Diary

By Christiansen, Rupert | The Spectator, August 23, 1997 | Go to article overview

Diary


Christiansen, Rupert, The Spectator


Edinburgh

I lost my virginity in Edinburgh -1972, I think it was, though the details are now vague. There must be thousands like me, happy victims of the most Rabelaisian of arts festivals. Well, can you imagine a drunken grope at Bayreuth? Or stand-up comedy at 2 a.m. in Salzburg? Only Edinburgh seems to turn the world upside-down in a whirl of fiesta; only Edinburgh can tickle animal passions out of prim little teenagers transparently pretending to be interested only in the finer points of Schumann's string quartets. So I suppose it is not surprising that 25 years later - the festival itself turns 50 this year, but has never seemed less middle-aged - I look back and find that what I remember most vividly is not the high culture; not Das Lied von der Erde with Karajan conducting the Berlin Phil and Christa Ludwig; not Berganza, Cotrubas and Fischer-Dieskau in a dreamcast Le Nozze di Figaro; not Peter Stein's production of Uncle Vanya; not my first confused encounters with the last wave of 20th-century modernists like Pina Bausch and Bob Wilson. All of these were in some sense disappointments, better heard or seen elsewhere. Far more striking to me now, far more fundamental to the Dionysian spirit of these three magical weeks, is the memory of the line of shows which have defied all conventional theatrical barriers, abandoning the Victorian decorum of the separation of audience from stage and camping out in ice rinks and sports halls, ready to ambush our expectations of a proscenium arch and an author's printed text: Cafe La Mama's The Trojan Women; Luca Ronconi's Orlando Furioso; Robert Lepage's The Seven Streams of the River Ota - productions which used the techniques of circus and cinema, of religious ritual and street carnival, to liberate theatre from its British enslavement to French windows, kitchen sinks and the golden voice of Sir John Gielgud.

This year's marvel has been a play (not quite the word) by a Catalan group called La Cubana. It is called Cegada de Amor (Blinded by Love), and it takes place in Edinburgh's new conference centre. I would hate to give the game away to anyone who hasn't seen it, but let me quote the quaintly translated programme note: `We have always wondered why the cinema, in spite of being colder, more technical and full of illusions, has always seemed more credible than the theatre, although theatre should logically be more believable.' From this engaging philosophical conundrum, Cegada de Amor weaves a uniquely astonishing and exhilarating farce, in which the reality of celluloid quite literally dissolves and the audience finds itself transported into a world it could never have imagined, somewhere on the fault line between Alice in Wonderland and This Life. Sadly, I gather there is little chance of the show transferring to London, and by the time this is published its Edinburgh run will be finished. Catch it on tour in Buenos Aires next spring.

Two forceful articles last week, by Gavin Stamp in The Spectator and by Jonathan Glancey in the Guardian, set me thinking. We all know that Edinburgh has reason to call itself the most beautiful capital city in Europe (the drama of its setting, its medieval remnants, the Enlightenment of the Georgian New Town etc. …

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