So the promised Edinburgh preview never quite made it to screen. But I've had this characteristically innovative, maverick, out-of-the-box idea. Even though I've been in Edinburgh a week now, why, I can still do the previews I intended to do, but after I've seen the shows instead of before. Wait, wait, don't freak out. I'm sure it's possible. I guess we'll just have to call them something other than previews. It's kind of like, instead of writing before I've viewed the shows -- in a pre-viewing mode, you might say -- I'll be, as it were, going over the shows that I've already viewed: revisiting them, in my mind's eye, if you like, or... No, it's no good, I can't think of a suitably snappy description. Why not use the comments field to suggest a word that is similar to previews but refers to accounts written after rather than before viewing, and if I use your suggestion I'll send you a pound.
In the immortal words of Kurt Thingy (y'know, the sad dirty beardy shouty one): here we are now, entered anus. And I certainly feel as if, once again, as so often, the beautiful city of Edinburgh and all its festivations are, as it were, penetrating me -- a little roughly, to be honest, but not without a spit's-worth of love.
I do feel like I ought to have a sign hanging about six inches in front of my face at all times when I'm here, that constantly serves to remind me that IT'S ALWAYS LIKE THIS. It's always harder, busier, tougher, lonelier, more frustrating, than one easily remembers. Having said all of which, I'd have a hard time describing the incredible euphoria I felt when I arrived last Monday. Having checked in at the flat -- to which the same-old same-old applies: it's so expensive you feel determined to enjoy it as much as possible and not think about the money, except that it's so expensive you can't not think about the money and it's therefore completely impossible to enjoy -- I went off on a brisk stroll around all the places I love and I felt the most extraordinary whoosh of excitement and affection and contentment. Ah, you should have seen me bounding over the Meadows like I'd just eaten a deep-fried Julie Andrews. I was barely able to restrain myself from emitting a barbaric yawp that, had it emerged, I think would have sounded kind of like Howard Dean vomiting out of a helicopter.
Obviously I'm being super-diligent about recording this sensation of positive delight and well-being because, Lord knows, there'll be nothing but fear, cruelty, resentment and massive self-regard for the rest of the month. In other words, normal Thompson's service.
Hippo World is up and at 'em, anyway; I'm about to go off and do performance number six. I must say I was deeply and very enjoyably indulged by the audience at the Etcetera preview, who seemed on the whole to have a gay old time. I knew it would be very difficult to replicate those conditions here, and certainly in the first week, but even so the ups and downs have been a wee bit bumpity. The first show last Wednesday had to be aborted after about four minutes when a fire alarm went off in what was later revealed to be a "sensitive lift" (surely taking us into Douglas Adams territory), but there was something quite fun about that -- it was like being back at school and Tuesday afternoon games being cancelled at the last minute. Since then, mixed fortunes: a couple of really nice, comfortable days; yesterday, a pretty tiny audience, perhaps due to our first bout of miserable weather (though that hadn't stopped people turning out for the show before mine), and a very muted response, which was dreary because I think the Scotsman were in. (For outsideys, the Scotsman is the national newspaper which most extensively reviews the Fringe and can literally make or break a show all on its own -- I've been on the receiving end of both, so I know whereof I bleat.) Anyway, early days, I guess.
Money's too tight to mention (though I seem to have done so, and not for the first time in this post), so I'm limiting myself to seeing one show (or fewer) per day. Which means my reviews section -- ah, maybe that would be the word... -- is not going to get out of hand any time soon. The three things I've seen so far have all been solos and all fascinating and challenging in different ways. Forgive me, I'd better be brief, time is running out here, but:
Will Adamsdale's The Human Computer is a delight. It's billed (as was Jackson's Way) as comedy rather than theatre (as was The Receipt), and perhaps that's right -- it's full of great writing and Adamsdale is about the most agreeable performer you could ever hope to spend time with, but the show never really pulls its threads together to point to anything larger or more ambitious. It's more parts than sum, really: which I felt quite keenly I suppose because the cardboard-and-string aesthetic and the genially manic explanatory style recalled (for me) Greg McLaren's How To Build A Time Machine, but where that show worked up a centripetal emotional pull, The Human Computer doesn't, and I guess doesn't seek to -- but, I dunno, why wouldn't you want to? Still, really good fun, smartly conceived, deftly performed, totally likeable.
Word on the street regarding Andrew Dawson's Leitmotif was already tending from the sheepish downwards, and the start being delayed by nearly half an hour due to technical problems when I saw it wasn't exactly reassuring. But once it finally started I found myself, as I had been (more than once) with Absence and Presence, really engrossed. A cat's-cradle video made in collaboration with Aardman Animations was totally sublime. A segment dealing with the death of his mother seemed -- if one were being cool about it -- a little familiar but still had Dawson's customary poise and elegance and charm. But from then on: o heavens what a crash. Nothing worked. I mean technically it was fine (or near enough) but the pieces themselves were a disaster: empty, underdeveloped, and, lethally, vain. The various elements failed to earn their space on their own but also, despite the binding leitmotif of the title, failed to cross-resonate. I left feeling disappointed and a little bit let down. I hope he does ok, and that other people feel more kindly than I did, because he's self-evidently a nice man and in many ways a great artist. But this just wasn't the real thing.
And I'm afraid I'm going to be no nicer about Hugh Hughes's Story of a Rabbit, his follow-up to last year's extraordinarily successful Floating. (I haven't got time right now to find the link to my review of that, but if you dig around in the archive for September '06 you'll find it.) I was the one person in the universe who didn't really like Floating and I had many of the same problems with Story of a Rabbit. I do think this one's a better made show, more authentic, more carefully woven, and much of what it does could be genuinely moving. But, I'm sorry, I just can't get past my complete aversion to Hughes's performing persona. I don't know how much of that blend of infantilism and cloyingly self-conscious autodeconstruction is genuinely Hughes and how much it's a character: certainly there are longer stretches in Rabbit than there were in Floating where the style is softer and less strenuous, and I responded to those passages much more warmly. But for the most part he's stuck in this mode that's either ingenuous or disingenuous -- I don't know which is worse, but neither is much fun. Once again, I doubt there were many people in the room who would agree with my characterisation of the experience, and there are plenty who might even claim Hughes is irresistible. I can promise them they'd be wrong about that. The closest analogue I can think of -- and this will seem breathtakingly inappropriate to Hughes's fans -- is Jim Carrey: I really hope Hughes will follow a similar path to Carrey, whose early films are obviously full of mugging and freneticism to a sort-of bullying degree, but who eventually calms down and allows a more thoughtful and unaggressive persona to take precedence. (Yes, I really really do find Hughes's tweeness aggressive.) I'd be very interested, come to think of it, to see Hughes in a smaller room. Pleasance Two is a grim barn, really, and it probably needs a certain amount of grandstanding to occupy it. I wonder how he'd get on in, o I dunno, JackDome...
If there were one observation I'd make in relation to this little clutch of solo performances it's that it's confirmed my sense that the vital tactic with one-person work is to make something other than oneself the centre of attention. You always have to be diverting the flow of audience engagement away from yourself and into something else, whether it's the content or back at the audience itself or simply into some image or object onstage. This works beautifully at moments in all three of these shows, to different degrees or extents. But there are also long spells in both Dawson's and Hughes's pieces when they are too content to be the only focus of our interest, and it makes for a really unengaging experience, whose dynamic is one-sided and whose communicative potential is disastrously foreshortened.
Right-o. It's time to put on make-up, it's time to dress up right. More at ten.