Not Quite Finished with Edinburgh

I didn’t take masses of photographs during my time at the Edinburgh Festivals, because mostly I was inside being entertained.  But I have come away with an eclectic little collection…..

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An Edinburgh Festival Diary Day 6

Yes, yes.  I know I’m behind with this diary writing business.  I knew when I started I was forging a rod for my own back, but it didn’t stop me in my enthusiasm to make a record before I forgot, before each new experience overlaid the memory of what I’d seen the day before, the hour before, just before I ate that ice cream.

It’s a couple of days since I left Edinburgh to return to the West coast, and I can’t quite believe how much I saw and experienced.  The debate about what was the best thing, the most memorable thing, the thing I wasn’t sure about at the time, but which is now the most vivid in my memory, the most fun, the most thought provoking, the thing I’ve changed my mind about the most since thinking about it, will continue for some time.

In the meantime I’ll fill you in on the last half day of my Festival which saw me back at the Queen’s Hall for a concert of works by Couperin.  I will confess my ignorance up front.  I didn’t know what to expect, other than a recital involving a harpsichord.  It was played by Christophe Rousset and his period instrument ensemble Les Talens Lyrique.  Having been to the exhibition of Vermeer paintings of musicians and instruments at the National Gallery within the last month, there was a certain synchronicity in hearing a harpsichord in concert.

Perhaps I was a little festivalled out; or perhaps the 5 hours I had spent sitting quietly concentrating first on Mozart and then on Shakespeare (in Mandarin) the day before had exhausted my sitting still quotient, or maybe I’ve got cloth ears, but once I’d admired the look of the harpsichord imagining it in a painting, wondered to whom it belonged (I’ve since discovered it’s the University of Edinburgh), and if the man tuning it was a specialist harpsichord tuner or also a piano tuner,(and how much call there would be for dedicated harpsichord tuners,) marvelled at the dexterity of the playing, and enjoyed the tinkling notes washing over me for the first few pieces, it began to all sound a little bit the same.  (Cloth ears is a distinct possibility as the Guardian music critic awarded the concert 5 stars….)

I’m still glad I went.  As I am for all of the things I saw and heard; and will be debating what the subtext of some of them was for some time to come yet.

And so my first Festival experience came to an end.  It was a fantastic experience, and I can’t believe it has taken me so long to go for the first time.

I’ll be back for sure.

I’d love to know if you’ve seen any of the same things as me, and what you thought of them.

An Edinburgh Festival Diary Day 5

2013-08-22 10.00.00Don’t worry, I’ve still been festivalling, I just ran out of steam on the writing front…..

Day 5 might be characterised as being of Mozart, Mary and Will with Chinese Rock.

The day’s activities began with a concert at the Queen’s Hall by Nachtmusique an ensemble which specialises in using ancient instruments in their performances.  The programme was all Mozart for wind instruments, principally  basset horns and clarinets, which were, according to the notes, new technology at the time Mozart was composing.  I’d never heard of a basset horn before, let alone seen one, so given my rather visual approach to music concerts, I was fascinated to have a look at them and how they are played.  A wooden instrument with some fancy looking ironwork, with a knee bend in it in the middle, it is apparently possible to play it in one of at least positions, as two players held it to the outside of one of their thighs, while the other held in more centrally.

A varying number of performers occupied the stage for each piece, some written, according to the programme notes while Mozart was playing a game of skittles.  We also heard the overture to The Magic Flute scored for woodwind.  I like the idea that various forms of each piece might have been written so that the widest possible audience might hear the music: so you can’t get to the opera house, you can still hear a flavour of the piece from a smaller group of musicians in your drawing room.  I sat for a while wondering what a group of none musicians is called, and it turns out, that on that particular occasion it was an octet plus a double bass.

The Queens Hall is a deconsecrated Church which has been a concert hall since it was opened by the Queen in the early 1980s, but it still bears traces of its religious past.  The audience sits on velvet padded seats, but, the upper balcony, their backs are pressed against the straight wooden back of the old pews. There’s no slouching here.

