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Awake at 6am in the heart of Edinburgh, the haar has settled on and around Arthur’s Seat and all is still quiet. In Hanover Street a single cyclist heads up the hill. In an hour or two there’ll be thousands thronging these streets, and multi-lingual reviews of last night’s Festival performances will be overheard in animated vignettes wherever you find yourself in the city.

August sunshine will burn off the morning mist and a quick scan of local news draws attention to some of the day’s starker realities, lately – and perhaps still – shrouded in fog: the bins, overcharged rent, overcrowded accommodation, a few drunkenly incapacitated on last night’s buses. ‘Magical’ as Edinburgh undoubtedly is, it still has its share of the less-than hoped for. Of course.


But the Edinburgh Festivals celebrate life – all-age, international, widely diverse and inclusive life. There’s an irrepressible, earthy, honest, hopeful, ranging, searching spirit at the heart of a huge body of dynamic art that takes many a long, hard look at the human condition and continues to insist that, ‘in spite of everything,’ being alive, being human – always has the makings of a new masterpiece within it. Improvisation on a massive scale.

Today I’m off to see Austentatious – enthusiastically reviewed for years and hugely popular here at the Edinburgh Fringe. Jane Austen novels entirely improvised upon a single suggestion from the audience: as Louis MacNeice has ‘whispered’ in my ear a thousand times by way of his ‘Mutations’ –

The Stranger in the wings is waiting for his cue,
The fuse is always laid to some annunciation.

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