influenced by Franklin Shaffer's Wicker Man, Peter Weir's Last Wave, or Carnival of Souls. In spite of similarities, this did not appear to be the case, as she didn't know The Last Wave and hadn't seen Carnival of Souls until after she completed "3." While parts of it were visually striking, on the whole it lacked the coherence I prefer in a film.
August 21, 1995: Our first event today was:
VICTORY-CHOICES IN REACTION
"Carapace presents Howard Barker's violent and exhilarating depiction of revenge and subterfuge within the court of Charles II. Innovative and darkly confrontational, this atmospheric and energetic promenade production features live music and a strong ensemble cast." (Moray House Union, 37 Holyrood Road, 12.15pm-2.00pm, #4)
Well, that was certainly different.
We went into the "theatre"--a large room with no seats and sets in the corners. There was a sort of bleacher near one wall, on which some audience members sat down, at which point ushers/cast members came out and started verbally abusing us: "Get up! Who said you could sit down? Move over here! Look lively now!" well larded with stronger language. As the scenes changed and moved to different sets, we got the same treatment, and the actual play was equally vulgar, full of bad language, sex, nudity, and gore. I suppose the idea was to give an accurate picture of the times, and overcome the impression that one might get that after the harsh period of the Protectorate, the Restoration of the monarchy was an entirely wonderful thing. Still, I think I prefer my plays a little less "warts and all."
I suppose I could be including more details about Edinburgh, such as the fact that the buses are double-decker, or that it's mobbed with tourists, or that ginger beer comes in both alcoholic and non-alcoholic forms and there is such a thing as ginger wine, but it's pretty vile. But frankly, with all the play-going, I have neither the time nor the energy. If you want that sort of information, ask for Mark's trip log for our last trip to Scotland.
After finding our next venue--not an easy task, given that the venue map is not entirely accurate, and the dot representing a venue, while in the general vicinity of the actual location, may be one or two blocks off, and shown as being accessed from and entirely different street than is the case--we stopped into a Crawford's Bakery for a snack. I had a chocolate rum ball; Mark had a piece of carrot cake. Mark noted that the Snapple iced tea in the United States had a picture of the Boston Tea Party on it and wondered if that was true in Britain, so we looked at the Snapple poster and it is.
This was followed by:
Our Theatre Co
"True story of William Henry Ireland, 18th Century Shakespeare forger. 'Andrew Stanson plays the part to perfection ... best monologue I've seen in longer than I care to remember ... undiscovered gem of the 1993 Fringe' The Stage 'Compelling' Evening News" (The Cafe Royal, 17 West Register Street, 3.30pm-4.30pm, #5)
We went to this on the recommendation of Jane Yolen, and Stanson was very good as Ireland, talking about how he came to do his forgeries, and asking why it was that when his forged play was thought to be by Shakespeare it was great, and when it was discovered to be by Ireland it suddenly was no longer great. One-person monologues are probably generally a good bet, especially since they are almost always done by professional actors.
After the play was over we bought a copy of this and four other plays by the same author, got a free T-shirt, had the book autographed by the author, and even talked with him a while. He was getting negative on the Fringe, which he feels is becoming more geared toward amateur groups more interested in entertaining themselves than the audience. He gave the example of someone who takes off all his clothes, puts a cardboard box over his head, and extemporizes for forty-five minutes on lowering the age of consent for gay sex in Britain. (I somehow missed that one.) Thompson said that it used to be that professional companies putting on multiple shows got a break in the registration fees, but now each show pays the same amount. I suppose this is particularly difficult on groups such as his which specialize in short shows (it is, after all, the "'Our Theatre Co," where "'Our" is short for "Hour.") This in itself wouldn't be so bad, except the sheer size of the Fringe gives him so much competition that he gets fewer than a dozen people for most shows. (I think this one had eight.) Partly this is because his company fills the venue--if there were other, heavier-drawing shows in the same venue, people going to those would see his posters there. At any rate, he's thinking of pulling out of the Fringe unless it changes back to something geared more for professional companies. This seems unlikely to me, and I guess someone had decided that since a show took up a venue slot whether it was part of a big company or not, all shows should pay the same. Of course, I'm still not clear on how shows end up in particular venues and what the whole process is, so I could be completely off-base.
