Posts Tagged ‘Edinburgh International Festival’

Jonathan Mills

Jonathan Mills is an Aesthete.  An international one, at that.  [Noun: A person who has or affects to have a special appreciation of art and beauty].  You know the type: lofty vowels, airy arms and wafting sibilants.

Their buzzword bingos are ‘exquisite’, ‘engagement’ and ‘occupying spaces’.

I haven’t met one of those in a long time.  There aren’t many down Leith.

If you spot one, they’re normally being bundled into a cab outside one of our 5* restaurants, inhaling a lung-full of harbour before they fly off.

They are such a rare species I get twitchy frissons every time I encounter one.  How do they get like that? Is it years of training or do they breed them just so?

So I asked him.  I had the opportunity to interview Jonathan Mills at the launch of the Edinburgh International Festival‘s 2011 programme at The Hub. The large hall was full of international arts press and festooned with giant dahlias and chrysanthemums on enormous plinths.

The exotic flowers were obviously in keeping with the front cover of the programme, although it did look a lot like an international drug dealer’s funeral.

Jonathan Mills delivered a brilliant presentation on the up-coming programme for this year, took questions deftly from the press then took individual interviews with a select few.  Obviously an accomplished media conductor.

The Programme 2011

He reminded us that opera was not simply a western genre and enthused about experiencing ‘The Revenge of Prince Zi Dan‘ – a Chinese opera based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet which is a sweeping, symbolic dance, graceful singing, subtle mime and compelling marital arts. (No jokes about Zennadine, the prince of football, please)

Wu Hsing-Kuo's King Lear

King Lear is also a must-see. Written, directed and performed by Wu Hsing-Kuo, with a cast of one, Mr Mills described it as “a very solitary play and a tour de force” where Wu Hsing-kuo depicts all the characters, including his own identity as the actor.

Shen Wei was the principle choreographer behind the opening ceremonies for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and is now based in New York.  His ‘Re-Triptych‘ is a ballet which takes a “distinguished look at life lived at a distance” using inspiration from Tibet, Cambodia and China’s Silk Road.

Another piece that looks pretty darn stunning is ‘One Thousand and One Nights‘ in two parts, performed by actors, musicians and a creative team from Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Lebanon, Algeria, Morocco, Paris and London.  It’s a new erotic, brutal, witty and poetic production which is not suitable for kids.  That’s my type of art, that is.

I’ve only mentioned four pieces out of the 95 you can choose from.  Do have a look at the programme and expand your eyes and ears for 2011.  High art may seem irrelevant when remortgages, repossessions and reactionaries can be one’s sole preoccupation (see, these ‘ones’ are infectious) but there’s a very good reason to go.

Experiencing great art is like eating at a 5* restaurant.  You may not like individual flavours and concoctions but the process and challenges of savouring the exquisite professionalism and skill that have gone into presenting the fare explodes your senses in a way that fish and chips art can’t.

The Interview

I had to wait hours but it was worth it.  Up close and personal, he’s a likeable kinda guy but I was very nervous and very, very star-struck.  After all, the Edinburgh International Festival has always played a large part in my life.  Whether just the fireworks, the crowds, the congestion, the packed jolly bars or just the crazy eccentric people you can sometimes loathe and sometimes adore.

Here, in the flesh, was the impressario behind all the summer madness.  The curator of Edinburgh‘s cultural capital. The capo di capo of the international arts scene.

At what age does one decide one’s ambition is to be an international festival director? (Do excuse my language, there are a lot of ‘ones’ in Aesthetia. Trust me, I talk Aesthetish).

Never.  I am first and foremost a composer.  I was a composer before embarking on this.  When I finish, I will go back to composing and conducting.  I happened to start a little festival while at University and it just grew from there.  I was invited to do this as an artist, not as a project manager.

Mr Mills demurs though. He also holds a degree in architecture and is an authority on acoustic design.  Mr Mills began his artistic career studying composition in Australia and then piano and composition in Italy before becoming Melbourne’s Festival Director.

What is the significance of the Shamrock Chrysanthemum you have chosen to front your programme?

When working with our designers, we wanted something exotic and exquisite, which symbolised the Far East and the cross-over.  We wanted gorgeous flowers that are unfolding and poignant. We wanted fragrance, particularly in the atmosphere, where the audience can be enveloped and cherished, loved, and loved too briefly, before they are lost.

