Let me see if I can tell you why I don’t really care what’s on at the Edinburgh Fringe.
Sure, there’s a definite magic to seeing a wonderful, unexpected show, like Bert and Nasi’s Eurohouse last year at Summerhall, something out of the blue that lifts your soul out of the gloomy drizzle.
And also there’s the fierce pride from having fought tooth and nail to get that last ticket to, say, Christeene, who Stewart Pringle described best as ‘a dragged up fuckstorm’.
To say nothing of the fanboy status of making sure you see every show James Rowland or Camilla Whitehill has ever done or ever will do.
Perhaps the industry-workers also feel a tingle of interest when they see that the producers behind last year’s hit show Counting Sheep have brought an entire stables of Canadian work to the same, new venue, Kings Hall.
And, lastly, there is an enjoyable apprehension to the entire process – from wondering about the weather to the quality of the show you’re about to go into. Questions abound, answers come there none, and you throw yourself into the melee with abandon.
These are all reasons to care what’s on in Edinburgh this year.
But these joys are details from a larger canvas which I want to talk about, and a canvas that dwarfs the individual pleasures a show might bring. The canvas is the big-top tent of Edinburgh itself. It’s everything to do with the festival, from soup to nuts. It’s a feast of a hundred courses, and nobody cares about the monkey brain they serve for starter number five.
Edinburgh is feast and feaster – it has an appetite so large that every orifice of it’s bagpipe-shaped stomach is ballooning outwards: each year audience numbers increase, venue numbers increase, show numbers increase…
The sense of glut is everywhere; the Mile is always heavy with the gore of failure, while the cast and producers of the surprise hits wallow visibly in certain New Town clubs and after-hours members bars. Tis the season, and to each his own. Let the machine roll on, and let it roll in the ruthless way Andy so carefully outlined in last weeks blog, making mincemeat of us all. Fuck it, let it roll: faced with such magnitude, how can I care about anything?
There’s a feeling you get on the open sea, of being a very small body in the helpless grip of the infinite. Going to Edinburgh feels a bit like this to me. Did I read right that if laid out end to end, all the shows in the 2017 Fringe would last twelve years? Or did I dream that monstrosity, conjuring for myself some kind of hellish heaven…
In Philip Hoare’s book Leviathan he talks about the sea ‘perpetually renewing and destroying’. Edinburgh, like nature, like the sea, is blindly callous as it renews and destroys. I daren’t interpolate my cares or desires in its jaws – just let me be consumed!
I know that I’m not alone in being bewitched by the grand romance of Edinburgh, and it’s this sense of scale that dulls my empathy for the fortunes of the individual there – including myself! Did I spend an hour watching a terrible adaptation of my favourite book in the world? Yes! Did I care? No! All tastes are indeed catered for, but the horrid logic of the feast dictates that you must also taste disappointment!
This is the unspoken part of the celebration – the celebration of failure. To accustom ourselves to artistic success must include exposure to failure, and nowhere is better than Edinburgh for that even handed justice.
Philip Hoare calls the open sea ‘an alternative to our landlocked state’: if a Festival is the open sea, then outside that Festival, a constancy and a sameness governs our horizons, our appetites, our thoughts. But the sheer size of Edinburgh, and increasingly VAULT, is surely intended to broaden the public appetite, to fill and expand our cultural calendar, to distend the belly and create nausea by overstimulation, leaving in its aftermath an expanded consciousness and empathic ability.
So to me, the real joy of Edinburgh is not in the granular shows (though the shows I’ve loved are many). It’s in the swirling energies that gather around such a concentration of artists and artistry. If I care too much about one moment in the eddy, I’ll lose the sense of being swept up.
So I resist listening to people’s top picks. I never read the Guardian must-see list. I don’t read reviews, I barely pay attention at all. I don’t really care what’s on at the Edinburgh Fringe. I take a lick of the wind that blows from the early VAULT applications and with that as a simple guide, I set my sail towards the open sea, ready to be engulfed. Edinburgh awaits!