The Fringe of Things

Posted by Expert Gadget Reviewer on Saturday, 12 August 2006

Haven’t had chance to write much lately as I’ve spent the past week enjoying the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh. Consequently, this entry could end up being quite long, but I’ll do my best to cram in the interesting and worthwhile parts and scimp, for once, on the superfluous meanderings.

Cutting quick to the most thought provoking, stimulating, and interesting discovery whilst I was in Edinburgh (setting aside, for the meantime, a brilliant first play by comedian Rich Hall, a fine piece of poetry-oriented stand-up by Luke Wright: Poet Laureate, and an eye-opening lecture-cum-comedy-hour on Uganda by Jane Bussmann), and I was amazed to find Ron Mueck’s incredible sculptures on display at the Royal Scottish Academy. If you haven’t already seen his work, or been reading the Arts Section of any broadsheet in the build-up to the fringe, then I’ll try, if possible, to explain the terrifying and mesmerising power of his craft. His latest sculpture, A Girl, is a monumentally life-like but overbearingly huge newborn child, still covered in smeared blood, hair matted, severed umbilical cord hanging from her stomach. The piece is the first to hit you as you walk into the exhibition, and it knocks the viewer back with a rush of emotion, disturbing realism, and existential questioning. One eye is half blinked open; the very first blurry gaze of a new life into the world it will inhabit until death. Other pieces have similar effects, exploring the full cycle of the ages of Man: Ghost depicts a gigantified and gangly teenage girl in a swimming costume, her gaze averted as to convey her uncomfortable feelings towards her growth-spurted body; Man in a Boat reveals a half-lifesize man sitting and peering forward pensively and apprehensively in a boat (which is in fact a found object of Mueck’s), floating alone and forward in representation of each human’s marooned consciousness; and, perhaps most interestingly, Mask II is a strange sculpture of the artist himself, specifically his head; larger than life asleep, with meticulously accurate stubble hair and eyes budded shut. If you haven’t seen Mueck’s work, I urge you to do so: it is an incredible thing to behold, and the work of genius and craft built upon the solid foundation of years in the film industry’s special effects business.

The Fringe events themselves then (ie. explicitly the shows on at Assembly, the Pleasance, Gilded Balloon, and the Underbelly) were, as ever, diverse, widespread, and extremely numerous. A reliable source tells me it would take nearly six years to see every single show put on during the fringe’s month, and since myself and Ros were there for just under a week, and wanted to absorb a bit of Edinburgh’s wider culture, time dictated we would have to choose wisely. That, and lack of foresight: Rich Hall’s stand-up along with Bill Bailey’s and other top comedian’s was sold out way before the whole thing kicked off, so we decided to hedge our bets with a mixture of comedy and theatre. First up was Bussmann’s Holiday, something we booked based on work Ms Bussmann had done with Chris Morris (BrassEye, The Day Today) and Matt Stone (South Park), both of whom seemed a pretty good guarantee of her comedy style (namely, one we’d like). The eight quid was not spent in vain: Bussmann perfectly balanced the seriousness of her work (and the political situation) in Uganda with the sheer absurdity of the world of celebrity that had driven her to Uganda in the first place to brilliant effect. As Morris noted of her work: ‘Bussmann is the polar opposite of Jeremy Clarkson sitting on orphans and laughing like he does every month with his friends’. Brilliant.

Rich Hall’s play Levelland was also worth the money spent, as the comedian himself acted to brilliant effect, playing the role of an opinionated but logically-minded radioshow host putting lesser-informed US callers to right. As the play developed the various boundaries between fact and fiction, reason and righteousness, sanity and mania, were brilliantly deconstructed, leaving the audience moved, questioning, and most importantly, confused. A damn sight better a criticism of America’s oil plundering and the world’s current political climate than that-guy-who-does-Homer-Simpson’s-voice and his wife’s show at the Fringe, something I didn’t see, but am confident in disparaging given the dazzling poster campaign. ‘This Is So Not About The Simpsons! (American Voyeurs)’ it glares, said voiceman and wife painted yellow, the latter with blue, Marge-esque hair. Oh, how gloriously ironic. Another one for the bargain bin, along with most of the stuff Michael Moore fabricates, methinks.

Before I wrap this up, then, a little mention is deserved for Luke Wright: Poet Laureate, a show in which an Essex lad of twenty-something takes a stab at current issues in the form of rap-cum-polemical-rants about anything from the smoking ban to the IKEA riots of 2005. To his credit, the guy had done his research, and neatly knocked the esteemed/demoralising position with a collection of humorously ‘translated’ quotes from famous poets, a stab at shit poet Laurence Eusden (‘I’ve done better than Eusden’), and a short literary criticism of current Poet Laureate Andrew Motion’s birthday ‘rap’ for Prince Will. At the risk of sounding like a creative writing tutor, Wright definitely shows potential, but could perfect his craft further, paying particular attention to his use of rhythm. One to watch for in the future, though, for sure.

And here we are, or rather I am, sat tapping away before I head on out for a few drinks to see Marc off onto the start of his work placement. Writing-wise, I haven’t, understandably, done much lately, but I’ve had a nice poem forming in the murkier parts of my brain for a while, so after this blog entry limber-up, I reckon I can launch myself into beginning it in the coming days. Oh, and if any writers reading this (specifically poets), do head to Edinburgh in the future, head down the Royal Mile towards the Scottish Parliament. That building itself is enough to behold, but shortly before it, down a street off from Starbucks (there’s only one on the Royal Mile, I think, so it is technically a feasible point of location), you’ll find The National Poetry Library, much like the one on the South Bank in London. It has most collections published in the UK, and tons of periodicals and magazines and their back issues, and provided me with a nice hour’s browse, while my girlfriend Ros tried her best to look interested. Still, she’s enjoying Heaney’s Death of a Naturalist and North of late, so, thanks to his exploration of archaeology (her subject of choice) and unearthings from Irish bogs, a cultural bridge is being constructed. Proof, surely, that poetry is not only moving, questioning, and vital, but also, contrary to popular belief, damn useful.