Wednesday, 26 August 2015

The First Bad Man

I admire Miranda July, she is just so unpredictable. I reviewed her stories way back at the beginning of my blogging days, and her film, 'You, Me and Everyone We Know', a couple of years later. When I came across a mention of her most recent book I rushed to the library website and acquired a copy. It came to Edinburgh with us but was ignored, so I finished it over the last week.
'The First Bad Man' is an incredibly intense emotional tale, a love story, in so many senses of the word. Cheryl is a woman tied in knots, both physical and metaphorical, full of repressed passion and unspoken desires. With a weird hyper-controlled lifestyle and very little apparent social contact outside her work for a women's self-defence charity she still manages to be profoundly sympathetic and identifiable. When she is obliged to offer a temporary home to Clee, the wayward daughter of her boss, life begins to spiral out of her control. But at the same time as being utterly disruptive Clee also opens Cheryl up to all sorts of interesting new experiences, and, as a very strange relationship develops between them, to find a weird way of releasing some of her pent-up neuroses. 

"I stomped down on the gas pedal and the mini ATV jumped forward, roaring up the next block. The noise shook everything out of my head. What a magical way to get around. I'd always thought of these types of machines as toys for uneducated people who didn't care about the environment, but maybe they weren't. Maybe this was a kind of meditation. I felt connected to everything and the motor volume held me at a level of awareness I wasn't used to. I kept waking up and then waking up from that, and then waking up even more. Was everything redneck actually mystical? What about guns? I turned around. Clee and Kate were very tiny but I could see them, wildly gesticulating for me to come back. I tried pushing down all the way on the gas. In an instant I was zooming toward them and they were running out of the way, screaming." (p.103)

Some small spoilers. 
While Cheryl is goes to a therapist to try and sort out her obsession with Philip, one of the charity board members, Clee finds herself pregnant and their relationship takes a new turn as the baby becomes a focus of attention. Here, at the hospital, she encounters the couple whom Clee has chosen to adopt the baby. I love the casual intensity of her reaction to them:

"She looked older than her picture on, both of them did. They reeked of their house back in Utah, it's old carpets suffused with cigarette smoke. This would be the smell of his life, of him.
'Is it?' Gary said. 'Is it too late - legally?' He was scared. He really did not want the car the had bought. 'Yes it is', she said. Then she gave him look like Lets not talk about this in front of that woman. They were terrible people, even slightly worse than most. I stalled, fumbling with the sleeves of my gown. Should I introduce myself or try to kill them? Not violently, just enough that they wouldn't exist. Amy gave me a polite nod as they exited. I nodded back, watching the door swing shut." (p.186)

I loved Cheryl because she is a woman who seems on the surface to be so broken, and yet she has such resilience, picking herself up after numerous heartbreaks and finding new people to love. Miranda July presents us with some very weird situations and relationships, but makes them into real people, you can't help but be draw into their world. And I love too the way that minor characters pop up in unexpected ways and become more significant than you anticipate. A novel, and writing, that is quite unlike anyone else's.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Love Sick at the Edinburgh Fringe

Steve has been one of Monkey's directors at Fourth Monkey so his show was definitely on the list of things to see. At Monkey's insistence we were first in the queue and had prime front row seats. Love Sick is bought to the Fringe by All in Theatre. Steve and Amalia play a couple of aliens, coming to earth to find the answer to their planet's decline and are learning from the human race all about 'love' and its consequent procreation. Using not much more props than what looks like a giant version of a pop-up washing basket and some minimal but very effective audience participation they manage to fall in love and save the day. While it is a clown show and thus very physical it has some very subtle things to say about the human condition. I have not managed to convey one ounce of why this show was so brilliant and hilarious; I think the skill is partly in the absolutely dead-pan performance, never finding themselves funny but staying in character as these slightly naive and curious aliens. Best line had to be, after we had thrown our ping-pong ball 'sperm' to fertilise the egg, he announced, 'Casey is the inseminator!' Playing until the 30th at the Assembly Hall (venue 35) at 7.00pm, don't miss out. (I guess they might be touring with it too, but no mention on their website.)