Then on to the Cameo for:
DEFF: "The Isle of Voices" & STRANGE STORIES
This anthology film was preceded by a previously unannounced short, "The Isle of Voices" (based on the Robert Louis Stevenson short story). It's about a man who discovers his father-in-law is a sorcerer who can transport himself and others to the "Isle of Voices" to collect treasure. The short was a modernized version, complete with transportation effects influenced by Dr. Who, and seemed the sort of thing that would be shown here as a "young adult" type show. (Maybe that's just because it lacked sex, and the main character looked and acted more like a large teenager than a married man.) Look for it--it's not great, but it's well done and fun.
Strange Stories is, as I said, an anthology film: a man on a train tells his daughter three stories as they travel along, and the train sequence itself forms a fourth, framing story (a la the old Amicus films). The stories all have a science fictional element (though it is weaker in the third), and I will refrain from describing them so as not to spoil them (since even the brief descriptions given in the program book probably gave too much away). This Italian film was subtitled in English, and might actually play in the United States, though as a subtitled film it's too arty for the multiplexes, and in content is not arty enough for the arthouses.
Afterwards we stopped for a snack at the Ho Ho-Mei Noodle Shop. Mark had stir-fried wide noodles and chicken; I had narrow noodles and grilled chicken in soup. They were good, the stir-fried noodles more than the soup, and not outrageously priced (#7.80, or US$12.50--higher than in the United States, but reasonable by British standards).
Rather than try to find something for the evening, we went back to the flat and watched a Michael Moore show on BBC-2, "TV Nation," about life in the United States, including segments on a company that does crime scene cleanups, and how Michael Moore convinced an ex-felon to run for President. This was done as a joke, one supposes, but I find that Moore's grand-standing is rather annoying at times. For example, he decides to fight corporate crime, which includes some corporation that got a tax break from New York City by promising not to cut jobs, and then cut jobs. Moore wants to talk to Mayor Giuliani about this, but he brings along "The Crime-Fighting Chicken," a man in a chicken suit, and refuses to meet with Giuliani unless the chicken can come along. Giuliani is not amused and says this is not a joking matter, and Moore maintains the chicken is not a joke, but is serious. Look, it may be great television, but it's stupid politics and if Moore really cared about meeting with Giuliani over this outrage, he'd ditch the chicken.
August 21, 1995: We started the day by helping Kate pack up her books and such to ship home and carrying them across to the Post Office. Talk about sticker shock!!! To ship a 11.25-kilogram (25-pound) package home via airmail cost #58! (Surface mail was about #47, not much better.) Outrageous, but we didn't really have time to investigate private shipping companies, and Kate was having enough trouble with her ankle that trying to carry all this extra weight to Glasgow and home was right out.
Our first event of the play (other than this) was:
Blue Angel Productions
"By David Mamet. Blue Angel Productions returns to the Fringe with a penetrating exploration of the fragmented, tender, potentially explosive relationship between a recovering alcoholic and the daughter he abandoned. By the acclaimed author of OLEANNA and THE CRYPTOGRAM." (Greyfriars Kirkhouse, Candlemaker Row, 12.00noon-1.15pm, #6)
I like Mamet's work on film (such as House of Games, Things Change, The Water Engine, and even Oleanna--not his most popular work), but this may be due as much to his direction as to his writing. In these three pieces ("The Sanctity of Marriage," "Reunion," and "Dark Pony") the actors do a reasonable job of capturing the cadences of Mamet's dialogue, but they still failed to have the spark that I find in Mamet's other works. They weren't bad, but they were a disappointment.
