I’m subtitling this ‘Edinburgh 2017 edition’ because I might do a general version of this in the future where I talk about shows I saw years ago that I’m still obsessed by and can’t stop thinking about.
This is a list of all the shows I loved/had thoughts on that I saw in Edinburgh that I didn’t review. I looked through my stack of tickets from Edinburgh and wrote things about all the ones where I didn’t go ‘I hated that’ or ‘I forgot I even saw that’. I’ve also not included friends’ shows, solely for the sake of brevity.
In the order that I saw them:
MORALE IS HIGH (SINCE WE GAVE UP HOPE) Powder Keg @ Summerhall
(One of the songs in this literally got stuck in my head)
This show is a sort of capturing of the Zeitgeist. Two men, some guitars, two chairs, a sequin jacket and a shitload of interesting views on the political climate we’re living in, on what society is now. it would be really easy to make a show with those ingredients that was a bit shit, or totally unwatchable. Powder Keg somehow pulls it off. Was it 10 minutes too long? Maybe. But it was good.
LANDS Antler Theatre @ Summerhall
I wish I had known less about this before I went in. I went on the recommendation of someone who told me it was a show that used a woman stuck on a trampoline as a metaphor for a drug addiction. Which was annoying, because a) the show is more than that, b) the trampoline could be a metaphor for so many things.
Two women. One on a trampoline. One doing a jigsaw: one of those massive, 1000 piece jigsaws you can only really find in charity shops nowadays. The woman doing the jigsaw is doing it almost obsessively. Holding each piece up to the light, numbering it, describing what it shows. The woman on the trampoline seems to be having an alright time. Until the jigsaw woman asks her to get off the trampoline. Then the trampoline becomes a problem.
It’s an allegory for something: maybe an addiction, but also maybe something else. It’s beautiful in the way it never pins down exactly what the trampoline is. To be honest, it could just be a show about a woman stuck on a trampoline. Or it could be a show about a woman addicted to jigsaws. Or maybe it’s about how people with problems fuck up the lives of their family and their friends. Maybe it’s about motivation. Etc etc etc.
Massive creds to Sophie Steer for jumping on a trampoline for the best part of an hour without a proper break.
This was definitely in my top three things I saw at Fringe. Haydon’s review of it is very good and I’d like to recommend it.
WORKSHY Katy Baird @ Summerhall
I was, to be honest, really quite unwell when I saw this. If you had told me beforehand that *spoiler* Katy Baird would pee in a jar onstage and film herself drinking it, I probably wouldn’t have gone. I’m very glad that I did. Because even though I ended up eating a bag of chips watching a woman film herself drinking her own pee in a very sultry way, I didn’t feel disgusted at all. I kept eating my chips throughout. I enjoyed it. It was far more fun than I ever thought someone peeing onstage could be.
To talk about something that isn’t the wee: this is a very funnily brutal (if totally unemotional) show about all the shit jobs Katy has had. It’s funny and harsh and enjoyable and there isn’t *too much* audience interaction.
But the thing I really took away from it was the pee.
DOLLYWOULD Sh!t Theatre @ Summerhall
I felt sort of morally obliged to see this since I didn’t see the show all about how shit renting in London is. I’m very glad I saw it, because it was hilariously absurdly funny.
Basically: Dolly Parton, Dolly the sheep, boobs, the body decomposing site near the Dolly Parton theme park. And all very funny.
[Pointless digression to cover up for the fact that I don’t have much to say about the show (even though I did really enjoy it)] It was one of those shows that you admire from afar. Not that it’s not my kind of thing, but that I don’t feel like I can get inside the heads of Sh!t Theatre. It’s obscenely well crafted but it’s the kind of thing I would never make. Which shouldn’t make me feel separated from it. I really enjoyed it. I don’t watch Singing in the Rain and think ‘well I’d never write this’. But when I was watching it I was struck by the fact that not a single part of it was something I would ever make myself.
EUROHOUSE Bertrand Lesca & Nasi Voutsas @ Summerhall
[I swear I did see some shows that weren’t at Summerhall]
For most of this I wasn’t one hundred percent sure what it was about. In fact, I really didn’t know what it was about at all. I knew it was about Europe/the EU in some way. There were parts where I thought ‘you could be wearing a British flag T shirt and you could be wearing an EU flag T shirt and this show would definitely be about Brexit’. But it never does that. Apart from when it does, at the end, and you suddenly find out you’ve probably just watched something all about the Greek financial crisis.
