I didn't know what to expect. I don't like people telling me I must like a place before I go because I instantly have extremely high expectations, and they are very high, as in ethereal, and consequently I've been disappointed with both Ireland and Ibiza - not because they are not wonderful, but because they were not as wonderful as I imagined. Everyone told me the festival (in August there's the book, the arts, the international as well as the Fringe going on) so there are festivalS, would be amazing. I had visited Edinburgh before, never during the festival season and passed through quickly on the way to St Andrews. Walking the streets of Edinburgh (boy did I walk for those four days), I realise J K Rowling has filched every stone and cranny from every narrow archway and corner, every shadow and smell, every alley way and signpost. She owes Edinburgh but I think she's paid back in bucket loads.
I was there for four days. I ate very little (I don't eat much anyway but seemed to live off almonds and water, and occasionally when I got really light headed, jelly sweets, and I had one lunch (at Civerinos @civerinos www.civerinos.com) - very good. On Saturdays they feed the chefs from the nearby restaurants and swap stories about how little sleep they've had in August. I don't think anyone sleeps in August in Edinburgh. They have September for that. In August far too much going on. I was even dreaming poetry on the second night.
The city is multi-layered, built up one street on top of one another, like a multi-dimensional cobweb, and this is mirrored by the mish mash web of incredible creative chaos which are the festivals, intertwining with each other - the high culture of the international festival, attracting big names like Juliet Binoche (beautiful but a bit snotty, pity), and baroque of Lestyn Davies (think sound track from The Draftsman Contract and Dangerous Liaisons) with the bookish book festival, tented and neat lawned in a square, with the arts festival spit-spotting galleries and sculptures anywhere there's a space and the fringe using every other nook and cranny, a bit like Rowling did but with less subtlety. There isn't a space that hasn't been used for something creative. The place buzzes with the inspired and inspirational. You walk from one venue to the next because it is the quickest way to do it (dodging the tourists not forgetting YOU ARE ONE OF THEM, and the 'Edinburgh Crusties' who are here for the more cerebral stuff). So you see a lot of Edinburgh. The venues are inspired, anything from warehouses, to conference centres, student dorms, pubs, restaurants, ladies toilets, rooftops, cellars, graveyards, churches, anything that is a 'space' is taken.
Highlights. OMG. Where do you start? There are thousands of productions going on. Do not go home thinking you have missed the best. If you do you will be miserable all the time. So be zen, be in the now and just enjoy what you see. I went to about fifteen productions, plays, performances in three days. That's enough. You need some time to walk, think, admire, be.
Two productions I attended at the EICC were mesmerising. The Encounter, and 887. The Encounter was phenomenal. Like Edinburgh, it was multi-dimentional, layer upon layer upon layer of story, of character, peeling away, with the actor and writer (Simon McBurney, one man show). It was journey telling and story telling on a whole new level. Desperately funny, funnily desperate, McBurney made himself vulnerable and so did the audience. Some high art (OK, I find a lot of it), is too clever to loose yourself in. You are still thinking 'this is very clever' rather than getting into it. The ego doesn't get into this performance. It is visceral and perfect. I have never experienced anything like it. Complicite is the company who produce works like this and it is mind blowing. I still want to cry (in a nice way) when I think about it. Its sort of like Walkabout (Jenny Agutter film) but set in South America. You want the journey to continue. I know actors over act, but boy is McBurney on the money. You don't want it to end although you are utterly exhausted emotionally by the end of it. A bit like walking round from venue to venue at the Festival really. Any way, think you get the idea that I liked Encounter. 887, I saw after The Encounter. If I had seen it before I would have thought more of it, and there were moments which were incredibly poignant, and creative, but the ego crept in and I could see it. I could never see it in the other play.
Kate Tempest was another performance that blew me away. She recited for an hour one poem after another with blistering intensity about, well, the beige-ness of life and how we are all terribly fearful and terribly angry and we do nothing about it. We are bashed into apathy and mediocrity, but she did it, (as per Encounter) in a funny, filthy, powerfully poignant, lyrical, wise way. Both The Encounter and Tempest made the audience cry and laugh within a few minutes of each other. That is amazing.