A short walk then took us to:
"A tribute to H. P. Lovecraft, master of the supernatural in the true Gothic tradition. A journey to the outer darkness of human experience. Dynamic, Physical, Inventive. Astonishing visual theatre from this powerful young company." (Festival Club, 9-15 Chambers Street, 1.45pm-3.15pm, #4)
Based on The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, this did not start auspiciously, leading me to ask if that whirring sound was Mark's portable fan or Lovecraft spinning in his grave. (Actually, Mark was not running his fan; I just said that for humorous effect.) It started with about a dozen people in ragged costumes and body paint running about the stage, writhing and generally acting possessed. Eventually, however, it got to a stage when it was actually using words--which were, after all, Lovecraft's forte.
This is not to say that the physical theatre ended at this point. The actors continued a variety of acrobatics. One recommendation for actors who will be standing on their heads and turning somersaults: take the change out of your pockets before coming out on stage. One actor dropped a couple of 5p pieces doing these sorts of tricks. Also, the actors at one point ran up through the audience, stepping between audience members and sort of boosting themselves on our shoulders, and at one point covered the front rows with a gauze curtain. Luckily the body paint on my T-shirt washed out.
We tried to get tickets for "Animal Farm," but it was sold out. This is the only thing we tried to get tickets for in the Fringe that we couldn't. Some of what we went to see sold out eventually, but we tried to get tickets as early as possible.
We went into the James Thins on George Street. They had a big display of "Penguin 60s." To celebrate their 60th anniversary, Penguin Books published 60 little books (about three or four inches square and less than a hundred pages) for 60p each. Many are from classic authors in public domain, but there are also current authors as well. They have captured all "Top Ten Best-Selling Paperback Fiction" and seven of the ten non-fiction slots as well. Marcus Aurelius is one of the best sellers, but a newspaper article said that they were causing all sorts of strange results. One bookshop reported that a man who never bought anything except military history bought one of the Penguin 60s by a modern avant garde author, and apparently liked it so much that on his next trip he went to the fiction section and bought three more novels by her. (I suppose they could have been for someone else.) What I read somewhere is correct--prices in the United Kingdom are the same as those in the United States, but with a # in front instead of a $. So while new science fiction books are US$4.99 in the United Tates, here they're #4.99. Therefore, the Penguin 60s are the equivalent of a 60-cent book in the United States.
After killing time in James Thins, we went to:
4x4 Theatre Company
"Tom Stoppard throws Lenin, James Joyce, Tristram Tzara and 'The Importance of Being Ernest' together in wartime Zurich. What results is a fiendishly clever, sharp and witty comedy of errors. 'A cast and director of coolness and confidence' The Scotsman" (C Venue, Over-Seas House, 100 Princes Street, 4.30pm-6.15pm, #6)
Tristram Tzara is the creator of Dada (or is it Dadaism?). The one problem with Stoppard's plays is that there is so much wordplay going on that you almost feel you would be better off reading it or watching it on videocassette so that you could stop and think about what was just said and find all the references and linkages. And this play is no exception. One line that particularly struck me (as a fan of alternate histories) was what the main character said that Marx claimed. He said that Marx, in effect, endorsed the "Tide of History" theory over the "Great Man" theory, and so believed that "if Lenin hadn't existed, it would not have been necessary to invent him."
We had thought about eating in the James Thins cafe, but instead decided to go back to Bann's Vegetarian Cafe, where we ended up sharing a table with another woman because it was so busy. She was in Edinburgh for the International Festival, but said that next time she would allow more time to see things at the Fringe as well. (For the International Festival, most people seem to book tickets ahead.)
Tripitaka Theatre Company
"1993 Fringe Festival winners return with fiercely innovative comedy. From Peking Opera to gangster movies, Ming travels armed with mop, bucket and a dream. 'Beguiling ... dazzling ... packed with images that linger long after it's all over.' What's On." (Hill Street Theatre, 19 Hill Street, 8.35pm-9.45pm, #5).
Originally I think we thought this would be the Chinese epic we know as "Pilgrimage to the West," but though the company is named for the priest in that and there is one small section inspired by it, this was a one-man routine about the immigrant experience in Britain. Ming is from Singapore, and Ivan Heng (the performer) goes through a series of skits and monologues about Ming in Britain, trying to find work as an actor. There is the usual homesickness and such, but this is more negative than similar performances by others such as Yaakov Smirnoff; in fact, Mark notes that it is never made clear why Ming left Singapore in the first place.