I loved just consuming it. I didn’t worry about what it was about at all. I just enjoyed the dynamic, what was going on. Not exactly as a piece of performance art, but I just appreciated it.
INSTRUCTIONS FOR BORDER CROSSING Daniel Bye Northern Stage @ Summerhall
This show is intensely thought provoking and really quite well-crafted. It stayed with me in a way that I didn’t expect it to. The sounds and images have stayed with me. The mic and the fan. The sound of the tape between the queue bollards (not the correct term). The Jenga tower.
The politics of the show are so unlike anything I’ve ever properly been aware of before. Being homeless out of choice is something I’ve heard of but never thought about. And it’s not that I’ve never questioned borders, but that I’ve never considered the idea of someone properly misbehaving at border control.
WILD BORE Soho and Malthouse @ Traverse
This show is frustrating because there is nothing negative I can say about it that isn’t a line in the show. And it’s difficult to complain about how self-indulgent it is because that is literally the point of the show. I can’t complain about anything. What I will say is that I found the first half much more watchable than the second. But that’s probably a line from the show.
I was surprised by how much the audience laughed at some stuff. There seemed to be a collective pleasure at being angry/rude about critics that came more from the audience than the performers. The people LOVED the parts where the performers shat on critics to the extent where it felt like I was in the middle of an angry audience circle jerk.
Responding to criticisms in the way that Wild Bore does is so brilliantly ferocious. It’s a show unlike anything else I’ve ever seen (which I don’t mean in a loaded way). For me, personally, I think Martinez and co may have missed a trick by not inviting a critic to each performance as a kind of ‘guest performer’ type of role. But I mainly think that because a) I would have loved to see my friends go through that and b) in a show that takes the piss out of me I would have liked there to be more attention on me. But I’m not sure how many critics would agree to taking part. And even if they all did, would there even be enough of us to cover a month-long run? And this is also me trying to be more than a critic in a way that Martinez, Coombs Marr and Truscott would love to take the piss out of. I bet they’d love my line about the angry circle jerk.
MEDEA ON MEDIA Seongbukdong Beedoolkee @ C
Immediately after seeing this I tweeted that it was like ‘someone trying to be Ostermeier directing a fustian text’. Maybe this was the intent of the production, because several of the actors retweeted my tweet.
I broadly agree with that initial statement. The text, at least as it appeared on the surtitles, was extremely old fashioned. It reminded me of the translations of Chekhov and Greek tragedies you get in the Penguin Classics editions. But the direction was quite Ostermeier, for want of a better adjective. Medea meets Aegeus in a yoga studio, with people around them doing all sorts of sexual poses and making extremely sexual noises. Which does bring out the flirtiness of that scene that I always felt was buried down there somewhere. But it also feels like a student director trying to be radical but not really knowing how to do it. Medea confronts Glauce and Jason in what is essentially a televised catfight in a boxing ring. Medea even bites Glauce’s fake tits.
To avoid running around in circles anymore and using adjectives that don’t mean what I want to say: I think I enjoyed it. I don’t know if I could recommend it. But I found it intensely interesting and thought-provoking. And it made me realise that Medea is one of the few classics short enough to work at the Fringe, and that knowledge may prove useful in the years to come.
The set looks almost like a film studio. Except that there’s no video and it’s never properly acknowledged as a film studio. But the whole thing is an extremely visual work of art. It’s influenced by action scenes in Hollywood blockbusters, traditional Asian art, reality tv and the very nature of acting. There’s a scene where Medea and Creon are each continually sprayed with water by the rest of the ensemble to suggest they might be filming something where it’s meant to be raining. The aesthetic of each scene is radically different but that didn’t particularly annoy me. You can get a general sense of the thing here:
NASSIM Bush @ Traverse
I don’t know what to write about this other than to say it was really good. Beyond good. Excellent. You should can buy a ticket for the London transfer here.
I’m a sucker for anything with a guest performer and that is essentially one of the defining features of this show. No spoilers: the guest performer is given a script to perform. They and the audience are encouraged to learn some of playwright Nassim Soleimanpour’s first language, Iranian. We all leave feeling friends. It’s about telling stories and being prepared to give something. There is also live video.
A selection of some of the reviews I wrote:
Resolutions for a second Edinburgh
This was my first Edinburgh.
Even before I left I knew I had to go back. I was already thinking about how my Edinburgh was gonna be next year.