When somebody makes statements like that, for me, unfortunately, there are only two options.  Either I come over all jaiksey and say:

“likes-eh, you nevuh thocht aboot usin the thistle, likes? Cos it’s wur ain, and I’m sure they’ve goat sum doon yon Silk Road too, aye?”

Or, I get swept along by the pungent prose and exquisite enthusiasm.  Thankfully, I got with the latter.

When making the selection for the programme, you are basically reading the artistic runes of the international community? What influences those decisions?  Is it other arts festivals?  Funding?  Politics?  Or is it all pure art?

I am an artist. I choose what’s good, exciting, challenging and sublime. I travel around the world and experience much art.  If it’s brilliant, I select and bring it to the Edinburgh and international audience here.

So, how do you measure your success?

I don’t. I want an engagement with the audience. The ideas should reflect and challenge themselves.  Artists are given the opportunity to occupy space reflective of our and their ambitions.

What’s been your greatest failure, and how did you learn from it?

I’ve never had failure.  The Edinburgh International Festival is a roller coaster where there’s no getting off.  Of course there are a myriad of small things that go wrong, and likewise an infinite variety of things that go unexpectedly well.  There are surprises both ways.

But ultimately it’s never about MY success.  It’s the artists’ success.  I’ve passed them the envelope, they’ve stepped onto the international stage and allowed their art to thrive.  When that happens, that’s what I call success.

Shamrock chrysanthemum

The Edinburgh International Festival runs from 12th August till 4th September 2011.  Tickets start at around £10 but with discounts can be even cheaper and booking starts on 2nd April 2011.

© Fin Wycherley

You can also read this post, with some ever so dainty edits, on the Guardian Edinburgh site here or go to


©Mark Wallinger

While the bitter winds of arts cuts scud menacingly over the Scottish horizon, and the good people of Somerset watch their £345m arts economy get flushed down the lavvy, we have to ask if this is the beginning of the end of public sector funding of the arts.

As citizens of Europe, we have grown accustomed to the state providing bread and circuses in order to stop us revolting. Arts for all – rather than arts for the elite – has been the rallying cry for 60 years.

But we are in a public sector recession. Our access to sustainable arts jobs and quality art consumption is under threat from a cadre who preach the benefits of big society and the munificence of corporate sponsorship.

However, it’s not the arts sector that has been under-performing. The financial sector has dragged us to the brink of this arts armageddon. Yet these plucky free market buccaneers, who have raided pensions, forced the demise of the property market and quashed any hope for young people living without debilitating debt for generations to come, are being touted as the new saviours of the arts industry.

You only have to look at ‘big society’ in South Africa and the USA to understand that the odds of the average citizen accessing the arts are slim to nugatory. Or closer to home, check the wonders of the big society during the Victorian era.

In the largely privately financed US arts world, the average consumer spends £32 per week on entertainment including restaurants, cinema, sports and the arts. In the UK however, the average spend on recreation and culture is £60 per week. Add the £700m in arts subsidies from the state and you can see why our UK arts are considered world class.

The arts in this country are a major financial success story. Between 1997 and 2006 the creative economy grew faster than any other sector, accounting for 2 million jobs and contributing £60 billion to the economy each year, 7.3 per cent of UK GDP.*

Arts and culture are central to tourism in the UK: this was worth £86 billion in 2007 – 3.7% of GDP – and directly employed 1.4 million people. Inbound tourism is a vital export earner for the UK economy, worth £16.3 billion to the UK economy in 2008.

During the Edinburgh International Festival, with concessions, the best of world art can be at your feet for a mere £6. During festival season, restaurants, bars, taxis and hotels are fit to burst. The taxi driver may not be a direct consumer of opera but she certainly won’t turn her back on the extra money a great piece of art brings to her business.

The arts unite and inspire individuals and communities. They feed the soul. They inspire us to outrage, contempt, rapture and quiet reflection. In the hands of a great artist / performer / musician, people can escape the humdrum mundanities and are transported to a world of challenging ideas, engaged emotions and fresh perspectives.

Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.

Maybe it’s an age thing. In my youth I was happy to consume mass-produced art that didn’t touch the edges. Now, I yearn for complex characters, intriguing dance, bold visual art and demanding music.

And I don’t want it half-baked and mediocre. I want it affordable, ground-breaking and world-class.

Not much to ask, right? Well, it is to the free market world. The free market dictates that great art is funded by the elite for the elite while the rest of us eat the scraps of what our dwindling purses can afford.