Thence to the Mary Queen of Scots Exhibition at the Museum of Scotland.  In common with the notion of challenging everything we think we know about a period in history that had been so interesting at Sarah Chruchwell’s talk at the Book Festival, this exhibition sought to put Mary into her historical context, her relationships with the major political events in Western Europe of the early Renaissance, and to present her as neither saint nor sinner.

I found the exhibition fascinating, if only because I was able to answer questions I’ve had since my very fractured school girl education in Scottish history; those questions which while not an every day persistent worry, make me feel rather ignorant when I do consider them.  How exactly were Mary and Elizabeth l related?  How were the Hanoverian Kings related to the Stuart monarchy.  (I’m not going to tell you, it’s all there in the museum….)

I thought the complicated inter relationships between the Royal House of England, Scotland, France and Spain were well explained.  You could see what each monarch was trying to achieve and how they were gambling on positioning themselves; and Mary was one of the pieces in the game puzzle that kept being moved around.  When she was left in charge on her own, it seems as if she was doing fine, her education and upbringing had brought her to expect to be Queen, and then she married Darnley and it all went downhill from there on in.  She lost her what judgement she had at the sight of a pretty young man.  What irony there is in an era where, because the Church forbids divorce, murder is the only option.

Many of the artefacts are ‘thought to have been’ Mary’s, but there is one piece, a huge piece of embroidered squares and emblems that was definitely made by her,  It is an extraordinary thing to look at: she was a skilled needlewoman and had many years of confinement in which to practice it, and she fashioned her various emblems into it.  It made me pause to think of a life led half as a Queen, and half as a prisoner; by the age of 25 she had been widowed twice and been deposed.

The exhibition led to a debate over which Royal House had won the big game of cards; which dynastic line survived the best.  Elizabeth ruled successfully, but it was Mary’s son who succeeded.

From one story of rivalries and betrayals to another in the evening.  Coriolanus was performed by The Beijing People’s Art Theatre in Mandarin, as part of International Festival.  The Playhouse is a big theatre and it was full on Tuesday night; some of the audience wore their chains of office and, form my vantage point, it was clear that there was a degree of diplomacy underway.

The stage was stripped back so that the action took place against a backdrop of bare brick walls, with a huge chorus of drably dressed populace.   English surtitles had been promised, but they were largely out of step with the speed of the dialogue, so mostly I had no idea what was being said, but it did seem to be a fairly traditional interpretation of the Shakespeare, but with the startlingly anachronistic addition of two competing rock bands, complete with thrashing guitar chords, and knee length hair for swinging about in frequent head-banging interludes.

The main actor playing Coriolanus had the gravitas and stage presence that drew the eye even before it became clear of his role, but I found the rather stylised, declamatory acting manner of the cast, and especially his mother rather distancing.

The production reminded me very strongly of things I saw in Moscow in the early 1990s when artistic control was loosened and directors were trying new ‘modern’ effects, and were testing the boundaries, throwing in odd bits and pieces they hoped would be striking and controversial: my yardstick always being the rock version of Anne of a Thousand Days in which Henry Vlll and Cardinal Wolsey stripped to the waist, in black lycra leggings, fought each other with whips  over the future of the Church of England.

What would be interesting to know is how the story of Coriolanus plays in present day Chinese politics.  Is it a tale of the population let down by arrogant leaders, or one of leaders undermined by the fickleness of the mob?

One more day of EdFest to go…….

An Edinburgh Festival Diary Day 4


Carlton Burial Ground and the Roof of Holyrood

The busiest day so far, and it’s encompassed The Queen’s Gallery, a graveyard, the Fringe, the Book Festival and hoola-hoops.  What more could any person want?

The day began at the exhibition of da Vinci anatomical drawings at the Queens Gallery at Holyrood; or if I am to be absolutely truthful, the day began with coffee and cake at the cafe at Holyrood.

The da Vinci drawings have been in the Royal collection since 1690, but it was only in the 20th century that they have been fully appreciated.  Now removed from the leather book binding in which they were kept for centuries, scientists and doctors have been able to see how truly accurate and extraordinary the drawings are.  With no blue print before him, Leonardo developed his own way of sketching the body, stripping away layer by layer to reveal the sinews and bones and tendons beneath the skin.

