Edinburgh International Festival and Fringe 2017

Posted on: 06 Sep 2017 by Philip Wyn Jones

Our roving reporter, Philip Wyn Jones, has recently relocated to Edinburgh and has spent the summer taking in all the delights of festival season. Here he looks back at his choice of Fringe shows, all with a cinematic theme.

The Edinburgh International Festival and Fringe is over for another year. I opted for classical concerts and dramatic presentations. At the International Festival I attended five concerts and two concerts at the Fringe. The composers were Bach, Brahms, Monteverdi and Telemann and the venues were Canongate Kirk, St Giles Cathedral and the Queen’s Hall. At the Fringe I also opted for nine presentations and improved my knowledge of Edinburgh by searching for the Fringe venues.

Here are my Fringe shows in the order I saw them: The Jurassic Parks (Superbolt Theatre) are a dysfunctional family. If they talk to each other at all it’s to quarrel. However, it’s a year since Mrs Parks died so they’ve decided to honour her memory by sitting down together to watch her favourite film, Spielberg’s ‘Jurassic Park’.  They find the box but the VHS tape is missing, so they decide to re-enact some of the film’s highlights themselves; actors, dinosaurs, jungle foliage and so on. There were some amusing moments, the actors were energetic and there was a good use of sound effects and lighting. The interaction with some audience members was well received.

The Girl Who Jumped Off the Hollywood Sign (Joanne Hartstone) was based on a real occurrence. A young actress who had given up all hope of becoming a famous screen actress committed suicide in this very place in the late 1930s. Before killing herself she recalls her childhood and her endless efforts to get noticed. She remembers the Hollywood musical stars who inspired her and sings some of their songs, notably Judy Garland’s ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’. Lighting and sound gave added atmosphere to this excellent performance.

Places (Civil Disobedience – Romy  Nordlinger) recalls the life of a stage and film actress of the 1920s. Russian actress Alla Nazimova had a successful stage and screen career but caused great controversy with her flamboyant acting style and no-holds-barred private life. In this one woman performance she returns from the grave to give her side of the story.  Excellent use was made of back projected scenes from her films, and the fact that Romy Nordlinger looks just like her gave the performance a rather eerie quality.

My most enjoyable event at the Fringe was The Sound of Extras (Drama Queens). Two ladies, possibly in early middle age, are freezing in a tent on the Austrian Alps. They are extras in the filming of ‘The Sound of Music’ and are waiting for the bus to come and take them to the next location. They are clearly close friends but are beginning to get on each other’s nerves. Their conversation is delightfully natural and they talk about the leading actors as if they are bosom pals. One of them hears the bus approaching and goes outside, leaving her friend on her own. Then the music starts and the remaining actress does a superb mime to, presumably, Julie Andrews’ voice. The audience responded with a great and well-deserved ovation.

The two-man performance Mr Laurel and Mr Hardy (Searchlight Theatre) took a look at the two actors in the 1950s, when they were touring Ireland, Britain and the rest of Europe with a stage show. The Fringe performers, very convincingly, took the roles of two stagehands working in a Manchester theatre at that time. They also portrayed Laurel and Hardy themselves including Hardy’s fine singing voice. This lovely show was full of affection for the great duo.

(I Could Go On Singing) Over the Rainbow. This very strange performance, by and starring F K Alexander, took place in a basement. As we went in we were offered earplugs and soon discovered why. The dimly-lit room resounded with a deafening electronic noise. A central spot on the floor was marked with a cross and anyone wishing to be serenaded by Ms Alexander, on a one-to-one basis, was required to stand there. She then approached and sang, in a very loud amplified voice, ‘Over the Rainbow’ and could be heard above the still deafening electronic noise. She was dressed in black in the kind of outfit that would befit a sexual torture chamber and, of course, wore red shoes.  This happened again and again and again with exactly the same gestures at exactly the same points in the song. She ended on a very high note each time and this was accompanied by strobe lighting. When the show was over, in a strange way the silence seemed deafening.

Reeling (American High School Theatre) had nothing to do with traditional Scottish dancing. It was an attempt, by students from North Dakota, to re-create the content and spirit of silent screen comedies, including the obligatory Keystone Cops. The leading lad, as a lovelorn would-be screen actor, was clearly talented and the cast were generally enthusiastic as they careered around a makeshift movie set. The original music was a pleasing pastiche of the accompaniment supplied by pianists or cinema orchestras in the old days. The show ended with a cleverly filmed and inserted sequence, using the same cast.

Author Joan Ellis has made a special study of Ruth Ellis and Marilyn Monroe, This resulted in Died Blondes, written and performed by her. Ruth Ellis was the last woman to be hanged in Britain. Ms Ellis imagines that, alone in her cell, awaiting execution, she wrote a letter to the former lover she had murdered. The story is grim but also emotionally involving and the audience reacted accordingly. The nature of Marilyn Monroe’s death is still a mystery and we witness her last hours as she makes a frantic phone call to her former husband, Joe Dimaggio. Ms Ellis’ work is so vivid that you feel that you are in the actual room. It is, in effect, a horror story that still lingers in my memory.

My final Fringe show was the comedy Size Matters (LIP Theatre). Two amazingly conceited actors are competing for the same part in a stage play. One of them claims that he was once an Oscar winner but no-one believes him. He, aided by his number-one fan, hatches a plot to get rid of his rival. After several botched attempts they succeed. What about the show’s title? There are two explanations.  In the first case, famous actors resent being offered small parts. Secondly, at a crucial point in the drama, the leading actor opens his dressing gown to reveal…come on, use your imagination!

Philip Wyn Jones

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