To Europeans in general, and Scots in particular, it is our cultural heritage – nay, our cultural inheritance – to expect access to the greatest art at reasonable prices.

The suits have raided our pensions, our jobs and are about to ransack our sense of who we are.

I’m revolting, who’s with me?

©Fin Wycherley

This post originally appeared in 38 Minutes – the place to bask in modern media

Please comment, I’d love to hear your views.

*If the link for ‘creative economy 7.3% of GDP’ does not take you straight through to the original document, please search for it as “Department for Culture, Media and Sport (2008) Creative Britain: New Talents for the New Economy, London, DCMS.”  It seems it’s been mothballed (archived) already despite being less than 2 years old.

Or try:

Rod Jones © 2010 The List

Listen here

Leith Tonight went BIG TIME on Wednesday night with an hour long session from ROD JONES (Idlewild) playing songs from his debut solo album ‘A Sentimental Education’.

Rod is looking ahead to the release of a special collaboration album for the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival. And the two October gigs to celebrate its release.

Five-piece funksters ‘SHELIA WHO‘ play their brand new tune ‘7′ LIVE and punt their upcoming gig at the HMV Picture House for the Edinburgh Schools Rock Ensemble’s 10th birthday party (with Stanley Odd, Jakil, Dirty Modern Hero, Sideloc and Run/lucky/free…for £5!).

Rob and Flavia from Tightlace Theatre discuss new play ‘The Dress Affair’…in corsets! YOWZA! (Check out the photos on our Facebook page)

Paco Pena's Quimeras © James Christie

Leith Tonight’s new photographer-in-residence JAMES CHRISTIE shares his experiences from the Edinburgh festivals. Sample some of his snaps on the Leith Tonight blog.

Fin reviewed Paco Pena’s Quimeras at Edinburgh’s Playhouse, the last outing of Leith Tonight to the Edinburgh International Festival

© Annabel Cooper

@ James Christie

The Edinburgh International Festival has finished, boo.  Viva EIF 2011, yay!

The monocyclers have pedaled off to the train station; the hoardings, venues and posters are being pulled down, and the restaurants, hotels and cafés have tumbleweed whistling through their corridors.

“If we had the Festival all year round, I’d be able to retire to Ibiza in a few year” said one taxi driver.

With the help of Leith FM’s sparkly new arts and culture blog, the Edinburgh International Festival has smashed box-office records (he he).

A record 50% of buyers came from Edinburgh post codes, and more than half the entire city shared the fireworks experience (250,000), from under- to over-privileged Edinburgensians, to al flagrante breast-feeding mums and al fragrante zimmer-toting aulds.

The blog is an offshoot of the arts and culture radio show on Edinburgh’s local community radio station, Leith FM 98.8.  It has been praised by the likes of Lesley Riddoch (“excellent”), the Guardian (“inspired”) and EIF (“brilliant”).

“I definitely think we should continue,” said Annabel Cooper, presenter.  “There is a real gap in the market for some down-to-earth reporting.”

The Edinburgh International Festival tickets is such good value for money.

“Once you get your student, unemployed, YoungScot or OAP concessions, you can score a ticket for as little as £6,” said Andrew Moir, presenter.  “That’s a far better deal than the Fringe can offer, except for Free Fringe events of course.”

Commentators have questioned the professionalism and abilities of the huge upsurge in amateur bloggers.  “Who is reviewing the reviewers”, asked the Guardian theatre blogger Bella Todd.

“The vast majority of the audience don’t have PHds in the Arts and neither do we,” said Jonathan Hartley, presenter.  “We are grassroots, up-and-coming journalists who know how difficult it is to part with cash.  The professionals might say it’s a great play for its artistic merits or because they are embedded with the luvvies.  But is it actually enjoyable?  That’s what we go for.”

With the threatened cuts coming upstream for the Festivals, the Leith Tonight team decided to take a stand.

“The International Festival is like international football,” said Fin, guru and visionary behind the arts and culture radio show and blog.

“Every other day, you watch local teams battling it out on the pitch.  Once in a blue moon, you get to see  international teams like AC Milan or Barcelona play on your own home turf.”

“The International Festival director, Jonathan Mills, scours the entire globe for the cutting-edge excellence in dance, theatre, opera and  music and brings them home to Edinburgh for us to savour.

“And you can still get change from a tenner.”

