Going to the Edinburgh Festival
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I suppose I have my builder Declan to thank for getting me to the Edinburgh Festival after years of only thinking about it. House renovations can be stressful or even traumatic and after a fortnight of disruption, chaos, ubiquitous dust and particularly the absence of a flushing toilet, I was ready to go anywhere to escape. Then I hit on Edinburgh!
I had been going to Edinburgh for some years, but never in August and never during the festival, a month-long cultural extravaganza in the Scottish capital that draws crowds from around the world. Attending it had been long on my bucket list. Accommodation is hard to find and prices can be high. However, initial googling proved successful and I wangled a couple of nights close to Princes Street.
I always enjoy journeys for they are a chance for time out, to take stock of your life, get a little wistful at moments perhaps and take pleasure in watching and meeting people. One such meeting happened when on the Belfast to Cairnryan ferry on the morning I set off for Scotland.
It was wet and dismal, the ship crowded with school parties but I managed to get a seat and small table by a window. The opposite seat was empty until an attractive middle-aged English woman asked if it was free. When meeting fellow travellers there is no time for beating about the bush and I was soon chatting away to Irene for that was her name. She was bound for the Hebrides to meet up with family. She was an architect, had gone to Cambridge (as in university!) and had travelled extensively. She spoke evocatively about sailing down the Red Sea and visiting the Egyptian Pyramids. She told me she hadn’t been to the Edinburgh Festival for years but enthused about it. Two hours flew by in her company and as I travelled north on my coach I thought of Irene strolling on some remote, idyllic Hebridean beach.
When I came out of St Andrews Bus Station Edinburgh assaulted all my senses with a raw rush: noises, smells, images and a warm intense sun on my face banishing the gloom of the morning. Central Edinburgh during daylight hours is always busy. Princes Street is a Mecca for shoppers and the Royal Mile the magnet for tourists with Edinburgh Castle at the top of the Mile and Holyrood Palace at the bottom. Despite some blatant commercialism and tackiness the city still has charm and charisma especially in its older quarter.
At my hotel the receptionist asked if I was there for the festival and gave me a program for the Fringe Festival which has grown up around the main event. The Fringe Festival program looked like half a telephone directory! I flicked through it but deciding there was not enough time to do it justice, tossed it aside and hit the sunny streets once more. I could see it was going to be one of those sultry spells of weather.
The hub of this cultural festival is centred around the cobbled streets of the so-called Old Town and the Royal Mile. If you don’t like crowds this is definitely not the place for you for it is swarming. There are all kinds of street shows going on: music, theatre, mime, and acrobatics. At every turn people are giving you leaflets and flyers for a glorious gamut of shows and events. While I queued at the Fringe box office a guy was moving down the line promoting his one-man show while a woman tried to get me interested in Strindberg’s Miss Julie. I might have gone to both but I knew time did not permit.
In the end I had to limit myself to two shows. One was a one-man play at the Lyceum Theatre by the Gate Theatre Dublin based on Samuel Beckett’s Watt which brought out the writer’s acute love of language and word play. The drama is very much in the words and not the action. The second was an unusual version of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew performed by a young English company called Cygnet at the Apex Hotel in the Grassmarket. It was novel in that the male parts were taken by the female actors and vice versa. Paradoxically this brought out the sexism and sexual inequality less apparent in the standard version. Sad to say the small auditorium was only half full. Still, the audience seemed appreciative. Besides this I took in an art exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery called Van Gogh to Kandinsky – Symbolist landscape in Europe 1880 – 1910. It was great to see the old masters in the flesh as it were.
Part of the pleasure of the festival is to sample something you have not tried before. Often the shows cost only a few pounds so it is worth taking a gamble. You might be pleasantly surprised since they can open up new perceptions and insights. Sometimes it is good to be jerked out of old and conventional modes of seeing the world. And of course the atmosphere when mingling among the throngs is thrilling.
A sultry sun was still shining when I left Edinburgh after my fleeting visit. My only regret was I could not have stayed longer and enjoyed more of this unique cultural feast for I was aware that I had only skimmed the surface. Maybe next year I thought. When I got back home Declan had gone for the day but he had left me a shining new bathroom and a toilet that flushed!