Fringe diary, day two: ‘So bad it’s brilliant’

Not Norm-al: George Wendt, of Cheers fame, in Re-animator: The Musical
Ian ColeOn the second day of his Edinburgh odyssey, York musician Ian J Cole enjoys a gore-fest but not a shed-ly dull show


The first night at the Travelodge was fine apart from getting stuck in the lift at 1am in the morning. I finally managed to get out after about 10 minutes (that seemed like an hour) and by pressing every button in sight although none of them worked.

The lift finally made its way to the basement where the night porter found me and let me back up to the ground floor.

I vowed to walk up to my third floor room for the rest of the stay.

After a breakfast in Pret a Manger of apple juice and pretzel I had a 40-minute walk to my first show of the day. I could have got a bus or taxi but half of the fun of the Fringe is walking all over this wonderful city.

11am: 7x7th Street

I arrived at Summerhall for 7x7th Street within plenty of time. The exhibition was due to open at 11am and after sitting around until 11:10 I went to ask what was going on. A girl ripped my ticket stub but didn’t know what or how the show worked. 7x7th Street is a made up street with seven wooden sheds. As I approached the first shed I found they were all locked. Eventually a guy came along and opened up the sheds and switched on the power so we could hear the music.

This is the work of Brussels born artist Jean Pierre Muller who is described as a “Belgian Neo-pop artist who makes vibrant assemblages using high and low forms and techniques” and apparently in his work he brings photography, drawing, silk screen and painting together and suddenly “gestural and mechanical interventions meet”.

In 7×7 Street he has asked seven of the “world’s greatest musicians” (his words not mine) to compose new pieces so that he could create a unique installation. The composers for this project are Robert Wyatt, Nile Rodgers, Terry Riley, Kassin, Archie Shepp, Sean O’Hagan and Mulatu Astatke, some of which I’m very impressed by while others I’ve never heard of, so how they can be the world’s greatest musicians and so obscure is beyond me.

Also call me cynical but I got the distinct feeling that Muller had just sampled these composers work. I don’t believe for one moment that these pieces were composed specifically for this exhibition. One of the reasons for this is the shockingly poor sound quality in each shed . There is a novelty of having to stand in a particular place in the shed to hear the music although this soon wears off.

It is meant to take an hour to experience this event and all of the other people there at the same time as me (eight in total) had finished after 15 minutes, I persevered and gave up after 30 minutes but this was because there was someone drilling outside and I had lost the will to live.

Jean Pierre Muller has clearly put in a lot of work to creating the street, as there are street signs and notices all over the place, it does have the feeling of a real street (at least on one side of this alley). His hippy collage style is not to my taste but this could be so fantastic with better organisation and higher sound quality.

2pm: Exterminating Angel

While sitting having a drink in the Pleasance bar prior to my next show I was given my first ‘Comp’ (complementary) ticket to see Exterminating Angel.

Exterminating Angel is a five-person improvised play based on Maurice Maeterlinck’s 19th century play The Blind. This reworking starts at the end of a dinner party although the guests never seem to be able to leave.

It was sold to me as edgy, funny and out there. It was certainly thought provoking, well-acted and weird. For me it could have been much darker and edgier as there was never any real threat but this is the sort of show that should be seen at the Fringe.

3.40pm: A Clockwork Orange by Action To The Word Theatre Company

I’m a huge fan of Anthony Burgess’s writing with the Wanting Seed being one of my top ten favourite books. A Clockwork Orange was always overshadowed by Stanley Kubrick’s flawed film (the last chapter of the book was not filmed changing the whole point of the piece).

In fact Burgess dismissed Clockwork Orange it as one of his lesser works. I was sad to read in his 1982 book This Man And Music that he never really liked writing as a profession and wanted to spend his time composing music.

This play was a Fringe sell-out last year (although I didn’t know that when I bought the ticket) and is described as ‘an unapologetic jubilation of the human condition’, garnering four and five-star reviews.

It is set in Manchester’s underworld but contains all of the important features of Burgess’s book, the Nadset language, balletic dancing and a Shakespearean feel to the whole production. The cast were superb and the story follows the book to the letter.

5.40pm: Educating Rita

Next was a dash to a new venue this year as part of the Assembly Rooms complex on the Edinburgh University campus. Educating Rita was performed brilliantly by Matthew Kelly and Claire Sweeney in Willy Russell’s classic comedy. It was safe with a great well known script and for me, really nice to see this as a play instead of the film. In fact for me it works so much better as a play then the movie and I’m now pleased to have seen it.

7.50pm: Half a Person: My Life As Told By The Smiths

William is a twenty-something Londoner who drifts from coffee shop to bar, falling in love, self-obsessing and finding solace in The Smiths. Torn between conflicting loyalties to the girl of his dreams and his best friend, William has the chance to become more than half a person.

This is a one-man show that was brilliantly acted by Cross Cut Theatre. The poignant, funny and at times heart-breaking tail is interspersed with live singing of the Smiths songs and is a must see show.

The only downside was the appalling lighting and sound technician who should never be allowed to work in theatre again, as he missed nearly every cue and the poor actor was in darkness a lot of the time while he tried every light on the desk.

Audio cues were also missed with amazing regularity as on more than one occasion a Smiths song had to be sung a capella. these mistakes were irritating but didn’t phase our actor from delivering a brilliant performance. Go see the show but hang on a few days until new technical help is found.

10.40pm: Re-Animator The Musical

This was the last show of the day and started a good 20 minutes late because the house staff had to cover the first three rows in plastic.

This daft B-movie type comedy is based on the cult horror classic, HP Lovecraft’s Re-Animator and was the winner of Musical of the Year (LA Weekly) and features George Wendt (Norm from Cheers). It tells the bizarre story of Herbert West, a young medical student who has discovered a glowing green serum that can bring the dead back to life with catastrophic results.

The cast are fantastic, it’s so bad it’s brilliant but it’s meant to be like that. None of the songs are memorable but there only there to help move the narrative alone.

Its gory, messy and incredibly funny, particularly the re-animation of hero Dan’s cat Rufus who should be on T-shirts as a mutilated Spit the Dog-type cat. Lots of people left the theatre covered in fake blood and they loved it.


One thought on “Fringe diary, day two: ‘So bad it’s brilliant’

  1. Hey Ian,

    Thanks for the great review. And don’t worry – the tech issues have been sorted. Went perfectly the second night.

    And I have to agree – Joe did an even more amazing job to get through it like he did.

    Alex Broun

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