Just an Observation
Having had a few weeks off writing this column and watching as the world slips further and further into chaos, hatred and meaningless mayhem without comment it is now time to step into the breech once more and ponder as to how we have arrived at such a tortuous and desperate state.
Personally my theory that the fabric of the universe was torn with David Bowie’s passing in January- it still feels as if we have lost some crucial element, almost like there is a colour missing-makes as much sense as anything that has happened since: Brexit, an unelected Prime Minister, not even voted for by her own party, a rise in hate crimes and the horrifying rise of Donald Trump across the Atlantic.
Meanwhile the pound is at its lowest level in living memory- I purchased something online recently and the cost was almost the same in pounds as it was in dollars and was aware there was a time this would have been unimaginable- and the cost of basic living about to rise inexorably. Somehow the government insists nothing major has changed while the media focus on Tesco unable to stock Marmite due to a fall out with Unilever and the arrival of fourteen children from Calais and whether they are actually children at all whips up more frenzied xenophobia
However it turns out that racism was not the main cause for the Brexit vote after all but the austerity measures the Tories –along with the Lib-Dems it must be said- imposed on the nation for five gruelling years harbouring resentment deep in the under-classes whose only means of protest was voting against the establishment imposing them. Well done David Cameron if anyone ever made a pig’s ear-why do pigs always come into it when discussing Cameron- out of being a Prime Minister then it was you.
Meanwhile Theresa May shakes her head and says no more money for the NHS and meets with little opposition or argument.
However what is happening here is nothing compared to the rise of The Trump in America. Unfortunately like Boris Johnson and Brexit before him I have a sincerely bad feeling about this one. The only thing I can say about this Presidential campaign is that it resembles a hate campaign more than a political one. Hillary Clinton would normally not be anyone’s choice as President- in many ways she is as loathsome as Trump- but in this election she is definitely the preferred winner. The whole thing has descended into cheap mudslinging barely worthy of the playground while common courtesies and good manners have been abandoned wholesale.
How did things get this bad?
Meanwhile the dark nights continue to get darker as does BBC2’s excellent crime thriller The Fall with Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan.
Constantly understated and underplayed the tension builds weekly until as viewers we become absorbed in the chilling two-step the lead characters are dancing around each other. Often it feels as if little has happened at the end of an episode until the complexities hit home and you realise how sinuous and compelling the writing and acting both are. Last night Dornan’s character, Paul Spector, basically handed his defence team his get out of jail card whilst still not revealing whether he is faking the amnesia at the core of his defence. By far and away the best thing on TV at the moment- not particularly hard to be honest- The Fall is a lesson in how it should be done.
Certainly the lack of any decent TV has necessitated mpre nights out and tonight is no exception as The Fini Tribe unveil new material at the Neu Reekie Sullivan’s Ascent show in Leith St. Andrew’s Church tonight. This is a fine way to kick off any weekend.
There are also the upcoming PJ Harvey and Primal Scream gigs which promise to give a usually barren and dark filled November some much needed colour and light.
Something else which certainly needs some light shed on it is the reason Inverleith House, deep in the heart of the Botanic Gardens, is being forced to close as an art gallery.
I have been going here for decades and seen many impressive exhibitions including a recent retrospective pop art guru Richard Hamilton. As much a feature of any visit as looking at foliage, plants or flowers to lose this would be a major blow for both the gardens and the art community. I am unclear what will arise in its stead but the last thing needed is yet another café or bric a brac shop. I am doing something I normally never do but adding a link to a petition against its closure that I would kindly ask you to peruse and sign if you agree.
Thank you!


One More Time With Feeling- Nick Cave

‘You’re a cold mist rolling off the sea’ is just one poignant line in ‘Jesus Alone’, the new single by Nick Cave, a song in which heartache drips from every word and sorrow permeates every musical nuance to create an intense work of tragic beauty which leaves his contemporaries floundering at the starting line. It is also however how this Andrew Dominik film, capturing Cave as he records and prepares his new album ‘The Skeleton Tree’,makes us feel as a distinct chill permeates proceedings and envelopes you throughout following the death of his fifteen year old son Arthur last year in tragic circumstances.
It is impossible to separate this film and accompanying album from the context of Cave’s personal grief as it seems to be some part of his artistic grieving process and in complete contrast to his previous film, 20,000 Days On Earth, which was essentially a contrived vanity project as it captures him unguarded and raw; deep in tumult and trying to make sense of the chaos constantly in his head.
At one point he gives possibly the most concise description of loss I have ever heard when he compares it to being like an elastic band which stretches and allows you to move a forward a certain distance only to suddenly pull you right back to the centre of the heartache forcing you to try to move forward all over again.
I can’t imagine anyone seeing this film would not be aware of the tragedy that lies at its core and in the scenes his wife, former model Susie Bick, and Arthur’s twin brother Earl appear it becomes clear that is this is very much a family pulling together to try to deal with a situation no family should ever have to go through. A scene where Susie holds a painting the five year old Arthur had done of the very place he died ten years later is not only heartbreaking but also eerily prescient.
The music is, of course, stunning. I doubt if a record has ever been recorded with its audience knowing so much about the tragic circumstances which surround its genesis. Certainly Cave, looking like a ‘ragged monument’, has confronted his situation head on and this lies in line with the uncompromising stance of his whole career only this time it comes from emotions and situations he no longer has any handle on.
A totally compelling, riveting and emotionally raw film ‘One More Time with Feeling’ deals with emotions we will all have to deal with or have already dealt with at some point in our lives and captures that disconnected, dislocated feeling true sorrow generates. It is a film which will certainly stay with you for sometime after as anyone ever affected by loss can truly relate to its central theme.