The price of admission brings with it an audio guide which both explains the key drawings, but with the contribution from a surgeon reveals how da Vinci’s work prefigures what can now be proven with the use of three dimensional scanning, and how it is possible to tell that the drawings must have been a real person, because of the abnormalities depicted. Because da Vinci was interested in the way things actually work, everyone going round the exhibition, at one moment or another, finds themselves flexes their fingers, or stretching out their arm and making a fist, just to check they are made the same way.

Unconsciously in choosing the exhibition on anatomy, I was making a link to the strong muscles and straining tendons I had seen at the ballet on Sunday.  Our next stop had another similarly tangentially link.

The Carlton Burial Grounds is very close by Holyrood so it was just a step across the road to see The Daughters of Decayed Tradesmen Christine Borland and Brody Condon.  Installed in one of the watch towers which were erected to protect the graves of the newly dead in the period when Burke and Hare, the resurrection men were stealing bodies to sell to the Edinburgh medical school for anatomy lessons.  The tower is now derelict, and Borland and Condon have suspended a long string of jacquard cards, the arrangement of holes in which set the pattern for weaving cloth, but which in this installation tell the story of two girls living in the home for daughters of decayed tradesmen.  These stories, told in a nearly lost language now gently undulating in the breeze, will be unfathomable unless you can read binary code.

It’s a thought provoking work set in a fascinating place.  The Carlton burial ground was for Edinburgh tradesmen and their families, so many of the stones and small temples record not only names and dates but also occupation: auctioneer, merchant, sea captain.

From there we walked up the Royal Mile to launch back into the Fringe, hunting out our venue by its number, to discover that it was not a coal cellar or someone’s garage, but instead one of the meeting rooms in the Radisson Hotel.

Magic Number 6 is a one hour play charting the deterioration of the relationship between Patrick McGoohan and Lew Grade during the making of the 1960s TV series The Prisoner. I’d booked the play because the writer has recently completed an MA in screenwriting, and the subject matter, about the conflict in a commercial creative world is something that interests me.  It may not be an ideal reaction, but what struck me most forcibly in watching the show, was how difficult it is to write a short play.  Some of the scenes of the confrontation between the two men were tight and tense and well performed, but as a whole, the play lacked its own moral, and given that ultimately the dispute was over money, not enough about the importance of the budget was established at the beginning, when Grade appeared to approve the project without any comment on the finances.

We had to hot foot it back across to the New Town for an afternoon slot in the big tent at the Book Festival where Liz Lochhead, Makar (Scotland’s National Poet) was in conversation about Scottish culture in the thirty year life of the Book Festival.  It turned out to be not really about that, but as she said at the outset it would be a ‘bit of a blether about books’.  It also emerged that while she was very happy to talk about the flowering of literary talent in Scotland in the last decades, she resoundingly rejected any suggestion that just because it was Scottish something was good, as if it wasn’t Scottish it was bad.  It was refreshing to hear her strong opinions, and amusing to sense the anxiety of the chairwoman about what she might be about to say next, especially when she started on the subject of poor productions of her own work she’d seen.  But what was good to hear was the celebration of good work from wherever it came, and the ability to experience it in Scotland.

Circa Wunderkammer is one of the shows with the most posters around town, and about which we’ve already had several conversations with strangers.  I’d ordered the tickets some while ago, so was pleased that it turns out to one of this year’s hot topics.

What can I tell you?  I was not disappointed at all.  They are a remarkable troupe of acrobats from Australia, strong and lithe and humorous, doing unbelievable stunts.  Once again I was wondering at the muscles and the timing; they perhaps lack the grace of the ballerinas in Scottish ballet, but have you ever seen a ballerina with a man standing on her shoulders?  I loved the androgyny of the show.  It’s the men who do the striptease, and the women show they can also carry a man aloft, or catch one of their sisters flying through the air.  Men climb poles as if there was no such thing as gravity; one man can hold his own weight, as well as that of another hanging off his ankle at right angles to the vertical.  A woman could step up to a man’s shoulders as if there were nothing easier in the world.  One of the women can keep a dozen hula-hoops going at once, spread across her body, moving her arms in and out and bending her head to the side without interrupting the flow.  There were gasps of awe at the anticipation of what the next trick was going to be and then applause when it was completed.

