Please indulge me with this bit of off-topic blogging, because I’m just got back from a wonderfully restorative week at the Edinburgh Fringe, the world’s largest arts festival (this year, 25 days totalling over 2,695 shows from 47 countries in 279 venues). The format is a one hour maximum on performances, allowing you to hop easily (well, rush through the Scottish drizzle) between 3 or 4 shows in a day, based on your own personal cultural pick n mix. We concentrated on theatre and music and avoided the ubiquitous standup comedy.
The overall effect is extraordinary – a colonic irrigation/detox for the soul. For three weeks, Edinburgh becomes a Silicon Valley cluster/Olympic Games of the arts. From big theatres to pokey rooms in pubs, talent is flung carelessly at the audiences with abandon (‘Of course I can play ten instruments. And take the piss out of it at the same time’). Overall impressions from this year’s sample:
Authenticity. Lots of probing, honest and moving examinations of family, love and friendship
Plenty of Scottish texture from gritty Glasgow to haunting Hebrides
Some striking age hierarchies among audiences. Classical music drew the oldest clientele, comedy the youngest, with theatre somewhere in between and music according to genre (we saw two crazy Aussies perform the whole of Tubular Bells live in one hour – not surprisingly, most of the audience were my age, i.e. ancient)
I’m a great weeper, so with Edinburgh following on the Olympics, I’ve been at serious risk of dehydration for most of the summer. What got the highest ratings on my personal fringe lachrymometer? If any of these come to a venue near you, check out:
Mark Thomas, Bravo Figaro: the radical comedian gives an extraordinary personal account of his father, an east end builder turned opera lover
Beulah. Sweet and wonderfully musical meditation on love and loss
And here’s another weepy highlight. Dick Gaughan’s rendition of the brilliant Robbie Burns poem Now Westlin Winds (this video is from 1983, but the song hasn’t change, even if the singer has….)
Thus with the summer (the what?) over, and emotional and spiritual flora restored (at least for now), it’s time to embark on a busy autumn. Trips to Ireland, Philippines, Bangkok and India. Lots of book launches for the second edition of From Poverty to Power, a hungry blog to feed, working with Oxfam staff on power analysis and theories of change, and (hopefully) getting started on the next book (watch this space). I’m a very lucky wonk.
And here’s the Guardian’s much more comprehensive (and pretty funny) highlights of the festival. If you’re within striking range of Edinburgh next August, may see you there.