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Edinburgh International Festival

Classy and crazy

Kausalya Santhanam


COLOURFUL: Street fillled with revellers.

On how Edinburgh gets totally transformed during the theatre festival.

Every year, for a month, Edinburgh, with its magnificent castle and cobbled streets, gets transformed. The Edinburgh International Festival takes the populace and visitors forward through the classical and the avant garde- theatre, music, art and book events that are vibrant, provocative or soothing. Open-air performances bring a carnival atmosphere to the Royal Mile, one of the most picturesque streets in the world.

Men and women clad in a variety of colourful and even outlandish costumes saunter through the streets carrying armfuls of flyers for various productions. They try the most ingenious methods to have passers by pick up their advertisements for shows, even if it means lying down with feet up wiggling the paper between the toes as was the case with a young woman!

The gratitude at having a flyer received is considerable, never mind if you discard it a moment later in the nearest bin! We wander through the cobbled street, stopping every now and then to admire the uncanny stillness of a human statue such as the woman who dons the exotic persona of a mermaid or the man in medieval armour. A sprightly figure clad in red with a quaint handbag slung over her arm is exhibiting juggling skills, her naughty smile luring wayfarers into the magic circle.

At the Botanical Gardens a couple of days later we watch “The Simple Things in Life” presented by Fuel. Artists have put in installations and perform shows to capture what constitutes for them the most cherished elements that make a difference to the quality of life. These range from an enclosed shed where the music of birdsong conveys the refreshing sounds that are vanishing from our lives to the table in another enclosure, which its owner points out, is such a significant part of her life. It has witnessed funerals of loved ones, family bonding and love. We are asked to write down what memories and thoughts a table evokes in us and these are also stuck tothat venerable piece of furniture. We walk through the greenery and land up at the hilarious show where a raconteur aided by musicians takes us through a laugh-a-minute performance about a bovine treat and other miscellaneous items.

For those of us who love to inhabit the Wonderland of Alice, “Outland” had three young actors giving felt performances. The theatre show wove together the final phase of the life of the great writer and mathematician Lewis Carroll with bits on his fictional characters Alice, Sylvie and Bruno. “Outland” was presented by the Belt Up theatre company at C Soco venue. One wonders how this performing space qualifies to be one as it was very dusty and the members of the audience were packed together like sardines in a can.

At the Underbelly theatre space a surprise awaits me as I enter the room upstairs. An actor clad as an airhostess provides me with a few aids such as a pencil, a cordless phone and a notebook, in a red bag and directs me downstairs. I descend on to the street to be accosted by a student ostensibly Spanish asking for directions. But by the time I have gleaned she is part of the cast, she has brought me uphill where a car suddenly comes close and halts. “Come in,” says a young man and turns the car into a side alley. He turns conspiratorially and whispers, “You see that bank. We are going to rob it,” providing me with a false nose and a pair of dark glasses. “Duck!” he warns and I enter merrily into the spirit of this comic escapade. But he soon finds me not such a cooperative companion for a heist, and offloads me from the car on to the street.

A girl dressed up as a clown, a young woman who takes me into the splendid St. Giles Cathedral and a woman dressed up like an attorney take up the trail. The “attorney” drops me as a witness as soon as she realises I have been involved in a bank robbery and shows me proof in the shape of a photograph of me getting into the car. Sadly the next link fails to find me but “You Once Said Yes” by ‘Look Left Look Right’ is so novel and enjoyable that I feel it is well worth the 14 pounds ticket.
The solo dance performance at 3, Bristo Place, showed how old buildings arouse the same passion in every city. At the end contributions were requested for saving an old building. Performed by Dan Canham “30, Cecil Street” was “an elegy for an abandoned theatre in Limerick, Ireland.” The free performance, a Forest Fringe offering, showed the dancer’s mastery of movements, silence and moods and was riveting.
The same could not be said for “Ten Plagues” by Traverse Theatre. It was a music theatre performance on the plague that left London a ghost city in 1665. The performance focussed almost non-stop on the kilt clad singer Marc Almond. He went on interminably about death and the various scenes of desolation and psychological trauma created by the scourge; the vertigo inducing seating space made one sink further into gloom.

The River People’s “Little Matter” at the Bedlam Theatre’s tent was a mix of puppetry and live music. Using a number of props, the puppeteers narrated the story of a boy who is torn between leading a good life and the dark forces that try to disrupt his journey. The deftness of the puppeteers and their range of tonal variations were impressive and so was their ability to play a number of instruments and roles. But the plot was trite.

Very ingenious was the effort by the group Paper Cinema, who screened their offering at the old veterinary college. The whole story of The Odyssey was created using beautiful ink sketches in black and white. The tale was accompanied by dramatic sound effects.

Apart from the shows was the remarkable experience at the Mirazozo, a gigantic installation out of synthetic material by Architects of the Air at the Assembly George Square. Wandering inside the massive luminarium made up of numerous paths designed by Alan Arkinson, one was treated to a magical world of light and colour enhanced by tiny tots who scrambled and rolled around exhilarating in the play of various hues.

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