Fringe demands sacrifice of sartorial splendour

This article is from 2009

Sartorial splendour suffers after a week of the Fringe

Steve Cramer's Festival Blog

Let us go then, you and I, to the place where one wishes the streets were half deserted, and the only muttering retreat you get is two hours sleep. But the Fringe is afoot, and it really hasn’t been a bad start. Leaving aside a School for Scandal the effect of which was akin to being shot with a bullet of shit, there’ve been few real failures. And in the shape of Palace of the End, Judith Thompson’s bleak but compelling trilogy on the violent consequences of the Iraq war to civilians and soldiers alike, there’s a really strong night out. I was left wondering what our servicemen were doing participating in a foreign and pointless war. Surely they should be at home beating up civilians in Edinburgh nightclubs, where they belong.

So too, you’ll find Che Walker and Arthur Darvill’s Been So Long an immensely engaging experience. I’ve often thought that really good musicals about love leave us with a certain ambivalence about whether the relationships formed at the end can really work out. So it is, for example, with My Fair Lady. Now if Been So Long isn’t quite of that stamp it retains the quality of romantic uncertainty that makes it both real and quite cuddly, a difficult act to bring off. It’s well sung, too, and, most of all, sexy - a quality that, let’s be honest, a good musical often needs.

Now, in the stressful conditions of the fringe, a man under pressure needs a refresher, so after a long day’s reviewing, I slipped into Edinburgh’s Blue Blazer pub for an amber pick-me-up, and sighted there, alone and palely loitering, the glamorous Roxana Silbert, director of the original, non-musical production of Been so Long a decade back. She’s in Edinburgh directing Orphans at the Trav, and about to take up the post of Director of New Work at the RSC, so we have much to talk about. We’re quickly joined by Neil "The Real Deal" McKinven, one of Scotland’s finest actors, currently preparing for his role in The Last Witch. McKinven looks rather splendid in his striped Hugo Boss shirt, comments Silbert, who gets the compliment returned for her black Chanel-ish dress. On the subject of clothing and accoutrement, Silbert opens her handbag to display a good half dozen Louis Vuitton purses. My wondering aloud whether the RSC paid so badly that its directors were reduced to hocking hooky schmutter, or so well that you needed eight purses and a native bearer to carry them was cut short by a stern look and the explanation that they were purchased in a sale, and usable for various occasions.

"Aah, yes", I said, "you could carry that one with a red dress, and this with a black outfit…" before I was stopped by a blank stare from both McKinven and Silbert that would tabula anyone’s rasa.

I looked down at my own attire. At the best of times, the term "ensemble" means a collection of actors rather than what you’ve slapped on your back for this old critic, but several days of reviewing have taken a particular toll. To the lapel of my jacket adhered a chunk of the tuna wrap I’d purchased earlier, and eaten running between venues. The tuna in this, by the way, must have been caught by Captain Cook, such was the "long time, no sea" flavour. I flicked the fossilised remains of the Jurassic fish off me, and observed a crumpled black shirt that still adhered to me, after my experience of a small overheated fringe venue, whose managers were clearly not signatories of the Geneva Convention. Meantime, I observed my trousers, one leg stained by ink and the other by coffee, before looking back at Silbert.

The raven haired Argentine's riposte to my gratis image consultancy was lost in hub-hub of the crowded pub, but I thought it contained the words "Gok" and "Wan". On the other hand, I might have been slightly misheard …

The Last Witch

  • 5 stars

Preview of a new play about the last woman to be executed for witchcraft in Scotland, performed by the Edinburgh International Festival and Traverse Theatre Company.

Palace of the End

  • 4 stars

A female soldier accused of prisoner abuse, a disgraced British UN weapons inspector, a persecuted Iraqi woman - each wrestle with the truth in this hard-hitting play. ***** (Guardian);**** (Times).By Judith Thompson.

Been So Long

  • 3 stars

Romance, revenge and rare groove rage in Che Walker and Arthur Darvill's neon-soaked musical.Premiered at London's Young Vic, the cast includes singing sensation, Omar.Smarten up and experience the soul/funk powerhouse of 'Been So Long'.


  • 4 stars

In this psychological thriller, Danny and Helen's quiet life explodes when her brother turns up. Covered in blood.Written by Dennis Kelly and directed by Roxana Silbert, 'Orphans' reunites the award-winning team behind 'After the End' (Fringe 2005).

The School for Scandal

  • 1 star

Outrageous famous 18th century farce! All-star cast; Stephen K Amos, Miss Behave, Lionel Blair, Marcus Brigstocke, Bridget Christie, Paul Foot, Steve Jameson, Ella Kenion, Phil Nichol, Huw Thomas, Clare Thomson, Richard Thomson. Dir: Cal McCrystal.

The Last Witch

The world premiere of leading Scottish playwright Rona Munro's work based on the historical account of the last woman to be executed for witchcraft in Scotland. A co-production between the Edinburgh International Festival and the Traverse Theatre. Supported by Edinburgh International Festival Science Consortium.

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