Edinburgh Festival 2021 is back… kinda. With less shows for obvious reasons, I thought I would make some predictions on some of the key shows to see without perusing the brochure. All of these are entirely fictional. Honest.
The Ones To Watch
It’s day one at the Traverse which is offering six shows, all of which have something to please even the most jaded theatregoer. At 11am on Sunday morning, fuelled by little more than industrial strength coffee and pastries, the dazed audience stumble in to experience Attack! A Terrorism Indoctrination, penned by a prominent new politically incendiary playwright from South London. Using mobile phones, the audience witness the theatrical re-enactment of a terrorist attack on the Traverse in real time, by installing apps that work like sat nav. Two actors talk us through the whole process,, and plot how we would exit safely en masse. Start as you mean to go on…
This is followed by Clown, a seating meditation on the bouffon genre, which ends with the audience getting covered in flour and collectively contemplating our own mortality. Next up, for some light relief, Ye Bastard, Ye , David Ireland’s scathingly cruel new satire on the Troubles in Northern Ireland, noteworthy for its cast of twenty eight, and a free goodie bag containing playscript, toy rifle, packet of Taytos and bubblegum. Late lunch, sorted.
After a break,three more new pieces. Desiree Burch’s Superfly Sweet Fast Shaftin’ Motherfucker makes me giggle, wince and slightly sob, as it’s a Tarantino parody with an all black, all female identifying cast calling out every time the director ripped off existing films, or made misogynistic, homophobic or racist choices in his scripts.
After such an epic show, the cunning Manifesto bends my brain by being both condescending and aware that it’s condescending. Or is it? Brand new Glasgow writer Alec Alex is ultimately ruminating on how shit it is being Glaswegian but also white and middle class. My critical faculties are already starting to melt, and I’m not sure if it is the junk food I’ve been scoffing, or just that I have not quite got my festival head on yet.
Finally, another new play from a new writer, Manchester born Susan Litchfield, focuses on her abortions and all the break ups she’s ever had. It’s called Terminations, and is so graphic I’m triggered AF. Nonetheless, I’m also dazzled by the lyrical dialogue and visceral performances. Staggering home, just making the last train, I then almost miss my stop, and contemplate the irony of the show’s title.
Others, Highlights and Otherwise
Day Twelve. I’m only doing thirty shows this year. My psyche is battered, it hasn’t stopped raining the whole time, and an American tourist shoved me on The Royal Mile. My standout play, Ilad, happened today though, and brought back the life-affirming vibes. It is at Summerhall, and is an absurdist but brutal play which sends Salvador Dali back to art school to retrain his eye. The central actor, Jose Martin, uncanny as the narcissistic Surrealist, paints in real time and uses suggestions from the audience, but it never comes off as an empty gimmick, because there are so many unexpected twists. The audience mark him out of ten, and justify their grade. Critiques within critiques.
Assembly Rooms towards the end of the festival brings the usual spiky monologues by dead divas from the Hollywood Golden age (all three star shows, due to being a tad derivative, if enjoyably camp) but the last are a C venues day. C brings Toxic, a poorly conceived mess by a new writer who thinks we need another riff on We Need To Talk About Kevin. We don’t. We need to button it, now.
C Nova has The Pearl In the Oyster, a piece about a high school boy coming out to his alcoholic parents. It’s devastating. I’m almost broken, but trying to hold it together. It is subtle and nuanced, eschewing gay drama clichés of bravery, AIDS and poppers, and victimhood.
You Are All Cunts , also C Nova,is a dark musical comedy about Tourettes. It is both incisive and silly, and contains an armpit fart solo, so you know it’s a recommendation. Furthermore, the cast and writing team all have the condition, which adds even more layers.
To C Too, and my final show of the festival, which is an aerial show called Sky-high Meets Low Blow, a show about silks performers , based on a true story of love found while training in the circus,and then lost. It’s poignant enough, but for the fact that both are Nazis. They’ve got zero redeeming qualities whatsoever, bar their aerial skills. They seem weightless up there. I didn’t know white supremacists could simultaneously fly like that, and be Holocaust deniers. Takes all sorts… Much like the Edinburgh Festival.