Aug 7, 2007

The Edinburgh Festival

Well, the Edinburgh Festival is in full swing, colourful t-shirts and ugly posters litter the cobbled streets and the air heaves thickly with the heady scent of enthusiasm and disappointment. For those who have never experienced the sensual assault that is The Royal Mile during August, it is something to behold - a gauntlet of flyerers, street artists, tourists and tour guides and alchoholics. A marketing mardi-gras. All of the overcrowding and adolescent posturing of Oxford Street without any of the shops.

"Would you like a flyer?"


"Come see my show?"

"What is it?"

"Oh it's great"

"Take a flyer"


"Come see the Laramie Project!"

... and on it goes. What is possibly most frustrating about all of this is the shuddering lack of originality to it all. Year after year companies come up, new companies, young companies "fresh, vital, original" (The Scotsman 5/8) companies and yet all they can muster to sell the piece of art that they have slaved over, that they have laboured and sweated and plundered their bank accounts to bring to the festival, are the same old tired gimmicks year after year.

A grizzled, shell-shocked veteran of numerous Edinburgh campaigns, I barely notice someone lying prone in the middle of the street covered in blood and surrounded by flyers; words written in foot high chalk letters scrawled on a street corner barely receive a glance, mimes are swatted away like so many late-summer flies; I no longer see costumes, only that fools inside them.

What I like, what I respect, admire, nay even, on a hazy afternoon spent wandering peacefully through the carnage, enjoy, is someone who will quietly, politely, gently offer me a flyer and exlain a little about their show. I don't want some clever line. I don't want some arse to tank by dressed as a chicken, followed by his inevitable entourage, carpet bombing anyone foolish enough to turn their heads and look with flyers for their no doubt hilarious Sketch Comedy troupe or their version of Intolerable Acts of Genocide: The Musical. I want to meet people. Nice People. Nice people who have something to say about what they are doing and why they are doing it.

A Theatre Festival is always a procarious balance, emphasis see-sawing between the first part of that name and the latter. As I sloshed through the rain at the Edinburgh Fringe Launch party, puddles forming around the corporate sponsored chicken stands and running in little streams down the well worn red carpet, it occurred to me for about the thousandth time that Edinburgh has undoubtedly tottered critically towards the latter at the expense of the former. Which is not to say that there aren't a great number of shows of a remarkably high standard. But where is the sense of unity, of dialogue or exchange, of artistic expression in the way they are presented?

Truth is, although some venues do their best to present a thoughtful, challening programme, as a whole the fringe is simply a gaudy, garbled, groggy, incoherent mess. Like the pitiable acts performing at the Fringe Launch Cabaret, companies, venues and performers all bellow for attention over the raised voices of the drinking, talking, laughing masses, who either can't or won't listen.

No comments: