The theme of this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival is “unboring,” and “get unbored” but not all the shows live up to this.
Two of the shows I saw featured a young woman telling a true story of her life with the accompaniment of a male partner and music.
In Near Gone, Katherina Deva tells of a near death experience of her 4-year old sister.
She tells the story in her native Bulgarian language and Alister Lownie, her partner in Two Destination Language, translates. It is a story of sorrow and pain, intermingled with criticism of medical and city services in Sofia. The story is told sparingly, though some of the words are uttered repeatedly. Punctuating the words, loud recorded music plays (mostly Balkan wedding music of Goran Bregovic) and Katherina moves and dances in a frenzy. She clutches bunches of carnations (400 flowers in total during the performance) which break and fly wildly in the air.
Though it is clear that Katherina’s dance is one of pain, the show draws a thin line between celebration and mourning. Bregovic’s band is called the Wedding and Funeral Orchestra and the music, the flowers and even the dancing could easily be part of either. I found the story, music and dancing too repetitive and was bored. The deep pain and suffering exhibited by Katherina was hard to reconcile with the ultimate positive outcome (which I had guessed from the name of the show).
Leaving Home Party
In Leaving Home Party, Catherine Ireton tells of leaving her Irish hometown to move to Glasgow a couple years after college. She is afraid she will end up spending her life without seeing the world. She admires an aunt who travelled extensively during her life, but died right near her birthplace, but when Catherine leaves home, she feels like an outsider and overwhelmed by the differences (I admit, I had trouble understanding her culture shock—of all the places one could move, Scotland doesn’t seem so different from Ireland).
The show is a musical, with Ireton singing original songs with words that relate to the narrative. She is accompanied by Ignacio Agrimbau on keyboards, guitars and a number of less familiar instruments like a Thai khaen, a Cuban tres and a cajon. (His instrumentals are the best part of the show).
Ireton describes how she is not in control of her life. She turns down a two year cellphone contract but spends more than two years with pay as you go. She works dead end jobs and follows projects brought to her by friends and boyfriends. She says she allows her life to be guided and determined by others.
Eventually she heads back to Ireland and then has an epiphany. What that is is not clear. Does she stay in Ireland? Does she go back to Scotland? Somehow the show is over and the audience is satisfied but I have failed to see a transformation or an explanation for why she feels differently about her life. Has she taken control of her life? Has she decided she is comfortable in Scotland? Also she has failed to mention that perhaps her life is more focused than she lets on. Apparently the reason she originally went to Glasgow was to work with Belle and Sebastian. She doesn’t mention this or any of the successes she had along the way.
My ratings of these shows and the 35 others I saw can be found here.
In the six days that I spent at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I saw 37 shows. I have already rated the first 19. Below are my combined ratings for all 37 shows.
I gave a full five stars to three shows:
The Object Lesson, an original work of theater in an interactive space full of junk and boxes of stuff. A one man show conceived and performed by Geoff Sobelle, it is illusion, stunt and comedy that makes us think about all those objects we surround ourselves with.
Cuckooed, also a one man show, was written and performed by Mark Thomas, an English comedian, TV personality and political activist. He describes being deceived by a fellow member of the Campaign Against Arms Trade, who turned out to be spying for Europe’s largest arms company. The show deals with surveillance and deception as well as friendship and trust. It is funny, personal and clever. Apparently, Cuckooed has been in the works for a while–a 2007 article that Thomas wrote in The Guardian in 2007 provides the outline.
Forgotten Voices is a reading by five actors based on the words of people who lived through World War I. I saw the show on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the U.K.’s entry into the war. The show ended just before the strike of midnight and was followed by a bagpipe tribute. It was a very moving evening.
14 of the 37 shows had a single performer.
9 of the 37 shows involved some sort of audience participation
8 involved mourning the death of a parent, sibling or child
I gave 23 out of 37 a rating of at least 3 stars. In other words, I liked 60% of the shows I saw. If you add in the shows with 2.5 stars, an additional 10% of the shows at least held my interest.
2.5 stars (held my interest but can’t say I enjoyed it)
The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland
After three days of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival I have seen 19 shows.
I gave just only one show a full five stars: The Object Lesson, an original work of theater in an interactive space full of junk and boxes of stuff. A one man show conceived and performed by Geoff Sobelle, it is illusion, stunt and comedy that makes us think about all those objects we surround ourselves with.
Interestingly, of the eleven shows with three or more stars, seven were a single performer.
The shows included one (Theatre on a Long Wire) where the actor only appeared by phone and not even a speaker phone (one of the 16 audience members had to repeat the actors words), one which combined storytelling with movement and hip hop (Shame) and another (Margaret Thatcher) which featured men in drag and 80’s disco music.
