The Bow Bar is turning into a veritable honey trap for Spillers of late. Last month’s victim was Tatanka Yotanka who braved the throngs for a couple of swift pints prior to Barb Jungr at the Queen’s Hall, while I bolted for the door just in time to see Coriolanus at The Playhouse. Conversation ran the full spectrum from what ails to Grauniad, to the art of cabinetmaking and the joys of London life. Anyway, here is our round up of some of what we saw in Edinburgh 2013.
The Beijing People’s Art Theatre had a unique take on staging Shakespeare, employing TWO heavy metal bands (Miserable Faith and Suffering, death metal but turned down from 11 on this occasion) in their production of Coriolanus. I had studied the play for the Irish equivalent of the A levels, and it seemed an odd choice for the Chinese Ministry of Culture to get involved in. what the implications of political power being exerted from the bottom up, and there is a telling comment about the difficulty in reasserting power once it has been ceded to the people. An entertaining evening, somewhat tempered by a lack of any menace in a 100 strong chorus.
The Summerhall venue had a terrifically varied programme this year. Song Noir by Pumajaw brought a Lynchian approach to cabaret from Pinkie McClure and John Wills (ex-Loop), the highlight was an inspired take on the Peter Gunn theme with Maclure taking Mancini’s riff while Wells conducts a mash-up of what could be Dazed & Confused era Jimmy Page v The Prodigy. One of sport’s great rivalries forms the backdrop to Jamie Wood’s Beating McEnroe, an entertaining and immersive story of bitter defeat as tasted by his six year-old self. The yin and yang of Wood’s battles with his older brother are projected – sometimes literally – onto the epic Borg/McEnroe clash. A dollop of slapstick and the help of some only too willing members of the audience make for a startlingly bonkers finale with loss avenged in Wood’s inimitable hands-on fashion.
Pippa Bailey’s Biding Time (Remix) is a beguiling multi-media exploration of the battle between art and commerce. First performed in 1987, it has been revived and remixed in a collaboration with Louise Quinn (and A Band Called Quinn), film-maker Uisdean Murray and Grid Iron’s Ben Harrison and benefits enormously from advances in technology over the last quarter of a century. Music and sound production are delivered to the audience via silent disco headphones, making the experience unworldly yet hyper-real. Louise Quinn’s songs and performance are strong in their own right and the production benefits from the story’s parallels with her surreal experiences in the music industry. I understand that this production will be touring next year, so it may be coming your way.
Off to the Scottish National Gallery on Princes Street where you can still catch the Peter Doig exhibition until the 3rd of November. Doig has been fairly and squarely reclaimed for Scotland on the basis of being born and resident in Edinburgh until the age of three but in truth he’s been elsewhere for most of his life; Trinidad and Canada before art school in London and then retracing his steps back to Trinidad, painting all the while. The exhibition title ‘No Foreign Lands’ reflects that journey and, coming as it does from fellow Auld Reekian (“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveller only…”) Robert Louis Stevenson, it bolsters the Scottish connection.
The show is of works from the last ten years in Trinidad. Doig works a lot from photographs of scenes that resonate with him so there are quite often various versions of, or excerpts from the same subject and this show is a chance to see a few pairings of these which is a bonus. Doig is a figurative, painterly painter who revels both in the medium and the depth of art history at his disposal, happy to quote at will from a range of other artists. If you have even the most cursory knowledge of painting over the last century and a bit you’ll soon have at least half a dozen names in your head as points of reference and the notes by the paintings are not shy of listing them either. Mine were Gaugin, Rothko, Bacon, Manet, Caulfield, Hopper and Jasper Johns for starters. This isn’t to suggest that the work is simply derivative, a better analogy would be with sampling in music; a painterly riff here, a structural backbeat there, a high class guest on backing vocals.
An enjoyable show and certainly recommended if you can get there in the next eight weeks. Many large scale pieces which range from decoratively atmospheric to deeply engaging. A room of hand painted posters for film shows from which you can trace the graphic tendencies of some of the larger stuff, plenty of his working out in the form of sketches and photographs. It may be his method of working from an already captured image but the most moving of these works have that veiled quality of a moment of dreamtime, the kind of sepia distance in which you feel you are reaching back to engage with something already lost to you.
Barb Jungr at Queens Hall was a night approaching perfection. She’s been touring her ‘Stockport to Memphis’ album set for much of this year and I’ve caught it in various smaller venues. Here we and accompanist Simon Wallace were blessed with a fabulous grand piano, a beautiful acoustic and Barb singing with the freedom and inspiration that comes from being on top of your game. One of those nights where audience and performer conspire to make the silences as important and moving as the songs. Here’s Barb talking about Stockport to Memphis.
Tatanka’s reason for being in Edinburgh this year in particular was to support the young folk from Shatter-point Theatre who were breaking their Fringe duck and presented eight nights of improvised comedy under the name of A League of Ordinary Gentlemen – What Happens Next? A well tested format of building an hour long show from audience suggestions was given added momentum by youthful vigour, irreverence and liberal silliness. Highlights included the pirates from Jersey chancing on the land of the Beyoncés, captured here in glorious Dimmovision by TYTV.
That concludes the report from the Edinburgh jury. Join us next year for some art, larks and of course beer.