2017 - One Man's Fringe

"It's better by rail". Said a friend of mine years ago, and the statement ought to be true for a North Londoner doing the trek to Edinburgh. Scheduled 4 hours 20 minutes from King"s Cross, into the heart of the City centre. 

Scheduled 4 hours 20 minutes. To which add 40 minutes of delay for a train fault. Not a major problem - time to note the compensation entitlement, sit back and relax.

But this did not account for the close proximity of X, a three-year old bundle of temper tantrum and neediness close to us for a large part of the journey. Example: X resorted to sitting in the corridor between seats, and passers-by resorted to carefully stepping over X, through a combination of common humanity and fear of a personal injury claim.

After departure of X we exhaled, and found even one or two on the periphery exhaling. Destination on the horizon.

Edinburgh welcomed us with a squally shower, but no time to wimp, as we had shows to see, and less turnaround time than we had planned. Dragging weekend cases and clutching hoods, we yomped down Princes Street.

The "we" comprised my friend and I, and my two grown-up children. And given generational tastes that converge and diverge, we planned a schedule to do some stuff together, and some other stuff in independent twos. 

For this, the schedule is critical. Previous experience has taught me that you need to be precise on show location, start time and finish time. This requires a hard copy sheet each, including venue number.....and a laminated map, one between two.

My children saw the map as an optional extra. With venue detail and postcode, who needs it when you have a smartphone? This also means why need to guess on walking time, when Google Maps will tell you exactly for the prescribed route? With mutual tolerance, we agreed that both support mechanisms could be helpful. And for the lamination job, I prayed in aid Scottish weather.

On to the late afternoon streets, for the first show. My children steamed off to see stand-up Ellie Taylor, which they enjoyed. My friend and I went for the serious subject-matter of 100 Years of Balfour,, a semi-staged piece on the political pronouncement that led eventually to the modern state of Israel. We were worried that we might be in for some biased pro-Palestinian material, but the company had a good shot at objectivity, although we left still feeling that there might be a subliminal political message floating.

Hooking up with my children, we set off to queue for chanteuse Camille O'Sullivan, but on way to meet up, we bumped into some friends also up for the Fringe. Serendipitous encounters are not exclusive to Edinburgh, but there is a joy in that couple of minutes of exchanging information on what you are seeing/have seen. We arranged to have a coffee together the following morning. 

Camille did not disappoint, with some lovely workings of Bowie and Cohen songs. She did it slightly more for me than for the others, but perhaps this was due to her lightly brushing my shoulder on her sweeping entrance. Older men can be fickle.

Late supper at the Queen's Arms, a buzzy pub with service at a reserved table in the main pub area. Nice place, and the Haggis Lollipops were both a novelty and delicious.

Saturday morning, and coffee with our friends before the first show. We pitched up in the cafe at the Pleasance Courtyard; they pitched up in the cafe at the Pleasance Dome. Too late to join up. so we agreed on the phone that this was a classic Fringe misunderstanding, and resolved to meet in London.

Sometimes you know after the first two minutes of a show that it is going to be great. The four of us decided this for Labels, a one-man performance by Joe Sellman-Leava (English mother, Ugandan Asian father) of Worklight Theatre Company on the themes of immigration and identity. "Where are you from?". "Cheltenham". "No, where are you really from?". This is a very talented young man.

On a roll, we marched down to Out of the Blue, an a cappella group comprised of students from Oxford and Oxford Brookes Universities. With several years of Fringe experience behind them the company, albeit with changing faces, knew what was needed to entertain. And they sure did entertain.

After a quick lunch, we separated into our twos, younger ones to see Avocado, an enjoyable skit on 20 something lifestyle in London, and the older ones to see True to Life - British Realist Painting in the 1920s and 1930s, at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, a short hop outside the City Centre, and worth the effort.

Early evening both twos were back in action, my children enjoying a piece on the the Jurassic Park theme, and friend and I not getting a lot out of Brexit - The Musical. Yes, Boris wiff-waffed around amusingly, and Dave was a convincing depiction, but the script was pedestrian and the plot unconvincing, with Gove being counter-intuitively ineffectual, and the Andrea character delivering a "cameo" perfornance that vastly upstaged Theresa.

Back together for supper at Pizza Express. Another Festival joy is how so many restaurants know that they have to up their game to get diners through efficiently between shows. Pizza Express delivered.

Last one of the day: Faure's Requiem by Candlelight at St Patrick's Church, preceded by a moment where Google Maps said we were there but laminated map man knew we were not. The soporific atmosphere of the church could have done for us after a hard day, but we kept focus, and it was lovely. "Music to die for", I quipped as we left; the others were either too tired, or unappreciative of my wit.

A gentle start on Sunday, and a serious first event, Not About Heroes by the Flying Bridge Company, on subject of the meeting between Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen at Craiglockart Hospital in 1917 while both were being treated for shellshock. Could they make a decent entertainment out of a slow-paced conversational piece? Answer resoundingly "yes", A sensitive production, beautifully acted. My feeling of pleasure when the four of us emerged with plenty to discuss. 

After lunch Hear Me Raw, again for all four of us, an autobiographical piece performed by the sister of a friend of a member of the family. Another Fringeism - the pre-departure exhortation to go and see someone with whom the exhorter has a personal connection. It could be disastrous, but this wasn't. Daniella Isaacs of Lipsink Theatre led us on a labyrinthine journey through the superficially amusing world of "clean" eating, a journey that became darker and more uncomfortable the further it went. A brave young woman and a brave and effective performance.

My children headed off for some improv, whilst friend and I enjoyed quiet downtime before the final evening's push.

Meeting up together for a quick bite to eat before the show, we were delighted to discover Spoon on Nicholson Street - an unassuming street entrance belied a restaurant with pleasant decor, interesting food, reasonable prices, and once again attention to need for prompt service.

Ringing the changes of performance genre, we went for some flamenco. Alba Flamenca delivered an intimate show with oodles of passion and commitment. They also run a Flamenco school, and afterwards we were delighted to see a few teenagers expressing interest, no doubt enthused by what they had just seen.

On the original schedule, the flamenco was planned to close the day, but the oldies were persuaded to defer their bedtime cocoa and join my children to see Elixir, a late evening acrobatic show performed by a three-man Australian troupe. Prudently, friend and I took seats a few rows back, to keep clear of the interactive environment of the front row. The show was a scream - acrobatic and slapstick skills presented with classy professionalism. Daughter no. 2 came away splashed with water as an appropriate badge of honour.

On last day, train home was late afternoon, so time for another change of style as the four of us took in a morning performance of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None.

We worked hard before start of show to dispel ourselves of visions of luminaries such as Charles Dance, Sam Neill and Aidan Turner performing in the feted TV version. And it was right to do this, as the performance took us back to the inclusivity that has been a hallmark of the Fringe over the years. Thus here we had a group of late teens/at most early 20s, taking roles that in some cases were 30 years or more beyond their age. Classic youth stuff, but good on them for effort.

An uneventful return, but this is the moment to critcise Waverley Station passenger management. You hang on and hang on for platform detail, and then get 10 minutes before departure to board the train....with the only options being all going up one escalator or in a lift, before going back down to platform level. This resulted in an uncivilised scramble to find seats. Grumpy man had a field day.

The Fringe is just fabulous. Give it a try if you haven't so far and it is within reach. Now to settle down to that compensation claim.

The author is a professionally qualified guide and former City law firm partner, who runs walks and does talks on a variety of themes, and also goes to the theatre quite a lot.