Running around town seeing four or five shows a day, you need all the help you can get. Starting with the weather. And that's been pretty good. The few showers we've had in Auld Reekie have had the good grace to fall when I've been inside a venue.
It's the venues themselves that sometimes cause the problems. The new Circus Hub on the Meadows, latest outpost of the Underbelly team, has been running behind schedule, no doubt due to teething problems. One chap in the queue for Ockham's Razor yesterday lunchtime said that his last ticketed gig there had started one hour behind the stated time.
Ockham's Razor started half an hour late, which meant that I had a big decision to make: stay for the whole show and miss the new Philip Ridley across town at the Pleasance Courtyard? Or watch half the Razor blades and catch the Ridley? I took the latter option. Good move.
Ridley's Tonight With Donny Stixx contains the outstanding virtuoso performance of this year's Fringe, that of Sean Michael Verey as a showbiz wannabe in a smart suit (well, it's pastel blue with glitter on the lapels) who survives his family, his club foot and various scrapes to yell at the audience, "Film me!" He wants us to devour him whole, unlike Benedict Cumberbatch.
Even in this festival cocoon, the talk is of Bendy's Hamlet and the absurd goings-on at the Barbican. In some ways, you think, serve them right for fuelling the hype with the early announcement and online ticket sales.
On the other: why doesn't Bendy just walk off the stage the minute a camera flashes? And why hasn't the Barbican confiscated all phones etc on the door, to be collected after the show, and posted a notice to the effect that the first time a flash goes off, or someone films, or even turns on a phone, that person will be prosecuted?
On my way to see the Ridley, I bumped into Anthony Alderson, who runs the Pleasance. He welcomes the realignment of the Fringe with the Edinburgh International Festival after 18 years of separation, though this has created problems for a huge number of local people who have got used to spending a first week on the Fringe then diving into the EIF.
But like everyone else around town, he likes what's he's seen and heard of new EIF director Fergus Linehan, especially the opening free concert (the estimated figure of 10,000 people thronging Festival Square has now risen to 20,000), the promise of much more happening on the streets, and the ambition to extend the EIF into Leith down the road; the old town hall there could become a major festival venue next year. I saw Fergus at the second of the three morning concerts in the Queen's Hall I've attended and told him that I wanted to marry the amazing Sylvie Guillem. "You'd never survive the work-out she'd be after giving you," he chuckled with an impish grin.
At two of the concerts, we've had snapped violin strings, and at one of them, the BBC van parked in the alley outside lost contact with its own Radio 3. The phlegmatic announcer and presenter, Donald Macleod, has carried on regardless and even had time for an interval chat with Paul Driver of the Sunday Times and myself about the brilliance and individual artistry of the Modigliani Quartet, whose performance of Ravel's string quartet has been a highlight.
A cappella singing has always figured prominently at both the EIF and the Fringe. This year we had the Tallis Scholars mixing the Renaissance polyphony of Tallis and Byrd with the gorgeous liturgical settings of the contemporary Estonian maestro Arvo Part; and, in the Underbelly big top, a newly formed septet of beatboxers, rappers and pop singers whacking out standards with tremendous flair in Gobsmacked. The main man is a champ beatboxer from Huddersfield called Ball-Zee, and he most definitely is.
I was rapidly going off solo shows of every description until Simon McBurney opened in one of the best solo shows ever, The Encounter, in the unlovely Edinburgh International Conference Centre. At the other end of the venue spectrum, Viennese pianist Rudolph Buchbinder is playing a complete cycle of Beethoven sonatas in the neo-classical Playfair Library in the Old College of the University, and the location couldn't be more perfect, both physically and acoustically. I've only managed one of the 5pm concerts, which included the thunderous "Hammerklavier"; you get three or four sonatas each time, and the ninth concert ends with the great C minor sonata that Sylvie Guillem danced to in her farewell show.
Not all the critics are passive consumers at the feast. For a fiver, you can spend 50 minutes in another beautiful building, the Surgeon's Hall (the Space venue), and hear Lloyd Evans of the Spectator give you a resume of the History of Feminism - "as told by a sexist pig," he proudly proclaims - covering such topics as the suffragettes, the Pill, bra-burning, Greenham Common and, presumably, rape and genital mutilation. Good luck with that, Lloyd, but I'm not twisting again after sticking with Gyles Brandreth and devoting myself in the immediate future to keeping fit with Sylvie.
- Edinburgh Festival
- Edinburgh International Festival
- Benedict Cumberbatch
- Gyles Brandreth
- Pleasance Courtyard
- Philip Ridley
- Simon McBurney
- Sylvie Guillem
- Anthony Alderson
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