The EIF achieved the highest ticket sales income in its 62-year history, with more than £2.67 million taken at the box office, representing 3% more than last year.

“We’ve had a successful year financially, which is fantastic, but what is more important, I believe, is that we have more than measured up to our name,” said director Jonathan Mills.

Economic & Social Impact

Edinburgh’s population is over 450,000, but that figure swells to well over 1 million during its famous festivals in August.  The Edinburgh Festivals 2004-5 Economic Impact Survey estimates that the Edinburgh summer festivals generate £126.5m for Edinburgh, support 2,500 jobs, and contribute £134.7m for Scotland as a whole.

Edinburgh was voted 10th in the world’s top cities; 13th in the list of the cities with the most vibrant culture, and 19th in a list of cities with the best quality of life.  Edinburgh International Festival came third in the Best Festival Cities, pipped to the post for first place by the Rio Carnival and Womad music festival.

For every £1 the public purse invests in the Festivals, they deliver a £60 return to Scotland.

That’s the cheapest way to make Edinburgh the fun and international place it is.  And what’s more, you get to feed your soul.  That’s more than straight tourism investment could ever achieve.

Leith Tonight Awards

In time-honoured fashion, Leith Tonight is handing out the LeithTonight Awards for the top experiences  during the Festivals.


Hottest Male Artist Award goes to falsetto singer and mass murderer, Adrian George Popescu who played the role of Cortes in the critic-slated but LeithTonight-adored opera, Montezuma.  Popescu flashed the first operatic male penis ever witnessed by the Leith team during a particularly debauched love scene and fond memories have been regularly revived ever since.

Hottest Female Artist Award goes to No Fit State‘s high-heeled tight-rope walker who rolled a joint and showered while performing some spectacular balancing activities.

Friendliest Audience Award goes to all the lovely greys at Purcell’s Indian Queen for their enthusiastic chat and inquisitive nature.

We will be back regularly throughout the year.

© Fin Wycherley

©James Christie

Paco Pena’s Quimeras comes from a good place.

It’s a dance-off between West African and Flamenco dancers.  Each showing the best their culture can offer, woven around a theme of African immigration to Europe.

It is about people risking their lives, getting on rickety boats, carrying their hopes and dreams in their body and souls then meeting suspicion, rejection, aggression and death (an estimated 4,000 people have died in the Atlantic crossing since 1997)

Paco Pena, the guitarist and musical conceptualist, famed for taking top-class Flamenco productions around the world, says:

Dead immigrant on Spanish beach ©Javier BAULUZ

“In the past Spain has sent its people across the world in search of a new life. Now a modern prosperous country, Spain itself is the aspirational home for many immigrants from poorer countries.

Quimeras brings to life the journeys of migrants and refugees, reflecting both good and bad aspects of their dreams, the reality of their lives and their connection with the people on the other side of the frontiers they cross.”

The three extra-ordinary Ghanaian dancers (Victoria Dzivenu, Michael Nii Amon Neequaye and Gilbert Yaw Cofie) show love, devotion and honour through acrobatic, vigorous, agile and masterful moves and play out the story.

© James Christie

It’s a theme that allows both cultures to show their best and satisfy the ‘Oceans Apart’ theme of the Edinburgh International Festival as well as thrill the audience with exhilarating and sensual Flamenco dances.

I was enjoying it very much.

However, a very unfortunate thing happened on my way to the ice cream parlour at half time.

I chatted to an elegant Morningsider sitting next to me.  We exchanged views on what we’d seen, loved and hated.  Surprisingly, she hadn’t enjoyed Gospel At Colonus.  “Because the main characters were too old for the parts.”

I disagreed.  But as the second part of Quimeras began, I began noticing all the “too old” parts of Quimeras.


The Flamenco dancers, despite all their incredible grace and agility, were too old to be sexy.  There was no appeal in watching old ladies with bulging guts or tremulous bingo wings playing the lead sexy role.

Dont get me wrong, these women were beautiful but there comes a time in life when your joie de vivre and sexiness has to be toned down a bit.

It was like watching a drunken old Auntie kicking up her heels and raising her skirts at a formal wedding.  Or watching Madonna make her scrawny re-entry into the charts writhing around in a skimpy leotard.  The expression “Put it away, luv” sprang to mind.

© James Christie

The blokes, despite incredible physical prowess and execution, looked like Dads at a Disco wearing crinkled corduroys and cuban heels like wannabe lotharios but who actually prefer taking their kids down the park and having an enjoyable family picnic.

