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Welcome to the world's largest arts festival, bigger this year than ever before.
Coming up - shows from South Africa that dazzle and disturb.
Arthur Smith on the venue that launched many of today's top comics.
Art meets arcade games, and a war of words over independence.
All that and some surprise travellers on the city's new trams.
The Edinburgh International Festival kicked off this weekend with
an ambitious new trilogy of history plays, all about the turbulent
times of three Scottish kings and the women in their lives.
These thrilling stories of violence
and political intrigue have been given an added frisson
by a casting coup - Sofie Grabol, the star of The Killing,
plays Margaret of Denmark.
I caught up with the company just before the premiere.
The way people engage with history when it is brought to them
in an accessible way reinforces my idea that
people are hungry to understand their own history.
One of the things that both me
and Rona have wanted to do is strip away received ideas
of what a history play is like and how kings should be.
The way Rona writes, it's so... It speaks to you.
-We may have to sell something.
-To pay for my choir.
It's a real shame that these are forgotten kings.
The idea that we all become invisible in history is both
terrifying and moving and I think there is something
about engaging with the people that have walked where you walked,
not that long ago, that gives you a sense of how
you are rooted in the world.
Each set in the 15th century, these epic ensemble pieces
bring to life three generations of Stuart royalty.
It's so interesting that two of the most famous female
detectives in Britain are moving centuries to perform together.
What does it feel like? I mean, how did you approach this?
I approached it because it was in rep. I quite like...
I've never worked in rep before and I like the idea of having
Even before reading it - I think Sofie feels the same -
even before reading the piece,
I knew that Rona would come up with the goods
because she is a historian.
And it's a period of history that not a lot of people know about
so she has capitalised on that.
If it's not been written down as fact, she has embellished it.
Sofie, did you know anything about the Danish connection with Scotland?
No, I had honestly never heard of Queen Margaret of Denmark
and what makes me feel a little bit better about that
is that every Dane I asked,
nobody had heard of her except really nerdy historically interested people.
I don't think there is a lot of common knowledge about that,
-that Queen or that period.
-Or history at all.
-I asked to see the Treasury papers.
Because someone has to start helping you. Have you looked at these?
-There is no money, James.
-A choir, Margaret. A few singers.
-A small choir.
-Only 40 or so.
Tell me about your relationship, then, with James.
Well, that was actually one of the things that really drew me
to the project.
I read the play and those two characters,
their relationship just jumped off the page. I just...
-I worry for you, that's all. I worry.
-Don't do that.
Never do that.
He is... He's not a good king, is he?
-She is a much more, really, qualified to rule...
And capable. Absolutely.
NTS artistic director Laurie Sansom
has taken on the responsibility
of staging all three of these ambitious works.
The Jameses were already commissioned by the time you arrived
so how did you kind of pick up and run with it?
Well, I think
I'm probably one of the luckiest incoming artistic directors
ever to have these three scripts on my desk when I first arrived.
First drafts. As soon as I read them, I kind of had...
There was an energy about the writing, an excitement,
an urgency, really, about it that made me go,
"OK, if we can get all three of these on in 2014 with one
"company of actors, I think that's where I should start."
One of the things that I responded to in Rona's writing was that
each one had its own style and atmosphere.
The first has a structure that is probably the most
conventional of a history play.
-Sorry. Are you still...
I don't want to disturb your prayers
No, I'm finished. I was waiting on you.
Good, no. I'm finished.
-Now we're married.
We will have the wedding blessed again in Scotland
-and then we can have our wedding night.
Whereas the second one,
suddenly you are plunged into the middle of a child's nightmare
because he was six, James II, when he came to the throne.
-I have dark blood, like snakes under my skin.
-No, you don't.
It'll come out. I'll kill people.
Well, you might, but not with snakes.
When we are grown, we can learn killing and I am nearly grown.
And then the third one, with Queen Margaret, played by Sofie Grabol.
And Jamie Sives, it's a kind of a sparkling, dark,
bittersweet relationship comedy, actually.
Are you telling me, are you presuming to tell me
that I can't afford music? Scotland can't afford music?
-James, you can't afford to annoy people like this.
-The entire nation!
-They are my subjects.
It doesn't matter how much I annoy them, does it?
What are they going to do? Stop me being king?
Well, I imagine it's being discussed.
So many people are making comparisons between these plays
and Shakespeare's history cycle,
which of course is just like putting a gun to your head as a writer
because how could you live up to that?
However, I did think, wouldn't it be nice
if there was something like the "sceptred isle" speech
so that was my attempt to give James I an equivalent.
The last sight I had of Scotland was no sight at all.
It was a wet wind.
It was driving waves and rain in my face so I couldnae see.
I was ten years old.
I was greeting more salt water than there was in the sea that was soaking me to the bone.
I felt that the sky and the sea and the wind of Scotland were
scolding me, were shouting their anger at me.
How could I leave my own country? How could I run away?
That was the speech that I had to audition with.
And it was the thing that made me want to do it more than anything.
It's so well written and it really...
captures exactly how I feel about Scotland
and I imagine how Scottish people feel about Scotland as well.
18 years later, I come up to the border.
I saw the green hills, I saw the dark rock and towering skies
and far-off mountains of foam and I drew breath,
ready to shout a greeting back into that dear country and...
There it was again, a stour of a wet wind knocking me back south
and roaring its disdain in my face. And I'll tell you this.
I love that gale.
So you knew you were going to do a trilogy - James I, James II,
Did you know that it was going to be staged
bang in the middle of the referendum?
No, because obviously when I very first pitched it, even though
the possibility had started to be debated,
we didn't know there was going to be a referendum this year.
But then, quite early on in the writing process,
that did become clear and then, all I thought was I really hope
they go on this year because that will give them such an energy.
And, of course, now we know that the James trilogy will play
at the National Theatre in London slap bang in the middle of the vote.
-Do you feel quite moved by that?
We're all just wondering what that is going to feel like.
And we're all aware, I think, that the way the plays feel
before the vote and after the vote will probably be quite different.
See if that wind had a human face...
..it would be glowering at me like you are.
You are like a cold gale roaring in my eyes and shouting
in my face, "Who do you think you are, laddie?" Well, I'll tell you.
I'm your bloody king.
I'm the King of Scots.
The James plays transfer to the National Theatre
in London next month.
And you can see more online at bbc.co.uk/edinburghfestivals
There is a new addition to the Edinburgh cityscape this year.
After years of delay, worry and expense, the shiny new trams made
their debut on the streets between the airport and the city centre.
So we decided to give some unsuspecting passengers
some special festival performances.
Let's take a trip now in the company of former roofer,
now full-time writer, the poet William Letford.
There's hundreds of birds on the roofs.
Here, how, choof, whoof!
We won't let that pigeon preach the lovey-dovey,
ruffle your feathers, show me your plume!
Look at that, Frank. Not to look, not to not, plod on, then.
Whoot, whoot! Look at that! That's not even a crow, that's a dinosaur!
There will be teeth in that beak, that's for sure.
Ooh, beady eye, beady eye, get behind the gable, she's fairly social.
What a life, Frank, what a life.
Feeding on scraps, hunting for crumbs. But listen to this.
Listen to this. We're no dodos. We can fly. Forget what it feels like.
Look at the sky.
William Letford, who is appearing
at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Saturday.
Now, the sheer scale of the Edinburgh Festivals can be
With thousands of shows on offer, how do you decide what to see,
and why do performers risk the ridicule of critics
and return year after year?
What are the essential dos and don'ts
if you're in the capital for the first time?
Stephen Smith's here now with his guide to surviving Edinburgh
when the circus comes to town.
UP-TEMPO JAZZ MUSIC
Every year, a legion of weird
and wonderful performers descend on this city with one purpose
in mind, to persuade the likes of you and me to go and see their shows.
There are circus acts, dancers, comics, thespians, divas,
zombies and even ducks and dinosaurs on stage.
There are more jokes being told here per square mile than anywhere
else on the face of the earth.
Some of them are even funny.
But if you're a festival virgin,
what on Earth are you supposed to make of these florid flyers,
each of them promising nothing less than a four or five-star show?
How do you sift the diamonds from the dross?
I think I'm going to need some help.
HIS INNER VOICE: 'What?'
'Where am I?'
'What is this place?'
-IN ECHOING VOICE:
-I am the King of Edinburgh.
