Edinburgh Fringe – review 1

So yesterday I took a flying visit to the Fringe to catch a few things I would otherwise miss when my own run begins next week. This is what I managed to fit into five hours…

I started the day with The Good Delusion by Tina Sederholm at Royal Oak, a teeny, tiny, self-contained cellar room at a very welcoming ‘proper’ pub, with seating for around 20. I saw Tina last year at Banshee Labyrinth doing her previous show, Evie and the Perfect Cupcake. My first thought was that this year’s venue is much better suited to her style as a performer, being less gloomy, less gothic, less plagued by noisy, nosy walk-bys in the corridor. Sederholm is most definitely not gloomy, nor is she confrontational or intentionally difficult – she specialises in warm, charming and accessible poetic storytelling. The Good Delusion is more directly autobiographical than the upbeat moral fable of last year, and is maybe less honed as a narrative, using an episodic structure that sometimes seems quite loosely linked to the purported subject ‘being good’. But of course, this isn’t actually an in-depth exploration of a moral construct, it’s entertainment, and in that it succeeds with plenty of giggles and sherbet lemons – though ironically given the show’s conclusion, I suspect she’s still trying to be good enough for us to like her! And we do…

By contrast, Can’t Care, Won’t Care by Sophia Walker is a very demanding show, and rightly so as it deals with serious and important issues around the realities of working in the care system. The audience is cast in the role of jury as the poet/care worker is put on trial for the negligent homicide of a service user. Walker plays both the defendant and the prosecuting counsel, shifting the language of her speech and body rapidly between the two. It’s a strong performance, obviously springing from personal experience and personal conviction (no pun intended), and there’s no let-up to the pace and emotional pitch. It’s a lot to take in – the exposure of the unwieldy bureaucracy of the care industry that fails to recognise the context of individual needs, the savage and ignorant cuts to funding that have left front-line workers exposed to dangerous lone working, the grotesque injustice of their consequent culpability when things go wrong. And on top of this, the performer’s own expiation of a guilt that may really be hers, or may be an imagined scenario, but in any case is delivered full-force. A few more pauses for breath and contemplation would be a kindness. Definitely go and see this, but do what she asks at the end – deliberate, discuss, decompress over a coffee before you head off to your next show.

I didn’t decompress, I rushed off to do a guest slot at Get Put Down, an afternoon poetry cabaret hosted by Edinburgh’s own Max Scratchmann and Alec Beattie. They work well as a hosting team, in an ‘Odd Couple’ kind of way, Max being genial and self-deprecatory, Alec a bit grumpy and sardonic. After a quick set there I had to do the unforgiveable and run straight off to another guest slot at Other Voices, again a cabaret but this time run by Fay Roberts and featuring strong female performers. I was lucky enough to get there in time to hear a beautiful open mic poem from Miriam Nash, and a guest set from Jess Green.

In fact my next port of call was Jess Green’s show Burning Books, another poet taking a scathing look at the impact of government policy and cutbacks on a public service sector, this time the education system. Green recently went viral with ‘Dear Mr Gove’, a poem written from a teacher’s point of view as an open letter to the then Minister for Education. It’s included in the show, alongside equally eloquent, passionate and stunningly-written pieces from multiple characters – the library assistant, the teacher forced to go to a team-building session with a nightmare poet, the teacher with a coke habit. Green has always been an excellent writer and performer, but for me the great thing about this show is the maturity of vision and empathy she shows in stepping outside herself and into these convincingly realised voices. She has teamed up with a guitarist and percussionist to set the whole sequence to music, and I’m not convinced it adds much to the experience other than providing a click-track that helps her overcome a slight tendency to let her emotions accelerate her delivery. But having said that, there were others in the audience really rocking along to the beat, so what do I know?

The plan is to write something every day next week about shows I’ve seen – if my stamina holds up! These shows are all part of the PBH Free Fringe – there is no charge, so if you’re going to the Fringe please budget to make a donation and/or buy some merchandise. For example, I bought Jess Green’s CD of the show for £5.

The Good Delusion, Tina Sederholm, Royal Oak, 12pm

Can’t Care, Won’t Care, Sophia Walker, Banshee Labyrinths, 1.40pm

Burning Books, Jess Green, Electric Circus, 4.30pm