Of minds and men
Theatre editor Steve Cramer rounds up the themes and preoccupations of a strong festival.
The coffee and cigarette diet (smoke until you’re too hungry, then eat a cigarette) of the Festival is,
at last, over. As ever, it was an exhilerating experience, but beyond this, it was a genuinely strong festival, as might be attested to by our theatre pages, which boasted more five star reviews than I can recall as theatre editor.
There was a sense of the need to find political truths about the world that persisted throughout the Festival. From TEAM’s magnificent Particularly in the Heartlands (5 stars, Traverse) to Girl Blog from Iraq: Baghdad Burning (4 stars, Pleasance) there was a focus on individual people’s struggles with the ruthless and rapacious forces of multinational-led hegemony.
Each in its way cried out against the pre-programmed bespoke philosophies fed to us by the mass media, be it the palpable nonsense that justifies a pointless war, or the bizarre religious doctrines that reinforce such aggression. So, too, in Goodness (4 stars, Traverse) the stories told that lead to hysteria and genocide were scrupulously and movingly examined. The EIF also made its contribution through Platform (4 stars, Royal Lyceum) which spoke with thrilling articulacy of the mass de-individualised pap of pornography that is sold to us in the name of individual expression. The sex industry that feeds it was distilled down to the experience of its faceless drones, and the tragedy of their lives in Unprotected (5 stars,Traverse) So there were powerless folk facing huge forces, but there were also a few very famous figures resurrected for the fringe, among them Robert Kennedy in Particularly in the Heartland, Freud in The Visitor (4 stars, Hill Street), Zelda Fitzgerald in Zelda (4 stars, Sweet Grassmarket) and even someone very like Gore Vidal in Terre Haute by Edmund White (4 stars, Assembly Rooms).
In Lies Have Been Told (4 stars, Pleasance) we even meet Robert Maxwell, who manages to explain, if not justify his notorious bullying, ruthlessness and theft. Figures who are less acclaimed than notorious didn’t stop with Maxwell, for Myra Hindley in Wasted(3 stars, Pleasance) also gets her say, as does Gary Glitter in Up the Gary (4 stars, Underbelly), albeit through an impersonator. In each case, what was so fascinating was that the celebrity status, good or bad, of each was no match for larger forces that control minds. The vision of Sigmund Freud menaced by a Gestapo officer in The Visitor seemed to speak for the powerlessness of all.
Meanwhile, the unconscious and our basic inability to control neither it, nor the stories we tell from it has long been festival fare, and it was not only the figure of Freud who spoke of it. Anthony Neilson’s stunning and hilarious Realism (5 stars, Royal Lyceum) saw a morning of free association in the mind of a average sort of middle class white cove transposed into brilliant theatre. So too, the unconscious, what we
reveal of it, and who we tell formulated the basis for Two Men Talking (4 stars, Assembly), an open conversation about psychiatry and who owns a story which seemed to intrigue on each night it was, quite differently, performed.
Then there were the odds and sods of the festival, be it an accomplished revival of Hedda Gabler (5 stars, Hill Street), a retrospective study of the political and personal waste of the x-generation in the superb Finer Noble Gases (5 stars, Bongo Club) or the bonkers pastiche comedy of Spymonkey - Cooped (5 stars, Assembly Rooms). There can be little doubt that most memories of this festival will be dominated by Greg Burke’s magnificent Black Watch (4 stars, University of Edinburgh Drill Hall), yet there will be many other mementoes too, not least a superb program by the Traverse, for whom pretty nearly every show was a winner.