I am sending you on a sacred quest to discover the Holy Grail...
-VOICE RETURNS TO NORMAL:
-Actually, just some shows and stuff in Edinburgh,
and if you do all right, you can find a cup for me.
Well, it's a wonder to meet you.
By the way, has anyone ever told you you bear a small
-resemblance to the comic Richard Herring?
-No, he wishes.
He wishes he looked this good. He's much fatter than I am.
Well, the thing is, Rich...
Er, King, what I was hoping for was some kind of steer about this
amazing festival. There's just so much to go to.
How might a humble person find his way through it all?
Well, you should definitely go and see Richard Herring's shows,
-The Lord Of The Dance Settee.
-Is that you?
-No, just I'm a fan of his.
OK. The festival is so huge now. Is it too much?
Yeah, it is very big, and it's good in a lot of ways that there's
so much choice, and what's great about Edinburgh as a festival
is that anyone can come up. You don't have to pass committees.
You are taking a chance up here,
but to come to Edinburgh now to get discovered is foolish.
You've got to come to Edinburgh...
There's too many people here, so it might happen, but you're
coming to Edinburgh to get better at what you do.
-Well, thank you, my liege, if I can call you that.
Well, thank you, sire.
But how do I get going on this quest of which you have spoken?
Well, you're in totally the wrong place.
We're on a hill in the middle of nowhere.
You need to be right down there. Somewhere in there, that's the city.
So, I don't know what brought you up here. Stupid.
-Mystic forces, I believe, and a taxi.
-OK. Well, get the taxi back.
This is very handy.
What the... ?
-BOTH CREATURES SPEAK AT SAME TIME:
-Who are you?
-My name is Sergei and this is my brother Boris.
We have been sent by the King to take you on the next
-stage of your mystical journey.
-Is that right? Wow.
-This really is BBC Four.
-Oh, yeah, definitely is, yes.
-Where are we going to, boys?
-Take it away, Boris.
-Oh, thank you, Sergei.
We are going to see the wise old sage of the festival.
-He's very wise and very old.
-OK, here we go!
The prospect of staging a show in Edinburgh is a daunting one.
But there's one man who's a real glutton for punishment,
coming back year after year.
I came up just after the war to the very first festival, when there were
a number of shows which had engaged companies from abroad just
after the war to come over,
and they had about two venues where they had things
called On The Fringe, and that fringe has now evolved
and developed, till now there are over 2,000 shows On The Fringe.
We counted more than 3,000. What do you think about that?
It's amazing, isn't it? To me, it is the tail that wags the dog.
Now, you're a notorious hell-raiser, like O'Toole, Richard Harris.
-How do you pace yourself?
-Where did they find him?
-It's just research.
How do you pace yourself thorough the month or whatever it ends up
being, because you can't burn the candle every which way, can you?
Well, I do have a little secret.
-I take a little drug.
-This is a scoop.
-It's called sleep.
Ah. A lot of younger comedians will be tuning in to glean tips.
What would you say to them? How do you make it in Edinburgh?
-You just keep working.
And if you can find Nicholas Parsons and say,
"Could I come on your show and talk about my...",
that's quite a good tip.
UP-TEMPO JAZZ MUSIC
But how do you increase your chances of having a hit?
After all, there are more than 3,000 shows on in Edinburgh,
and it's said you're never more than five metres away from a comedian
telling a joke about Scottish people not eating their veg.
Well, one answer might be to riff on an already established
and dearly loved franchise.
# No... #
There's a musical version of 50 Shades Of Grey.
# Da, da, da-duh-da... #
There's an all singing, all dancing Game Of Thrones.
# You are now, now rocking with
# Walter White and Jesse, bitch! Hit it! #
ELECTRONIC DANCE MUSIC
And a show that's condensed all the episodes of Breaking Bad
into an hour.
If you're a big enough name, you can
probably command a decent venue here, but lesser fry may have to
settle for something altogether more intimate, more moist.
Some venues are downright weird. I give you, for example,
A giant purple cow...
In the sea...
There's even one artiste here who performs under a duvet.
In a good way.
But what do locals make of this circus?
-Where are you from?
I live in Paris but originally from California.
