– Jackie Burnham
Although this year’s Edinburgh Fringe was predictably very different, with all the enforced social distancing and lack of mobbing crowds, there was still more than enough to enjoy.
Most venues were outdoors in marquees (without sides) which kept us dry and provided an interesting soundscape of seagulls and ambulance sirens – even if it meant I had to find a thick sweater in a charity shop to keep me warm!
Less people meant less performances, so the pared down showings were well attended and often needed booking beforehand by the excellent Edinburgh Festival Fringe website, which operated by email only – no paper tickets at all – something I imagine they’ll continue in the future.
Royal Mile began by looking like a wasteland for us early on Wednesday morning (11th) with no people or action…
…but by the end of the next week was much more like its old self, with street artists and entertainers – but with a noticeable lack of flyers or show taster exerts – presumably banned.
The George Square venue was the best we found for food and atmosphere, and the only place where Fringe people were permitted to get their own refreshments and move around. The Multistory was a cleverly improvised use of the castle multi-storey carpark, but one which failed to strike a Fringe vibe, despite their best efforts – and you couldn’t shake off the feeling that you were having lunch in a slightly musty…car park.
Most places served us in our seats using the QR code system, and seating was generally arranged in ‘bubble’ size, with masks kept on.
So – to our personal best performances… One or two man shows seemed to be in the majority – due perhaps to being written and rehearsed in lockdown – and isolation was a popular theme in all of them…
It was a treat to watch British actor, Pip Utton, bringing Francis Bacon (the artist) back to life. Utton gave us a poignant, darkly comedic portrayal of the life of this conflicted soul, covering both his disturbed childhood and his controversial fame (Margaret Thatcher described him as ‘that deplorable man’). Utton, both actor and playwright, is also behind the award-winning Adolf, Chaplin and Only The Lonely, and is widely regarded as one of the leading solo performers in the UK.
Styx was a innovative multi media production with original music celebrating the composer’s grandfather and looking at the power of memory against the backdrop of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth – this was probably the show that moved me the most.
‘Watson :The Final Problem’ was another mesmerising performance – this time by the renowned actor: Tim Marriott. He reflects on Watson’s career and brings to life some of the brilliance and magic of the man who was Sherlock – including speculations on his death – ending the show with the tantalising ring at the door.
‘Under Milk Wood – Semi Skimmed’ was performed by Richard Burton’s nephew in his 28th year at the Fringe and was a joy to watch, with the single prop of an upright chair used in magical ways and his welsh tones breathing life into the nearly 60 year old ‘play for voices’. I cried all the way through, but then I’m a total sucker for this play – my favourite of all time!
The four we saw all shared a consummate professionalism of delivery as well as excellent scripts, and we were really happy we’d chosen them. [‘Event’ was highly recommended – which we missed – but thought it worth ref’ing here.]
We chose this because of the name and the poster: and once again learned the bitter lesson that using the name of a celebrity does not guarantee a good show. And there’s always a few dud surprises to keep you on your toes. Five star reviews and sell outs shows just don’t seem to count for much any more at the fringe.
Blind Mirth Presents Sex With Me! by St Andrew’s students was probably the best improv comedy we’ve ever seen – worth a watch
‘The importance of being ….Earnest?’ involving audience participation was one of the cleverest productions I’ve seen – using realistic director stress to insist that audience members help ‘save the show’ and there was simply no option to say no.
Although Fringe ‘21 was a rather different experience, the overall quality and occasional ‘roll of the dice’ gamble with one’s show choice was unchanged, and so we’re really glad we didn’t decide against it, despite obvious restrictions. However, a huge amount of this year’s festival is available online, so it’s not too late to start scrolling and enjoying, even from the safety of your own sofa! And for all dye in the wool Ed Fringe affectionados who need to experience the live thrill of both the glorious city of Edinburgh and the Fringe itself, this years’ event runs until (and including) Monday 30th August – with more than enough shows to keep both you and the whole family happy.
So, why not hop on the train and start exploring?
Jackie Burnham is a former teacher, childminder and children’s entertainer. She has written for the BBC World Service, as well as producing and presenting her very own podcast about home education for children, Unschooling: Learning Without Rules.