Thursday 27 August 2015

Task 27: Go to 6 Edinburgh Festival Fringe events in 36 hours

I attended the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for the first time with my friend Jane back in 1973, when it was a relatively modest enterprise.  I've never been back to it since, but every year at the beginning of August, Andrew and I say to one another with monotonous regularity, 'Next year we must go to the Fringe.'  

Then my sixtyat60 challenge loomed, and it occurred to me that attending the Edinburgh Fringe would make an excellent 'walk the walk' task. It was duly added to my list and flights/hotel were sorted. All we had to do was book our events. Hold on a minute, did I just say 'All we had to do....'? Because I soon discovered that these days you can choose from over 3000 shows (3552 this year to be exact) and Task 27 was to attend just six of them. Six shows that:

1)  didn't overlap in time slot
2)  were sufficiently close together in time slot that we could see them all comfortably within 36 hours
3)  had availability
4)  were diverse in genre
5)  were showing the weekend of our visit
6)  were of mutual interest to Andrew and me

The combination of 3000 events to chose from, coupled with the set of exacting criteria above (note especially number 6), resulted in procrastination on my part for the next two months. Not a single show got booked - until, that it is, just three days before our flight to Edinburgh, when I went into super-manic panic mode. I researched, checked, filtered, discarded, reflected, agonised, threw a few quiet wobblies (yes, you’ve guessed it – we'd left it too late to get tickets for some shows) and short-listed twelve promising candidates. Andrew was tasked with selecting the final six, and ten minutes later our tickets were booked and confirmed (although in truth we weren’t entirely sure what three of the shows were all about). Phew - job done.

On Saturday morning we arrived at the Fringe. Here's the evidence that I really was there (NB the sign I'm pointing at is rather tastefully disguising a dustbin).

If you've ever been to the Fringe, you’ll know that it’s a buzzy, crazy, exhausting, confusing, exhilarating melee of sights, sounds, smells (some nicer than others), sensations and flavours. I shall try and convey something of this to you as I describe our super sixsome Fringe journey.....

Event 1. Saturday 1300: Jonathan Prag - classical guitarist
This consisted of a beautiful programme of music masterfully and serenely performed in a small church tucked away from the hustle and bustle of Fringeland.  Serene, that is, until Jonathan played the Usher Waltz - wow, what was he doing with those guitar strings? Very spooky. Watch it being played by another guitarist on YouTube 

Event 2.  Saturday 15.00: Adventures of Improvised Sherlock Holmes - 'The mysterious case of the mysterious case'
Were the performers old enough to be at big school?  I found myself wanting to ask if they'd washed behind their ears. There was a bonkers but very entertaining plot involving bombs, Donald Duck and Colonel Saunders, as well as the Baker Street duo and the indomitable Mrs Hudson. Here's our man Sherlock offering photo opportunities after the show.

Event 3.  Saturday 16.30: John Lloyd (producer of QI) - 'Emperor of the Prawns'
Mr Lloyd offered us his unique take on the meaning of life, citing various Cambridge mathematicians and philosophers along the way, together with key messages such as 'Life is but a death sentence' and 'A smaller pie is eaten more quickly', not to mention 'IWA BARITE' * (answer contained in his book - yes, of course he was there to plug one - but if you don't want to buy the book, just scroll down to the bottom of this blog).

Event 4.  Sunday 11.30: Jazz Brunch at the Royal Overseas League, Princes Street 
This consisted of a fat breakfast (involving black pudding, potato scones and very disinterested Eastern European waitresses who gave impressive death stares if asked to bring more coffee), whilst an 'award-winning' pianist called Jean Paul-Muir tinkled the ivories in an impressively jazzy and cool way.

Event 5.  Sunday 13.00: Gecko Theatre - 'Institute'
An amazing combination of stunningly executed modern dance, music and acrobatic movement together with dry ice, red flashing buttons and oxygen masks. Did it depict the road to madness and back (and did they ever get back?). Or was it a representation of work stress and loss of control? Or a comment on the meaning of support and human connection? Andrew and I had to agree to disagree. But we both emerged feeling blown away and a little wrung out. Here's one of the four performers after the show with proud mum, with same performer also on the poster behind his head (complete accident on my part but I rather like it).   

Five events down, one to go, and 90 minutes to spare. 'Piece of cake to complete Task 12' we thought somewhat unwisely. We legged it over to our final venue and sat in the bar to recover from Event 5. A few minutes later, in flounced a girl in a wedding dress. Yes,it was none other than the star of our final event, Anna Morris, aka Georgina, Bridezilla from Hell. Georgina decided to have a little chat with us - well, in truth at us, as she was in role for the entire conversation - and advised us to start queuing as soon as possible in the lobby outside the room where the show was being performed, in order to guarantee getting seats. 

Half an hour passed, and we were still the only people in the lobby. This seemed rather surprising, given the show's popularity. Andrew sent me to do a recce outside the building and to my alarm, there was a stupendously long queue snaking down the road and around the corner. Had Bridezilla Georgina deliberately scuppered our plans?? Would I get to see my sixth show before we had to head to the airport? We swallowed our pride, cursed silently, went to the end of the queue, kept our fingers tightly crossed, and somehow against the odds we managed to squeeze in at the back. And so finally......

Event 6. Sunday 15.55pm: Anna Morris, comedian - 'It's got to be perfect'.
Audience took part in a wedding rehearsal for Bridezilla Georgina's wedding (allegedly taking place on 31 August at Edinburgh Castle). Volunteers were plucked swiftly and without mercy from the audience to take on stand-in roles of husband, best man, chief bridesmaid, father of the bride, ex-boyfriend, speech writer and music planner. Those unfortunates sitting in the front row were Georgina's primary targets - and since we were sitting right at the back, we were able to avoid her gimlet gaze - result! The show was side-splitting from start to finish - Anna Morris's ability to improvise and ad-lib was wonderful. 

In summary, I think it's fair to say that the six shows we attended fulfilled our Fringe criteria perfectly - although as you can tell, that was more through luck than judgement.  In addition to the shows, our weekend was filled with street acrobats, mime artists, jugglers, dancers, musicians, clowns and aliens, not to mention kilts, sporrans and bagpipes.  I'm so glad that my sixtyat60 list got us to the Edinburgh Fringe at last - and Task 27 is not only completed, but definitely one to be repeated.

* It will all be all right in the end

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