Learning to love the festival

8th August 1997 at 01:00
Confronted by the Edinburgh International Festival, the citizens of the capital react in different ways. Some take a week's holiday and let it soak through them, some take three weeks' holiday and let to lodgers. For others, the festival is simply an annual binge of snobbery and indulgence, and at their most cordial they "hope they have a nice day for it''.

Perhaps it is this last group that the festival education people were trying to reach with These Fifty Festival Years, a 30-minute "play'' that toured Edinburgh schools in June promoting the message that the festival is a good thing for the ordinary people of the city - the landladies, taxi drivers, postmen and office girls.

The project started as a request in the festival programme for anyone with memories of the early days to get in touch. People did, and their stories were researched by Pat Fox and written into coherent monologues by Donald Campbell. Finally, director Sally Hobson set their monologues among some facts and famous figures of the past 50 years and presented them with a minimum of wrapping in the supple voices of three appealing actors.

The best of the stories was from Jennifer, who as a fourth-year pupil at Boroughmuir developed a penchant for opera, sparked by the visits of D'Oyly Carte and the Carla Rosa. When the mighty Glyndebourne came to Edinburgh, with the insouciance of youth she asked if she might come to a rehearsal. "Come whenever you feel like it'' was the reply, and she watched and listened as "the best singers in the world'' sang and chatted about their digs and the weather. Fifty years on, and with her eyesight failing, Jennifer was a delighted member of the audience at the school performance.

Dance was remembered by a mum who had been a "minder'' for the school visit to the ballet, and some of the great musical concerts were recalled by a postman, who was proud to have been one of the 250 who sang with the Edinburgh Festival Chorus. For this production, his memories were underscored by some evocative recordings chosen by music adviser Audrey Grant.

For drama, a taxi driver recalled the 1970s spectacular, the multi-staged Orlando Furioso at the Haymarket Ice Rink. Not so many want to remember the same director coming back the following year with what probably rates as one of the great turkeys of the past 25 years. I can still sense the disbelief in the audience as the cast folded a large sheet of brown paper on a raised stage in complete silence for - how long was it?- 10 minutes? Half an hour?

But this is subversive. Fifty wonderful years, and it makes you "so proud of Edinburgh'' was the message of the production.

After the performance, the three actors asked the audience for their thoughts about the performance and the festival. I'm told this usually goes well, but at the school where I saw it, none of the Higher English class would admit to having attended a festival event, at least not in front of their friends.

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