Monday, August 02, 2010

Edinburgh diary 2010: #1

Sunday 1st August: It starts, as it always has, with five hours of rocking, rolling and riding: that blissful vacant liminality of transit -- blissful, at least, having pushed the boat out a little further than is strictly necessary and treated myself to 1st class. I've just picked up Maria Delgado and Dan Rebellato's excellent Contemporary European Theatre Directors, so I dive straight in to the essays I'm keenest to read in there, and then make a start on Tom Vague's sloppy and breathless but nicely characterful book on The Angry Brigade; watch half of This is Spinal Tap on my iPod, with a bewilderingly delicious egg sandwich and a cold Diet Coke; and half-doze half-giggle my way through a couple of old Adam & Joe podcasts. Five hours is not to be sniffed at but I wish the journey went on twice as long.

I arrive in Edinburgh during an exquisite rendition of John Cage's Precipitation no.1 (1963). [For those unfamiliar with this much-performed work, I introduce it in the preantepenultimate paragraph of my previous post.] The walk from the station to Pilrig Street, where we'll be staying for the next month, takes a little longer than anticipated -- places always seem further away when you don't quite know where you're going or how long it's going to take to get there, right? -- but I figure this will be more a positive than a negative thing: at the end of each day, a little distance from the craziness. (Not including the craziness we bring...) And anyway: I decide it's not going to be walking: it's going to be a daily performance of Yoko Ono's seminal Walk Piece (1966).

The house Tim's found us is astonishing: beautiful, spacious, welcoming: ceilings so high I imagine the rooms housing their own independent weather systems. Perhaps they will. I bagsy myself a lovely bedroom with a writing desk -- feel a little guilty, but nearly all the rooms are pretty gorgeous, and I expect we'll all move around a bit as the month goes on. The rest of the evening is pizza and chat and early bed and utter contentment. I can't get no dissatisfaction.

Monday 2nd: Up not-too-late and out to a performance of Walk Piece to the accompaniment of a fairly quiet Precipitation no.1. I am ravenous for Edinburgh. I feel a bit like Beige Pac-Man, eating up the city, and encountering more than the odd ghost -- this is, after all, my fourteenth Fringe, and there aren't many parts of town that don't hold echoes and reverberations of Augusts past. Can't get over the idea that I first came here when I was 21, arriving at the bus station at 6.30am, half-destroyed by the experience of the "sleeper" coach -- ha, what a mordant joke that name was: from Manchester onwards, I'd spent the trip sitting next to a woman who was travelling home to Glasgow where her brother had just been murdered; however much I might have needed to sleep, her need for me to listen to her poignant drunken reminiscences was that much greater. I'm not sure I ever quite recovered my composure through the whole of the rest of that first festival, but I do remember several beautiful moments -- seeing Robert Lepage for the first time, and Harold Finley, and Dick Gaughan, and wacthing Phil Kay attempt to drawing-pin himself by the beard to the ceiling of his tiny venue, and lots of being in love, and weeping to the debut album by a completely unknown band called Portishead, and eating nectarines as the sun came up. My first full-length play, Kissing Bingo, was on at a sweet little theatre off Cowgate. The amazing Olivia Colman was in it, long before her starring roles in Peep Show and the brilliant Rev, but not quite so long before her curious appearance having all her belongings destroyed on The Word. (Or did I dream that? No one ever seems to mention it...) So was Claire Burlington, nee Taylor, though I'd forgotten that until she reminded me the other day.

So anyway: I walk in a big circle, stopping for breakfast at Black Medicine and getting as far out as the Cameo, probably my favourite cinema in the whole world, to pick up a programme for the week. En route I run into lovely Paul Sullivan, who did PR for a few of my shows here and in London; it's a while since we've worked together, but I hope the opportunity will arise again soon -- partly because he's one of the best in the business and certainly one of the nicest, warmest, most ego-free folks you'll ever meet; and partly because it's much too often the case these days that when I call him it's because I'm trying to blag a favour, and that's v bad indeed.

Back at the house we spend the afternoon working with the play -- a much-needed (and enjoyably playful) line-run, and a useful check-in with a sequence that's been bugging me slightly. As ever, I'm simply floored by everyone's openness: it's so productive, so exemplary. I know I'm normally more defensive than this, especially when I get notes on stuff. Getting notes from Andy and Karl actually makes me happy. This is nearly unconscionable. But how great! How great to be helped to do a better job! Wow.

Finally, Andy cooks a wonderful hearty dinner, to which eleven of us sit down around the kitchen table, and we talk and enjoy g&t's (my first in a long while -- I'm not really supposed to drink because of the medication I'm on -- my God it's good to be reminded of the simple pleasure of a well-mixed g&t), and chat gaily -- yes, gaily; no, nobody stole that word from anybody else, you numbskulls -- about Edinburgh and about that dwindling fraction of our conceptual universe called not-Edinburgh. ...And now I'm here, writing this, and wondering about tomorrow. Might be a hard day, certainly a long day, getting the show in at the Traverse. I don't know how many times I've been to the Traverse over the years, to see things or to meet people at the bar or to use the wi-fi -- it must be a good three dozen; but at least half of my total megabytes of Traverse memory are taken up with the four minutes or so during which I was trapped backstage in a toilet with a broken lock, immediately before a performance of Napoleon in Exile for which I was supposed to be operating sound. If I can just get through tomorrow without any repetition of that, it'll be quite the triumph, n'est-ce pas.

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