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Michael Coveney: Critical Forum & Farewell

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Lyn Gardner of the Guardian hasn't eaten much, what with all her rushing around -- she slowed down with just five shows yesterday -- until she turned up for a workshop production at the Forest Fringe, a sort of BAC of the north, and munched liberally on a plateful of pasta vaginas.

We absorbed this staggering information at a critics' forum I chaired yesterday at the Pleasance, though I fully expected Kate Copstick of the Scotsman, no slouch herself in the outrageous department, to come out with stuff about tagliatelle testicles.

Instead, she decided to have a go at Matt Trueman, one of the best of the new breed of reviewer/bloggers, and accused him of existing up his own back passage because he wanted fringe performers to analyse their reasons for being there: not a question of quality control, but of defining your objectives, and being alive to possibilities.

I love Kate, and I revere Lyn Gardner, whom I dubbed the Queen Mum of the Fringe, but we desperately need new young critics like Matt, who has dedicated the past few years of his life - he's only 25 -- to immersing himself in the new theatre while holding down a bill-paying day job at the Curtis Brown literary agency.

The talks are presented by the Haymarket Masterclass set-up and continue with director John Tiffany this morning, a producers' panel tomorrow and the one and only Clarke Peters on Friday.

Before catching the train home I had time to fulfil one of my favourite festival traditions -- lunch in the Doric Tavern. I've noticed this year how restaurants have been less crowded than usual. The recession really is kicking in.

The Doric, a light-filled upper room opposite the Fruitmarket Gallery, was barely half full and there were no "specials" of the day, nor the usual selection of "bin end" wine offers.

Still, the food remains excellent, and I recommended a visit to Lyn once she's through with edible genitalia.

The weather has been excellent, too, with only one or two monsoons and a few light showers these past twelve days. Whizzing around on foot is one of the great pleasures, of course, as long as you don't have to negotiate that tricky corner of the Royal Mile and North Bridge.

And while we're mentioning food, if you need a quick fix between shows I recommend a bowl of cullen skink at the counter of the Cafe Royal or a kilo of mussels at the Mussell Inn in Rose Street, both spots handy for the Assembly Rooms. Best of all is the Dog (upstairs) in Hanover Street, but you have to book and you don't want to be in too much of a rush.

The other thing you simply have to do is climb up Arthur's Seat and along the crags. I grabbed an hour up there on Sunday morning, revelling in the views, the gorse and heather bushes, the profusion of wild flowers, the circling eagles and the sudden glimpse of big fat partridge. By the time you come back down to ground level, the festival that never stops is ready to absorb you in its generous, life-enhancing embrace once more.

After our Masterclass forum, a few of us lingered in the sunshine in the Pleasance Courtyard, sipping beakers of champagne kindly provided by Hazel Kerr and her colleagues.

But the break was transitory: Lyn was bent on more hedonism in the Forest Fringe, Matt was diving into the Zoo Roxy, and Kate was flying across to the Scottish Parliament to give a talk on comedy in politics.

How on earth was she going to find anything to say on that subject, I wonder?   


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