Orchard, Nick Field, Going to the Pictures

Playing catch-up on yesterday’s stuff…

I was lucky enough to take part in an Inky Fingers workshop led by Nick Field yesterday, and I really should have got out this blog sharpish and told you all to go see him at Summerhall yesterday!  I’m sure it was great (it was past last-train-time which is my witching hour).

The workshop was about writing personal poetry. Now, I tend to default to personal poetry, and in a way I’m trying to move away from it. But it was good to explore the pros and cons of personal work and I picked up a number of techniques to improve the personal pieces that will inevitably come out even when I think I’m writing about something else. It was a much better-structured workshop than many I’ve been on, and fitted in several writing exercises.  In an ideal world we’d have had time to hear each other’s final pieces, but I hope some of them will come up at Inky Fingers open mics in the next few months (especially Katy’s one about setting her head on fire.)

After a rather excessive slice of cake at Hula, I spent some time chilling out in the National Library of Scotland at their Going to the Pictures exhibition about Scottish film. The absolute best thing about this exhibition is their fabulous poster campaign (I have already been in and picked up ‘Luke, Ah’m yer da’ for my wall- I can’t find a decent link but you can see them on the library’s facebook page). The exhibition itself is pretty nice, particularly the memorabilia of big stars making a fool of themselves in tartan – it’s been going on for as long as the movies themselves! I’m sure my dad would love this – I think it would be better if you really remember the pre-multiplex days.  Still a nice visit though, and a wee refuge from the chaotic streets outside.

Another refuge is the Scottish Poetry Library, where I went along to a talk on the Orchard exhibition of artwork by poet Gerry Loose and artist Donald Urquhart.  I’m absolutely loving the art festival events – some really thoughtful programming. This was my one Clicket blogging thing for the day – they’ll step up a lot when the book festival’s up and going.

I’m always slightly wary when going to see people talk about their artistic practice – usually it’s interesting but sometimes it can get a bit esoteric (OK, pretentious).  This was absolutely not the case with this pair. I found their talk about their work genuinely inspiring. They both do a lot of site-specific work and their thoughts on constraints were particularly interesting.

I hadn’t really been that taken with Orchard before when I’d seen it in passing at the poetry library, because it’s a quiet work that doesn’t really jump out. It made a lot more sense when I heard about its original context in a psychiatric hospital, and how they wanted it to be very different from the shouty signage surrounding it – it’s something that you choose to engage with.  That totally changed my view of the work.  I’d still say that I preferred some of their other pieces and would definitely seek them out – Donald has a fascinating piece down the coast in Dysart that will be certainly be getting a visit from me. And when I finally get to Glasgow’s Hidden Gardens (something I keep meaning to go to) there will be some of Gerry’s poems waiting for me.

I believe this may be coming out as a podcast – it was certainly being recorded.  I really hope that’s the case because I feel like it’s something I could see or hear several times and still come back to.

I’m quoted in the Clicket blog that suggests things to see at the art festival, but I’m still looking for recommendations for particular exhibitions – I’m not going to get round all 45.  Any favourites?

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Within This Dust

A short one this morning since I only saw one show yesterday – how is that possible?

One of my highlights of last year’s Fringe was Falling Man by the dance company Smallpetitklein, performed as a solo by Tom Pritchard. It’s a piece for which ‘powerful’ seems a kind of feeble word. Making art about 9/11 is a big ask – how to be emotionally truthful without being mawkish, or shocking for the sake of it. But this solo really got to the heart of things. I was annoyed at myself for spending too much of the first time I saw it in thinking about what it was doing and not fully engaging – so I was really keen to see it again when it came back as part of the longer programme Within This Dust.

It’s still amazing.  Tom Pritchard has incredibly mobile limbs and ‘falls’ with great power and, sometimes, grace, while his delivery of the spoken elements is heartrending. I would recommend this piece without hesitation if you are ever lucky enough to see it.

However, I felt that the rest of the programme didn’t live up to it. I recognise that I may have been biased by the discomfort of the seating arrangements in Studio 3.  The seats are very small and I was wedged there with my shoulder in someone’s armpit. Very warm too.  After the very early warning signs of a panic attack (thankfully something I know how to de-escalate!) I spent an hour leaning forward.  My back still hates me for it.

The first piece ‘Embers’ is a touching reflection on grief using 400 pieces of crumpled paper – the point where the dancer drops one and you see it fall is an emotional moment. I also found the later, rather factual, voiceover recollection of 9/11 to be very touching.  But the duet S/HE, while beautiful, did little for me, and the film piece only got an ‘OK’.