At one point, Angel Munoz, an amazingly lithe dancer, was giving it lalldy toreador-style.  But one’s eyes were drawn to the non-moving, sassy, soulful, hand-clapping, foot-stomping singer Antonia Nogareo.

She was young.  The Ghanaian dancers were young.  The male singer, Jose Angel Carmona, was young.  My eyes were wrapt.

Am I totally evil and prejudiced about older dancers performing sensual dance routines on the international stage?

Despite all this prejudice, it was a thrilling, intense and dynamic performance with tremendous sound and visuals.

These blogs are totally interactive.  Go for it!

Check the video of Quimeras and interview with Paco Pena

© Fin Wycherley


This is a tough gig, you know.  It may look like fun to you.  Parties, press launches, world premieres, hobnobbing with artists and journalists …

Well, it is fun really.  So I’ll shut up on that one.

But then you have to write about it.  Be balanced AND opinionated.  Critical AND considerate.  Informative AND entertaining.  Ask questions without causing offence.  Ha, now there’s a wee coorin timrous beastie!

On Tuesday 31st August, I had the pleasure of an audience with Her Excellency, the 37th Governor of New South Wales, who with her delicious praise for Scotland, was truly spoiling us.

Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir AC CVO is a most charming lady who could have been a muse for Modigliani with her sharp angular face and 1920’s bob.

Her Excellency Marie Bashir

She spoke eloquently and at length, at The Hub, in front of hundreds of academics, cultural commentators and Festival artists.  It was for the Edinburgh International Festival’s Explorations Series where everyone

“comes together offering a fascinating opportunity to exchange ideas and understanding on quests from the past and journeys into the future.”

Lachlan Macquarie by John Opie (1761-1807)

Lachlan Macquarie, was the subject, 5th Governor of New South Wales who, as a son of the Hebrides and the ‘Father of Australia‘ in the early 1800s, established a Native Institution on the outskirts of settled civilisation.

Macquarie was at the forefront of stealing children from their families and forcing them to be educated, churched and abused by the marauding European hordes.  All this was achieved after the aboriginal nations had been driven from their ancestral land and claimed for the Empire.

Well, that’s not strictly how Her Majesty put it.

In describing Macquarie, we heard phrases like political harmony, social stability, egalitarianism, emancipator, benevolence, tolerance for dissenters, nation builder …

I’m not trying to decry the honourable Macquarie or Her Supremacy for their great and munificent works and words.

But …

Nelson Mandela

I wonder if Mr Nelson Mandela would agree with this interpretation of history?  After all, both South Africa and Australia suffered industrialised genocide, slavery, rapes and land confiscation at the hands of white settlers bringing ‘civilisation’.

There may have been one or two individuals who tried to lessen the murderous devastation wreaked on indigenous populations.  But facts is facts.  Europeans culled the indigenous Australian population by 90%, brought lynchings, disease, a denial of human and political rights, confiscation of children and the hunting of human beings as sport.

When Her Excellency was asked by a member of the mainly Australian audience whether she could paint a less rosy picture of Macquarie, she answered thus:

European sport

“No human is perfect.  In many ways you could say Macquarie was narcissistic because so many roads, buildings, bridges and towns are named after him.  You could say he was also easily hurt and suffered a kind of depression when he was driven out of office.

The question of the treatment of aborigines is another issue.  But I would say he lost patience with them.  This was precipitated by their unacceptable behaviour due to the fact that they had misinterpreted his generosity.  He set them up in farms and schools, removed children from their parents and forced them to work.  He was a military man of his times.

But by and large he was full of compassion and courage.  In fact, when he was in Bombay, he instructed his soldiers to behave with respect towards the Indian population.”


This was a speech worthy of Hendrick Verwoerd, the architect of apartheid, and the whole colonialist, patriarchal ‘land of the free’ class.

From North to South America, from Africa to Australasia and from Asia to the Caribbean and the South Pacific, the Europeans were called ‘Devils’ because they preached on a Sunday and nation-destroyed Monday till Saturday.

Her Excellency Marie Bashir did mention the national apology of 2006 when the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, apologised for stealing generations of children from their parents right up until 1969.  But they refused to offer compensation or an apology for the genocide.  As they say, talk is cheap.

