Edinburgh Fringe - The World's Largest Arts Festival

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With Perth Festival of the Arts over for another year, we caught up with its new administrator Helen MacKinnon to see what the summer months bring. With summer festival season underway across the UK, it’s the perfect time to scout for new shows. And where best to dig through an artistic treasure trove than the melting pot that is Edinburgh Fringe. Helen took us on a day of Fringe-going and reviews…


Edi Fringe - Eleanors StoryAs the world’s largest arts festival, Edinburgh Fringe serves as a great platform for artists to showcase their work to programmers and other festivals. At last year’s Fringe, our Festival Committee discovered actor and writer Ingrid Garner from LA, and subsequently booked her outstanding play Eleanor’s Story: An American Girl in Hitler’s Germany for our 2019 festival. The sequel is playing at this year’s Fringe - Eleanor's Story : Home is the Stranger

I love the variety of the Fringe. It’s like dipping into a goodie bag of assorted treats and never quite knowing what you’ll pull out. This is my first Fringe as a festival organiser so it’s a different experience this year. My tickets were planned weeks ago and I’m on a schedule with some eclectic shows to see; some purely for my own enjoyment and others viewed through the lens of programing. I’m thinking about artistic quality, potential for Perth Festival, the scale of production and getting a feel for what audiences and critics think.

Day 1 at the Fringe arrives, accompanied by torrential rain. The festival atmosphere in our capital is its usual electric and frenzied self.Day 1 at the Fringe arrives, accompanied by torrential rain. The festival atmosphere in our capital is its usual electric and frenzied self. A sea of umbrellas, with maps and leaflets flapping everywhere, and tourists chatting wildly as they buzz about from show to show. It’s a tight sprint from the train but I skid to a halt outside Gilded Balloon at the Museum with minutes to spare.

First up Sinatra: Raw. I love Sinatra. He is my go-to-guy when life needs a musical pick-me-up. When I discovered this show, which reveals ‘the man behind the music’ and is performed by an actor widely acknowledged to be one of the leading impersonators of Ol’ Blue Eyes, I had to start my Fringe experience here.

The show is written and performed by LA-based British actor Richard Shelton. It’s 1971 and we are invited into Sinatra’s world as retirement looms and with it, a sense of loss and a time for introspection. Sinatra is performing his last intimate show at the Purple Room, Palm Springs. Sofia Loren is in the audience. Sinatra takes us through music and musings into the wee small hours of the morning.

Edi Fringe - SinatraThis production had a sell-out premiere season in London earlier this year. It’s a two-man show (Sinatra and pianist) and is as raw as the title suggests. Shelton’s Sinatra is powerful and authentic, and his singing is glorious. This is Sinatra unfiltered, gritty at times, and we see the passionate, wounded yet determined man as he delves into memories of a long career, Rat Pack friendships and dangerous loves. I’ve Got You Under My Skin is delivered with a wink and a nod to his longtime companion - a trusty bottle of Jack Daniels. When the show closes with “The record shows, I took the blows, and did it my way”, I leave with the sense that Sinatra had in fact lived, and survived, every word he sang.

The next treat from the Fringe goodie bag is TV presenter, journalist, author and all-round broadcasting legend, Dame Esther Rantzen who is touring a new show called Everything I’ve Ever Done Wrong (According to my Daughter). I get talking to a woman after the show who questions, “but surely you’re too young to remember Esther?” (what a wonderful woman!). But like most, I have great memories of Esther on That’s Life! and have followed her amazing charitable endeavours.

There’s something special about an intimate audience with individuals who have made such a positive mark on the world.At Perth Festival, we’ve featured some great talks and interviews, in recent years ranging from author Val McDermid to journalist John Simpson. There’s something special about an intimate audience with individuals who have made such a positive mark on the world. The chance to hear their stories, relive their best moments and memories and ask those burning questions.

This charming show features a partly-scripted conversation between mother and daughter as Esther is joined by her daughter Rebecca Wilcox, now 38, to talk tales of family, charity work and anecdotes from 50 years in broadcasting and journalism. Their rapport is endearing. Rebecca does her best to, politely, keep mother on script and to time. Mother is, equally politely, having none of it. Esther holds the floor and enthusiastically recounts her stories to the crowd.

The conversation illuminates Esther’s more mischievous memories, from her run-in with the police (a minor case of ‘pavement obstruction’), to playful moments with the paparazzi, and her encounters with great figures such as Diana, Princess of Wales. Esther’s sparkling intellect, sharp humour and splash of the eccentric are best summed up in her response to an audience question: “Who would you like to play you in your biography?”.

“Benedict Cumberbatch”, she replies with a twinkle.

Fringe - ThunderstruckBut, there is no time for disappointment. I have exactly 5 minutes to change venues for show number three – a play called Thunderstruck. This was my ‘wild card’ show and turns out to be the gem in the Fringe haystack. Written and performed by David Colvin, Thunderstruck is the tragic and comic tale of the great bagpiper Gordon Duncan, who influenced the life of a young piper from Fife. It came with a disclaimer ‘Includes swearing and a four-piece rock band.’ It was now mid-afternoon and I was ready for some tunes and the odd expletive.

Thunderstruck blew me away. This play is funny, clever, powerful and brilliantly written and performed. Music and story-telling interweave at a pace to tell a coming-of-age tale that touches the soul. David moves vivaciously from character to character, role to role. He is narrator, piper, educator and actor all at once.

This is a story of pipers and drinkers, of inspiration and disappointment, of tradition and breaking boundaries. It finishes so powerfully that the emotion sweeps the audience up to a much-deserved standing ovation.

This is the Edinburgh Fringe at its best - Thunderstruck.

When the pipes breathe their final note, it’s time for fresh air, food and a good stretch of the legs.

After I’ve recovered from a ridiculously over-priced salad (capital city prices – I’m not in Kansas anymore!), I’m ready for the hilarious Milton Jones. Best known as a guest panelist on Mock the Week, Milton is hitting the Fringe with his new show Milton Impossible. Milton’s show, and his hair, do not disappoint. His pun-filled one-liners arrive thick and fast, requiring absolute concentration to keep pace.

His pun-filled one-liners arrive thick and fast, requiring absolute concentration to keep pace.

The show tells the story of Milton’s ‘other’ life as an international spy (I should highlight that Milton is wearing a bright orange suit. I’m not sure if British intelligence services have a Spy Dress Code, but they might want to suggest something a bit more… beige).

My favourite moments are hilarious conversations between pairs of United Nations members represented by ‘Talking Flags’. We all wait for Brexit to make an appearance.

“So, how do you think it’s all going?” asks the EU flag, enquiringly.

PAUSE.

“Shut up!!!!” snaps the Union Jack.

Day One at the Fringe is complete and an all-round success, with ideas brewing and connections made. I’m back next week for more goodie-bag treats and festival fun.

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