I got really ill for about three days and as a result of that missed my two busiest days press ticket wise, which is how I strangely/sadly ended up not reviewing that much. I don’t feel sore about it at all. There are worse things that could happen, etc. At the time I thought I had food poisoning or a stomach bug, but the more I think about it the more I realise that it was more likely physical manifestations of anxiety. Which sucks. But I learnt a lot from it. And even though I felt awful I should have been dragging myself to shows anyway, not insisting on spending three days in bed. You live and you learn. (But, if it was food poisoning: don’t ever eat the Virgin Trains chicken bacon caesar wrap or nachos from the van in Summerhall courtyard. Those are the two main suspects.)
Now having done Edinburgh once and really fucking enjoyed it I feel like I’m already in a much better position for next year. I don’t know exactly what made me so anxious but I feel more confident now that I have a better idea of what it is. I know what the festival is like and what people do and what goes on.
Next year I think I might want to review for a publication. I’m not fussed whether I’m paid, but it’s difficult for your opinion to have true weight if your blog is called Florence Bell because then shows can only quote you on their posters as Florence Bell, and if you have never heard of Florence Bell then it sounds like they’re just an ordinary punter. The problem is perhaps slightly exacerbated by the fact I don’t bother with star ratings (NB editors I would be happy to write for a publication that uses star ratings). I’m thinking about changing the name of my blog so then I could be ‘Florence Bell, [name of blog]’. This sounds like I’m obsessed with having my name stapled to a flyer. I’m not. I just think it’s hard on shows if they get a good review from me but it looks strange on their poster. And a little bit of me would like to be stapled to someone’s flyer.
I had several conversations with people where they’d ask me what I was doing up at fringe, who I was reviewing for. And when I said ‘my blog’ they would all give me this look. I think it was partly a look of ‘look at this rich little shit who’s bankrolling herself to come to Edinburgh and write a couple of reviews on wordpress dot com’ and partly a look of ‘you aren’t one of the big bloggers so why are you even bothering’. And I have concluded that the best way of solving this problem is by removing myself from the category that warrants those looks.
I think I want to do a collaborative internet thing with someone. I already have my twitter account dedicated to The Thick Of It which is a lot of fun. There’s someone I feel tempted to ask to co-run it with me, partly because I think they’re cool and partly because once I go back to uni it’s going to become harder to stay on top of. I also have an idea for a theatre-related twitter account I want to pitch to a friend. I won’t say anymore in case we actually do it but I think it would be a lot of fun. I’ve been thinking (in a non-tactical way) about expanding my theatre presence beyond this blog and my personal twitter. I’ve thought about doing The White Pube-style Instagram or Snapchat stories on theatre and it’s a tempting idea. But I don’t know whether to go with Insta or Snap. And I know that at some point in my life before I die I want to make a zine. It might not be a very good zine. But I will make one. (Other things I want to do before I die: direct a shit ton of stuff, write more blogs, tweet more tweets, enjoy living life, see more of my friends.)
I’ve increasingly become struck by the idea that I might not be a ‘party person’. By which I mean for the most part I would rather sit in bed by myself on my laptop than hang round in a bar with some people I met ten minutes ago. I’m not really an adventurer. I’m writing my own version of The Seagull, and I happened to suddenly get into it in Edinburgh much more than I have when I’ve been dipping in and out of it previously. I would literally leave Summerhall bar at 9 o clock to go and sit in bed and work on The Seagull. One of my friends joked ‘you’ve gone full Konstantin’. Which is very funny. But I do need to find a better balance between actually getting some social contact and doing the work I need to do/getting time to myself. It reached a point where someone was complaining about being sleep-deprived and I realised I had had quite a different Edinburgh experience from a lot of other people because I had gone to bed by 10.30 almost every night.
Next year I need to take more photos. I took barely any photos in Edinburgh. I don’t think I have a single photo of me with my friends, just a couple of selfies. And loads of screenshots.
I’m glad I’m not someone whose only aim in life is to network. I met some great people in Edinburgh: some who I met while I was there, some who I’ve been twitter friends with for a while. But meeting almost all of those people happened very organically. Maybe it will be different once I’m approaching the end of my degree, but for some reason I felt really glad I wasn’t doorstepping artists as they emerged exhausted from their shows. I had a really nice time in Edinburgh and I didn’t feel like earnestly shaking someone’s hand. I’m not demeaning the people who did that, but I had a really good time without doing it. I want to go back. Edinburgh 2k18.