Festival Diary: Chilling out in the Fringe’s snowglobe theatre experience
There was only one thing I could think of to chill the bones during Edinburgh’s festival heatwave - a spine-tingling show set during one of the worst winter storms in modern times in Scotland.
There were a few baffled looks on the faces of audience members arriving at the Playfair Library for a revival of Fringe favourite The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart - especially at being asked to tear up the paper napkins on each table to create little piles of snow.
The pre-show health and safety briefing - which sees the audience divided into groups when they arrive at the Royal Lyceum’s new outpost in Edinburgh University’s heartland - may have seemed a tad excessive, until the cast started leaping up onto tables and bar-tops, re-rearranging the furniture and roaming all over what must be a contender for the grandest pop-up venue at the Fringe and a unique theatrical snowglobe experience.
The devilishly enjoyable show, which sees an Edinburgh academic suffer a hellish night in Kelso after heading into the eye of a snowstorm for a conference, features more than a few supernatural twists and turns.
Among a few familiar faces I encountered in the shadows at the Playfair Library was Scott Silven, the Scottish master illusionist, performance artist and “mentalist” who I first encountered casting spells and raising spirits at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society.
Silven’s stagecraft has been such a success worldwide since it was honed on the Fringe he has been able to relocate to New York, where he flew in from for a revival of David Greig’s play for the Royal Lyceum’s Fringe season which has been backed by his American producer, Michael Mushalla.
It’s hard to believe that this time last year the Edinburgh International Festival was staging the vast majority of its shows outdoors with audience members from different households sitting two metres apart.
A glance at Alan Cumming’s Instagram account is all the proof you need for how much the festival landscape in Edinburgh, the events industry in general and life in general has changed since the turn of the year.
The EIF’s star performer has been allowed to “set up temporary shop backstage” and relocate his Club Cumming gatherings from New York to his dressing room at the King’s, which has some of the most intimate backstage areas of any of Edinburgh’s historic venues, with Sir Ian McKellen among the visitors during his run there with dance-theatre show Burn.
I’ve not seen any evidence that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who spent so long pleading with people to exercise caution to keep Covid rates down, ventured into Club Cumming, but she was a special guest as Cumming’s EIF run came to an end.
Cumming, who shared a picture on Instagram of a warm embrace with the First Minister, said: “It doesn’t get more Scottish than having the leader of your country come to see you playing your country’s bard in your country’s capital city during the Edinburgh festival!
“I feel Burn is asking people to look again at something they thought they knew or understood. Similarly Scotland is asking itself again who it is, what its values are and how it wishes to be perceived in the world.”