-And what brings you to Edinburgh?
We've come from London.
We're from Fareham in Hampshire.
Can't find anybody from Edinburgh.
My liege, you'll be pleased to hear I'm back.
I've been round the festival, I saw some of its great lessons.
-Do you have any final words of advice for me?
-Go and see some jugglers.
-Nice to see you.
Stephen Smith there with the King of Edinburgh.
The Edinburgh Art Festival was established just ten years ago,
but now it takes place in more than 30 galleries,
museums and pop-up spaces.
Everything from Ming dynasty porcelain to pinball machines,
you can play the games but you can't touch the pots.
In a moment, one of the grand dame of contemporary art, we'll be
talking to Alastair Sooke, but first, here's his other top tips.
SCI-FI STYLE THERAMIN NOODLING
JANGLY TRIP HOP MUSIC
Surely art shows aren't meant to be like this.
You're not supposed to smile, you're not supposed to have fun,
you're definitely not supposed to touch the works.
But this is a whole different ball game.
At Summerhall, Brooklyn-based collective Fail have installed
their eye-popping, gleefully delinquent Deluxx Fluxx Arcade.
This doesn't remind me of my art history lectures, Patrick.
Well, that's true.
Do you see it very much that this is a work of art?
Well, when I think about art as a kid, I think
a lot of the art that inspired us was, like, skateboard culture
and rock poster culture and commercial art.
-So a really pop culture sensibility.
It does strike me that it
feels almost nostalgic in here in the arcade.
It's really retro machinery.
It's been described as nostalgic and kitsch and all those things.
But it was the first art show that we'd ever done where people came in
and were, like, screaming and yelling and laughing
and kids were having as much fun as the adults
and it was just such a great experience that
we're, like, this is a really awesome way to present art and this
is the fourth time we've done it and just always have fun doing it.
-So, fun is the main point?
-I think so, yeah.
If the streetwise sensibility of Deluxx Fluxx grabs you,
then another must-see show is at the Fruitmarket Gallery.
Jim Lambie is a bonafide international art star.
His candy-coloured, sight-specific installations
and ready-made scavenged objects have wowed the art world.
The great thing about a Jim Lambie exhibition is that you're not
just looking at work on a wall,
you actually get to walk across it as well.
His signature technique is to mark up the outlines of the room with
successive bands of vinyl tape.
The effect is a dazzling and disruptive centrifuge of colour
that transforms the typical white cube of a gallery.
The thing I like about Lambie's work is its ingenious
and enterprising, almost DIY aesthetic. Take this piece.
It's called Shaved Ice. A forest of ladders.
He's not using anything particularly special,
these are just ordinary everyday materials, wooden ladders,
glossy household paint, a few mirrors, and yet, out of them
he's creating something that feels very joyful, almost poetic.
It's like he's able to fashion just a little bit of magic
out of the mundane.
You don't have to walk into a gallery to catch some of the most
intriguing art of the festival.
In fact, some pretty unusual venues have been
transformed into immersive experiences.
Within a corner kick's distance of Hibs' Easter Road ground is
a TARDIS with a surprise inside.
-Great to meet you.
-Great to meet you.
This is slightly surreal. Is this is a real police box?
This is an original police box.
It's been here for decades, although a lot of people didn't really
notice it until we repainted it.
You didn't just repaint it by the looks of things!
We've put all these computer fans in here.
And what's the idea behind the piece?
The idea is that they will recreate the wind that's
happening in other places around the world.
My computer will look up the current weather right now
and these fans will recreate that much wind in this little box.
-Turn it on!
-All right, let's get it going.
Yeah, I can imagine that, being on the beach and there's a nice,
-cool sea breeze.
-Yeah, about the same, maybe a touch more.
So, this is probably in China, would be my guess.
And why have you picked the particular places that you have?
Well, two of them are places where these fans have been made.
A lot of these are made in South East Asia,
and these factories can make 20 million of these fans every month.
This is a piece that really
is about our connection to the world and how we use technology
and how we discard it and how we can reappropriate it
and make it ours again.
It's a really lovely idea,
and I had no idea I'd be off to China this morning.
Well, yeah, you don't even have to pay a plane ticket.
-I might leave you in your police box.
-I'm just going to cool down for a little while in here.
