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An actual Bank Holiday weekend...

Updated: Nov 24, 2021

This was an unusual Bank Holiday weekend, in that I took time out instead of doing what I normally do, and gear up for doing work that I hadn’t had time to plough through in ordinary time, such are the number of interruptions in both the day job and whatever passes for downtime when I’m not seeing a show or reviewing it. The weather was quite typical for a Bank Holiday weekend, though as all my activities were indoors I couldn’t have cared less. In fact, I might well have noticed it more if it were sunnier. Or sunny at all.

The lure of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe finally got to me this summer after decades of insisting there’s enough stuff in London to see and do, thank you very much. There’s a lot I learned about how to approach the Fringe – and how not to do it – and being there as a reviewer for the first time, I probably buggered up more than I got right. Or at least it felt that way: while my decision on insisting on staying in central Edinburgh was, in hindsight, brilliant. One lady told me about her daily commute from Glasgow every day. The rent is substantially cheaper in Glasgow, and some Fringe regulars stay there every time, but one is effectively stuck in Edinburgh until the last show of one’s day.

There were times when, such were the crowds, that it was just easier to get a takeaway from somewhere and trek back to the flat. Occasionally I stood around eating junk food from a plastic tray – and on a rather breezy Saturday night back in Edinburgh, onions and ketchup stains covered what was a pristine blue shirt. I don’t regret that hot dog: I was starving, particularly as the Edinburgh International Conference Centre wasn’t serving the food I thought it was going to, so no pre-show meal before seeing Daniel Sloss’ comedy gig a second time.

It was a last-minute decision to go back after an eight-day stay earlier in the month, mostly to try to catch up with various people who specifically requested a catch up but I couldn’t squeeze in, because in my self-deprecating manner of thinking, I didn’t think anyone would want to meet me. This is, unavoidably, going to sound like bragging, for which I can only apologise, but as it happens my first meetup was at 9:30am, and my last didn’t finish until after midnight. And because I had a much-reduced Camden Fringe review workload this year – to be reduced yet further (if all goes according to plan) in 2019 – there wasn’t the last-minute begging from various companies to review shows there that I had almost gotten used to.

A real treat that I’m glad I made time for on Saturday afternoon was Once Seen on Blue Peter, most of which was aimed at a generation before mine, but was still compelling in every way. There was another show at the Fringe, Very Blue Peter, which I might have seen but it was deemed a ‘waste of time’ by some audience members. I wonder if that other show was just simply never going to be able to compete with one that had Peter Purves, Janet Ellis, Peter Duncan, Mark Curry and Tim Vincent live and in person. I suppose I shall never know.

Reliving some of their experiences with the cast, the audience audibly gasped when, for instance, a clip was shown of Duncan joining the team that cleans the faces of the clock tower in Westminster that houses Big Ben. Of all the words spoken on in various shows I saw at the Fringe (36 shows in the end), it was three words that left me an emotional wreck, Purves on John Noakes: “I miss him.”

Back in London, I don’t regret not having stayed longer in Edinburgh having seen the National Theatre production of Pericles. A cast of well over 200 people, most of whom were drawn from several community theatre and performing arts projects across London, who joined professional card-carrying Equity members on the Olivier Theatre stage. My 4* review is published here – the production was excellent, the (re)writing and adaptation of the Shakespeare (and George Wilkins) text rather less so. The music was good, if eclectic, and the whole thing generally worked well, with slickness and a genuine commitment to diversity: the audience heard from a Bulgarian choir (well, I can’t actually vouch for the nationality of each of its members – it was a choir that sung in Bulgarian) as well as some drummers who play in the style of classical Indian music.

I was rather drained, not from Pericles, but from all that travelling to and from the Fringe a second time. I can’t see myself doing the overnight National Express coach trip again, even if I enjoyed having a hot meal at each of the two service station stops (I don’t think even the pricey Caledonian Sleeper stretches to two meals), though I appreciate half the difficulty is removed by virtue of the fact that I’ve done it once and survived, so I can do it again and survive again. Or ‘fail better’, to paraphrase Samuel Beckett.

On the way back from the National, I encountered some revellers who had enjoyed the Notting Hill Carnival, despite the rainy conditions. One fellow passenger remarked that they had looked like they had lost a mud fight – indeed, such was their appearance that one could be forgiven for thinking they had participated in Tough Mudder. They proceeded to apply glitter to a willing volunteer, while chiding another passenger for apparently pretending to be asleep. After several minutes I could only agree with them: the level of noise they generated was nothing short of anti-social, and it was quite impossible to remain asleep. I am grateful to them for leaving me well alone.

But one must get out of bed at some point, even on a miserable Bank Holiday Monday, so I took myself off to see Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, to give it its proper title (not ‘Mamma Mia 2’) – better late than never. Given that it’s a motion picture, I would have thought the sound balance between vocals and band would have been better than it was. Parts of it are beyond ludicrous: when Cher’s Ruby Sheridan calls out to Andy Garcia’s Senor Cienfuegos by his first name, Fernando, there are no prizes for guessing which tune out of the ABBA repertoire immediately follows. It is mostly fun, however, with some poignant moments thrown in, and is worth seeing.

So endeth the last break before the festive season. I have been instructed to relocate for the day job to Beckton, at the ‘wrong’ end of the Docklands Light Railway for someone who lives in south-west London, so we shall see how that goes. I may not be long for that parish. But then I might relish having a longer commute to get more reading done. At least there are no additional Travelcard costs involved.

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