We went out for a soda, then waited another hour at the same venue for:
TWILIGHT ZONE - LIVE ON STAGE
"Twilight Zone will take you to a fifth dimension. A dimension of sight, sound and mind where exile to a distant planet in The Lonely and the evil presence of The Howling Man will leave you shivering." (Hill Street Theatre, 19 Hill Street, 11.00pm-Midnight, #5)
I thought this Seattle-based company did a fairly good job with these two episodes, although the actor playing the subordinate pilot in the first one tended to be a bit hammy, as did the one playing Brother Jerome in the second. Maybe the same was true of the television show, and I just don't remember it. Some of the audience seemed to think the show was intended as camp, and was laughing at some of the lines which were not intended (at least originally) that way, but I thought the intent was to do a serious re-creation of the episodes, and for this they picked wisely--many of the other episodes would have required special effects not easily achieved on stage.
During the interval between the two episodes, while the actors were changing costumes, one of the company came out with a quiz to keep us entertained. No one seemed to know Rod Serling's middle name, but when he asked how many seasons The Twilight Zone had been on the air, I immediately shouted out, "Five!" which he said was the fastest answer he had ever gotten. For this I won a poster. The next question, "There is a [what] dimension?", Mark got right away, leading the quizmaster to comment on the fact that we seemed to be a real experts. Well, they're not exactly tough questions, and the woman across the aisle was also an expert: she pointed out that the opening originally was written as "There is a fourth dimension" until someone told Serling that time was the fourth dimension.
Kate arrive barely in time for this, by the way, having re-sprained her ankle and then had her glasses fouled by a seagull. She is not having good luck this trip.
August 23, 1995: We decided rather than rush out to see something we were only marginally interested in, we would take it easy this morning. So we walked around the neighborhood, discovering that we were only a couple of blocks away from a highly recommended pub. Of course, since we were never around the flat during pub times, this wouldn't have been all that useful to know. We could have taken things slightly easier, but I suppose that's not our style.
We did a final laundry and vacuumed the flat. Then we spent about twenty minutes figuring out how to change the burnt-out bulb in the bathroom.
But eventually we took the bus to:
"Bored genius seeks ultimate thrill. Doctor John Faustus has done it all - law, medicine, philosophy, divinity. Still there's something missing and now he's ready to try magic. Marlowe's hedonist pilgrim comes raving into the 90's in this electric new production." (Marco's, 51 Grove Street, 3.00pm-4.45pm, #5)
After having seen a rather tongue-in-cheek production at Marco's, Mark feared the worst (and having to walk across the parking lot to a separate shed for it didn't help), but this was a very faithful production of the Marlowe with minimal props. The cast members, dressed in black, sat in a row at the back of the stage, and came forward as their characters were needed, sometimes adding a hat or a necklace to distinguish the characters. Though there seemed to be a bit of updating (the dialogue of the Churchmen was more "televangelist" than Marlowe was likely to have written), the script was not changed in more than one or two places, and then not annoyingly. All in all, this provided a fitting and satisfying close to our Fringe events.
After another dinner we still had one more Film Festival event:
This Indian film has apparently been edited for non-Indian audiences: it's not three hours long, and there were no song-and-dance numbers. There were songs done as voice-overs, but nothing in which you saw the characters singing.
Bombay is about the conflict between Hindus and Muslims in India, particularly after the destruction of the masjid in Ayodhya in 1992. It does this in part through the main characters, a Hindu man an a Muslim woman, who elope against their family's wishes and have twin sons. But the scenes of the rioting are the most impressive part of the film, in part because the dialogue of the characters tends to be more "preachy" and unsubtle than Western audiences may be used to. The poster outside the theatre called it the "Indian Scindler's List" [sic], but this is a gross exaggeration: while they are some elements in common, Bombay has neither the almost miraculous transformation of a single man, nor the overall vision and impact of Schindler's List. Still, it is the best film made (initially) for Indian audiences that I have seen, and compares favorably with films in general.
[continued in Intersection convention report]
Evelyn C. Leeper (email@example.com)