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.
Just a few sights that caught my eye in and around a 3pm performance of Burn at the King’s Theatre. In the space of an hour I learned vastly more than I’d previously known about the complex life, times and poesie of Robert Burns. Certainly enough to want to revisit his work. And that of one man tour-de-force Alan Cummings …
I’m all out of superlatives to describe the wonders I’ve seen in Edinburgh today. But allow me to try!
Circus Abyssinia – Tulu (link) was a breathtaking display of super-human strength and athletic talent. The snippet of video above gives a sense of the show but it needs to be seen in person to be believed! Electrifying. And in the space of an hour I think I experienced a thousand powerfully moving emotions. A world class Ethiopian masterpiece.
In the relatively intimate space of The Edinburgh Playhouse, The Pulse (link) was the kind of encounter one had hitherto imagined being the province of deep-sleep dreaming. Acrobatic fluidity, highly disciplined choreography, charged energy, unimaginable human strength, courage and choral masterpiece – I didn’t want to wake up! For the second time today I think I experienced nearly the entire spectrum of human emotion.
In the past few days I’ve seen more high excellence, art and astonishingly brave endeavour than I would ever have imagined possible in such a short space of time. It’s like a lighthouse on a dark night. It is hope in a world too often feeling the absence of real community. My faith in the human capacity for deep connection has increased enormously in the last 24 hours. There is indeed ‘more of good in this world than we have yet dreamed of.’
Truly a quite amazing Edinburgh day – and in great company!
Festival Opening Night 2022 – a night like none other! See You, at Dance Base in Grassmarket, was an encounter so rich, intense and beautiful I had to remind myself to breathe. Being up close to stunningly disciplined, exquisite, fluid, athletic choreography like this demanded spellbound attention and response in every slowed second. Utterly, utterly wonderful.
And then more! Macro in Edinburgh’s ginormous Murrayfield Stadium was also a poetic feast. A celebration of ascent, climb, community, connection, fall, family, leaps of faith, and place, of history, love, lament, music, movement and vivacity. An immense crowd caught up and personally involved in this astonishing presentation was a deeply moving ‘piece of art’ in itself.
And then further. This being Edinburgh, echoes of many centuries past and those of just moments ago hang in the air. This photo captures an ancient fortress, more than a thousand years old. The Royal Military Tattoo spectacular ‘Voices’ has just concluded opening night of 2022. Thousands from all over the world walk down the hill in animated conversation – ‘something long known and only now seen’ – and the Edinburgh evening breathes ‘dance, then …’
Overnight, the cast of characters in our lives shrank from hundreds to three or five or one …
The buses are full. There’s the buzz of conversations and laughter – and the coughs and sneezes that still raise eyebrows. Edinburgh’s streets are full. Festival pedestrians walk miles. International accents are heard in any gathering. The benches in Princes Street Gardens are full. The footsore are glad of ice cream cones, and strangers once again swap stories. And we are full – though often unconsciously – of the memories of enforced isolation. The world changed beyond our recognition when we became isolated from one another. Psychological readjustment will take time. But readjust we must – learning again the value of the impromptu conversation, kindness or fleeting smile – the ‘Letter to a Stranger’ who touches our lives more, much more, than we had hitherto realised.
Edinburgh is arts, art and festival 24 hours a day, 365 days a year – which makes it a natural environment to host arts, art and one of the world’s best known International Festivals. Nature, and innumerable artists working together, will touch this vibrant city with colour, drama, light and great literature; with prose and poetry, music, song and dance throughout a happy August. And just outside my window I behold gold 🌱