Edinburgh’s a place, as well as shorthand for a big old festival. Edinburgh is a place where the population doubles in August each year. Where overdrafts go to be extended, where new bits of theatre, comedy, performance, dance and ideas go to be in front of people, where, this year, I went for 2 weeks. Here are some of the things I saw and did. And some of the things I wish I had. Trying to keep it short, in the small chance that anyone is reading this.
A story told to you in a minibus outside Northern Stage at St. Stephen’s. In which I discover I am no good at puzzles, but I am BOSS at folding a map up. By Third Angel, performed by my very good friend Alex Kelly. He guides you genially and naturally through a journey he takes as his grandfather once did – from his home in the midlands (or Sheffield, for Alex) to Cape Wrath; proper, proper north. He tells you about the people he meets, read the letters his grandad sent home about the people he met. The things both of them see. It doesn’t sound extraordinary. It’s not. In the same way that no one is, and also in the way that we all, actually, are extraordinary. Every time a bus driver goes out of their way to drive someone to where they want to be, not just the bus stop. When you give a stranger from a different country a bit of chocolate because it’s their birthday and they can’t get through to their family. That kind of thing. I think I missed a small connection to it because I never really had strong relationship with a grandfather, but the rest of it’s all there.
Finally, finally caught Kieran Hurley’s Beats. It was loud. I wish I had brought my gig ear plugs. It was also brilliant. In particular I loved the characterisation of the mother character, the live VJ was amazing. It calls to a whole musical heritage that is completely missing from my life experience but it’s not really about that. It’s about being young, and old, and bored, and responsible, and not trusted, and not enough for the people who love you. Who you loved. Who you never made your peace with. It’s also about how stupid laws made by unthinking politicians throw people, just people – not good or bad, but both and neither of these things – into the path of one another. Onto a path that ends in collision. Brilliant, sympathetic writing.
By Julian Taudevin and Kieran Hurley. Performed in a venue with really really rubbish sight lines but so incandescent that you forgot you couldn’t see. The character that caught me most from Beats felt like she was expanded upon here. The relationship between a relatively young mother and her son. Ostensibly about the riots. Mostly about love, class, and how some of us will never be and do good enough by the standards of people who never tell us what the rules are. Astonishing performance from Julia in it, too.
There Has Possibly Been an Incident
I’ve seen various versions of this read by Chris Thorpe – it’s a play for 3 voices. Tracing 4 stories. The thoughts of a person in a crowd of a history-changing photograph. The thoughts of a revolutionary leader who seems to have found themself a despot. The thoughts of a man looking into the face of a plane crash. The speech of a murderer standing up for ‘Europe’. Hopefully not too many spoilers there. It’s tough. It’s tough. It’s the worst of us. It’s 2 stories of a loss of control and 2 of entire control, and you’re never sure which one – control or loss – each story is being in any one moment. Slippery. Tough. Humane. It shows process – shows each character’s working – it shows how we turn from one thing into another. Not bad and good guys, but people doing or trying to do good or bad things. And also how the ideas of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ shift underneath us. History, time, is a character. There’s hope in the end though. Like the hug of someone who’s just told you you’re being an utter dick. ‘You’re being an utter dick but I still love you’ this play says.
Running in the rain
I went for a 2 and half hour run. I went on a few other shorter ones but on a day where it properly properly rained I went for a run and got a bit lost and ended up at the sea and ran along a path that turned into a country park with trees and grass on one side of the path and the sea on the other and I found it disorienting and the rain was the best thing and I ended up very very thirsty and thought about my friend John when I saw raspberries on the side of the cycle path and remembered him telling me about crashing on a long run in Edinburgh and having to eat raspberries to get up and going again.
I Wish I Were Lonely
‘What do you mean I have to put my phone under my chair?’ I thought as everyone else followed this instruction and then they made me put it in the centre of the room in a circle with everyone else’s. A show where you leave your phone on. Where every call during the show is answered. This show was designed for me. This show was designed to change me. They didn’t know that. And as I saw it levelling up to do it I closed myself off. There’s a Terry Pratchett reference for this moment (there always is in my head) – where Granny Weatherwax catches a sword in Maskerade, without a scratch. ‘No witch can magic iron’ they say. And she can’t. She just saves up the injury and lets the wound happen when she has returned home. I had to do that. I had to box up everything it asked of my head and my heart and the way the internet weaves into these things for me and cover it, muffle it, until I have the space. I don’t right now. But a weekend is going into my diary now where I will turn off my phone and do all of the crying and thinking and resolution making that this show requires. It’s also raw and beautiful and re-reveals to you how our phones are little creatures in our lives. Humming and chirruping from a circle in the centre of the room.