I’d say – go just for Falling Man. But do your back a favour and get an end seat.

Note: I was given a free ticket for Within This Dust through my blogging for Clicket.

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Joe Dunthorne Festival Detour and GOD/A Beautiful Hell at DanceBase

Back to the art festival yesterday and, indeed, back to the Melvin Moti exhibition where Joe Dunthorne was performing his Festival Detour. Can I just say that I really love the idea of the Festival Detours? It’s a brilliant programme of free events and I love how different art forms bounce off each other. Go look at the programme and see if you can go to anything! I’m off to Inua Ellams on Friday.

I hadn’t actually heard of Joe Dunthorne before I went to this (shame on me! He’s a Faber New Poet and author of Submarine) So I had no idea what “Joe Dunthorne…responds in his own particular way to the work of Melvin Moti” would actually entail.

It turned out to be a nice fable-like story about sentient noble gases moving through the universe. (He also went from the Melvin Moti film having shot the fluorescent minerals like planets or spacecraft). It was mostly – thought I felt not entirely? – well coordinated with the film and really complemented the visuals. It’s a different experience to seeing it in silence but I think I liked it better. I enjoyed the references to the colours and the personalities and interactions he gave the characters (5 million gaseous characters vibrating to each other was “like having all of Scotland on one conference call”. He also seemed to get away with using the “just like your earth ______” formula in a non-annoying fashion. A pleasant 18 minutes.

The museum was again looking not too busy – maybe because it’s sunny and there’s so much else to do? I hit the cafe for a cheeky wee millionaire’s shortbread (my first of the fests – not too bad after my obsession with it at the science fest) and it wasn’t too busy. I’m sure it’s worse at lunchtime but at the moment I am still approving the museum as a chill-out space.

Another good chill-out space is the National Library – apparently it’s open till 8 so I’ll have to get in some day between events and see the Scotland at the Cinema exhibition. Yesterday, I just popped in to get my “Luke, Ah’m yer da” poster which I find unduly amusing.

I acted like a massive tourist by having a mediocre pizza in the Grassmarket for my tea – couldn’t waste that sun! – then chilled out in DanceBase’s cafe with a beer and Marianne Wheelaghan’s book The Blue Suitcase, which is a gripping account of a German family in World War 2, based on her mother’s life. I loved this book and would highly recommend it. (I do know Marianne vaguely but I bought the book for real and it’s not because I know her that I like it!) It’s currently insanely cheap for Kindle.

GOD/A Beautiful Hell at DanceBase was a strongly contrasting but complementary pair of all-male dance pieces. GOD (Grumpy Old Dancers) was a humorous looks at aging from two choreographers. The dance was fluid and gorgeous and I was absolutely fascinated by how they used spoken word – the text from the little monologues was chopped up and used in the background throughout, making me think “I want to do a piece like that one day”, weaving the phrases in and out of each other. Not with the dancing, obviously! I had no idea when I chose the show that it had spoken word elements in both pieces, so an even better fit for me than I thought. I wrote down ‘plays with ideas of masculinity’ but then I thought that that was pretentious and cliched. Eh, take it as you will. It’s a gorgeous, fun piece, I would recommend it unequivocally. I smiled a lot.

A Beautiful Hell was a spot-on title for the second piece in this show – it’s a stunning piece with great choreography but I found the subject matter of loneliness and exclusion was so well communicated that it was hard to watch at times. The violence was highly stylised but I could still feel it. There was great use of music , from Mogwai to Roy Orbison, although it frustrated me when the Roy Orbison totally obscured the main character’s monologue – I mean, I’m assuming it was meant to, from the context of the piece, but I found it annoying and wished that I could lip-read. Great young dancers and definitely worth seeing, but not a comfortable watch.

Upcoming – more dance tonight – I’m thrilled to be seeing Smallpetitklein’s Within this dust having been impressed with Falling Man last year. I’m also going to a workshop at Inky Fingers Minifest tomorrow, which continues to have amazing events – do look them up and go pick up a Poetry Polaroid!

Note: I received a free ticket for GOD/A Beautiful Hell through my blogging for Clicket. I bought Marianne’s book myself, feeling a little embarrassed that I only paid £1.98 for it! Marianne will be talking about it at the St Andrew’s and St George’s mini book festival fringe on the 17th.

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Poetry! With a robot! (and, elsewhere, Susan Calman)

It’s in the nature of August in Edinburgh that you end up with some clashes.  Even so, I was gutted when I was asked to speak at the Science and Poetry event and realised it clashed with the tickets a friend and I had already got for Susan Calman.  I perked up a bit when Rachel suggested scheduling me for the second half so I could multi-task!

