21 August, 2006

Fringe benefits

Heaven knows quite why I ended up being asked to take part in a play at the Edinburgh Festival, or for that matter how, because at this moment I can't remember the circumstances of either.

"After a sleep filled with nightmarish dreams of yet again being trapped in a smoke-filled room choking to death, I dragged myself out of bed and began to pack my bags."
- 10/08/1994

I wouldn't have said yes were it not for the fact three of my closest friends were going, and I knew a few of the others, and those who'd made the trip before testified to how it was well worth the time (a month's rehearsals followed by 12 days away) and the effort (ultra-concentrated line-learning, ultra-pointless warm-up exercises, ultra-intense expectations).

Following directly on from my trip around Europe, it meant virtually my entire summer was eaten up doing stuff, which was itself a novelty, and which undoubtedly paid dividends in keeping my mind off the looming shadow of university in September.

But having done next to no acting at school short of helping out mates with their A level drama exams I felt, all the while, not just a shameless novice but also a complete fraud. I was really a stranger in a foreign country in which I couldn't recognise or comprehend anything, receiving very little help in trying to understand both the customs and the language.

Being cast in the role of a woman didn't much help either. But then this was the point of the play, it turned out, with all the female parts being filled with males and vice versa. An act of breathtaking pretension, sure, and one I'm quite sure 95% of the people who actually saw the thing being performed could make no sense of whatsoever.

However this was but one of the many whims and fancies of the director of the play, a woman who'd once taught drama at my school before leaving in mysterious circumstances to try and launch her own theatre company, of which this was to be the inaugural production.

Another all-too-tangible whim and fancy was the involvement of a bloke who she used to go out with, ostensibly a theatre 'professional' but in reality a pompous buffoon, present in the cast simply because of his 'experience' but who conspired to fall right out of favour with the director and hence make everyone's life a misery.

Especially mine, as I was having to share a room with him in Edinburgh, a stupid twist of fate given he was the person I least liked and knew least about in the whole cast. It could, it should, have been so different.

"Being introduced to a city at night is at the same time both an amazing and disconcerting experience. Especially if you end up in a pub surrounded by drink and smoke which you've no idea where it is or how to get back from."
- 10/08/1994

Edinburgh itself proved to be a revelation.

The city was, and is, a beautiful one, forever etched in my memory for having so much of itself open to the sky: broad streets, rolling roads, innumerable hills, empty spaces and imperial views in all direction.

Contrary to cliché I soon found it very easy to escape the hustle and frenzy of the festival, in particular by walking up to the top of Calton Hill, a place disclosed to me by my best mate David who'd been to the festival the year before and now graciously introduced me to some of the city's most beautiful nooks, crannies and hideaways.

Given the performances of our play - for the record, Blood Wedding by Federico Lorca - weren't until teatime, there was always the day to fill and initially I spent it purposefully watching as many shows as possible. But then my patience, energy and money all ran out, and for the latter part of my stay I saw very little, preferring instead to wander round the streets or rest up in the hall of residence which we were using for accommodation.

My roommate had more or less pissed off out of everyone's life, only showing up for the performances, and this suited me fine. His woefully eccentric habits - indulging in artsy physical exercises on the lawn outside every morning, strolling round our room naked, sitting on his bed staring into space, bawling swearwords out of the window - had quickly paled from the amusing to the deeply irritating.

"Because I'm on the less popular floor, I found myself, not for the first time, being left out/forgotten from the majority over what was happening. I decided not to fight the feeling and went shopping, a bit pointlessly since there was nothing I needed to buy."
- 12/08/1994

By this point, however, another issue was working itself through to a resolution. It was one that had been dogging me for the best part of a year, but the resolution which came to pass was, I realised all too quickly in retrospect, far from that which I had always desired.

To be continued


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