Stand By for Tape Back Up
I put on an early version of this at Performance in the Pub and it was a real pleasure to see the full version. Ross Sutherland is charming in a shambolically, shimmeringly intelligent kind of way. The kind of mind that tends towards collapsing in on itself, an intelligence too heavy for a heart at times. A show-poem. Spoken word about the loss of Ross’ grandfather, an important person in his life, told to the backing of the video found on the last video tape he recorded to. Through loops of Fresh Prince, Ghostbusters, cricket and Crystal Maze Ross spins concentric rings around questions of life, death, living, and the things the people we love leave with us.
A trip to Glasgow
I went with 3 relative strangers on a trip to Glasgow to see Bonehouse play. It was really fun. It was a little bit like being at uni again where you make friends because you’re next to one another and then suddenly find out you’re having a brilliant time. Friends, now.
How to Occupy an Oil Rig
This is the show that people keep on talking about in the same breath as mine – understandable, it’s a show about protest at St. Stephens that admits that you’re all in the room together and is about the importance of hope and, in the end, stories we tell about a better world. It sounds the same. Very very different though. Charming performances. I liked the ‘author’ role Dan Bye played (himself, essentially), the staging was smart, lively, the performers Jack and Kathryn welcoming, open, funny. I loved the threads of a story rebelling against its writer, of the twist in the tale (no spoilers) about the other half of the romance, and the instructional format. I think these could all rise to the surface a bit more, even. I would be interested as to how this show would feel for someone who wasn’t a protestor.
Swimming in Loch Lomond
In memory of my friend John I did a marathon earlier this year. On August the 24th another friend of John, Verity Keniger, did the Great Scottish Swim for him – her first open water swim, 2 miles around Loch Lomond. I went with her. She did brilliantly, and raised lots of money for Snow Camp – snowboarding and skiing for kids who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford it. Give her a bit more money here. For me, this was the best thing. I wish, wish, wish I could have stayed longer. Could do that swim every morning. I returned an OK time – 58:19, Think I could get it down to 55 minutes with a bit more of an instinct of how to pace it. It was beautiful. The water 16’c, clear, fresh, the bubbles from other people’s kick looking like tawny liquid resin. Every breath showing you surrounding hills and mountains, a shimmering sun, and high white cloud. This has solidified my intention to save enough money for a holiday in Scotland.
Meeting the friends and family of my friend John
How supportive, lovely, friendly, funny, inventive and intelligent all of these brilliant people were that I swam with in the loch and the sea, had lunch with or met even briefly speaks so fucking well of John. He is missed. I miss him. I feel incredibly privileged to have found friends in his.
The Bloody Great Border Ballad
At its best when it listened. When the people writing for it listened to what had gone before as well as the voice in their own head. When the voices in the room – even those whose turn it wasn’t to speak – were acknowledged by those with the good fortune to speak. Lorne Campbell set up a format for a conversation about Scottish independence – a space for ‘thinking and feeling’ and ‘improving the quality of our confusion’ about the subject – which consisted each night of two of 6 guest balladeers offering a 20 minute interpretation of a border ballad (some were actual poems, others songs, or comedy storytelling, or a game about a kingdom disunited by cuts, or an astrophysics lecture, or a series of letters between a Scottish person and All Their English Mates), then following that a ballad written in 1 minute verses added to each night by a different artist (I was verse 15) each following the next 5 years of the life of a foundling child set onto the River Tweed on the night of the dissolution of the act of union. Finally the audience and everyone onstage sings a song chosen for them by the previous night’s audience. On some nights it was a beautiful thing. On other nights I watched it hurt people on both (and no) sides of the debate. Sometimes through difficult questions. Sometimes through thoughtless assumptions and decisions. I also learnt a lot more about Scottish history and politics than I knew already. By which read ‘any’ Scottish history and politics. And noted a gap in my understanding. And am going to try and find some reading to do on it. Kieran Hurley’s already pointed me in a direction. Either way I made my best and favourite new friends as part of this process.
I didn’t have the time or brainspace to see more of where I basically lived the first time I visited Edinburgh during the festival. This made me sad. The programme was brilliant – especially their efforts towards accessibility that other, much more rich venues and outputs don’t even consider.
Northern Stage at St. Stephen’s.
A family for 2 weeks. So thankful.
And now, home. Home to a home I don’t really feel yet. I’m writing this on the train back (severely delayed, you can blame the post length on that if you like). Maybe today will be the day I get off at Hither Green and think ‘oh, yes, this, actually’. But either way I need to find some Autumn. Autumn is my favourite season. All cold mornings and red trees and blackberry and apple crumble. All bonfires and new stationary and my birthday. Autumn makes me prone to falling in love. It makes me seek hilltops and clean air, and really glad of a good jumper. I think there’s some optimism there, so that’s nice. And also quite a few exciting new projects. Here’s to that.