I’m off to practice with my hula-hoop……

But one last thing before bed.  We returned to Summerhall for the Michael Nyman installation Man with a Movie Camera.  Inspired by an experimental film from the 1920s by Russian filmmaker DzigaVertov, Nyman has written a score for the silent movie, and has then created 10 parallel films, apparently, according to the blurb, matching to the original frame by frame.  All 11 films are being projected on a forest of screens in one of the galleries, while the music plays.  It would be fair to say that opinions of this piece amongst our party diverged significantly.  I found it confusing until I identified the screen that was showing the original film, and then spent my time watching that, because, knowing the era in which it was made, I could see the experimentation and fascination that had gone into it.  The more modern collage of images was less interesting, and I couldn’t really discern any congruity between the images and the music that was being broadcast.  Others in the group loved the music.

I believe I have now earned my EdFest Spurs.

An Edinburgh Festival Diary Day 3

Day 3 introduced some ballet to my Festival diet, spiced with another bookish discussion.

In fact I went to two separate performances by Scottish Ballet which formed part of their Ballet Odyssey weekend programme.  In the morning we went watched 5 duets, sitting on temporary seats constructed on the stage, such had the safety curtain not been down we wold have been looking straight out into the auditorium.  The theme for the weekend was for dance to be stripped down to its bare minimum, so the music was recorded and there was minimal staging.  Instead, from the second row of the stand, we were within 10 feet of each pair of dancers.

Ballet is another of those things I know very little about, and even though I always looks for narrative in any piece, the mime and significance of dance gesture usually passes me by.  What I could see, sitting so close, was the energy and strength of the performers, all those sinews stretching, all that core strength.

I was never one of those little girls who dreamed of being a dancer, for a start I can’t point my toes, and for another, I was far too tall and the girls who went to dance classes were those tiny, skinny girls.  This might be one of the reasons that the elfin ballerinas on stage don’t really engage me, no matter how dainty.  So it is perhaps not surprising that the duet I enjoyed the most was one performed to Rachmaninov, by a ballerina as tall as her partner, shapely and athletic; I could see the story here too, of them finding romance together after a bashful, hesitant start.

Of the five duets, three were of a traditional style, and two were more modern, choreographed around soundscape rhythms rather than melodic music.  In one, the ballerina’s feet never touched the ground, and she was held by or entwined around her partner for the whole piece.  In the other, the dancers performed repetitive mechanistic movements in time to an insistent beat.  I enjoyed it all, but a significant part of that enjoyment was in being able to see such intensity of concentration and effort close by.

In line with the idea of Odyssey, after the duets, we were led to the foyer of the Festival Theatre to watch a new work danced to a mash up of noise and disco.

I’m very interested to compare my reaction to these pieces, to the circus acrobatic performers we have tickets to see on Monday evening….

On the walk back from the Old Town to the New Town for the Book Festival event, we walked along part of the Royal Mile as I had yet to see any of the Big Five street performers I have set myself as my safari objective– a juggler, a stilt walker, a unicyclist, a fire eater and a tap dancing string quartet. I saw some, and turned down a score of leaflets advertising shows. There is some category debate: does two unicyclist jugglers count as one or two?  I’ll have ironed this out by the end of my Festival experience.

Back at the Book Festival we went to listen to Amit Chaudhuri talk about his book on Calcutta.  During the talk he touched on the idea in Bengal that the concept of the perfect conversation is one that wanders from one subject to any other, and will give equal weight to the discussion of a cup of tea or the political agenda of the government.  This meandering, expansive philosophy of discussion was apparent in his own way of speaking.  It was a little unfortunate that because the chairman of the event didn’t guide the conversation more actively, all the time was gone before there had been any questions from the audience.

After more refreshment breaks and a little writing, we returned to the Festival Theatre for Scottish Ballet’s The Rite of Spring.  Taking the ideas of ritual, division and religious fundamentalism, new choreography has been created for three dancers on a sparse white stage with curved up walls confining the dance space to the centre of the empty stage.  I wasn’t sure I understood much of this, but, as I suspected, this morning some of the images are still in my mind’s eye.

