That’s me. Not in the photo, although perhaps I have morphed into a giant triangle, illusion or rewind button during the Edinburgh festival, and not actually noticed. But in the Scots sense of ‘that’s me done’, ‘I’m out of here’.
A brief tally: 19 reviews, five blog entries, over 40 trains, three two-hour meetings and one lasting a good five hours, one birthday, one babysitting session, zero romance, eight low-calorie energy drinks… how much information do you want?
In terms of getting an overview of the festival, it’s early days yet. For reviewing, it makes sense to go up during the first weeks. But equally, there’s a lot of unfinished business. Winners and losers, trends and outliers are still becoming clearer.
Audience interaction is in the spotlight (see Max’s previous blog). The discussion of Ontroerend Goed’s Audience reminds me of So you think this is offensive now? by Brendon Burns, which won the main comedy award in 2007. In that case, the bullied audience member was revealed as a plant, but the critics kept the secret throughout the festival. This year, White Rabbit, Red Rabbit definitely created an unusual audience dynamic. But F&M’s parting shot in Pop Centre Plus – ‘we’ve been Frisky & Mannish and you’ve been superfluous’ – was only partly tongue in cheek. Their talent dwarfed the audience. And in other cases, contrived audience participation can be painful.
Perhaps the debate about interactivity is linked to technology. Sites like Facebook, for which people photograph events before experiencing them, make participation inescapable. However, theatre also has a great recalcitrance with technology. To the extent that it is live, in the moment, paring down the mediation to bare the soul, it’s the enemy of superficial and virtual interactivity. However, on the negative side, theatre can also be self-indulgent, prone to nostalgia and sentimentalism. This can become a lack of engagement with thorny current issues.
Every year in Edinburgh, there are some shows that got away. I wish I’d seen Dance Marathon, Doctor Brown: Becaves and maybe the Technodelic Comedy Show. I didn’t see If you choreograph me, you will feel better because it’s for men only, and I haven’t caught Audience (and the show may now have changed too, so I'll never see the performance everyone was talking about). The whole of the comedy and music sections of the fringe programme are unexplored. For Total Theatre, I see circus, mime, puppetry (apparently there’s a surprising amount of puppetry this year), streets arts, devised and experimental work. Not straight, late-night, beery stand-up.
There are also always postscripts with reviews. Painful as it is, sometimes you would like to revise your opinion. It’s too late, of course. The review is an impression at a particular moment in time, already published and damned. In the past, I’ve given a cheerful and broadly supportive review for a local newspaper, only to see the national critics pan a show. ‘I meant hit-you-round-the-head stunning, not really impressive, sorry…’
So this year, I wonder whether my review of Swamp Juice was a bit lukewarm and Circolombia deserved a more positive write-up. Leo still gets my vote. However, it was put in perspective when I heard about the day out that my two-year-old niece, her cousins aged about eight and ten, my sister, her partner, his brother and his girlfriend had at Glasgow Science Centre (pictured) on Saturday. They played wonderful games with illusion and perspective, producing visual tricks such as climbing up a skyscraper or ninety-degree rotated walls that seemed remarkably similar to the starting-point for Leo.
Now it’s back on the ‘sleeper’ train for work tomorrow. As usual, it’s been a thought-provoking, tiring festival. The shortlist for the Total Theatre Awards may have been published by the time you read this. You can’t press the rewind button, anyhow.