Highlights of the Edinburgh Festival

August 17th, 2012

Edinburgh is pumping at the moment. Packed pop-up bars stretch for blocks, there’s a free street show on every corner and spruikers line the footpath handing out pamphlets for thousands upon thousands of performances.

Almost every room in the city is said to have been turned into an impromptu festival venue: churches, basements and community centres attract capacity crowds each night, whether they can hold hundreds of punters or just two.

This is my third day here and already I feel as though I’ve sampled a bizarre variety of shows. Here are some highlights:

Speed of Light. Imagine there is nothing on Wellington’s Mt Victoria but tussock. It’s midnight and all you can see are groups of disembodied lights flitting randomly over the mountain. now transfer that to Edinburgh, on craggy Arthur’s Seat, and you’ve got what has to be one of the most logistically complicated festival events, with the largest number of audience participants. a group of friends and I became part of the show for a few hours as we joined hundreds of others to strap on LED light suits and run up and down uneven goat tracks. Turns out all my fretting about this event was for nothing – normal runs will be so boring now.

Shakespeare for Breakfast by the Bardic Breakfasters The five cast had us LOLing and ROFLing all over the place with their ultra-contemporary interpretation of Romeo and Juliet.  Paris was “v. excited” at the prospect of marrying Juliet, the nurse demanded she be allowed to affect a French accent – “I was at drama school for three years and I never get to use it,” and the only way is Essex-esque Benviola (Benvolio has a sex change in this production) was marvellous as she told us we’d all “be well jel at my new vajazzle babes”. Juliet was so heartbroken over Romeo’s banishment (to Manchester rather than Mantua), she stopped tweeting and turned her Facebook profile picture black. her love advice came courtesy of Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey.

The performance was a clever mishmash of Shakespeare’s original lines and current pop culture references. the story had a new moral too – never rely on technology. Facebook, Twitter and carrier pigeon all failed to alert Romeo of Juliet’s false death.  It’s advice that could’ve saved me heartbreak over my broken Kindle.

The Table by Blind Summit three men dressed in black operating a cardboard puppet on a table? Sounds like the ultimate in boring, huh? Not so. the brilliantly clever improv troupe brought us to tears of laughter. the premise is a real-time reenactment of the last 12 hours of Moses’ life. Thankfully the threat wasn’t followed through, but they did provide a tight and hilarious performance that the puppet warned us would be impossible to describe to our friends. He was right – it’s difficult to illustrate why the puppet’s deadpan delivery of life on the table had us in stitches, or why it was so hilarious when he fell off a pretend treadmill or ran around an invisible record. But it was.

Author photographs at the book festival. Chris Close (the official photographer at the International Book Festival) is doing an awesome job of capturing authors in their natural habitat. It’s exciting to see which new pictures go up each day. I’ve discovered the area in which he works – hopefully he hasn’t noticed me, his silent stalker, lurking over his shoulder.

Alexander McCall Smith. McCall Smith has to be one of the most prolific writers of our time. as host Al Senter quipped, he should go head to head with Usain Bolt – by the time Bolt takes off his shoes McCall Smith will have written another novel (six of his titles are being published in the UK alone this year). I lost track of McCall Smith’s books a year or so ago for that reason – he was producing them faster than I could read them. But now I’ve heard his jovial chortle and listened to the charming way he goes about writing (he’s discovered that his lady readers adore the narcissist Bruce in the 44 Scotland Street series – now every time he can’t think of what to write, he has Bruce take a shower), I’ll have to revisit his works.

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“The Table” photo courtesy of the Guardian 

Highlights of the Edinburgh Festival

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