A Travellerspoint blog

Edinburgh Fringe - Shakespeare's Mothers and Mr. Darcy

Two more fringe shows today. The first was called Shakespeare’s Mothers: Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know. The loose framework for the show was William Shakespeare being grilled on a television infotainment show and being held responsible for the rise in numbers of female terrorists due to the kind of women’s roles he wrote. Shakespeare then takes us through some of his female characters, with the three actors performing a scene or two for each. In an hour, we visited Lady Macbeth (she was a mother, even if it was only a throw-away reference), the sisters from Lear, characters from Pericles, Coriolanus, Cymbeline, and a couple of Richards, among others, and (of course) Gertrude from Hamlet.

‘Shakespeare’ was very funny, and I enjoyed all of his commentary. The Shakespeare scenes were… ok. All three performers suffered (to varying degrees) from what I call ‘actor voice’ during those scenes. This happens when actors choose to wear Shakespearian roles like diamond-encrusted mantles and then use Great big Voices to fill them out. It all results in a Great Big Barrier between the audience and any kind of emotional connection with the material. Not at all crippling in this case, but I did notice people starting to tune out.

Personally, I got the most out of the scenes from plays that I knew well. Scenes from the ones I have never spent time with (Pericles, Cymbeline and the like) kind of passed me by, though Shakespeare did his best to put them into context.

But the best part came at the end, when some of the mothers broke out of their scenes to interact directly with Shakespeare. All of a sudden, the whole thing really came alive, and it left me wishing more of the play had been like that.

On the whole, a good show. You’ll get the most out of it if you’re familiar with a wide range of Shakespeare’s canon.

I also saw Darcy’s Dilemma. From the blurb in the guide, which begins “Pride and Prejudice – the story continues”, I expected this play was going to add something to the story. But, no. He covered no ground that wasn’t already better trod by Austen herself.

Set in Darcy’s study in the period immediately after his rejection by Elizabeth Bennett, this is essentially Darcy’s reaction to that event, and really just recaps the story thus far. With a lot of raging and angst-ing.

The script is poorly constructed. Supposedly a one-man show, it relies far too heavily on pre-recorded dialogue from other characters, and twice Darcy walks off-stage to talk to a non-existant footman. Now, either it should be a one-man show in which he creates for us the other characters in his world, or it should be a play with multiple characters. It is, however, neither here nor there.

Not to mention the fact that the pacing was absolutely glacial. Interminable pauses left me repeatedly wondering if one of the many sound cues had gone awry. And the sound cues themselves could easily have been played at double speed and not raised any eyebrows.

Mr. Mickleburgh as Mr. Darcy mumbled many of his lines, and twice left the stage completely empty to shout his lines from the depths of the side-stage curtains.

All in all, it felt like one man’s vanity project – an excuse to dress up in a tailcoat and sideburns and pretend to be one of literature’s greatest romantic heros.

What with the names of Austen and Darcy attached, this show will sell well, but I wouldn’t recommend it. And for a final nail in the coffin? The woman beside me slept through the whole thing.

Posted by kithica 19:05 Archived in Scotland Tagged events Comments (0)


Today, on my break, I sneaked out and hit the box offices across the street to book tickets for the shows I’m desperate to see.

I found the ticketing window at The Hub and sat down at the wicket for the Book Festival. There were three on my list of things to see, but the Simon Callow one was sold out. I did get tickets for James Shapiro’s talk about his new book, though, which was second on my must-see list. He’s debunking all the Shakespeare-wasn’t-really-Shakespeare myths. I haven’t read the book yet, but I really want to. I’ve read bits of his other work, and he’s very good. Unlike some other Shakespeare historians whose work makes me want to jab them with a fork.

I also booked a ticket to a session with two university professors who will be talking about life in Scotland from 1600. I’ve been putting together my family tree over the last couple of years, and from my grandfather on back it’s all in the same small area of the Isle of Skye, so I’m hoping this session will help me understand what their life was like.

Then I moved down one wicket and sat with the guy from the Edinburgh International Festival and booked another two tickets. These two were for two different dance companies. I sat down for lunch the other day at Auld Jock’s Pie Shop and there happened to be a brochure for the dance portion of the international festival and I flipped through it as I ate. I don’t usually go to see much dance, but I felt like branching out, and these two sounded fascinating. (One of them is some kind of Maori retelling of The Tempest, which I didn’t actually realise until after I had bought the ticket, but which fits well with the whole Shakespeare theme I seem to have going here.)