(Tickets for all events can be booked through the Edfringe website.)

Friday, 21 August 2015

Butt Kapinski at the Edinburgh Fringe

Wandering down on Cowgate on the Tuesday lunchtime we were handing this weird looking flyer, for what claims to be 'the riskiest show in town'. I asked the guy if it would involve audience participation and he said 'not much, just making noises and stuff'. He lied. After loitering for a while in the courtyard the audience of a dozen or so entered a darkened space where chairs were arranged in an untidy semicircle. Butt Kapinski is a private eye, in the old fashioned sense, he aims to solve crimes, and there have been a lot of crimes, murder victims will shortly litter the room. He comes dressed in a scruffy raincoat from which protrudes a spotlight that is used to focus attention on whichever of the audience members is currently being engaged in the plot. The small audience meant we all ended up taking on multiple parts, and as the action speeded up we had to jump from role to role each time the spotlight was trained in our direction. The execution was mindbogglingly slick, adapting to the responses and input of new people each time must make this a really challenging performance. It felt chaotic at times but I am sure it was intricately choreographed and prepared, even down to what felt like spontaneous mishaps. I left feeling utterly exhilarated. If you are looking for a show that really is 'like no other' then this is the one for you.

(Tickets for all events can be booked through the Edfringe Website.)

Nerds at the Edinburgh Fringe

Dunk and I saw Steve Mould at a freebie event at the Banshee Labyrinth, and decided we had to go and see the Festival of the Spoken Nerd. 'Just for Graphs' is an event for the 'sci-curious', and the three Nerds, Steve, Matt and Helen, gave us a highly entertaining mixture of mathematical stand-up, witty songs and dangerous experiments, involving a lot of fire and running an electric current through the audience. What is so brilliant is that it is not an attempt to 'make science fun', they just assume everyone in the audience is already interested, and they share their own enthusiasms and expertise in a totally amazing show. They are touring through till December, so there's sure to be a show somewhere near you.

(Tickets for all events can be booked through the Edfringe Website.)

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Puppets at the Edinburgh Fringe

'Bruce' feels like a cross between an adult version of Spongebob Squarepants and the ultimate in minimalist puppetry; he's a sponge with a pair of eyes, and with the addition of a pair of white gloves and the occasional substitution of one of the eyes he became a cast of characters all by himself. Looking at their website The Last Great Hunt seems to be an incredibly versatile and imaginative theatre company. The tale of Bruce is a sad one as he chases his own tail through a timewarp to try and put right his own mistakes, but the execution of it is just hilarious, how something so simple can be so expressive is testament to the skill of the performance. This show will just knock your socks off, get yourself a ticket if there are any left.

Monkey and I noticed 'Sing For Your Life' when it was on at the Vault Festival earlier this year. It was sold out the night we were there, so when we discovered they were coming to Edinburgh it was high on the list of 'must see' shows. I mean, who could resist a show that contains taxidermied roadkill puppets. They are faintly disgusting while being utterly delightful. So a badger and a fox befriend a neglected dog in an attempt to undermine his attachment to human beings. The brilliant selection of songs catalogues the evils that humans mete out to the animal kingdom, and their plans to get their own back. My favourite were the squirrels who popped up as a chorus line throughout the show. Beautifully choreographed with the puppeteers swapping from character to character and flying back and forth across the stage to keep the story flowing seamlessly. Not for the squeamish, watch out for the mink!
We met a couple of the cast members the following day, touting for business outside the Underbelly. They are on every evening at 8.40 until the 30th.

(Tickets for all events can be booked through the Edfringe Website.)