Then we turned up at the Udderbelly in Bristo Square only to find Susan Calman was running late (actually, she came out and told us herself.  She’s lovely, and every bit as short as she looks in her promotional material!)  I was starting to calculate how late I could reasonable wait to go in, and when I should decide to bail.  Thankfully, we were in by 6:15 and out again at 7:05, disaster averted since I wasn’t on till 7:45 and only 10 minutes away.

I really enjoyed Susan Calman, despite being over-conscious of time.  She is EXACTLY how she is on Radio 4 and Twitter so if you love her on Twitter (which I really do) you’ll love her show.  And don’t we all have lists of “reasons why nobody should marry me” – hers included dressing up her cats, having theme tunes for her cats, biting her toenails and being obsessed with DCI Tennison from Prime Suspect.  Only one of them overlaps with my own reasons…

By the way, she has a set of Edinburgh Fringe survival tips in a Guardian article that you might enjoy. And she’s doing a Fringe column for them every day.

So, off to Science and Poetry (required subtitle: “with a robot!!!”).  I was really disappointed to have to miss the sci-fi Russell Jones, and Emily Dodd who did an actual science experiment in her set. I arrived at the start of Ruth Aylett reading in tandem with Sarah the Robot, and the only reason I could get into Pulp Fiction bookshop was because someone was leaving, presumably out of claustrophobia.  The place was completely packed.

I loved Ruth and Sarah’s pieces, despite the odd glitch with Sarah not coming in on time.  I particularly liked the poetic spam that Sarah the robot had had addressed to her! I didn’t get any pictures – I hope someone else did – but here’s a reprise of me and Sarah at the Science Festival!

Kate and Sarah

I was next up after the break and feeling a wee bit nervous, especially this was the first reading of mine that my husband, my dad and my stepmum had come to!  It was a bit like being in a school concert and waving at the audience. I had great fun, though I wasn’t brave enough to do my memorised poems actually from memory – maybe next time!

Next up was Anne Connolly and Anna Dickie, who had a marvellous ‘double helix’ poem that interwove their lives at ages 7, 14, 28 and 56.  I absolutely loved this – great idea, great execution, great performance.

Finally, World Slam Champion Harry Baker.  (If I wasn’t already intimidated enough by reading with all these proper, published poets – and a robot – being on the same bill as the World Slam Champion was the icing on the cake!)  He was as fantastic as I knew he would be, having seen his bee poem linked by Emily.  Here it is if you haven’t seen it

I’m definitely going to try to get along to his show (Royal Oak, 12 noon daily) – he was brilliant.  He did a poem with a pi solo! (reciting digits of pi).  There was one about dinosaur love! And he’s not as terrifying as his publicity photo looks.

So, a great start to the Inky Fingers Minifest.  Lots more brilliant stuff going on this week.  And do stop by Pulp Fiction to pick up a ‘poetry polaroid‘ – there will be a poetry map of Edinburgh by Saturday!

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The Letter of Last Resort/Good with People… and Andy Murray!

I spent the end of the Andy Murray singles match even more nail-bitingly than most other people in Scotland.  Not only ‘will he win the match?’ but ‘can he do it before I’m going over the road to the Traverse?’

When I’d planned to watch the match in Festival Square, I was worried about whether it might be too crowded.  I hadn’t realised, from a grey but dry Fife, that Edinburgh had completely torrential rain. By the time I’d walked over from Haymarket, I was soaked through my ‘waterproof’ jacket.

Luckily, after the first set I managed to bag the only dry seat in Festival Square (the only one of All Bar One’s outdoor seats that actually has a view of the screen).

Chocolate at Festival Square

See the lake in front of me?  Yeah.  It was freezing too.  At least I had chocolate!  Standing next to me was a Scottish Federer fan.  Hopefully he wasn’t too disappointed with the result!

During the third set, I was on the internet seeing whether I could get a new ticket for The Letter of Last Resort/Good With People, but it was already showing on the Fringe site as sold out till the last four days of its run (I couldn’t get the Traverse site to work on my mobile).  It turns out there are actually tickets available on the Traverse site for most days, but I’d say get them while they’re hot!   So I decided I’d have to go whatever happened.  Luckily Andy Murray put it away with 15 minutes to show time. Yes!

The theatre was absolutely packed.  The first play was The Letter of Last Resort, which is about a new Prime Minister’s dilemma when, on her first day in office, she has to write the letter to submarine commanders to tell them what to do if they believe the UK has been annihilated.  Retaliate, don’t retaliate, make your own decision, go and offer their services to Australia?
“Australia? Because they’re in the Commonwealth?”
“Because they might be left.”

