Monday, 20 August 2012

12 Hour Blitz of Edinburgh Festival 2012

Over the past few years I've annually tried to spend a day or two through at the Edinburgh festival. So, buoyed by a successful trip through on Saturday to the mysterious eastern side of Scotland to watch Partick Thistle beat Dunfermline 1-0 in Fife, I was back east again today, this time to do a 12 hour blitz around the festival.

First up something for the younger children, Petya and the Wolf, by Theatre Pushkin at the Assembly Roxy. My children's reviews of it suggest that they found it interesting but ultimately rather bamboozling as a pair of Russian clowns act out the well known story. It is maybe something that more appeals to 42 year olds like their dad, brought up on Czechoslovakian animated short films on BBC2, and I think the demographics of the audience reflected that with slightly more unaccompanied adults than children present.
Sunny morning at the Edinburgh Book Festival venue
Over at the Edinburgh Book Festival I went to see Michael Grant with my 12 year old son. He is the author of piles of books but has found recent success with his teenage fiction, the GONE series and his new series BZRK which he revealed has got Sam Raimi lined up to direct the film if/when it gets made. I haven't ever read his books but my son devours them. Michael Grant has clearly lead an interesting life and was an engaging and honest speaker, a big shaven headed guy who manages to call people "dude" with a straight face and it doesn't sound odd. He tries to temper his language for the age of the audience and almost succeeds but would clearly be good company discussing cigars and whisky.

Quick dash along to the Pleasance in time to see Horrible Histories Barmy Britain, based on the popular books and TV series, a light hearted romp through British history, jammed with gory stories and facts in the usual Horrible Histories manner. The two performers through a variety of costume changes go from the Roman diet as "Manky-Chef" characteers, to WWI with Earl Haig reporting back to Lord Sugar on the Apprentice. The show is an adapted version of the longer one running in England just now and they've played up the Scottish stories for playing in (Jessie King baby farmer, Burke and Hare, William Wallace) but it is funny how a show about British history jars a bit when the Scottish vs British vs English bit gets a little hazy.
City Art Centre's exhibitions this year are a bit disappointing after David Mach's dramatic show there last year. The Leslie Hunter and Scottish Colourists are a bit of a safe option and very familiar. The top floor has "Human Race", an exhibition allegedly "Inside the History of Sports Medicine", but its a bit of a jumble of disparate items and feels more like a cash grab for Lottey funding in an Olympic year.

More memorable and as mad as a sack of badgers are Harry Hill's paintings, My Hobby, up on the second floor of the clothes shop White Stuff on George Street. If I tell you it has everything from a coconut painted with the face of Jarvis Cocker to a painting of a multi-headed Chris Tarrant running about on the surface of Mars, you'll understand that his work has something for everyone.
Past the sale rack and upstairs to Harry Hill's stuff
Walking about I now had Bruce Springsteen playing in my ears to get me in the right mood for the next show, Sarfraz Manzoor doing 'The Boss Rules' at the Assembly Rooms. As I am ages with him, his stories of living through the80s, finding Bruce's music, starting a family and finding song lyrics chiming with what is going on struck a chord with me. He makes great play in the opening that he's not a comedian, but it is a humorous and warmhearted show and I was inspired to buy his book afterwards. I don't know why I bother as I feel foolishly self-conscious at these things ("yes, sign it to Paul, nobody else would thank me for it") and you can always get the books cheaper on Amazon. It just seems polite.

As the rain was now pelting down outside I decided to try and stay in one building for a couple of hours. Last time that I was at the Assembly Rooms on George Street I think was at a fundraising ceilidh to help the Eigg islanders buy out the landowner. The space which I was in back then now seems to have become Jamie Oliver's restaurant in Edinburgh so I had a wild rabbit tagliolini where last I'd done a Gay Gordons.

Arranging what shows to see sometimes was more to do with what was on at a free slot I had than any great plan, so it was good fortune for me that Stewart Lee's show at the Assembly Rooms was on at 6pm as it was one of the best things that I saw all day. He appears prickly as he delivers a fine monologue/rant about not having any material for a show and complains that half the audience aren't knowledgeable enough to get the jokes anyway. But it is comedians that are really the subject of his gaze. People tweeting and those emailing abuse also get it in the neck as he nicely lands back at the Carpet Remnant World of the show's title at the end.

Finally I'd saved the thing I'd been looking forward to most of all for last, James Kelman and Liz Lochead back up at the book festival in Charlotte Square. Familiar faces such as Irvine Welsh and Jackie Kay were in the audience too. I've long been an avid reader of Kelman's books and Liz Lochead's plays are some of the best I've seen in recent years. Her poetry I've only come to recently. Kelman is promoting his new book "Mo Said She Was Quirky" and gave a good reading from it. It was great to hear him read his stuff. In my head I find his writing makes perfect sense, it just sounds like real people's thoughts, ideas, actions and voices and he reads it as I envisage it when reading. I cannot equate that with some of the uncomprehending and sniffy reviews his books get. When asked about reviewers he breezily shrugged it all off. His early influences maybe explain my affection for his work as he basically read off my youthful reading list when asked; Kafka, Dostoyevsky, Zola and Camus. Interesting too was his comparison with the visual arts in how he works and admiration for Cezanne, Rodin and Modigliani. Also nice to hear the Pewter Pot and Rubiyat bars getting a name check. I swallowed my pride again and bought his book to get it signed, he feigned signing my book "to Pall", one of those occasions you think of the witty retorts on the drive home. Also the only time anyone has ever made that funereal pun with my name - dark humour, eh? Back to Glasgow.

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