All right. See you later.
Appearances can be deceptive.
Just as the cramped confines of a police box can take us
to far flung corners of the world, so the grand
facade of the Inverleith House Gallery at the heart
of Edinburgh's tranquil botanic gardens belies some surprising
art that you would hardly call polite.
I love coming to Inverleith House during the festival,
because the artists that come here usually conform
to a particular type. They're wild and raucous
and they've got more than a little whiff of anarchy about them.
The German artist Isa Genzken, who was born in 1948, well,
she's no exception.
Her witty, unconventional works of art are all about a surprising
freedom of expression and the liberating,
sometimes disturbing power of creativity.
There's a real precariousness, a kind of volatility to Genzken's
work that, for me, gives it a devil may care energy, because at
first glance, it looks so chaotic,
it could be almost about to disintegrate before our eyes,
and yet, somehow, against the odds, it still coheres.
That's partly because of the colour scheme, and in this case,
also the imagery, which seems to be associated with womanhood.
You have self portrait, Medusa's head, female genitalia,
stand-ins for that, even Leonardo's drawing of a foetus.
And together, these things combine to give the piece
a sense of order and consistency.
Back at Summerhall,
there's a show by another influential artist of the same
generation whose career has also been dedicated to a restless
investigation of the hidden undercurrents of human life.
Born in Florida, just a few years before Isa Genzken, Susan Hiller
studied anthropology before moving to London and becoming an artist.
Her exhibition includes the premiere of her Resounding video work.
MALE VOICE IN VIDEO: 'I saw in the sky a cigar-shaped object,
'blue-red in colour.'
This mesmerizing piece combines the faint traces of the Big Bang
detected by scientific instruments with eye-witness
accounts of extra-terrestrial experiences.
You have this sense, I guess, of deep time,
going back to the Big Bang and then a sense of the here and now
and people and their encounters - close encounters
of the third kind, as it were.
Why are you meshing those two things together?
Well, it's about how we understand the universe.
And our understanding is extremely partial and small,
and we sometimes have experiences that take us out of an
everyday-ness, that where they seem to take us is into these stories.
And I guess what I'm hoping people will do is sit back
and enjoy the film, enjoy the visuals and reflect on these things,
these elements and how they may or may not go together.
One of the big themes you've been talking about,
interest in the occult, mysticism, a sort of spirituality,
a sense of the paranormal.
Why have these things been career-long interests?
Probably because I don't think that they're "paranormal",
and because I'm not a believer either in them as any more truthful.
But one of the things you learn in anthropology is that every
language, every culture has its own world, its own reality.
Do we, as a culture, put too much stress on rationality?
Rationality is a very useful tool,
and so is intuition.
And I guess I value the intuitive side of things enough to want
to bring them up in general conversation.
Do you feel that that intuitive side is dismissed,
written off, too frequently?
-Of course it is.
-Why do you think that is?
It's not if men pursue it, but it is if women pursue it.
I don't need to say any more, do I?
I think you probably have a point.
INDISTINCT VOICES FROM INSTALLATION
Susan Hiller's exhibition continues at Summerhall until 26th September.
Time now to hop back in the tram for a performance from the talented
young guitarist Declan Zapala.
Declan Zapala, who's performing at The Fringe until next Saturday.
This year's festival has a South African feel,
with a raft of productions celebrating a momentous
anniversary, but also reminding us of a troubled past.
It's two decades since South Africa's first
fully-democratic elections marked the end of the apartheid era.
This year in Edinburgh, a season of South African productions
marks the 20th anniversary of the country's momentous shift
towards racial equality and democracy.
The most hotly-anticipated piece
of South African work is the world premier of the innovative Inala.
Grammy Award winning choir Ladysmith Black Mambazo creates a live
score for dancers from the Rambert and the Royal Ballet,
choreographed by Mark Baldwin.
I am inspired by music.
I need to listen to it till I'm blue in the face,
and then I need to move around to it.
I think this music has really come alive
because there's dancing with it.
I don't know why,
and when I did hear the music without seeing dancing to it,
I was thinking, "Oh, yes, that's beautiful."
But actually, it's more than beautiful cos there's dancing
with it, and I don't often say that.
