Tired! Shadows, Satan and Mythical Beasts

Our third day in Edinburgh found Frank and myself a little worse for wear, worn out from trekking from venue to venue and late night shows after only two days. Lord knows how people manage a month. Today we took it a little easier, spacing things out a bit more and making sure e had plenty of time for travel etc. It made sense then that our first show was only round the corner from the hotel.

“Yeti” (pronounced Yet-eye) was performed by Gary from Leeds, a performance poet. Part of the free Fringe this was again taking  place in a bar, The Royal Oak. We came across Gary’s show thanks to his excellent flyers, while many fringe flyers are very dark, and certainly very visually busy, Gary’s were strikingly white and sparse, allowing them to stand out. The show was about Gary’s search to find other Yeti, those who like himself were tall, from the North , hairy and antisocial. Not as rhythmically focused as other performance poets I’d seen Gary instead focused more on the comedy, brought out through his humble, self-deprecating performance style.  He has a very dry wit, leading to, for example, found poetry based on takeaway reviews by another “Gary from Leeds” and an attempt to make poetry cool by asking us all to take part in a poetry rave (including the Free Fringe equivalent of glowsticks and pills!). Aside from my recurring faux pas of not having change to chuck in the Free Fringe bucket (don’t do that. Seriously, the guilt will kill you) this was a charmingly quirky and intimate performance.

Next Frank and I sought our next venue, a place called Summerhall. There were were prevented with another summery of the agony of the Fringe. This single venue alone was filled with a cornucopia of shows all of which seemed to be worth seeing. Multiply that by the hundreds of venues in the Fringe (and then add the Free Fringe ones) and you start to get a sense of why choosing shows, and getting your show seen, is so damn difficult. We were here to see “Malasombra” a collaborative production between Spain/Chile based dance company AU MENTS, cartoonist Max, band leader of La Mano Ajena and Kiko Barrenengoa, Puter and Gato  from experimental rock group Fabrica Primera. I was mega jazzed to see this show which advertised itself as a mix of dance and shadow theatre that was accompanied by an original dark, experimental rock soundtrack.  Furthermore the shadow theatre was influenced by classic German expressionist works like “The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari”. All of those things are right up my ally. I wish I could say it lived up to my expectations but sadly I had that sinking feeling 20 minutes in that I’d dragged Frank along to a bit of a dud. Now the music was fantastic and had it been the version of the production with a live music performance I would have been very happy, but the rest was…unpolished and frustrating. There’s a good show here but the main problems are repetitive, uninventive and sloppy choreography, poorly matched up interaction between shadows and performers and an unclear, uninteresting plot whose main moral seems to be “hit things with hammers and they’ll get better”. I mention the moral because the show is aimed at children and in that regard I think many will enjoy it, it would certainly serve as a good introduction to the different art forms involved. It certainly wasn’t boring, just unpolished, in my opinion.

Phil Jupitus began his career as a performance poet, going under the stage name “Porky The Poet” and he’s been giving it a revival in the last few years by performing at The Jam House as part of the Free Fringe. Anyone who’s seen his TV panel show appearances would know what to expect really. Jupitus is a likable, easily distracted stage presence, often making his pre-poem anecdotes longer than the poem itself. Luckily these are often very amusing, and the poetry itself veers from silly to angry, to serious, to melancholy. This was surprising as he’s known primarily as a comedian these days but Jupitus’s best poems were the more thoughtful, often sad ones. He also had a guest poet with him who focused more on incredibly articulate, politically angry poems and served as a nice palate cleanser mid-set. 

Next up was, without doubt, the must see show of the Fringe “Red Bastard” in “Something Must Happen Every 10 Seconds”. I won’t say much about this as we were asked not to. “Remember the joy of surprise you felt when you saw this. Preserve that when telling others to come. Allow them to feel the same joy”. Let’s just saw a raucous, abusive, pot-bellied, big-bottomed clown terrifying the audience in a demonic red cat suit gave way to something quite wonderful, poignant and beautiful. However this depends entirely on the audience so if you get a chance to see Red Bastard you must, must, must leap upon it but remember to trust in him. You won’t regret it.

Then we made our way over to “The Devil Without”. Ostensibly a magic/psychic show this framed the tricks as a piece of psychological horror. A retelling of Faust we are lead in (after signing disclaimers allowing us to be not hypnotised, but subjected to various manipulative techniques and various sub-level bass noises for mood manipulation) to a small room to meet him. On the run for 400 years tonight is one of the nights he can be claimed. If he can hold off the Devil for an hour he lives. If not, well, it’s every man for himself. The big problem with magic shows, to paraphrase Derren Brown, is they are the performer simply demonstrating their cleverness. This show sidesteps that quite neatly by giving context and weight to each trick, building to a terrifying climax that mixes hypnotism and mentalism. Faust himself was a weighty stage presence, costume and a weary voice giving heft to his claims of life on the run. It would have been nice to see him a bit more panicked as he was, theoretically, on the verge of being dragged to hell. On a personal level I would have liked to see more bastardry from the production, there were several opportunities to really terrify the audience that were sadly never used. Overall though it’s a very unique show and a fun night out!

Finally there’s Oberon White’s “I, Pierrot”. An opera singer by trade this late night one-man show presents us with a very unique type of clown. Reciting poetry, performing small tricks and singing in a sorrowful, hypnotically beautiful voice we’re led through songs that range from the classical, to a remixed Nigella Lawsen based mime and climaxing in a hauntingly beautiful David Bowie cover over the course of the hour. Deeply memorable the show has a tragic undercurrent as issues of gender and sexual identity are uniquely reflected through Oberon’s performance and use of clowning. Another Free Fringe must see in my opinion and a great example of the variety and quality of work coming out of Wales. Not for everyone, but certainly a unique piece of theatre and one that has contributed to my own growing interest and obsession with clowning in its various forms. 

Our third day was probably our most varied yet, and seeing as part of our mission from NTW TEAM was to see and discover new and interesting theatre I think we were fulfilling it nicely.Once again I'd like to thank them for the great opportunity to get up here and have this experience. 

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