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Scouting For Talent in Edinburgh



EMMA UNDERHILL: For reasons too boring to go into, I have in recent years neglected the many delights that festivals have to offer so this summer I resolved to make the most of the season.  With three fantastic music fests already under my belt, I was glad to leave the mud, chemical toilets and mashed-up pleasure-seekers behind and head off to the world’s biggest culture-fest, the comparatively civilised Edinburgh Fringe. 


Starting at a not so civilised 5am, I winged my way north via Easyjet and landed amidst the stilt walkers, street theatre performers and out-of-work-actors-painted-to-look-like-statues that densely populate the Royal Mile, excited by the plethora of “culture” in store. 


During August all of Edinburgh is a stage and a weekend stint at the festival is like absorbing a month’s worth of outings in one hit. Before tea time I’d already taken in the very beautiful and visceral Eva Hesse show Studiowork at the Fruitmarket Gallery, seen a brave, vital and incredibly moving dance-theatre performance by the up-and-coming dance company C-12 called The Chair, and an hour-long gig by Australian comedienne Celia Pacquola. 


Comedy dominates the Edinburgh Fringe; so much so that when leafing through the extensive guide, it can be impossible to know where to begin.  Having learnt from previous years that the quality can be varied and star ratings not wholly reliable, this time I followed the sage recommendations flagged up on Daniel Kitson’s website. I was disappointed not to see Kitson himself (other than when he walked past me along the Pleasance) but he is not doing weekend gigs, Pacquola’s show  Am I Strange - reminiscent of Kitson’s story-telling format - was thoroughly enjoyable. Her show revolved around her experience of a cheating ex-boyfriend, cleverly leading us through the different compartments of her mind with wit, cheekiness and a confiding honesty that made you feel like her new best friend. I rounded the day off with a dose of Showstopper - an improvised musical by a group of London-based comedians (including Ruth Bratt, Adam Meggido, Pippa Evans and masterminded by Dylan Emery) who usually reside at the Kings Head on Upper St. I’ve seen them several times, but it never fails to astound me how they can not only sing, act, and dance incredibly well, but they are making the whole thing up on the spot. This particular show involved a lesbian tryst aboard a pirate ship in search of a man eating octopus, and somehow came together in a rousing finale that got the audience singing and clapping along.


Day two started off with a Wilson twins’ film installation at the Talbot Rice Gallery.  The twins have sifted through the Kubrick archives and put together Unfolding the Aryan Papers a film about a film that was never completed.  The twins combined the research that Kubrick had put into the idea for the film (essentially the story of a Polish Jew trying to save herself and her family from the Nazis) with a study of the actress who was lined up for the lead role.  Without attempting to tell Kubricks story, the Wilson’s film is a stunning portrayal of what ‘didn’t’ happen.  From this I moved on to a production called A British Subject. One of the great things about the Edinburgh Festival is the opportunity to risk the unknown. A flyer girl promoting the play dubbed it ‘a light-hearted comedy’, which was a tad misleading. It was in fact based on the true story of the fight by an ageing London hack to release a Pakistani prisoner unjustly placed on death-row for 18 years.  It was extremely moving, and the quality of scriptwriting and acting navigated a potentially depressing subject with a lightness and thought-provoking pathos. From here, I moved on to the comedy of the very talented Pippa Evans, who’s one woman show unfolds through a variety of characters introduced by a fading Yorkshire cabaret compère. There’s the feisty, man-hating American singer/songwriter Loretta Maine, a slightly simple production assistant and a stalker who has an unhealthy obsession with eggs. Evans’ clever characters and hilarious song lyrics left me wanting more, and so it was a pleasure to continue the giggle-fest with a show by Pappy’s Fun Club, a team of four boys that are so stupidly, delightfully funny you want to invite them all to be your house mates.  


Tempting as it was to end the weekend in one of the many festival bars, I decided to avoid the liggers and thesps in search of a more authentic Scottish experience While this may not be genuinely possible in cosmopolitan Edinburgh, “the oldest folk pub in town” was at least dominated by Scottish accents, patronised by one kilt-wearing gentleman and provided live Celtish ditties from a bunch of fiddles, and a mandolin.



Eva Hesse Studiowork at The Fruitmarket Gallery

Courtesy The Estate of Eva Hesse

Copyright The Fruitmarket Gallery, 2009

Photo Alan Dimmick


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