The festival has finished, the nights are drawing in, and it is time to reflect upon the sensory overload that has become my go-to excuse for not writing as much as I ought to in August.
The 2017 Edinburgh Festival lasted for 25 days. I was at work for 12 of them, in Perthshire visiting family for 2, and in my bed with a horrifying lurgy for 2 more. In spite of this I made it to 16 shows of varying subject matter and quality.
The full list is as follows:
- Stand By
- Apocalypse: Live
- Suky Goodfellow – Political Acid Trip
- Poetry Goes Pop
- Poets Against Humanity
- In Praise of Nasty Women – Nadine Aisha Jassat, Joelle Owusu and Laura Waddell with Kirsty Logan
- Let’s Talk About Identity, Race and Gender – Reni Eddo-Lodge and Juno Dawson with Laurie Penny
- Toxic Avenger, The Musical
- Planet Caramel – Hot, Sexy, Kind & Desperate
- Jamie Saves The World
- Richard Gadd – Monkey See, Monkey Do
- Letters to Morrissey
- Dylan Moran – Work in Progress
- Power Ballad
In Stand By, Fleabag, Monkey See, Monkey Do and Letters to Morrissey, I heard compelling stories of flawed people experiencing incredible pressure. These shows all had funny moments, sharp intake of breath moments, and deeply sad moments. They were all well crafted, thought provoking, satisfying shows.
The book festival events also asked questions, and told stories worth hearing. On a related point, please buy and read Nasty Women and Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race – they are so important and interesting. I’ll do a separate post at some point soon.
Of the free stuff, the stand out for me was Political Acid Trip, Suky Goodfellow’s first fringe show. It took the format of a ‘choose your own adventure’ game and it worked incredibly well. Planet Caramel, who do fast paced sketch comedy, were as reliably entertaining as always. And I saw a review somewhere describing Kate Smurthwaite’s ForniKATEress, a show about polyamory, as being like an amusing TED Talk – this was a good description.
In terms of the sillier stuff, Toxic Avenger was trashy and colourful and loud and fun; whilst Dylan Moran was very Dylan Moran-ish. Both very entertaining.
There was nothing wrong with the other shows. Next to the ones I’ve named, they felt a tad self-indulgent. The chaps in Apocalypse: Live and Jamie Saves The World were all very likeable, but their scripts weren’t really ready and I couldn’t help wondering why they decided these stories were worth telling. I envy their confidence, in a way – doing the festival is hard work and it’s not cheap, so you really need to believe in what you’re doing.
Power Ballad, meanwhile, was just misadvertised. The blurb said it was:
“Part performance lecture, part karaoke party, deconstructing gendered linguistic histories and ripping apart language to find a new articulation of pleasure, anger and femaleness. We’re smashing it all to pieces and starting again. We’re behaving badly. We’re singing too many power ballads.”
Having read that we went along expecting to hear a woman talk (lecture, if you will) about the language of power ballads and possibly the sexism inherent in their associated music videos; dissecting why they’re terrible but we love them anyway, with a bit of a singalong chucked in.
It was actually performance art (for which you may read mic stand gymnastics), with too much vocoder. Not being into performance art, I was disappointed. Most of my companions were straight-up furious, and 8 other audience members walked out.
Essentially the festival performances that fell flattest were those that relied on tropes about the white middle class male experience (1% vague allusions to being woke baes but 99% crap SF references), and the white middle class female experience (for me, bellowing ‘intersectionality’ into a mic over and over again doesn’t make as salient a point as maybe, idk, exploring the concept in some way – a pretty common and very valid criticism of white feminism).
That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the familiar. Dylan Moran had some very on-point comments about being married that made me laugh a lot. It’s just that I am increasingly feeling the need to hear stories I don’t know already. Lucky for me then that I live in a city where I can access shows by people telling them – but this article by Selina Thomson highlights how many I missed this year, and my sister with her theatre pass highlighted loads of others.
Next year, I will need to filter more. It’s time to hear stories worth telling.