First of all, just a note to be made, I fell in love with Edinburgh and Scotland. It might be shocking to hear, but it was by far the highlight of all my adventures. I think it has to do with it’s visible history, medieval atmosphere, youthful & exciting attitude, and contagious pride. And that just about sums up the city as I experienced it in one sentence!
So I was in Edinburgh around mid August, and I was lucky enough to be granted a week in the city. I had no intentions of going anywhere besides London before flying back home, but my brilliant friend suggested I make it up north to experience some single malt scotch whiskey at the source (covered quite a few bases on this trip; wine in France, beer in England, and Whiskey in Scotland!). I couldn’t be happier that I did, and that my visit coincided with the Edinburgh Festivals. Basically, there were 2 performance art festivals (Edinburgh Fringe, and Edinburgh International) along with the Edinburgh International Book Festival (which I didn’t take part in at all) going on at this time of year. I was told numerous times, that the population of the city will double because of the massive influx of visitors. On those weekend nights, I certainly believed that.
The purpose of this post, though, as we take the long way ’round, is to share some of the most memorable performances, or parts of them, that I had the pleasure of being witness to.
I saw plenty of shows in my week there, and I do mean plenty, but that would be by the standards of what I could tolerate (which turned out to be 4 shows in one day, at the most), and not plenty by the standards of the hundreds of opportunities available. However with so much being presented, you cannot be assured that it’s all gold, I personally was subjected to a lot of “meh” moments. There’s no point in dwelling on those though, so instead, I want to remember those excellent bits.
First show I saw was Bo Burnham. This was clearly an awesome show, first of all because I am already a fan but also because he’s a brilliant comedian. It’s not every entertainer that is capable of performing a song written as God, and he introduces it like “I’ve heard people describe me as egoistic and self-glorifying, but it’s really not true. Anyways, here’s a song I wrote in the voice of God.” It’s not all mocking, which is the most important note, it’s humor, yes… but Burnham’s point had more to do with the concept of peace under an “all-seeing being”, and not needing some sort of authority to determine what are good or bad actions, than any sort of criticism. And then there’s this conversation between his left and right brain, the gist of which is incredibly relatable. He’s just a very clever guy, whose show forces you to engage by using clever wordplay, unique methods (like poems and songs) to communicate, and unconventional subject matter for a comedy show.
Then there was Le Gateau Chocolat, and while you’d think I must have been to at least one drag show in my life (considering my incredible love affair with Provincetown), this was my first. And it was excellent. She (I do believe I’m supposed to refer to him as her) basically sang for an hour, in a wonderful and impressive voice, titles ranging from Gershwin’s Summertime to South Park’s Chocolate Salty Balls. So yeah, I’ll let you paint a wild picture all on your own. But that’s not the important part. Between one costume change, she took off her wig, was stripped from her sparkly body suit, and we were left with a man, standing in low lighting in a full leotard, dramatic eye makeup, and a beard. It was now that he sang The Ship Song, and while I cannot find a worthy variation online right now, we were so moved to hear him utter the words “we make a little history, baby, every time you come around. Come loose dogs upon me, and let your hair hang down. You are a little mystery to me, every time you come around.” And then the sincerity melted away into a Dalmatian print body suit and a recap (with a criticizing tone) of Les Miserables: the Hollywood remake.
One night, I walked into one of the venues expecting a comedy show, and while I did laugh throughout, I left with tears streaming down my face. Tom Wigglesworth’s show was basically a love letter to his deceased (recently, I suppose) grandfather, thanking him for the values he instilled, the attitudes towards finding passion in life, and how to cope when your find yourself “utterly at odds with the universe”. It was so touching and such a pleasure to witness.
I guess I have to mention seeing the Scottish National Orchestra, because, ya know, jazz and me, we’re tight. But actually, I left halfway through because I overbooked and had to make it to another show! I did get to Rhapsody in Blue though, so I left very satisfied. And no regrets about missing the second half! The other show was Claudia O’Doherty. There was a bit of social commentary (fake pregnancy), a hilarious “sponsorship” deal that constantly caused interruptions, and plenty of well played self-delusion.
I also found myself watching Sincerely, Mr. Toad. Which was a musical about Kenneth Grahame, his family, and the writing of The Wind in the Willows. It was cute, didn’t realize that’s what I was getting into, but it was perfectly entertaining. There was a very sweet moment, when the character of Kenneth Grahame is singing to his newborn son. He tells him that he is capable of anything, he will do everything in his power to give his son the access to a better life than his own, etc. Seated in the row before me was a mother with her 2 young sons, and throughout the piece she sent them sideways glances, acknowledging that she would do the same for them, it was terribly precious.
Finally, I saw Paul Currie. This show was mayhem, complete nonsense, and I loved every minute of it.
So here’s the conclusion I’ve come to about the “performing arts”, made by observation of great shows and unimpressive ones (this is an opinion, based on what pleases me): either you find something significant to say, or you succumb to complete and utter absurdity. There is no middle ground that allows for satisfying entertainment (for me, at least).