Just an Observation
So the last weekend of the Fringe/Festival is upon us already!
Somehow it feels like it is already over and for me personally I don’t feel that this year it ever really got started.
No doubt at sometime over the next few weeks some ‘official’ will use the media to report that it has been the busiest and most successful one yet when in fact this is so far from the truth. Granted more money may have changed hands- have you noticed the price of tickets for most shows? – But in most other ways this year’s Fringe has been far from successful.
The streets are as annoyingly busy as ever-perhaps even more so- and the traffic is so slow it is hard to differentiate between driving and being parked but there has still been nowhere as near as many people around the venues or even in them as there usually are. Mind you when shows are £10 upwards on average, a pint of lager is over a fiver and six pound is the going rate for a bacon roll-re-named pulled pork and served by a bearded hipster in denim tights (that’s just the girls by the way) so that makes it a bargain obviously- or even more for a burger then it is an expensive night out even if you are doing it on the cheap.
Of course the weather has not helped matters either. The Fringe in sunshine is a totally different beast to the Fringe in perpetual grey, drizzle, rain and wind and unfortunately this year these are what we have had for the most part. Getting wet queuing for shows then drinking warm beer in cold outdoor venues is not my idea of a good night out. Obviously the weather cannot be helped but it really does alter the whole experience.
What about the shows then?
The Fringe is supposed to be at the cutting edge of new talent with innovation and experimental ideas offering an insight into the next big happening thing. Or so we are led to believe.
However I have not seen much evidence of anything groundbreaking or innovative this year and several shows were ones I missed last year due to a busy schedule so were returning productions, admittedly with a tweak here and there, so hardly cutting edge.
Perhaps the fact that 2016 has been such a pivotal year in cultural change –the deaths of Bowie, Prince and Muhammad Ali amongst others then there is the little matter of Brexit here and the rise of Trump across the Atlantic- means that real life has afforded us more incredible drama than anything the theatre could produce and as such has been rendered almost redundant. Life no longer simply imitates art it would seem it now dictates it.
Also things have moved at such a swift pace this last eight months that capturing anything topical has proved harder than usual. Who needs to go to the Fringe for thought-provoking drama when the news requires you to suspend your belief almost on a daily basis?
As for the shows which have stood out for me and worth catching over this last weekend, well there is Trainspotting at Assembly, The Club at The Gilded Balloon, Boris:World King at The Pleasance Growing Pains and Cut at Underbelly all on until Monday whilst Anohni’s one off live performance of one of the year’s best albums, Hopelessness, at the Playhouse ranks as one of the best and most modern live music shows I have seen in years and possibly the most memorable show of the last month.
So this time next week the streets will be clear, the traffic returned to normal and as habit dictates the sun will probably have returned. There will of course still be plenty to complain about though as Parliament returns soon with our new unelected Prime Minister and whatever schemes she has cooked up for us over her summer vacation. I imagine soon we will be wishing the Fringe back to at least distract us from how bad things are likely to get!