Despite accounting for 2.5% of the population, indigenous juveniles constitute 59% of all in detention.  The most common offence by Indigenous prisoners is ‘acts intended to cause injury’ (32 per cent).  Life expectancy is 17 years less than whites.

Myall Creek Massacre 1841

This Edinburgh International Festival has been about Oceans Apart: the European explorers and brutal suppressions, the coloniser and the colonised and the impact each have had on each other.  As such, it has been a poignant reminder of the Freedom legacy that Enlightenment brought to those that conquered.

The current Western empire-building in Afghanistan and Iraq is no longer based on land, but resources.  These wars were promoted under the promise of bringing Freedom and Democracy to the downtrodden natives.

When they’ve finished totting up the death toll and adding up the bank balance, I wonder which side of Enlightenment the history books will fall.

It also made me sad that an ambitious person like Marie Bashir, with perhaps a good heart and great skills, would act as an apologist for one of the most brutal periods in history.  Macquarie may very well have been an honourable sort of fella.  Fair dinkum.  But the legacy?

As they say in South Africa, “When a white guy comes around promising freedom, you know somebody’s going to be dead by sundown.”

Check this video on the Indigenous Australian Genocide

© Fin Wycherley

Sin Sangre ©Arnaldo Rodriguez

The Fringe is Over: Long Live the International.

One more week to go, woo hoo.

All the low-lifers have headed off (hey, I’ve been High-Arting it, allow me this once).  The city is empty again and the sun has come back to us, wahay.

Or boo, depending on your perspective.  Me?  I’d prefer we had festivals all year round.  They are our biggest tourist revenue to the city.

Pubs, clubs, hotels, taxis, restaurants are all bursting at the seams.  I don’t understand why they’re talking of cutting arts funding.  They should cut it from the tourist budget and give more to the Festivals.

After all, where else are we going to feed our souls in these tough economic times?

Speaking of which, you MUST go see Sin Sangre tonight 1st Sept or Friday, 3rd Sept at the King’s Theatre, starting at 8pm.  I’m not joking.  There are even tickets for students and unemployed, YoungScot Card Holder and Senior Citizen Card holders starting at £6.  Six quid to see one of the best shows of the whole Edinburgh International Festival.

Well, on the one hand, best.  On the other hand, not so best.

On the train

Sin Sangre is an incredible, genre-busting mixture of theatre and cinema.  When a guy pretends to throw a stone into the audience, you can hear the crash behind you.  It’s a totally intense 3D experience where actors perform between two screens to make it look like they are on cinema, but are actually live.

The actors have conversations with film characters, who sometimes become real characters.  People swim in rippling water on film then arrive on stage drenched.  Bullets shoot through a plate-glass window and the 3D explosion is better than anything James Cameron could conjure up on Avatar.  All with Dolby surround-sound atmospheric music.

When a house is set alight, the fire consumes the whole stage.  People dining at a restaurant remember a conversation when they were on a train, and immediately, the seated diners are on the train rattling along with the story.

Breathtaking work, by Chile’s Teatro Cinema.  The half-dozen actors play about 10 different roles and sometimes use creepy ‘Beauty and the Beast’-type masks to differentiate and add drama.

But …

Three quarters of the way through, I dozed off.

I hadn’t had a drink.  I’d only had a light supper of mushy peas.  I was thoroughly enjoying the spectacle.  But I dozed off.  Was it me?  Or was it the piece?

Sin Sangre ©Arnaldo Rodriguez

It was the show.  Once the wonder of it all has swooped you up and you are totally involved in the whole phantasmagorical genius of it, and you are really enjoying the kitschy B-movie, film noir feel of the work, it loses pace.

For 3/4 of the time, Sin Sangre hurtles along with intense dialogue and raw action, then suddenly turns into a long draw-out Latin American soap tragedy.

Shame, but still an incredible piece of art to experience.

Go!  And let me know what you think.  I’m happy to stand corrected.

Also, check the video on the Edinburgh International Festival website.  The video is way too tiny to get the full effect but you will get a good idea.  Or, you can see it a bit larger on Teatro Cinema‘s website.

Or phone the box office for tickets: (0)131 473 2000

Listen to the review I gave Sin Sangre on Leith FM 98.8 arts and culture show, Leith Tonight, on Weds 2nd Sept.  We did a special review show for the end of the Fringe.

©Fin Wycherley

Zakir Hussein © Heinz Kronberger

Of all  the crazy things to see on a Friday afternoon, it had to be the Behind the Scenes Masterclass in Tabla, the ancient Indian drums, given by the sweetest man on earth, Zakir Hussain.