Sadly, the wicket after that would not sell me Fringe tickets, so I trouped across the road and around the corner to the Assembly Halls to buy a ticket for Simon Callow’s show about Shakespeare (yes, Shakespeare again) and one for Danny Bhoy.

I worked with Simon Callow, a little bit, a couple of years ago, and he is a thoroughly delightful man. Very intelligent, very articulate, and I love his theories about Shakespeare. So I was determined to see him.

Danny Bhoy is a Scottish comedian who I have seen on endless reruns of Just for Laughs. I like him, and when I saw he was here, decided that he would be my one stand-up comedy splurge.

So, yes. I have tickets! This makes me very happy.

Posted by kithica 19:53 Archived in Scotland Tagged events Comments (0)

Edinburgh Fringe

my first fringe shows

I’ve seen two now. Both have been generally enjoyable, which gives me a good batting average for the fringe so far.

The first was called Jewish Chronicles. It’s a one-man show, in which the one man in question plays the piano and sings. He has written a number of songs about his family and his experience of growing up Jewish in the UK.

The tunes are very catchy (one of them is currently lodged in my head) and span a range from touching to hilarious. There’s one about his great-grandfather, who came out to the UK from the old country only to be cheated out of his genius idea. Another about his Aunt Naomi who married some kind of Christian evangelist and ran off to be a preacher’s wife. And a hilarious (if deeply wrong) ditty about a Rabbi who was caught dealing cocaine and hiring prostitutes.

There was one song at the end, in which he aired his family’s dirty laundry, where knowing that it was a true story made the whole thing a little awkward in a ‘too much information’ kind of way. On the whole, though, it was a fun show.

The other show I saw was called Legless a ‘n’ Harmless (pronounced in the British way, without the ‘h’). Its description reads as follows: “Two men live together. One has no arms. The other has no legs. They depend on each other until betrayal ensues.” It sounds like your average pretentious fringe crap, but is in fact a comedy about two men trying to put on said play.

They have good material. And it was funny. And had it been on a little later in the evening, had everyone been a little drunk, and had there been a good crowd in there, it would have been absolutely hilarious. But with only six of us in the audience, it was all just a little awkward. Funny… but awkward. I want to see it again on a night with a better crowd.

Posted by kithica 18:43 Archived in Scotland Tagged events Comments (0)

a walking tour of Edinburgh

also known as my walk to work


I’ve been in Edinburgh for a few weeks, now, working long hours, and one of the highlights of my stay has been, strangely, my walk to work.

I’m staying in Marchmont, which is something of a student ghetto. It’s all terraces of big, stone, Victorian buildings. The neighbourhood seems very nice, although for the longest time – until I switched to the night shift which starts in the afternoon– I never saw any of the stores while they were open.

I then cross the Meadows down a tree-lined avenue with views to Arthur’s Seat. Once upon a time, the Meadows area was actually the site of a shallow loch. It was drained in the 17th century and used as pasture land. In the 19th century, a law was passed banning any building on the site, and it has been a popular park ever since.


Arthur’s Seat is part of Holyrood Park, the former hunting grounds of the Scottish kings. It is a ridge of land that reaches 251 metres high and is all that remains of an ancient volcano.

Leaving the park, I pass Greyfriars Kirk. Built in the 17th century on the site of a Franciscan friary, it is a peaceful nook on a busy corner, with its graveyard almost completely encircled by the buildings that back onto it. If it weren’t for little Bobby, it might have been forgotten entirely.


Greyfriars Bobby was a little dog whose master, John Gray, died in 1858 and was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard. Bobby, heartbroken, sat watch over his master’s grave and would not be removed. Local shopkeepers and neighbours kept him fed and cared for. Bobby died in 1872, 14 years later, and was buried just inside the entrance to the kirkyard.


There is a little statue of Bobby outside the Kirkyard, which is always mobbed by tourists. I have given up trying to dodge the cameras and now just walk through the shots. Rude, maybe, but I’m on my way to work, and if I waited for them all to finish, I would never, ever leave that corner.