I enjoyed the characterisation and I think the subject matter is fantastic.  However, I did spend most of it wondering whether there had been a West Wing episode on exactly the same thing.  Am I making that up?  Any giant West Wing fans out there?

The dialogue got a little unnatural at times (though if I was wanting the Sorkin version, you can’t claim I’d get anything more naturalistic there) but I enjoyed the humanity of the Prime Minister and this single-scene two-hander really kept my attention.  I particularly liked the bit at the end where the 10 Downing Street backdrop turned into a rough sea and a submarine.  Oh and that the Prime Minister’s letter to the submarine commander said something like ‘if you’re reading this, there’s been a terrible fuck-up’.

Since I’d picked this double-bill entirely on the blurb for The Letter of Last Resort, I was surprised that it was Good with People that I preferred.  This was set in a run-down hotel in Helensburgh, and was a conversation between a young man returning to the town after many years, and the mother of a boy he’d bullied at school.  The nuclear link comes from Helensburgh being by the nuclear submarine base – both characters were connected.  I felt really drawn in to the performances by Blythe Duff (I mostly got Taggart out of my mind, but not quite) and Richard Rankin.  Mostly, it just felt real to me – and particularly West of Scotland (the male character sounded exactly like my middle stepbrother).  “I always felt stupid saying something intelligent here” was one of his lines, and it just sums up the environment.  I also enjoyed the clever, minimal staging with props being mysteriously acquired out of the patterned carpet, and I particularly liked the sound, with a drone of the pipes that never left, making everything feel a bit on edge.  Highly recommended.

Science and Poetry tonight! GOD/A Beautiful Hell at DanceBase tomorrow.

Note: I was given a free ticket for A Letter of Last Resort/Good with People through my blogging for Clicket.

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Random festival recommendations

I need to start by saying that I don’t have any special insider knowledge, or even a decent overview, when it comes to recommending stuff for the festivals.  I basically know much the same as anyone with a programme (or rather, many many programmes).  However, friends do keep asking me for recommendations, so I wanted to make a page to point them to.  Here are some random thoughts, both about shows and about places to hang out.  No guarantees.  Many are free.

If you want theatre, you need to go and read Lyn Gardner’s piece and she will see you straight.  I am not your woman for theatre (although I’m blogging a couple of Traverse plays and will certainly try to see more theatre than that). I also know bog all about comedy, although I’ll tell you tomorrow whether Susan Calman was any good.

I am on slightly less shaky ground with science. Robin Ince is back at the Free Fringe for two days only (13th and 14th – though at 4 shows a day he’s certainly cramming them in) and I’d recommend you try to see him – he was great last year.  His shows are free but last year there was a weird thing where you had to turn up early in the day to bag yourself a queuing ticket.  You might want to pop into the Canon’s Gait and find out what hoops you have to jump through this time.

Chris Cooper is tremendously interesting on drugs in sport – not something I would have sought out but I saw him at the Science Festival and he was excellent.  He’s at the Book Festival on the 27th at 11am (£10)

Sceptics on the Fringe is a fab series of science/sceptical talks, 8:30 each night at the Banshee Labyrinth, also free.  Get there early if the subject looks good.  I went to a couple of these last year and they were great. They also have a bunch of other talks and tours that I haven’t looked at yet.

Banshee Labyrinth is also the home of a whole bunch of fab spoken word. Don’t know what spoken word is?  Emily Dodd explains brilliantly on her blog here, while Jenny Lindsey just wrote a great article about the new spoken word section in the Fringe programme – which is a good place to start by the way.

Things that should be storming

– the whole Utter! series at the Banshee Labyrinth (15th-25th, 7:30, free) – if I hadn’t completely overcommitted myself already I’d particularly be trying to see Utter!nomics (a comparative economics poetry slam, yes really), Utter! Ladies and Utter! Scots

– many of the Unbound late-night books festival performances which are (at 9pm in the book festival Spiegeltent, free). Top of my list would be Literary Death Match on the 17th – which is awesome – and Illicit Ink’s Magic Words on the 15th)

– the BBC poetry slam – free but ticketed (heats 20-23rd at 5pm, final 24th at 7:30pm).  Includes SO MANY fantastic poets including Liz Lochhead doing her first ever slam!

Richard Tyrone Jones’s Big Heart (6pm at Banshee Labyrinth plus some accessible performances elsewhere) – a spoken word show about cardiomyopathy – he did a snippet of this at the last Inky Fingers and it looks fab.  I’m definitely trying to fit this one in, and I’m really annoyed I can’t make it on the 14th, when there’s a post-show discussion with cardiac experts.

