Around the Fringe in 80 words
But spare a thought for the army of reviewers tramping the city's draughty halls by day and night. Robust reviewing is the annual sine qua non for survival in the maze. Which show might prove a waste of money and time? What would be the clever, the inspired, the enjoyable choice?
One of the annual seasonal marvels in Edinburgh at Festival time is the sheer number of talented or conscientious reviewers pressed into media service. Their number include both schoolteachers and students. They enjoy the free seats, the sense of being right in there where it might be happening, and of course the power of pen and phrase - to make or break an unknown production, or launch in a well-worded paragraph some new meteorite on its shining pathway.
One such sanguine show we attended, along with a tiny handful of others, on its fourth unrecognised evening. The venue - a vast school annexe somewhat off-city centre. A young cousin with thespian ambitions was here with a London group to present, in modern guise, Greek tragedy of the direst variety. (Not much zero tolerance on offer: Philomena must have been delighted by her brother-in-law Tereus who first rapes her than compounds the abuse by unkindly cutting out her tongue.) Despite lack of recognition, the spirit of true Fringe optimism prevailed undimmed. "The critic was here on Monday, most enthusiastic . . ." This group was, as it happened, not to be disappointed. The day after our visit, discovery and the review jackpot were theirs. A national paper featured in glorious colour the willowy black-clad chorus in gold and silver masks, plus the kind of review young actors would give a good few square meals for. Even the crowning joy of five Fringe stars was theirs. For that group, echoes of an empty hall quickly faded.
Reviewers do the general public a sound signposting service, not least with their succinct and no-nonsense two-liners. Writing these condensed and pithy summaries would indeed by an interesting class exercise for would-be journalists or aspirants to Higher English. An amusing starting point could be a spot-the-difference exercise comparing blurb and review. Herewith a few examples of such dual perceptions from this year's Fringe: * Wounded Women "tragic stories of ill-fated women, haunted by curse, conscience and calamity".
* Wounded Women "virtually incomprehensible production".
* Antigone "a modern classic . . . witty, comic, profound in equal turns".
* Antigone "guaranteed to bring misery to anybody's afternoon".
* The Dinner Party: "spellbinding variation of Sleeping Beauty devised by the Element's international cast. Accessible!".
* The Dinner Party "what we see appears to be the result of individual artistic therapy . . . completely disassociated from the audience".
* Gasp! "A giant inflatable silver jelly 26 feet in diameter is the setting in which Economical Truths expose and exploit themselves."
* Gasp! "This show could be interpreted as a post-modern, multimedia, dramatic statement on the transience of socio-linguistic interaction of the chemical generation. It is more tempting, however, to conclude that it is a bag of mince."
You don't have to agree with them, but here's to Scotland's reviewers. A sturdy and indispensable bunch.