Almost from the outset of this intriguing show we are plunged into darkness and my guess is that most of the audience were still in the dark as to what had just happened to them throughout this seventy minute experience long after the lights had gone up at its conclusion. This is a good thing by the way, a very good thing!
On entering we are told that we need a safety word, ‘Cut’, if we want to leave the proceedings at any time during the show, or journey as it would transpire; on the night I attended this introduction proved so unsettling that one attendee immediately raised her hand and left before any action even took place. Their loss.
Settling into our seats we are almost immediately plunged into darkness and when they go up we find ourselves on a plane. The lone performer, Hannah Norris, then leads us through the motions of an in-flight attendant but there is something especially creepy about this particular role and performance.
At later junctures we are on a train or trapped behind Clingfilm screens with light reflecting and refracting as a well scored original soundtrack adds further tension to an already intense experience.
At several points Norris moves around so swiftly and silently in the dark I am almost convinced that she is one of two twins, as often not only has her character changed but her appearance seems to have altered slightly. It is this sense of mystique and the loss of one of our senses-in the dark nothing can be seen or observed- that adds another dimension to what is already becoming a guessing game.
Norris uses only minimal props to change from controlling predator to victim- something as subtle as letting her hair out of its pony-tail changes the feel of her character totally- and holds us in her thrall throughout the whole performance.
There is something David Lynchian about this whole show and anyone who is a fan of his work-I am very much in that camp- will find this totally arresting and completely irresistible. It is definitely the most intriguing and original work I have seen in this year’s Fringe where these particular attributes have been very thin on the ground. Definitely recommended for those who want a theatrical experience to remember and think about!
Cut is at Underbelly Med Quad at 19.00 until August 29th


Exactly Like You
Written and performed by Lotte Rice ‘Exactly Like You’ is driven by its creators love of poetry and the inspiring voice and music of one of the 20th century’s great talents Nina Simone. It is an ambitious project and one which often reaches the heights it so obviously aspires to but as a whole fails to cohere effectively enough due to the nebulous nature of its ambitions; on occasion it feels as if it is trying just a little too hard.
Told through the experiences of Abbie, who is still grieving the recent loss of the grandmother she obviously adored. A shared love of music and especially Nina Simone function as a form of catharsis as she deals with the mundanities of her life; heavy drinking sessions, difficult work colleagues and sexual exploits.
The story shifts from scene to scene fluently enough and Rice manages to inhabit several different characters with consummate ease whilst proving along the way that she is no slouch in the singing department herself.
Where the production falls short however is that there is just too much going on and this fails to disguise the weakness of the plot strands which are just a little too thin. It is a courageous show however and certainly not without merit, the scene where Rice drags herself along whilst drunk is a mastery of elastic limbs and quite hilarious but it would be interesting to see Rice’s obvious talents used in a more cohesive show or preferably even an ensemble production. There are just too many of these one actor shows at the Fringe these days but unfortunately this one doesn’t stand out enough to quite make it as a must see!
Exactly Like You is at Underbelly Cowgate at 15.10 daily until August 28th


The Immortal
Whilst this is essentially a conventional piece of theatre it is also an extremely effective and moving one.
When five World War Two airmen are shot down in Holland by Germans they seek shelter in a deserted schoolroom where they try to revive the one injure member of their party. Amidst the hysteria of their plight we soon discover the background stories of each of them and how the war has affected and motivated them. soon after their arrival they a young German girl, fighting for the Resistance, arrives offering help but inevitably her efforts arouse suspicion and mistrust amongst a couple of the airmen.
The tragedy and futility of war is never far from our thoughts and never more so when the jack the lad character ‘Dicky’ Dixon- a stand out performance by Sam St.Clair- whose forced jollity has simultaneously galvanised and irritated the other four, reveals his own personal losses that are the result of the war. It is a particularly moving moment and makes clear how it is the forgotten dead who are the real losers in the horrors of any war; people who give their lives unknowingly and more often than not unwillingly.
Although this is a fairly straight forward piece of theatre there is also a twist at the play’s en which is quite unexpected. All the performances are spot on- the angry and brash American, the working class no-hoper and the upper-class privileged types are all represented- and the play gathers its own momentum and sets its own pace. A very accomplished production!
The Immortal is on daily at 15.00 at Greenside, Infirmary Street until August 27th


Cold/ Warm
There is very obviously a lot of talent in this production, not least the outstanding performance by Ieuan Perkins , but ultimately the whole thing is frustrating. The script meanders a little too much in the first half and although it picks up somewhat it takes too long to establish itself and by the time it does the audience may already be lost.
Trying to win an audience back after their attention has wandered and no matter how Perkins tried to hold our attention unfortunately the script let him down a little so his endeavours were somewhat fruitless even if they were effective.
Focusing on the mental breakdown of an isolated youngster lacking the guidance he had relied on from his mother until the authorities intervened and placed her in care. Perkins does an excellent job of mimicking these authoritarian figures but meanwhile his life is becoming more and more internalised until he is only able to observe it from his high-rise council flat. The ritual abuse of a neighbourhood dog simultaneously fascinates and horrifies him and he is at once emotionally involved but somehow detached.
The dialogue in this play is extremely clever but it is also more than a little clunky. Trying hard to make a point it seems to forget to involve the audience or even consider entertaining them. As a lunchtime show it is extremely difficult to digest and although it picked up and had a suitably climactic ending it still felt as if it was just slightly too little too late.
Cold/ Warm is at Pleasance Courtyard until 29th August at 12.45 daily.