I don’t see as much dance as I’d like to but something I’d recommend from last year is Falling Man, a piece about 9/11.  It’s combined with two new pieces by the same company in Within this dust at Dancebase (7th-19th, £12, selling out as we speak).

For kids, I’m told The Snail and the Whale is great for the littlies (£9.50/£8.50 concessions though).  For over-7s I’ve heard great things about Puppet State Theatre (£9/£7, on till the 14 at the Storytelling Centre).

However, if your kids are as obsessed with diggers as Mr Woodsmoke’s godchildren, just take them down to the Cowgate where there are two big yellow ones on that site under South Bridge!  And the kids seemed to enjoy just walking up the Royal Mile watching the random performers.

I’ll mention some havens for my fellow introverts who need some chill-out space and tea:

The National Museum of Scotland cafe wasn’t as busy as I expected the other day, although this may not last, they may get horrible (although will be better when the schools go back).  They do have the best fruit tea in town (strawberry and mango) though it’s also the most expensive (£2.40).  Fantastic millionaire’s shortbread too.  If you’re looking for a quiet area, go and look at the Japanese inro.

Pulp Fiction bookshop has the cheapest fruit tea (£1.30) and it’s decent stuff.  Nice chilled bookshop with wi-fi.

If you’re at the Holyrood end of the Royal Mile, go to the Scottish Poetry Library to read a bit of poetry or just chill out.  Free wi-fi, although if you want tea you’ll have to get it at the Starbucks round the corner (whose fruit tea is terrible).

Right, that’s all I’ve got just now although there may be a follow-up with all the things I’ve forgotten.  I’d love to hear your recommendations!

Finally, don’t forget the Inky Fingers minifest, which kicks off on Monday with Science and Poetry.  Poetry!  with a robot! I’m thrilled to be performing there.

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Bullet Catch and Dieter Roth

I made a rule for myself this festival season –  that I would choose what to go to depending entirely on gut feeling.  The festivals are just too big to analyse everything then make reasoned decisions.  So the only logic that is going into it is that once the wee day box in my diary gets full, I can’t go to anything else.  I’m trying to be sensible just now, since I may have written the book festival events (from the 11th onwards) in extremely small writing.

I was really looking forward to Bullet Catch at the Traverse yesterday and it didn’t disappoint.  This one-man (plus audience member) show by Rob Drummond explores the famous Bullet Catch magic trick. I loved the psychological and historical aspects as he related the story of a Bullet-Catch-gone-wrong in 1912. (I doubt I will go to another show this Fringe that talks so much about nihilism). Fascinating characters. The reason why I was thinking about the gut-feeling method of choosing shows is that really this isn’t something I ‘should’ have gone for – I’m not that interested in magic.  But I’m glad I chose it – it was utterly compelling and I was glued to the action for the entire show.  There’s a bit of my mind trying to figure out how everything was done though.  I might have to go back and see it again.

A bonus to being at the Traverse at 12:45 was that I went over the road to eat my lunch in Festival Square and happened to see the UK double sculls win a gold medal!  Excellent timing! Then I went back afterwards and there were Wagamama people handing out snacks.  A good day for serendipity.

I took a wander into Pulp Fiction bookshop (where I’m performing on Monday) and ended up being there longer than I expected. You may want to know that they have the cheapest fruit tea in Edinburgh.  This is useful information.

Since I’d then used most of the afternoon, my art festival visit was basically narrowed down to the Dieter Roth Diaries exhibition, which is at the Fruitmarket, conveniently just beside the station. I was looking forward to the exhibition, based on the very vivid posters of diary pages, but I found I wasn’t all that excited by all the diary pages and copybooks in the exhibition.  The Flat Waste work (all his rubbish that was less than a cm thick, for a year) may have been more interesting when it was made in the 1970s than it is now.  However, the Solo Scenes video diary (where he videoed himself for the last year of his life) was fascinating in its calmness.  It’s the opposite of Big Brother – solitary, quiet and thoughtful. I’d recommend popping in just to see that.  I love so much that the Fruitmarket is free.  It means I can go in for everything and sometimes just find one or two pieces that I like – or a whole exhibition that surprises me.  A great place.

I’m really looking forward to The Letter of Last Resort/Good with People at the Traverse tomorrow. And I’m debating finally going to see the Munch exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.

Note: I received a free ticket for Bullet Catch through my blogging for Clicket. My first wee blog for them is here.

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