Festival Kick-Off

And the comedy prize for most grossly inaccurate description of the festival’s founding goes to Juan Vesuvius.

“Seventy years ago it was a lot of angry Scottish people who hated opera,” he declared, introducing the New Zealand slate of shows.    Vesuvius is billed in the Fringe programme as the Venezuelan calypso comedy legend,  and has an accent and attitude something like Manuel in Fawlty Towers.

The festival was launched in Edinburgh by lovers of opera, with the aid of a race horse,  a story whose truth I have vowed to pin down this year.   But Vesuvius, as is often the way with fools, touched on a wider truth: the Scottish attitude to opera is schizophrenic.

Greek, at the Edinburgh International Festival, however, is a ripping yarn of Oedipus told amid the Chavs.  The red track-suited, blonde buzz-cutted Alex Otterburn, spoken of as one to watch in his first professional role, carries off the part of the yobbish, tortured Eddy with aplomb.    Andrew Shore, however, was magnificent as the father/husband.    Last night tonight.

Steven Berkoff Greek Edinburgh International Festival

Steven Berkoff takes a bow at Greek

Back to the Fringe:  Sam Goodburn is to conventional unicycling what Salvador Dali was to conventional painting.   He was the first Fringe act I saw this year, in the Underbelly opening review show,  and remains the most memorable.     Not for him riding round the ring on a gleaming steel wheel, doing the odd bounce, in his show Dumbstruck.    He changed his trousers on the unicycle.   He ate his breakfast on it.

Sam Goodburn Fringe Dumbstruck Underbelly

Sam Goodburn – I was Dumbstruck.

The opening shows,  at the various venues,  feature acts given a few minutes to do their best or most enticing bit as a taster.  The format favours dance, comedy, circus,  rather than theatre.     The question from a good impression  is whether they’ll carry the full hour.

Goodburn was certainly quite astonishing in the allotted time, and his short showcase had wit and panache.  He was British Freestyle Unicycling champion five years in a row, and is at the festival in Dumbstruck with the backing of the Underbelly team as a future star.

Circus performers – no one seems to call them acrobats any more –  fascinate us by pushing the human body to the limit.  It’s often curious to see if they can translate their physical feats into performances that carry emotional power in acting or comedy.   Fauna managed to do it in the opening show at Assembly, in my book.

The Pleasance opening show at the Grand is always a convivial breakfast gathering.  One clear stand-out here was The Dreamer, which opened with clever shadow screens and then somehow managed to introduce a double bed onto the stage set in the glimpse of an eye.    I’ve seldom seen a serious production make more impact in this kind of line-up, and the impression was confirmed today by a director in the Arab strand at Summerhall….It’s a production of the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre and Gecko, created as part of British Council’s 2016 Shakespeare Lives programme.

The Dreamer Pleasance Edinburgh Fringe

The Dreamer

I’ll confess to missing the Gilded Balloon launch.  Informed sources tell me it was full of “loud sweary Americans” but that the Kinsey Sicks were a stand out, along with comedian Scott Gibson, winner of best newcomer at the Edinburgh Comedy Awards last year but entangled in court proceedings lately for sending “inappropriate sexual messages” to a number of female comedians.


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