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Return to Auld Reekie

By • West End
It's slightly alarming to go away for a few days and then return to find the festival has been getting along very well without you, thank you very much.
 
The city was heaving on Saturday afternoon. A simple shopping expedition took me two hours of pushing and shoving through the crowds, and then of course you bump into people you know, and have conversations with people you don't who press paper flyers into your hand.
 
On this one outing alone I had unscheduled street meetings with a producer from the Dublin Theatre Festival working on the new Colm Toibin play; actor Alfie Enoch, whose parents live in my street in London, and who is appearing in Moira Buffini's Dinner; and Underbelly publicity director Fraser Smith, who had been done up in a horror movie make-up, though I didn't notice at first -- he looked just the same to me.
 
It was lovely at last to sink this year into the glorious King's Theatre, one of Frank Matcham's finest, to see The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, though less lovely to endure the show itself, which is a feeble and mostly incomprehensible staging of a great novel.
 
Later in the evening, some of the folk in the Abattoir members' bar had, I swear, been sitting there since this time last week. But it's clearly the choice of celebrity hang-out over the Assembly bar, which is a game attempt to make a car park look cosy with a few hundred metres of Victorian swagging.
 
No risk of finding friend or foe on top of Calton Hill early yesterday morning, only real local people and bona fide tourists. This is Edinburgh's first public park and it offers sensational views of the city, the islands in the Firth of Forth, the stunning geometric lay-out of New Town, the distant volcanic mount at Berwick-on-Tweed and, er, the St James's Centre.
This hideous eyesore is an insult to the landscape, and it seemed only just and fitting that the spot from where you see the thing "best" is marked with a matching urban detritus of tin cans and condom sachets.
 
Otherwise, the 19th century " classical" monuments -- the reason why Edinburgh is dubbed the Athens of the North -- and the elegant walkways exerted all their old charm. It's years since I'd been up there, once to enjoy a children's show early one morning.
 
On a stone cairn built by the keepers of the Vigil for a Scottish Parliament -- from where you can now see the Scottish Parliament! -- I find a poem on a plaque written by that fiery nationalist Hugh MacDiarmid:
 
"For we ha'e faith in Scottish hidden poo-ers; the present's theirs, but a' the past and future's oors."
 
Indeed, and all poo-er, or power, to Tim Supple and his wonderful One Hundred and One Nights in two plays of three hours each (one ten minutes over, the second, ten under), a glorious festival show with an engaging cast, fascinating music (which could have become monotonous but didn't)and a revelatory take on the brutish and rapacious aspect of the Arabian Nights stories.
 
Great programme notes, too, some of them by Marina Warner, who much admired Dominic Cooke's Arabian Nights at the RSC. Cooke's Nights were first done on Supple's watch at the Young Vic (following a fleet, minimalist, very funny version by Mike Alfreds for Shared Experience). I wonder if scholarly Marina, who's about to publish a new tome on the Arabian Nights, will prefer Supple's couple to Cooke's book?
 
And that's it for this year. Very sorry to learn this morning why I haven't bumped into Jim Haynes, founding father of the Traverse and festival icon: he had a heart attack on Waverley Station as he arrived and has undergone emergency bypass surgery, spending nine days in the Royal Infirmary.
 
But Tim Cornwell tells us in The Scotsman that he's already back on his feet and doing the rounds. That's the spirit. Jim had his first heart attack, also in Edinburgh, during the festival, ten years ago. Let's hope it's another ten years to the next one. 

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