In the first part, two brothers, dressed in long black skirts, fight and argue and appear to try to escape the confines of their environment.  The leaping and outstretched limbs of the dancers created big bold geometric shapes against the white background.  It is only when the woman, Faith, appears, a sort of flitting Tinkerbell in brilliant white, that you see that the stage isn’t that white after all.  The brothers fight over Faith.

In the second half, one man is a prisoner of the other.  Now one is dressed only in his underwear and the other in army fatigues and black boots; while faith waves seductively from the sidelines.  There is a great deal of mimed brutality and violence, including a black bag over the head of the prisoner.  There was something about this section that I found disturbing, making me feel voyeuristic and uncomfortable; but it did accentuate the violence inherent in the music.

I’ll be back on the Fringe tomorrow…..

HeLa at Summerhall

I first heard about the possibility of HeLa, an examination of the story of Henrietta Lacks and her medical and scientific legacy when I met Adura Onashile a couple of years ago when we were both spending time at Cove Park.  Adura had come to start work on the preliminary research for a theatrical piece which she would both write and perform.

I was therefore very excited to be in the audience to see the show that has been worked on and honed over the intervening months.  Previously performed as a work in progress at the Science Festival, it has been refashioned to fit into the former Anatomy lecture theatre in what used to be the veterinary college and which is now Summerhall arts venue.

In fact, I was even rather anxious on my way to see it on Saturday evening; I know how much work has gone into it, I wanted it to be perfect and successful.  We arrived so early we had our choice of seats in the steeply raked seats looking in and down onto the performance area.  I wanted the perfect view, but I didn’t want to put her off(!)

HeLa is a one woman show, inspired by the story of Henrietta Lacks, a poor black woman who died from cancer in the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore in 1951.  When her doctor examined her, when she went in for treatment for a pain in the abdomen, he removed some of her tissue without her permission, and this tissue has provided the raw genetic material for thousands of scientific and medical experiments in the decades since. Eminent scientists have used the cells in work which has led to Nobel Prizes and public recognition.

The cell line, referred to as HeLa, from the first two letters of her first name and surname, have a remarkable property that not only can they survive outside the body, but they continue to multiply, and can in effect be manufactured as infinitum.

It was only in the 1970s when a researcher approached the Lacks family to test to see if this characteristic had been inherited by any of her four children who were all very young when she died ,that they knew anything about the use of their mother’s tissue.  Subsequently the genome of the HeLa cell line was sequenced and published online, violating the privacy of her surviving descendants.

I think what may have initially sparked Adura’s interest in the story of Henrietta was a feeling of outrage, that something had been taken from a poor black woman in a segregated hospital without her permission, that it had been endlessly replicated without the knowledge of her family, that they were all treated as something less than deserving of respect.  But what has emerged is not an anti science play, it is, I think, a very serious attempt to examine what we might mean by life and identity, and scientific responsibility.

Through the eyes of Deborah one of her daughters, we face the question of what it must be like to know that something of your mother still has life, is still growing and replicating, when you lost that person when you were almost too young to remember her.  To a scientist a replicating cell may not be ‘alive’, but to a daughter it must feel like a ghostly presence that might reappear at any time, so why not buy a Mothers’ Day card every year, and wonder if you might ever know what her favourite colour was, or if she might recapture the smell of her? To a scientist they are just cells for experimentation, to the family they are part of a person that they would like to be acknowledged.

On her own, in the middle of the room, with only a medical trolley, a few wooden stools, a box of memories, a video projection and her own tremendous physicality, energy and nuanced performance, Adura creates a world of characters, and asks us to consider the woman, Henrietta Lacks, and her legacy.  It’s thought provoking and raises big questions we should all debate, but it is also the re-imagined story of a woman and the impact her early death had on her family.

Go and see it!

An Edinburgh Festival Diary Day 2

2013-08-17 15.51.49I started on my first day in Edinburgh with something on the Fringe, and something in the main Festival, so, of course, it was only right to begin Day 2 with a trip to the International Book Festival.  We went to listen to Sarah Churchwell, a Professor at UEA talk about her new book Careless People, Murder, Mayhem and The Invention of The Great Gatsby.  

