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Edinburgh Festival Report

August 17, 2003 at 8:12 pm by xoanon  - 

Irascian writes: This year’s Edinburgh Festival, a celebration of the arts in all its wild and wacky forms, had several performances of interest to Ringers. “Figwit”’s Folk Parody Band – “Flight of the Conchorde” has already received publicity on TORn, as has the main attraction for most Ringers – the debut performances of “San Diego”, a new play by David Greig starring Billy Boyd as the playwright himself. One other festival treat that hasn’t received much publicity is “The Lord of the Rings – the Fellowship of the Celebrity” a wacky parody, most accurately described as “’The Lord of the Rings’ meets ‘Pop Idol’”!

Fellowship of the Celebrity is well worth the trip, and tickets are a bargain at £5/head. What the cast lack in professionalism (the event is held in a very small hall and rather reminiscent of amateur dramatics or good school plays) they more than make up for in enthusiasm and sheer drive. While the odd joke or parody misfires the scenes are so quickfire that you don’t have time to regret them. The plot is based around the story of Fred Buggins the half-wit and his “imaginary friend” Sam and their mission to destroy the One Ring created by the Dark Lord Pete Waterman to contain all his “cheesy pop songs” and “unnaturally extend the shelf life of Jason Donovan records”. The background to the creation of The One Ring – a hilarious pastiche of the opening Galadrial speech of the first movie – is delivered over a soundtrack that switches between Howard Shore’s movie score and Stock-Aitken and Waterman hits by Rick Astley and Sonia at appropriate times. We are quickly introduced to Gandalf explaining to Fred that “for copyright reasons I cannot be called Gandalf and must henceforth be known as the Member of Parliament for Hartlepool North” before asking Fred to save the world from mindless pop cover versions from people with no talent. The only way to save us all, it seems, is to travel from York Shire to Londor and cast The One Ring into “the Millenium Doom”. What follows is an hour of frantic costume changes, surprise appearances from Dominic Monaghan’s Merry and Billy Boyd’s Pippin (as head cut-outs on the end of long sticks), a handbag-thieving Scouser, lots of Monty-Python-styled cross-dressing and a bizarre Raiders of the Lost Ark homage. The whole thing contains more than a few belly laughs. Good fun!

“Flight of the Conchords” comprise the talented duo of Jermaine Clement and Bret McKenzie (aka Figwit from the Council of Elrond scene) with their show “High on Folk” consisting of a late-night hour of songs and “banter” from New Zealand’s “fourth most popular folk parody band”. The songs and the between song chat are at times surreal, and designed to raise wry smiles than out-loud belly laughs, with their rather dry humour flying over the heads of one or two of the more sober members of the audience. But for me the performances were never less than riveting, always clever, and the duo can clearly not only sing good harmonies but write a good tune when they have to, too. As a result the show can be enjoyed on several levels and is well worth a trip. The show is performed in “The Cave” – all dank stone walls and minimalist lighting which help create real atmosphere – and starts at 10.45 each night. Attendees are advised to have a couple of beers before attending for maximum enjoyment. As an added bonus the upstairs bar stays open until well past 1am and the extremely affable McKenzie usually meets and greets the audience both as they arrive and also in the bar afterwards. He’s far brighter and more talented than that all-too fleeting appearance as Figwit would have you believe.

And so finally on to “the big one” – “San Diego” which is being performed in the prestigious, architecturally impressive Royal Lyceum Theatre. Anybody doubting how proud Scotland is of its “Boyd done good” need only walk the main streets of Edinburgh. Magazine covers and press articles are everywhere! The actor’s first stage appearance for many months is attracting a lot of Scottish press attention, and, truth be told, is the reason many Ringers chose to attend the festival this year. That being said, despite internet fan boards being hit with wild rumours that other cast members would be in attendance (Bloom had been expected to attend the festival screening of his “Ned Kelly”” film but didn’t show) the audience comprised mainly the more sedate theatre crowd one expects from good theatre. Ringers of the “slightly hysterical” variety one is used to seeing at most of Boyd’s personal appearances, appeared to be absent. “San Diego”’s writer and co-director David Greig is clearly a leading light on Edinburgh’s arts scene, and two national reviews on the opening day saw critics giving the play a good thumbs up. Alas, for this theatre-goer, and the majority of those around him – Ringers or not -the play ultimately proved to be a “near miss” – a little too “abstract” (some would say pretentious!) to be anything other than a curiosity. Boyd is, thankfully, brilliant, as are the rest of the cast who deliver faultless performances. The staging is imaginative and daring and works hard to keep the audience interest up with clever use of a rather bare layout enhanced with multimedia effects and projections, a plasma screen showing slowly animated pictures of Boyd looking down on key sequences in the play, and tens of passenger suitcases. The audience enter the theatre to find a British Airways hostess on stage amonst the mathematically arranged suitcases, with a fixed fake smile on her face, held for the 30 minutes it takes for the audience to file in with only a brief interruption to top up the drinks on the tray she’s holding. An intriguing introduction! The sound construction and editing is also superb – background sounds of ticking clocks, phones ringing and aircraft noise join together in a jarring way to give the “disturbing” surreal setting the writer/co-director obviously wanted. Are we inside Greig’s head? Are we sharing his dreams or his memories or what? But ultimately “the script’s the thing” and sadly, it fails to really come to any kind of sensible cohesive whole – jumping around from one sequence to another for no obvious reason and too often making no real sense (the program notes imply this was deliberate!). Plays that make you think can be invigorating, but unfortunately this one comes across as more like lazy writing masquerading as experimental art. The play has some great lines that raise smiles and occasionally a belly laugh, but the best jokes (the assumption that any woman living in San Diego has to be called Amy, and David the Patient’s continual dead-pan wind-ups that invariably end with the line ‘Only joking!’) are repeated ad nauseum, then explained in such painful detail, that one finds oneself wondering if this writer was deliberately making the joke wear so thin it’s painful as some sort of deliberate “arty” statement or just plain miscalculation as to the tolerance levels of the average audience. The overall impression given is that this is material that seems to be spread very thin.

San Diego only played for three days, and Boyd fans who made the trip to this year’s festival to catch his performance will be glad they did so – the actor proves he can do more than play himself/cheeky hobbit-like character, with a serious part that involves having to credibly deliver some difficult, long lines full of air traffic controller technical jargon and which he delivers faultlessly. His opening scenes, onboard a flight but with his performance mostly hidden by a screen and actually projected live to the audience over a hanging plasma screen stage left, are particularly impressive. It’s just unfortunate that this promising beginning isn’t maintained throughout the rest of the piece.

The Edinburgh Festival runs through to the end of August.

Posted in Old Special Reports on August 17, 2003 by

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