An Edinburgh diary

Nigel Pascoe QC shares his personal highlights from this year’s Edinburgh Fringe.

Aficionados of Fringe theatre will recognise two useful tips: scour the Traverse programme and see what Guy Masterson has on the stocks. This year he had ten shows under his belt, acting in one and producing and/or directing the others. Austen’s Women was the ideal warm up to what was my fifteenth year in Edinburgh. Rebecca Vaughan, demurely changing in front of her dressing table, gradually progressed to her ball gown, taking a dozen or so characters in her stride. Enchanting stuff and excellent characterisation. Then Masterson himself in a very atmospheric two-handed thriller: The Sociable Plover was remote bird watching with a difference; homicide, to be precise. Unsurprisingly, it has already been a television film. Masterson is always worth watching and his pedantic and scary psychopath did not disappoint, splendidly supported by Ronnie Toms.


So to a Fringe first and undoubtedly one of the most heart warming one-man shows I have ever seen. Morecambe was as affectionate a tribute to the young Eric as anyone could desire. Bob Golding caught every familiar gesture and so nearly the immaculate timing of Britain’s all-time favourite comedian. Tim Whitnall’s script was brilliant, Masterson’s direction no less. When Eric had his first heart attack, little Ernie kept working and shared the proceeds with his lifelong stage partner. Watch out for this small miracle, for it will tour the world for years. My only surprise is that it was not playing in an even bigger venue, but the crowds queuing happily on the Mound told their own story.

Time for the Traverse

Save for an Edinburgh musical, the programme seemed particularly bleak. But three monologues about Iraq under the general title Palace of the End proved that political theatre is alive and screaming. More than that: never have I seen anything more powerful and more capable of changing hearts and minds. Judith Thompson is a highly talented Canadian writer, who first examined a female American soldier facing a court-martial for prisoner abuse and torture. Then Dr David Kelly in his final moments. Lastly a sophisticated Iraqi woman, pursued by the secret police of Saddam Hussein. It was difficult to distinguish between three outstanding performances. There was no suggestion that David Kelly died other than by his own hand, but there was a wholly tenable reason for him doing so. The final monologue benefited from the high intelligence and wit of the unknown Iraqi lady, able, for example, initially to satirise the English language. Then narrating with devastating calm the terrible destruction of her family. Weep for the devastation we have brought, whatever views you may have of the justification for war. If it makes London, do not miss it.

Back to one handers

My Darling Clemmie was a great success this year. Clementine Churchill’s letters to and about Winston gave Hugh Whitmore a very good play and an immaculate performance by a most gifted actress, Rona McCullough. I could not resist seeing again Bob Kingdom recreating Dylan Thomas in Return Journey. That disastrous drunken final lecture tour in America allows the best poems to live again, hypnotically performed. No Under Milk Wood, but the unforgettable char-a-banc outing to the seaside, each small town Welsh drinker brilliantly delineated. It was the highlight of my fringe holiday. Acting so utterly natural and understated that I forgot I was in a theatre altogether. It was described as a farewell Edinburgh performance but I find that very difficult to believe. Lastly, pure story telling of Romany life as Paul McCleary became King of The Gipsies. Very intimate and effective, it was another show to confound prejudices; tracing a long and tragic journey of persecution, with a background of recorded contemporary interviews.

But I was disappointed by Muriel Spark’s Girls of Slender Means. Certainly it would have been difficult to adapt, but the result was made more confusing by some very strange direction. Despite that, we caught the flavour of wartime romance on a shoestring, with good central performances.

Fun? Kit and the Widow as good as ever. The Widow has spread her wings and developed her comic timing. Kit Hesketh Harvey sparky and quite wonderful. Fascinating Aida out of retirement to rebuild their pensions and Dillie Keane has a wickedly funny song to rival Victoria Wood’s “Let’s do it.” The ladies are on top form and all suggestions of slippers and cocoa should go straight on the back burner.

Nigel Pascoe QC is a barrister at 3 Pump Court Chambers

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