I picked this event because Gatsby is a favourite book, it’s somehow back in the Zeitgeist because of the recent Baz Luhrmann film, and I’ve seen Sarah Churchwell on review programmes on the television and she seems like a knowledgeable person of strong opinion.  To be honest, I didn’t think I’d come away from little tented village which hosts the book festival with a copy of her publication, but I found the talk and discussion so interesting that I followed her to the book shop and had my newly bought copy signed.

What was so interesting about the discussion was that it is the story of the story.  Churchwell has researched the events that were in the news at the time that Fitzgerald was writing the novel, written in 1924 but set in 1922, and she has questioned every trope of what we presume we know about the 1920s.  Were the women wearing short skirts?  No.  Were they dancing the Charleston? No.  Did a green traffic light mean Go? Not necessarily, but sometimes.

During her research she came across reports of a notorious double murder in New Jersey in the early 1920s, which evidence indicates that Fitzgerald did read.  There were startling points of overlap between titbits in the news reports and details in the novel.  Using the news reports as well as other contemporary material, Churchwell has built a factual story of the times in which the novel was written, Fitzgerald’s writing process and the novel itself.

That she has interrogated every assumption that we have about the period, the roaring 20s, those images which we now accept as the shorthand for the era, and has found that they are not accurate, is what I found so interesting, as it is those details which create the pictures in our mind’s eye and the richness of the tapestry of we weave when we are immersed in a good book.  I’m looking forward to reading her work so that I can repaint those pictures.

After an afternoon spent chatting, I went to the Summerhall to see HeLa, written and performed by my friend Adura Onashile.  I’m still buzzing from the experience, and it needs a blog post all of its own, which will come(!).  Afterwards I had a drink with Adura and I had what I’ve been told is a ‘true festival experience’ of having quite a major conversation with the people with whom we shared the table in the bar.  We heard what they’d seen, and we showed off what we’d seen, and discussed our wish lists and future bookings, given the randomness of the encounter and the sheer number of things that are on, had a surprising amount of overlap – and of course took the opportunity to impress upon them the importance of their seeing HeLa before the end of the Festival.

Another day has dawned, and with it sunny blue skies, so I am optimistic for another fun day, and maybe today I will see a unicyclist!

An Edinburgh Festival Diary Day 1

2013-08-16 16.33.25Yesterday I had my first taste of the full Edinburgh Festival experience.  And even though it didn’t start until the middle of the afternoon when I arrived at Waverley station, as it comprised listening to blues played on a home made guitar made from an old radio in a jazz bar basement, and  experiencing the induction to a life on ‘New Earth’ at an out of town climbing centre, I think it counts as a proper initial immersion.

John Hunt does Afternoon Blues and Swing using his own home made instruments.  There was a short legged coffee table on which he stamps out his percussion section, and a first guitar made from a wooden shelf, with built in amplifier and microphone.  It’s worth descending the stairs to the underground bar on a sunny afternoon for his ingenuity alone, but he delivers his set with dry wit and a gravelly voice, mashing up his own compositions with reinterpretations of early 20th century classics like Someone to Watch over Me.

All round it was a very satisfactorily disorientating introduction to the Festival.

After refreshments, it was down to the Conference Centre to pick up the bus to Leaving Planet Earth.  The bus ride is only the first part of the experience of ‘jumping’ from Old Earth, a dying planet ravaged by war and unrest, to New Earth, a twin planet of bright colours and endless opportunities.  At the Ratho Climbing Centre, doubling as the induction centre for new arrivals on New Earth, we learnt about the great future we will share, so long as we can avoid The Pull of memories of Old Earth.  The Pull can turn people into Empties who cannot go on and who endanger the success of the project, so have to be taken on the Path.

We’ve been promised that, in return for our pledge to put the survival of the human species ahead of our own individualism, we will live a great new life on New Earth so long as we can sever all our memory and emotional ties with Old Earth.

As the show progressed, and we were led from space to space around the concrete and iron space of the climbing centre, it became clear that all may not be well in the New Earth, and that we may not have come to the better place of freedom where we can satisfy our own desires.

How sane are the leaders of the project?  Have we been dragged into a cult of personality? And  who will decide if we are to be sacrificed in the interests of an idea of a higher plan?