Ok, so this is a tricky wee blog post.

The thing is, Zakir Hussain played the live musical accompaniment to Alonzo King and his Lines Ballet performance at the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh.  Then he gave a Masterclass on the tabla after the second performance, and before the 3rd and 4th shows.

But I didn’t get to see the ballet.

So I can’t comment on the ballet.

Phew, domestics over.

The hour-long Masterclass took place at the beautifully restored Hub.  I was running late and had to run the gauntlet through the High Street Festival crowds at top speed like a contestant in supermarket sweep in the streets of Pamplona.

The packed house of fans, afficionados and curiosity-seekers learned about the intricacies of the two incredibly versatile drums commonly known as the Tabla: how to make different sounds; the history of the drums and Indian music; Indian rhythmic patterns; the process of learning tabla at a young age and the verbalisations of rhythmic patterns (tha thiki thiki ga, digadara da).

Mr Hussein brought in his violin and vocal assistant, Kala Ramnath, to illustrate how the structure of Indian pieces work together, and the kind of signals required to improvise, play with strict discipline and basically mash it up together.

Zakir Hussain

But the joy of the event came from Zakir’s humour and repartee.  When opening up the proceedings to the Q and A, he would announce, “We have a winner on the left” and calmly wait for the mike to arrive before listening intently to the question.

A most charming man with the most incredible skills at both drumming and enthusing an audience.


Its Tuesday night, its Lothian Road, and the two tribes are out at play.

Outside The Picture House, the youf of Edinburgh, with technicolour hair extensions and funky shoes are anxiously waiting for Jason Derulo, the latest hot Hip Hop, Haitian-American singer.

Outside the Usher Hall, the grey heads mingle affably around their new improved emporium, hail-fellowing their comfortably-clad comrades, awaiting the latest ‘pop’ular stars of renaissance music, The Sixteen, perform Purcell’s Indian Queen.

Two international performers, in top Edinburgh venues, vying for the attention of two high spending tribes.

The Sixteen are currently at number 26 in Classic FM’s Top 40 chart show, with their new album, calculatingly called Music for Inner Peace, featuring works of Byrd, Monteverdi and Palestrina.  Whereas Jason Derulo is number 15 in Radio One’s Top 40 at number 15, down two from last week.  His album is wittily entitled Jason Derulo.

Jason Derulo

Tickets for Jason were £20 whereas The Sixteen ranged from £10 to £40.  Both performers at the height of their artistic careers and appealing to international audiences.

Without subsidy though, the Edinburgh International Festival‘s performance would have easily cost quadruple.

But the best things in life are either free, or subsidised.

The Sixteen is a bit of a misnomer.  There are vastly more than 16 choir members and period instrument orchestra players.   More like 40 performers.  Then there are the world-class soloists, all 11 of them.  If you were in the music biz, I know who I’d book to turn a quick buck.

In fact, when Purcell first proposed his ‘cutting-edge experimental music’, the impresarios  virtually went bankrupt and the actors had to appeal to the Lord Chamberlain to get paid.

The Indian Queen is a crazy convoluted story which would take seven pages for me to explain.  Well, it does in the programme.  And to be honest, best left unread and unsaid.

Mercifully, the actual libretto (words wot goes wida songs) takes up barely 4 pages, even including the ‘Masque of Hymen’ (twitter ye not!) which was written by Henry’s brother Daniel after he had died without completing the work.

The joy of the evening firstly came from the music.  The twirly, zingy recitatives (rapid ululations around one note), the orchestral timbre (really old 17th century instruments like harpsichord, viola da gamba and recorders), the choir and the soloists.

Also, I can’t remember the last time I saw a choir singing the role of ‘Fame’, ‘Envy’, ‘Hymen’ (the Greek god of marriage) and  ‘The God of Dreams’!  They must have forgotten poor Clymene, Zelos, Morpheus’  names.  (I would certainly like to offer up sacrifices to the God of Wikipedia for this particular masterpiece.)

The soloists, especially Roderick Williams, delivered brilliant spectacles of zest and flourish.  Williams’ baroque  expostulations and sibilant hissing was almost a masterclass in beatboxing.

The Sixteen

The orchestra, under their 30-year-long conductor Harry Christophers however, lacked vigour and I found myself trying to conduct them back in time because they did not always play the same beat.