Heading up George IV bridge, I have nice views down onto the Grassmarket, and then pass by The Elephant House, a café that claims to be “the birthplace of Harry Potter”. Apparently, J.K. Rowling used to sit in there to write while she was working on the first books of the Harry Potter series.


I could then head up on to the Royal Mile, but it being Fringe time, I only try that if I have a lot of time to spare. It’s chaos. Fun, but a complete zoo. Instead, I skirt along Victoria Terrace, which runs both down to the Grassmarket and up to the Royal Mile at the same time. One of the many things I love about Edinburgh. With all the different levels, this city becomes the only place you can walk into a building on the ground floor, go down four flights of stairs and come out at ground level.


And, when I finally arrive at the front door of my workplace, I have an excellent view up to the castle and Castle Rock. We can hear the cannonfire from the Tattoo, and when the show lets out, all the soldiers and pipers and dancers file past our front door.


So, while I don’t have time to go out and actually do much touristing around Edinburgh, at least some of the sights have come to me.

Posted by kithica 16:34 Archived in Scotland Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

The festivals in Buxton, Derbyshire

overcast 15 °C

I seem to have arrived in Buxton in the middle of a great big festival. On Wednesday, in an attempt to stay awake, having arrived in the UK at 5:30 in the morning, I went for a walk through the town with my aunt. There's a huge fun fair with rides and junk food and a midway set up in Market Square. There's the Buxton Festival, a 19-day festival of the arts, happening around the Buxton Opera House, with opera, music and literature events. And there's the Buxton Festival Fringe, which is the UK's second-largest fringe festival after Edinburgh.

For a town of just over 20,000 people, that's a quite a lot going on at once.

I wasn't up for much on Wednesday, but Thursday I headed back down into the town to check it out. It seems this whole event has grown up around something called the Wells Dressing Festival, a custom local to Derbyshire where people decorate the local wells. Believed to have its roots back in pagan traditions of leaving offerings for water gods, the festival took on its current shape back in 1840, and has continued fairly consistently since then.

The Buxton fringe began in 1980 and is now a major part of the festival. It permeates the whole town, with venues in local shops and artists' studios, in the parks, on the streets, as well as in dedicated theatre spaces. There are more than 150 events, including comedy, dance, film, music, spoken word, visual arts, street theatre and regular theatre. I had a really nice afternoon checking some of it out.

I stopped by The Hendrick's Horseless Carriage of Curiosities, set up in the Pavillion Gardens, and toured some of the visual arts in a local framer's shop. I visited the local museum, which had a couple of galleries displaying works by local artists as part of the fringe. It also had a sequence of rooms charting the history of the Peak District in general, and Buxton in particular, from the formation of the Earth through to the present day. It's just a small museum, but I found it fascinating and well laid out.

I bought a ticket for one of the fringe events - called The World's Greatest Walking Tour of Buxton. I would have been happy with a real walking tour. And it began something like that, albeit with tongue wedged firmly in cheek. As we went on, though, it devolved more and more into a piece of street theatre. Funny, if a little awkward.

One of the nicest parts of my day was sitting in the bar, waiting for the tour to begin and listening to all these local men and women talk about the shows they'd seen. Most had been to something that afternoon and were heading to something else in the evening. Others were saying they'd been to something every night. It was good to see that the festival really does belong to Buxton and isn't just something that sits on the town bringing tourists in.

Today, Saturday, is carnival day. The fun fair is packed and running full swing. And everyone headed down to the centre of town to watch the parade. The Queen and the Rosebud of the Wells Dressing Festival were out front, and there were floats from a number of the smaller surrounding towns. There were pipe bands and fancy dress costumes. My cousin's daughter was up on one of the floats dressed as a cave girl. The parade lasted about an hour from where we were standing, but the route is long and they were probably on the move for a good few hours.

We stopped into the Old Hall Hotel for tea and a snack. The current Old Hall Hotel hotel was built in 1670 and is one of the oldest buildings in Buxton. The earlier hotel building standing on the same site was host to Mary Queen of Scots when she came to take the waters in the 16th century.

The festivities will continue for another week, but I leave tomorrow for Edinburgh and my next festival experience.

Posted by kithica 16:41 Archived in England Tagged events Comments (0)

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