One of the stalwarts of the Edinburgh reviewing ritual is the ‘wish list’. Here, the eager reviewer is invited to name shows that they would especially like to see. (Of course, this doesn’t mean that tickets are available.)
It’s a double-edged sword. It’s one thing to sit through a really bad show, with compulsively twitchy feet or the imagination elsewhere. You can generally tell within the first few minutes just what you’re in for too, and then it’s just an exercise in endurance. But it’s another thing again to sit through a really bad show knowing that this is exactly what you asked your fairy godmother for. You only have your own poor judgement to curse.
One solution is to put only safe bets on the ‘wish list’. In other words, don’t get experimental and try to find the needle in the haystack of the Fringe programme. However, it’s fun to gamble occasionally if you have the time.
This year I played safe. It’s a poor reviewer who only ‘discovers’ and ‘recommends’ shows that have already been acclaimed elsewhere and are just transferring to Edinburgh. Equally, it’s an honest recommendation if you know and love the artist, or have heard enough on the grapevine or read enough to feel comfortable.
The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart is an open secret (the tweet about returns only is a few days old). It’s by David Greig, for a start. Damascus and Midsummer are among his previous successes at the festival. His work is traditionally scripted, yet slightly alternative. The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart is partly site-specific, as it takes place in the pub Ghillie Dhu (refreshment is recommended). Midsummer, subtitled ‘A Play with Songs’, was a two-hander starring Cora Bissett, who also directed the site-specific show Roadkill that won a Total Theatre Award for innovation among many other awards last year. And David Greig once held open a door for me in the bar at the Soho Theatre. I didn’t recognize him, but my friend did.
Also on my wish list was The Animals and Children Took to the Streets. I’ve been curious to see a show by 1927 since they won the Total Theatre Award for Best Emerging Company with Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea in 2007. (This reviewing ticket has been taken, but I may try a more traditional remedy – buy one.)
The Table by Blind Summit should be a delight. Walking into their adaptation of poems by Charles Bukowski to a Jacques Brel soundtrack early in the morning at the Underbelly was unforgettable (although I have forgotten whether it was 2005 or 2006). Their puppets in A Dog’s Heart and Madam Butterfly at ENO, and their adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984 were pretty impressive too. I love the wisdom in a cardboard face for The Table. But I won’t catch their show this year for logistical reasons (it has a late time slot, and my free accommodation is, ahem, in Glasgow).
On the circus front, Circolombia have their roots in social projects for street children in Colombia and are showng Urban at the Assembly Hall. La Putyka by Cirk la Putyka promises to continue a tradition of high-standard physical theatre from the Czech Republic at the Fringe (such as Polaris, a wonderful Arctic mime piece that was part of the Czech showcase in 2008 and shortlisted for a Total Theatre Award).
My list also included Thirsty by The Paper Birds, who were nominated for a Total Theatre Award as a young company for In A Thousand Pieces in 2008. Like Midsummer, that was one of the Edinburgh hits I caught up with during subsequent transfers, but I also enjoyed Others at the Pleasance last year. This year The Paper Birds take on the nation’s love affair with alcohol, and I’m very intrigued to see how they tackle this slippery fish. It promises real stories, booze-based confessions, working men’s clubs from the happy hours to early hours, delving behind the facts and figures through live music, verbatim text and stunning physical theatre. And that’s just the publicity. Goodness knows what it will be like with two women (Jemma McDonnell and Kylie Walsh) on a stage.
Finally, I put down Sans Mots by Matteo Cionini at C Aquila. Total Theatre’s roots are in trying to redress the balance between visual and scripted work, and there’s still not that much mime at the festival. However, I don’t know much about this show, and it’s the first thing I’ll see, which is always nerve-wracking as you try to gauge the standard (much worse if star ratings are involved). It may still be a case of ‘be careful what you wish for…’