Having spent four and a half years living in Edinburgh as a student, returning to the city always feels like coming home for me. This summer I coincided a couple of my visits with the Fringe festival and it occurred to me that I’ve never written about the wonder of Auld Reekie in August on this blog before. I’ve written about my trip to the Adelaide Fringe – the second biggest in the world after Edinburgh – but not Edinburgh itself.
It’s safe to say the city is pretty much transformed each August; the streets are swamped with tourists and street acts and even the names of venues are changed for the festivals. It can be quite disorientating at first. But as you stroll around and immerse yourself in the vibrant madness of it all, you start to fall for the quite unique charm of timeless modern performance in this grand old setting.
The first act I saw was a comedy act. I’m a big fan of stand up comedy and learnt a lot about the art from watching the same sets night after night working at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Declan Dineen’s show Meet and Tweet was about his quest to personally meet all his Twitter followers. His show was a brilliantly constructed narrative of how his story went viral, ending with the opportunity for those in the audience to meet each other via Twitter, which my girlfriend managed to do. It was fun and quirky and his style and use of Powerpoint-style slides reminded me of Dan Willis.
A few days later I headed back to Edinburgh in the evening and performed a show of my own. Back in my student days I was heavily involved in student radio and worked my way up to Station Manager of Fresh Air radio. I used to present a show called the Album Show which did pretty well and continued after I left for two and a half years. However, this was to be the last ever show after a five year stint, so I was invited back as a guest and I was thrilled and excited to be heading back to the studio that had brought me so much pleasure.
To add to this, my old mate from America who I had trained in the basics of radio and had gone on to be successful in Ithaca (to the point of being recognised in coffee shops!) was in town so I was able to meet him for the first time in four years and invite him on the Album Show. It was quite a night for reunions!
The show went great and I actually did alright in the Album knowledge quiz at the end, proving that doing a show about albums when you know very little about albums is not silly because five years later chances are you will know something about albums!
We had some drinks in the garden area which reminded me of Adelaide’s Garden of Unearthly Delights and then headed to North Bridge for what was to be perhaps the best piece of theatre I have ever seen.
The above might sound like a bit of a bold statement – sure, I’ve seen wonderful productions at Shakespeare’s Globe for instance – but Fourth Monkey’s production of Alice had such an impact on me that I have been unable to stop thinking about it for two weeks now.
This was the first piece of immersive theatre I have been to and with a midnight until 2am running time, I thought I might be too tired to ‘get involved’. Goodness me, was I wrong. I emerged on North Bridge a couple of hours later feeling more alive and questioning the reality of the dream-like experience I had just had. The performers took us in and out of five rooms spread across four floors of a hotel and rather than feeling clunky, each scene change somehow added to the overall experience. The actors would beckon us up the stairs, never breaking character and sitting in the wrong spot felt like getting told off at school. We were not just witnessing a performance but entering a world – the world of Alice and her rabbit, who in this dark interpretation was none other than Lewis Carroll. The author was seen to have perhaps less than innocent ambitions with eleven year old Alice in this script – like I said, despite starting off with a fairly childish tone, the production was dark and made the most of its midnight start time to explore sinister sides to Wonderland.
The ensemble cast of 24 were all fantastic and improvised regularly, teasing and flirting with audience members and at times splitting us up to watch simultaneous scenes, meaning no two people’s experiences were the same. Whenever we returned to a room we had previously been in, it had been rearranged and there would be different lighting, ensuring the sense of being in a dream was never suspended. Cast members generally had two parts to play – a ‘real world’ character and a ‘Wonderland’ counterpart, which just added to the trance like experience. This was a daring, wondrous piece of theatre which pushed the limits between cast and audience without fear. I was mesmerised the whole way through, particularly as the initially frivolous extras started wailing and the electronic sound track brilliantly created a sinister undertone as the tale got darker.
The ending was particularly stunning and abrupt – nobody expected it to end how it did and it has left me questioning the levels of meaning to what I witnessed for days after. I have to say I was thoroughly impressed – Edinburgh Fringe has yet again delivered something unexpected and marvellous.