Oliver had left us for rehearsals and Stage Crew work for the school production (he’s doing lighting). The day after we arrived in Edinburgh, the school theatre company rolled into town, for their show… at the Edinburgh fringe. What a total coincidence.
The production was “ASBO Fairy Tales.” I wasn’t overwhelmed by the concept (fairy tales – BUT WITH CHAVS AND DRUG REFERENCES LOL) the script (spotty and overly reliant on sudden scene changes and random narration), or the idea of private school kids pretending to be chavs (just because I didn’t think they could do it without looking dumb, rather than from any stereotypes or issues of class warfare, comrade.) But it turned out to be pretty good entertainment; the acting was excellent across the board, and laughs were had. The only thing that let it down was the lighting – an endless sequence of painfully ghastly failures, which left the actors in pools of darkness, blinded the audience, set the curtains on fire, strobed us all into epileptic fits, and at one point caused all the lights to explode, sending showers of red-hot fragments across the stage, drilling into my body and stopping dead my beating heart, OLIVER. Still, I later heard they had totally unusual and unexpected full and near-full audiences for the rest of the week (still running at a loss, as all Fringe things do, but a less crippling one.) After the show I offered to help tidy things up, an offer perfectly timed to coincide with there being nothing to do but hobnob with the actors. We went down a Secret Back Staircase past a long line of nervy-looking young thesps wearing period costume and clutching various props, lining up for the next show. They really rush them through; the turnaround time at these venues would make pit crews envious. Most of the talent seemed to be Mikes: Mike Lovering (lighting, covering for Oliver’s treasonable incompetence), Mike Howie (butt-ugly duckling) and Maik Keefe (mutely suave crack-piper of Hamelin.) It’s odd how well I get on now with people who I just didn’t have much contact with in school. Odd, and good. Mikes are cool people.
After that, Dad went off to Fringe it up on his lonesome while Mum and Dorothy bought Nick and I hideously overpriced, slow paninis and I browsed the fringe guide: trash, gimmicky trash, the same magnificent Flanders & Swann act we’d seen with Ned years ago, lolsorandumXD trash, shows that would have sold out five years ago, a variety show by Clarke Peters (Lester Freamon)! Then, before putting Mum on a train down south for Fran’s funeral, we trotted up the Royal Mile, to look at buildings Paul had designed and be harangued by a million and one assorted weirdos in assorted weird costumes. So thick were the crowds that we got separated, upon which the heavens opened. The weather had been highly un-Scottish, and I was reminded of something our old Glaswegian neighbours would say in response to a sunny day: we’ll pay for it.
We paid for it.
Dorothy had proudly told us that Edinburgh had (according to some awarding body) the best public transport in the United Kingdom. There were buses everywhere, and on Princes Street was a demonstration model of the proposed Edinburgh tram, though due to budget cuts the proposed Edinburgh tram will go from one end of Princes Street to the other about three quarters of an hour. I feel there’s a critical bus-to-street-size ratio, at which transport is amazing and beyond which the buggers are just getting in each other’s way. Most London high streets approach it, delightfully; Oxford Street is just past it, and Bristol has never heard of it. Princes Street is way, way too far the other side. Thirty full minutes in the pissing rain Nick and I waited for the right number in the neverending wall of double-deckers, though it would have been rather less if we’d known any other than the 31 went the right way. Still, we made it back in the end, somehow avoiding pneumonia.
The next day, Dad and I climbed up to Arthur’s Seat and looked down on the city – the winding, picturesque tangle of the Old Town, the orderly grid-pattern of the New, weird spiky spires, office buildings that looked like a scaled-up Giant’s Causeway, faux-Athenian ruins and fortified civic buildings (St. Andrew’s House, Scottish government HQ, combines Art Deco stylings with no-bullshit Scots construction sensibilities, a match made in stony heaven). Tugs guided a big liner into the docks among towering cranes and grain elevators, the tops of the Forth Bridge cantilevers poked up from behind the hills over the firth. Little puddles in the rocks were black with dead midges. We came down on the path less travelled (read: one fumble away from a rockslide) and had lunch in the town – battered cheeseburger. I’ve said it before: I love a place that takes its cholesterol seriously. Then, armed with a memory stick, a street map torn from the Fringe guide, some bus recommendations from Dorothy and the TomTom capability of my new phone, I crossed town to give Andrew a copy of Office, and back again to watch some Fringe shows Dad had recommended.
The map lied to me about where C Central was. It lied. But I got helpful directions and arrived well on time. “The Man Who Fell Out Of Bed”, despite a singularly bad title, was a deliciously 1984-esque (the best part of 1984, that feeling of being totally alone and adrift in a facelessly hostile, invincibly orderly and distinctly threatening society, not the government-is-all-knowing-and-infinitely-malevolent thing dumb pundits regurgitate every time another speed camera goes up) drama about amnesia, oppression, sacrifice and redemption, which sounds like cliche blurb stuff, but better than “man forgets everything, remembers some parts and becomes a suicide bomber because of what he remembers.” The “perfect society” part could have used some more work, and I don’t think it really made full use of the large and clearly talented cast, but there was only so much to go round. Following it, “The Demise of Christopher Marlowe,” a play about the demise of Christopher Marlowe, was sublimely acted and had a truly excellent script. Lots of attempts to sound Shakespearian (or, rather, Marlowe-esque) fail completely, even Alan Moore rang a bit hollow in Black Dossier, but this one worked, and brilliantly. The only weak link was a rather unfitting and slightly feeble Elizabeth, who still came off well in the mail-exchange scenes. Fringe shows I’ve seen in the past (and there haven’t been enough of them) have been of extremely variable quality, but these were both brilliant.