5 Stars (excellent, mesmerizing, original)
The Object Lesson
4 Stars (I really enjoyed it)
Margaret Thatcher in Soho
Title and deed
3 stars (I enjoyed it)
Big bite sized breakfast
2.5 stars (held my interest but can’t say I enjoyed it)
The eradication of schizophrenia in western Lapland
2 stars (didn’t like)
Theatre on a Long Thin Wire
Anatomy of the piano
1 star (Disliked, found annoying, hated)
0 stars (I walked out)
About a week ago, I had my fourth and final dinner in Amsterdam at Wilde Zwijnen restaurant at Javaplein 23. When I arrived, there was a lively scene outside, the temperature was pleasant, and that is where I asked to sit. I was directly inside — I was told that the outside would be emptying up and that the inside would fill up.
My name was on the table so I was somewhat invested, but inside was hot and sitting there in an empty restaurant wishing I was outside colored my enjoyment of the meal.
The view of the restaurant from where I was sitting: The restaurant had a beautiful a la carte menu. I immediately saw dishes I would have liked to have. However the menu also offered a secret chef’s menu with two options– a three-course or a four-course option. They don’t tell you what is on the chef’s menu–you have to order it blind. I went with the 4-course chef’s menu, assuming that the dishes would be a creative representation of the chef’s cooking.
The first course was plaice with squid and octopus over potatoes, cucumbers, frise lettuce and red onions with a black ink sauce
The second course was a garlic soup. It was delicious. But I thought the hazelnuts overpowered the soup so I pushed them aside.
In the meantime, people had shown up for their reservations and most of them had asked to sit outside. Inside was still hot and, except for a couple of tables, empty.
From where I was sitting I could see the kitchen at the opposite end of the restaurant. I noticed the chef was running dishes to a number of tables. I was surprised he never brought a dish to my table. People dining in groups are there for the company and the conversation (in addition to the food), but a solo diner is just there just for the food. So, I thought if he was spending time greeting the tables, it would have been nice if he had said hello.
The third course was sliced beef with a fennel sausage with steamed vegetables, a couple of cubes of beef and a schmear of red onion purée. This was the most disappointing dish. Disappointing not just because the meat was a little bland and slightly tough, but also because it was boring. It seemed more like a dish on a prix fixe menu–simple, common dishes–nothing too challenging. I thought the chef’s menu was supposed to be something else, something more unique and interesting. I wished I had chosen one of the interesting sounding dishes on the a la carte menu instead.
Dessert was a yoghurt mousse, which marinated strawberries, almond crumble, a red sorbet, and an earl grey granita.
I spent the morning of the fourth day in Amsterdam doing my own walking tour of the Jordaan neighborhood, an old working class neighborhood that is now the equivalent to Amsterdam as what the Greenwich Village is to New York City.
I started out with breakfast of apple pie and coffee at Winkel’s:
There is a Saturday farmers market in the neighborhood. Much nicer things for sale as compared to the Albert Cuyps market I had been to the day before.
One of the larger canals in the neighborhood:
Many houses have interesting carvings:
I learned that that you could push open certain doors and find common gardens behind them.
After breakfast of a coffee and a croissant at an outdoor café in the capital and nine Streets part of the Canal District, I headed to the Albert Cuyp outdoor market in the De Pijp neighborhood, a poorer neighborhood to the south.
The market had a lot of junk:
And plenty of food including fish, cheese and berries.
And even a food cart:
I stopped at Van Dobben, a cafe famous for their croquettes. I had a beef croquettes on bread.
I headed to Rembrandt’s house
One was a giant Jesus whose face was selfies anyone could upload:
I entered the old churchmaster’s offices. On the wall were the shields of many of the church masters. Most were elaborate. Why did Nicholaus get a hotdog for his coat of arms?
Dinner that night was at Geb. Hartering. A separate post to come on how amazing it was.
Dinner day 2 of Amsterdam
I decided I had to try some Rifsttafel while I was in Amsterdam. My second night I headed to Tempo Doeloe restaurant.
Rifsttafel is a style of eating and type of cuisine that developed out of the Dutch living in colonized Indonesia.
There were two Rifsttafel options on the menu (not counting a vegetarian option). One was euro 32.50 and the other was euro 37.50. The menu stated that a minimum of two people could order the more expensive one. I asked if I could order the large one. The waitress tried to dissuade me from ordering the larger one she said it would be too many dishes and too much food. I proved her wrong. Later in the evening she said I did an impressive job.
They brought out 24 different items and two types of rice.
A plate of 5 cold items/accompaniments.
A plate of nine non-spicy items.
It was a lot of fun trying everything and figuring out which I like the most.
Some of the meat dishes had some sweetness to them in addition to their spices and flavorings. I tended to like those the most. They reminded me of the type of dishes I loved in Malaysia. In addition, there was a chicken liver dish that was terrific, the satay was great, and the vegetables, especially the ones in peanut sauce, were great too. There were a lot of distinctive flavors and I liked that I found actual cardamom pods and stars of anise in my dishes. The dish that was the spiciest was truly spicy. One of the cold dishes was grated coconut and peanuts. That could be sprinkled on any dish to cool it down or to add a different flavor to it.
Everyone who worked there was very nice. The meal ended with a glass of a liqueur called Sayah. It was described as an anise type drink. I don’t love the flavor of anise, but I liked this drink. It was slightly sweet and more then anise, I noted flavors of spices like cardamom and cinnamon.