Lastly, the joy came from the lovely grey heads around me, who couldn’t wait to find out what I thought of the evening so far, and what I’d seen, and what did I recommend.

I’d certainly give the Purcell audience the Friendliest Audience Award at my Festival 2010.

And if Jason Derulo’s music passes the Edinburgh International Festival’s very rigorous Test of Time, (300 years +) I’m sure the greys will get to experience his epic music in full subsidised glory.


Paul Higgins as William Paterson

As a patriotic Scot, I was incensed by Caledonia, the new national offering from the National Theatre of Scotland, at the Kings Theatre last night.

If the English had produced it there would have been outrage.

The Scots were greedy, arrogant, stupid, vulgar drunkard and sanctimonious to a man.  And the women were merely fey and wan attendants.

The aristocrats were fat and lazy, the middle classes were self-serving and the poor were uncouth drunkards (no change there, then).  Nobody escaped the self-loathing and false consciousness of this scotching poison pen.

They strutted the stage with melodramatic gestures, sang crude songs, scoffed out of large troughs with arses raised, conquered a swamp and died in their thousands.  This could have been written by AA Gill about the Welsh.

In between they sang Brechtian folk songs about how ‘History is written by the Winners’ and ‘Dumbala Dumba’ and the Spanish ambassador claimed that while he was only a quarter Scot,

“I am still not as foolish as the Scots.”

Meanwhile, William Paterson, the founder of the Bank of Scotland and mastermind of the Darien Scheme, stood with visionary foot on bucket like an early day Oor Wullie.

Dumb and dumber

The first joke alluding to the bailed out Royal Bank of Scotland, raised a wry laugh from the audience.  “The Bank in whose name all men may trust”.

But by the 15th wise crack, it had grown into a tumbleweed chasm which had swallowed up the production whole.

No wonder the author scurried back to London a week before the World Premiere, and refused to talk to the Press ever since.

The cast

It was a cross between Horrible Histories for children, panto …

“Bits of Monty Python, Blackadder and The Muppets but not equalling the sum of those parts,” said Soapyfrogs on Twitter.

Following the law of unintended consequences, we must be grateful for the fact that the Darien Scheme failed since although it was coyly refered to as ‘trade’ it was actually to get a piece of the human flesh action, or slave trade.

After making his fortune in the ‘West Indies’, Paterson certainly had a fair idea of the money was to be made.

Wouldnt it have been more interesting to investigate whether Paterson was a plant by the English?  For centuries, the English had warred with their feisty neighbours, but this brilliant scheme was all it took for the Scots to go cap in hand and sue for union with their sworn enemy.  Had they not been bankrupted by this scheme, would the Union have taken place?

I feel sorry for Fiona Hyslop, Minister for Culture and External Affairs who blurbs,

“I am delighted we are supporting this new and exciting piece of theatre.”

Really?  Methinks an SNP MSP would have told the National Theatre of Scotland tae bolt if she’d actually read the script.

It is the story of how Scotland bankrupted itself then had to get a bail out from England.  The price?  Independence.  Nine years later the two mortal enemies became the United Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707.

The performances were impressive, as panto actors can be, but they did not have enough to get their teeth into.  Characters drunk and debauched at the beginning remained drunk and debauched at the end.  The sanctimonious Presbyterian preacher, played for laughs by Paul Blair, remained the same.

The only character that went through any developmental arc was William Patterson, played by Paul Higgins, and he was a less than sympathetic character.  Greedy, foolish, short-sighted and ambitious, he was portrayed as the villain that lost Scotland’s pride and wealth, much the same as Fred the Shred losing RBS.

(But did he?  Really?  When the rest of Anglo-Saxon bankerdom did the very same thing because there was an inadequate regulatory framework to reign in the excesses of capitalism? Wasn’t he an easy scapegoat, a smokescreen for the lack of state regulation?)

There was nothing for the audience to get their teeth into emotionally, except for the laughs, buffoonery and slapstick.

By the time the 2nd Act came, and the piece became  more serious, the lack of empathy, conflict and compelling plot became exposed and the audience lost its appetite.  Polite applause was the reception and a deathly silence on Twitter.

To be fair, the audience loved the humour in the first half but when they realised the jokes were on them, as mocked Scots, the laughter faded rapidly.

Caledonia, written by Alistair Beaton; produced by the National Theatre of Scotland and Edinburgh International Festival and directed by Anthony Neilson