While some of the speeches were a little too laboured, the overall experience of the show has lingered in my memory.  It is almost that this morning the impression of the experience has improved.  The way that GridIron has used the industrial scale of the  climbing centre is very effective, and evocative  of what might be a purpose built landing point for a new colony.  The way the audience is moved around, in a choreographed and timed fashion, adds to the impression of a busy working facility.  Sometimes each of the three groups is alone, sometimes we all emerged into the central area, where we could see each other all arrayed along the various levels of the raised walkways.

The show’s literature warns that there are stairs to climb, which is true, and that there are loud noises and strobe effects, which I thought were relatively minor hazards.  What they failed to mention is that the promenade staging presents quite a challenge for anyone suffering from vertigo or a fear of heights.  I found the open grilled external walkways and stairways extremely challenging, and I was not alone in this; there was also no mention that there were no toilet breaks and no refreshments available.

It’s definitely worth seeing, but take some water, a person whose hand you can hold on the stairs, and be prepared to miss a few minutes if you need a ‘comfort break’.

All in all, not a bad start to my Festival experience…….

Connected to Cove Park

This time next month, all being well, I shall be in Edinburgh experiencing the Festival.  It’s (almost) shaming to admit that while I’ve visited the city many times, this will be my first visit to the Festival.  Well, my first visit apart from a family trip to the Tattoo in the 1970s.

In an uncharacteristic moment of precision, I tried to work out which year that must have been.  I was quite young, it wasn’t long after we’d moved to Scotland, and there were formation motorcycle riders performing amongst all the military bands and dog displays.  And then I remembered that knowing what the seating plan for the Tattoo on the Castle Esplanade looked like help me decipher a significant clue in a TV adventure programme I was glued to, well before the protagonists worked it out.  So if I could find out when the programme was broadcast, I’d know when I’d been.

If only I could remember the name of the show.  This launched me into one of those google searches that against all the odds brought me to the right answer.  It went along the lines of ‘it had that actress in it who was in that other thing in the 1980s about meeting the man who jilted her at the altar years before.  Wasn’t he in Jesus Christ Superstar in the West End?   Her name was Jan something…..?’

It worked. The Long Chase (starring Jan Francis,who subsequently appeared in Just Good Friends with Paul Nicholas in the 1980s) was first broadcast in 1972.  So I saw the Tattoo sometime before then.  (I even found an online discussion thread petitioning for the issue of The Long Chase on DVD.  Interestingly, no-one, me included, seems to recall whether it was in colour or black and white…..)

Anyway, all of this is just preamble to illustrate how long overdue it is for me to visit the Edinburgh Festival.  and even though it’s still a month away, I am already aware of the risk of over gorging on it.  There is so much, largely because it is not one thing, but several combined, and there is a temptation to want to try a little bit of each.  One mercy is that as I am not a fan of comedy I am able to ignore a significant proportion of the Fringe(!).

This week the thing that has been exciting me at the prospect of all the things I am going to see, is that I have noticed pre publicity for works from people I have met during one of my sojourns at Cove Park.  One of the founding ideas of Cove Park is to have a mixture of artistic disciplines there, to allow people from different backgrounds and with different objectives to take time out, watch the weather and the light change on the surface of the loch and the hills beyond, to meet and to exchange ideas and inspirations.

I’ve been very fortunate in the people I have met there.  Many of them were novelists and poets, but I’ve also met visual artists and actors there.  I don’t know them well, but have shared a late night drink in front of the roaring fire in the bar at the Knockderry House Hotel, tartan carpet and all, and heard about their projects when they were in the very early stages of thinking and development.  I am therefore full of anticipation at the prospect of seeing them come to fruition as part of the Festival.

Adura Onashile  is performing her one woman show HeLa  inspired by the story of Henrietta Lacks, whose cells were used, without her permission as raw material for some of the most significant  medical research in the last century.  I met Adura as she was doing the first research for the project, so in a very tiny way I feel like I was there at the beginning, so have to see it come to fruition.

Brody Condon was on a preliminary visit for a joint project with Christine Borland and was using Cove Park as an accommodation base when I met him.  I’m not sure at that time that they had a very well formulated idea of what the nature of their project would be, other than they would be doing it jointly; so I’m really interested to see what they developed together, especially as it sounds as if it will be installed in an unusual venue.

Who knew I was so well connected?

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