Artbeat extra: Reports from the Fringe

Heather Neill

You need to be able to clone yourself a dozen times and acquire antennae, speed boots and perpetual wakefulness to begin to do the Fringe Festival justice.

How is it possible to find the time to spread the word as well? I am selflessly giving up a comedy about Archers gossip ( They Shoot Arrows, Don't They? What else would you call it?) to write this. And the Ambridge spectacular is only one of perhaps a dozen shows on at this particular point in the afternoon.

There are 1,483 shows this year in the Fringe Festival. And that's not counting the International Festival - the "proper" one, for which the Fringe was originally a little extra attraction - or the film festival or the military tattoo.

You could begin a typical day at 8 am with a talk atnbsp;the Book Festival and go on through dance, children's, literary, theatre and comedy events until 3 am the next day.

And to fill any spare moments there is visual art ( Rembrandt's Women at the National Gallery of Scotland and Jeff Koons' rude food paintings at the Fruitmarket, for instance) - or explore Edinburgh itself, which resembles a strait-laced matron showing off in unaccustomed rouge and fishnets every August.

If you don't train for the Festival, you are liable to go home fitter than you were when you arrived: Edinburgh is a beautiful but hilly city. Granite steps - hundreds of them - link the streets around the castle, Princes Street and the Royal Mile where street performers and groups advertising
their wares parade all day, on stilts, in make-up, without most of their clothes - whatever it takes to get attention.

Some performers may count their entire audience in single figures and never get a review. Others know how to out-market thenbsp;competition. Everyone has a flyer, so a walk down the Royal Mile near the castle will result in a fistful of paper sufficient to redecorate some of the dingier venues, for
everywhere - from cathedral to pub, courtyard to park, church hall to university lecture theatre - is suddenly an entertainment centre.

Knowing which names are popular helps in the battle for an audience. Roald Dahl never fails. Leicestershire Youth Arts are getting small bottoms to budge up in their 50-plus seater venue (where they've played for 22 years) at every performance of The BFG .

This is another adaptation in their inimitable style, with young performers mixing puppetry with acting. Here the Big Friendly Giant may be a creature with a body up to ten feet tall topped by a carved big-eared head or teenage-size carrying a Sophie doll, as required.

The scenes with the unfazed puppet Queen are especially good and the tone throughout captures the charm of the original, one of Mr Dahl1s more benign offerings. LYA have, as ever, a full programme, including the more daring choice of The Water Babiesnbsp; (St Anne's Centre, Cowgate).

Shakespeare - another saleable name - is as ubiquitous this year as ever. Fancy Shakespeare - the Good Beer Guide or Shakespeare for Breakfast , Shakespeare's Shorts or Shakespeare's Longest Night ?

I did sample Shakespeare's Women , a virtuoso performance by Susannah York of many of the
favourite speeches by heroines from Rosalind to Portia and a couple of less lovable types - Queen Margaret, the warrior consort of Henry VI, and Lady Macbeth.

Ms York has anbsp; way of bringing her characters to instant life with minimal explanation. She also gets a campaigning glint in her eye when she refers to the suggestion that Shakespeare might be dropped from the curriculum. (Assembly Rooms)

Young people have been tackling some challenging material this year. Making Echoes is an adaptation of short stories by New Zealand writer Janet Frame made into a coherent piece by Philip Tong, head of drama at the City of London Freeman's School in Surrey.

Six different stories are linked by ambitious choreography devised by an ex-student of the school, Zoe Hyde, now artistic director and principal dancer of Flight Dance Company. Bereavement, family break-up, childhood rivalry, adult love and loss are captured here in an astonishingly mature presentation by a talented cast.

They even manage to provide a flavour of the Fifties, with its formality, constraints and neat headgear. (Quaker Meeting House)

The National Youth Music Theatre is well-known for eliciting professional standards of performance from very young actors, singers, dancers and instrumentalists. Creation , performed in St Mary's Cathedral, is nevertheless a challenge because it has no story-line and no speech.
Creation myths from around the world are set to music, in a variety of styles, by Richard Taylor.

The Prologue begins with the words of Hildegard of Bingen, the 11th century anchoress, and William Blake. Soon we are presented with the Earth-diver myth, in which land is retrieved from the sea - in this case, in an Absarkoe Indian myth, by a duck.

There is opportunity for humour here as the duck makes himself heard and later in the sequence when Trickster, a mischievous creature from North American myth, tries to create his own world. Chinese, African, Amazonian and Aboriginal myths, Homer, Shakespeare and Thomas Hardy all feature in this unusual, epic work which provides plenty of scope for young dancers, singers, actors and orchestral players to express the beauty and wonder of creation.

Watch this space for more Edinburgh news soon

Heather Neill
Arts Editor, TES


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