Having reached the first week in August, many eyes will turn towards Scotland’s capital and its International Festival and Fringe (not to forget the Book Festival).
Sadly, the closest that this critic will get to Edinburgh in 2022 is reviewing a handful of online productions and escaping there vicariously in the company of Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus, Sir Walter Scott and Kate Atkinson.
20 years of reviewing from Edinburgh in August has often been exciting and eventful.
The experience started long before arriving in the capital. First, there was the pleasure of choosing the must see shows and then hoping that nobody else had got in their gazumping early.
Next, the tortures of trying to book accommodation. Readers may well have seen David Chadderton’s depressing observation that costs have soared this year, halving the length of his visit. This seems counterintuitive, given that there was no festival in 2020, the version in 2021 was barely a shadow of its former self and it is unlikely that 2022 will be operating at full throttle either.
Having tried flying from London to Edinburgh, for many reasons the train became the preferred choice. Primary amongst its attractions is the joy of sightseeing. While Durham scored highly and Newcastle has its charms, viewing Berwick-upon-Tweed through the right-hand window always uplifted the spirits and should be one of the hundred wonders of the world.
Another of those is the city of Edinburgh, although as a theatre critic there was little time to enjoy the sights, which anyway were overrun with snap-happy tourists and performers from pre-teen to octogenarian, desperate to raise their next audience to single figures.
However short the time available, the art galleries were always worth a look, whether your tastes were classical or modern, especially if Canova’s Three Graces happen to be in town.
Having got that out of the way, life for a critic consisted of 5 to 6 shows every day for around three weeks, subject to weekly breaks for a round of golf and a chance to breathe some fresh air.
The quality of the theatrical programming has always been mixed, veering between the sublime and the ridiculous. As a general rule, the International Festival would always provide some unbelievable experiences, although it had its duds, while the pick of the Fringe was often top loaded with a long opening day in Traverse 1.
This was a chance to catch up with friends whom you would only meet once a year, albeit on an intermittent basis for three weeks.
Soon enough people were giving you tips about shows that you could not miss, along with those that you should cross off the list as a matter of urgency.
Even in a good year, there is every chance that at least one third of those carefully picked and curated shows turned out to be somewhere between sleep-inducing and mildly tedious, while as many again might excite with a handful blowing your socks off.
The key was always to avoid solid days of one-star drudgery—which thankfully only happen very occasionally—and find as many five-star sensations as possible.
That was the reason for going: the chance to enjoy a uniquely rewarding theatrical experience, the very best of which was the National Theatre of Scotland’s production of Black Watch by Gregory Burke, the film version of which is still available on DVD from eBay at a very modest price.
To everyone who is going to be visiting Edinburgh over the next few weeks, have fun and take care.