The Fringe, I saw Phil Jupitus. He's a very funny comedian, and he's also a very good poet. He makes up poems using the titles of the productions in the Fringe, and they're very good as well. He hates David Cameron and Boris Johnson with a vengeance but then I get the feeling that everyone in Scotland feels the same.
I watched Trygve Wakneshaw and his production of Kraken. Very clever. I saw his penis but then so did everyone in the audience. Twice.
No penis performances include - Funny Bones Trash, excellent, funny and poignant (that combination again) for the children and their parents. Go take your young children, but they will need to be able to walk. You walk everywhere in Edinburgh. No whinging children. If they whinge, don't bring them. Tell them they are going to the real Harry Potter Land, and if they whinge they'll be turned into snakes or something.
UKIP the Musical, Nigel Farage meets South Park, clever and funny. Not poignant. But funny. Antigone, at the Rose Theatre, with Binoche and Finbar Lynch (very good) as well as obi Abili and Kirsty Bushell. Very strong cast. I thought there would be no laughs in this one but there were. I'm not a regular theatre goer but I do admire beautiful acting.
The performances go onto the early hours. I saw Pole, about Pole dancing at midnight, three girls performing (around poles) about the good, bad and very very ugly of the industry. One is a yoga teacher. Yes some of the moves are very much like yoga postures although perhaps Iyengar wasn't thinking that at the time.
Tips, tips, tips, how to do the festival. BE FIT. And if you can, go by yourself and make friends, or just talk to people. If you go with someone try not to debate too long what you are going to see. It takes time. Be spontaneous. Take a risk, as Kate Tempest would shout. I know its not English but DO IT.
1) Wear very comfortable shoes.
2) Take snacks with you (almonds and water good).
3) Listen to those who say they loved something but do not die if you don't see it yourself. One person's five star is another's no star.
I was told I must see Filthy Talk in Troubled Times, and didn't, but one day I'm sure I will. And Tea Set and Brute. But I didn't. But I didn't stop walking or clapping, or crying or laughing, and occasionally I ate, and sometimes I even slept (at the Town Chambers (self catering apartments) with gorgeous views over Edinburgh and the Glasshouse - which is the other side of the railway station, in the new part by the Ingleby Gallery where I saw some of Charles Avery's work. And I saw the David Bailey exhibition. Powerful photos, but the best by far were Ralph Fiennes (1995) looking utterly edible, Jeanne Moreau (with smoking cigarette) 1966, Marianne Faithful (1964 - superb), U2 Bono 1985, his ego shouts out in this photo. Its all about him, will always be about him, has always been about him. Bailey captures them even when they are soul less. Mick Jagger in 1976 looking utterly trashed. Mandela 1997, you want to know what he's thinking - probably (has he taken the photo yet?..), and Jack Nicholson laughing, Francis Bacon, looking as distorted and disturbed as the images he painted, Jacqueline Henri Lartigue (1982) like a map of a life on his face. Incredible light on the face. David Lean in 1989 looking dreadfully sad.
4) Go up by train and back by sleeper. Its part of the experience, although someone I know found themselves in the same carriage as Janet Street Porter, so it wasn't quite the experience they had hoped for.
5) See the Edinburgh Tattoo. Its the icing on the cake. The ceremony is wonderful. The castle beautiful. The rest of the events are the cherries, each of them incredible. I have so much admiration for every performer there. You are amazing, as are those who work tirelessly behind the scenes to make it happen. Actually you are exhausted but you still do it because you love it - I can tell.
Edinburgh is the cake, substantial enough to welcome everyone and more than just a backdrop. Its the inspiration for so much of the work that goes on here. You visit during this season and you end up breathing with the pace of this place, absorbing the performances. The place and performance become one. As J K Rowling realised, the energy of this place and people makes magic.
Edinburgh is a city of poets and for a month the world gets to hear what they have to say. And for four days so did I. It was a privilege.