Grumpy Thoughts from Edinburgh 1

I have been having a great time here with Nadira in Edinburgh. Audiences for the show have been extremely appreciative, though being on at 1.30pm they have not been huge, averaging around 50.

A couple of things have rather spoilt my mood today. I gave an interview to Radio Scotland for a morning talk show called Shereen. It is at the end of this feed (the link only works for one week).

As the last word an alleged journalist named Penny Taylor accuses me of exploiting Nadira, which is pretty nasty. I am not sure in what sense she meant – I am subsidising rather than benefiting from Nadira’s show. If she meant in our relationship, well Nadira is 26 now and well capable of making up her own mind. But what is especially annoying is that Ms Taylor has neither seen the show nor read my book.

If you listen to the whole programme (which I don’t recommend) you will hear that Ms Taylor was also giving strong views on the Georgian crisis despite being blissfully ignorant that South Ossetia is actually part of Georgia. I don’t mean she felt it should not be part of Georgia – I mean she really didn’t know that it is. Most of us are reticent to speak on subjects of which we know not the most basic facts. But evidently not Ms Taylor.

Giving forth opinions on a show you haven’t seen is foolish. Writing a review of a show you haven’t seen is thoroughly reprehensible. That appears to be the most likely explanation for what Greer Ogston has done in The List.

Ogston writes:

Nadira Aleiva (who was mistress to the controversial former ambassador in Uzbekistan, Craig Murray) tells her story through the medium of song and dance


Now it would be difficult to sit through seventy minutes of The British Ambassador’s Belly Dancer and fail to notice that it is not a musical. Nobody sings, at all. But the Fringe Festival office made a major cock-up and listed the show under “Musicals and Opera” in the Fringe programme. So if you hadn’t actually seen the show, but were cobbling together a review from the material about it you can find on the web, you might feel you could safely say the story was told through song and dance.

You would of course then end up looking very stupid. Take no notice of The List.. It publishes fake reviews.

This is where I come out as a grumpy old man. The abundance of silly review sheets, giving five star ratings to appalling amateurish shows by their friends in the incestuous world of fringe theatre, is a minor annoyance. Much more annoying is the almost complete absence on the Fringe of any endeavour of serious artistic intent.

This is my home town. As a young man I saw Steven Berkoff play Hamlet in a college gym, and Brian Blessed play a (surprisingly subtle) Macbeth in a church hall. Real actors of merit and experience crafted challenging performances for their art and for self-development. You always got the earnest student productions, and they are still around and welcome, but you are lucky to find a good one. But with over 2,000 fringe shows, we are deluged by purveyors of highly derivative stand-up comedy of mostly mediocre quality. At night the Fringe venues are positively anti-intellectual, as drunks roam around and belch laughter to “Observation comedy” about when your relationship is established enough to let your partner see the skidmarks in your pants. Bill Clinton famously described the Hay on Wye festival as “The Woodstock of the Mind”. Edinburgh is becoming its Ibiza.

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One thought on “Grumpy Thoughts from Edinburgh

  • kazbel

    Unfortunately my funds don't stretch Edinburgh this year. However, I reckon 50 is pretty good for a lunchtime show. Over the past thirty years I've seen excellent work with smaller audiences – and I believe audiences tend to grow towards the end of the festival as word gets round. Like you, I have some great memories of Edinburgh, including Deborah Warner's terrific King Lear with Kick Theatre (quite as good as her later RSC production).

    I hope Nadira gets more intelligent reviewers soon – and, ideally, one of those 5* reviews you can turn into posters and flyers overnight.

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