Musical Entertainment at the Edinburgh Fringe

'Cautionary Tales for Daughters' was one from my list that we did make it to, and it was very well worth while. Tanya Holt regaled us comedy songs containing motherly advice for offspring venturing into the big bad world, cautionary tales against the evil temptations of tattooing, dieting and advanced consumerism. She makes an early start at 10.15 am in Space 53, every day until the 29th.
We met Tamar Broadbent outside her venue (32) down on Cowgate, like most solo acts she was doing her own flyering. Armed with a trusty keyboard she interspersed her songs with tales of her adventures in far flung places, and other places less far flung. Very human stories that anyone could relate to, a powerful singing voice and an engaging personality made for a very enjoyable show. A free event, so please give generously. I was only disappointed by the lack of a sword. 
Our only event on our last day was 'The Oxford Gargoyles'. Singing a cappella this accomplished group of young people gave a stunning performance of a selection of musical genres, all held together with amusing little skits where they played gargoyles on the cathedral commenting on the music. It was their last fringe performance unfortunately, though I am sure you will be able to see them elsewhere, so keep an eye on their website. Highly recommended. 

(Tickets for all events can be booked through the Edfringe Website.)

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Eating at the Edinburgh Fringe

Though we did take some porridge with us to make breakfast we found ourselves awake well before the campsite shop opened for milk at 8 o'clock, so mostly we caught the number 11 bus to town and browsed the streets for somewhere to eat. I was determined to use small local businesses, which was very successful I thought as we found plenty of lovely places to eat. Top of the list is Café Turquaz on Nicholson Street, where we had breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner, on different days. It is very reasonable and the staff were lovely and friendly. Their tea came in a proper pot, the chocolate cake was great and the felafel/hummus salad was just perfect.
One morning we took a slight diversion and, attracted by the baking smell, were drawn to an unassuming little bakery called 'Preacher's Patisserie' on Lady Lawson Street (just off West Port at the end of the Grassmarket). I had tea and freshly baked scones that were still warm from the oven. Breakfast for both of us was less than a fiver.
The Grassmarket has a slightly continental feel to it, with lots of cafés, pubs and restaurants, many with seating on the pavement, definitely something for every taste and budget. There is a selection of pizzerias and to be honest we just went into the first one with empty tables. We ate at Ristorante Gennaro before going to see 'Love Sick', and Monkey was very anxious not to be at the back of the queue, so we did not linger over dinner, but I had the seafood spaghetti and it was lovely.
Dunk and I spent quite a bit of time loitering in cafés between shows. This is the Cow Café in the Underbelly on Cowgate, where we were tempted in by the offer of a comfy sofa. We also went to the one in the Storytelling Centre and the library, and mum highly recommended the one on the roof of the museum. All the eateries on the Mile seemed perpetually crowded but we found if you went off the main path a bit there was always somewhere nice to stop off, and often much more reasonably priced.
Over Langshaw Ice Cream sells out of a former police box at the near end of the Grassmarket, and for £2.50 you can have a scoop of pink peppercorn and heather honey ice cream. They did have other much more sensible flavours but why would you want them?
Pies are definitely the perfect food when you are on the go, warm and filling, and, more importantly, portable. You can sit down in Auld Jock's Pie Shoppe (also on Grassmarket, just behind the ice cream stand) and have yours with mash and gravy but the place is tiny so we took out and ate them sitting on a bench under the trees.
Monkey had already made her way to Piemaker on South Bridge, where she discovered they serve the perfect food: macaroni cheese pie! I had a haggis roll (distant cousin of the sausage roll) which was excellent, though they do also do a haggis, turnip and mash pie. Highly recommended by all and sundry (no eating in here, it is takeaway only).
We also passed time randomly at Saint Giles Café on, unsurprisingly, St Giles Street opposite the cathedral, and another little place on the Grassmarket, neither of which seemed to know how to make a decent cup of tea, giving me hot water with a teabag on the side. 
In spite of how much coffee he gets through at home Dunk would frequently turn down my suggestion of a cuppa, so I did not eat nearly as much cake as I had intended. I will be making up for that next year. 


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