Over five years in the making, Inala is the brain child of dancer
Pietra Mello Pittman and composer Ella Spira.
I had always wanted to, perhaps slightly arrogantly,
try and find something that I could approach
Ladysmith Black Mambazo with,
cos I grew up listening to a lot of different kinds of music,
So it partly came out of that for me, and Pietra's Brazilian,
so her connection with that similar kind of rhythmical thing,
that we thought there might be something there to explore my area,
which is music and her area, which was dance and this bringing
together of two things that don't ordinarily exist together.
The dancers are from a variety of backgrounds.
They include the principal of the Royal Ballet in London,
and also South Africans trained in contemporary
and traditional African dance.
African dance is a big part of culture in South Africa,
so all the moves they do, we learned when we were young already.
And then I started doing ballet, I stated doing contemporary,
but it's in my blood...it's still there.
So when we're in the creation process, they'll come up with
some steps and they will show us some steps, and I'll be like,
"Yes! I remember this! This is so cool!"
Inala represents an uplifting fusion of African and Western cultures,
but in his live installation "Exhibit B",
the artist Brett Bailey explores a more troubling
aspect of African history,
the issue of racial stereotyping
across the continent in the European colonial era.
Exhibit B, on one level it's about colonial history,
on another level it's about how black people, brown people,
"the other" has been misrepresented in order to legitimise
colonial policies so that they can be reduced to servitude, dehumanised,
objectified, their territory can be taken away from them,
and ultimately they can be exterminated.
Audience members experience each installation in small groups,
and Bailey encourages his actors to
make direct eye contact with each person.
In the human zoo phenomenon, the emphasis was
definitely on the white spectator gazing at the dark other.
I put the emphasis on my performers, who are black people,
looking back at the audience.
It's about reversing it.
So I'm dealing with the human being as an object,
the way of...subverting that, is to really humanise these objects.
Accompanying the installations is the haunting
sound of a Namibian choir.
As a spectator, you walk through an installation where
there are 12 or 13 separate exhibitions,
but what holds everything together
and what gives it this emotional quality is this exquisite singing.
It creates the atmosphere and the environment.
A lot of people are very deeply moved -
some people break down and cry.
We've had stories of people who have just walked for several hours,
into the night just to contemplate. So people are deeply moved.
The Assembly is showcasing some of South Africa's best
They feature five productions, one of which stars movie actor
and singer Mbongeni Ngema,
who's decided to return to the stage for the first
time in 27 years.
Zulu means "heaven".
Kwazulu means "in heaven".
We call ourselves Abakwa Zulu,
the Zulus, or the little children of the sky.
In his play, Ngema explores an area of South African history
neglected under apartheid, the formation of the Zulu nation
and its struggles for survival.
Our heritage has became very important.
Young people are now wanting to know, "Who are we?
"Where did we come from?"
Unfortunately, during apartheid, this history was not taught,
it was the history of the Afrikaners that was taught,
so the Zulu is one of those leading projects
in re-telling our histories.
THEY EXCLAIM IN OWN LANGUAGE
The inspiration for the work came from stories
his great grandmother used to tell him as a child.
I didn't understand what she was talking about.
It was not until later on in my life,
when I began to be an artist, that these
stories started coming back to me,
and I realised how important it was that she was saying to me.
THEY SPEAK IN OWN LANGUAGE
'It's about Zulu renaissance,
'and Zulu resilience.'
It's about the state of mind, the state of victory,
the state of winning.
In a democratic society today, if we can all, as Africans,
have the Zulu state of mind,
we can win whatever battles we fight.
In post-apartheid South Africa, the fight against crime has been
a major preoccupation.
The play Silent Voice tackles the issue
of armed robbery among young black men.
Where I grew up,
there are a lot of guys that I went to school with being
involved in cash-in-transit robberies,
and some of them are in jail, some of them are dead,
so some of those stories have rubbed off onto the story of Silent Voice.
So it's fictional, but inspired by real events that happened.
Please, spare my life!
The play deals with the fallout of a raid gone wrong
and the consequences for the four men involved.
These boys that are growing without fathers
and just the results of apartheid,
where fathers had to go and work out there,
where families were not stable,
where people had been turning against each other,
so it is all those stories that come to make the story
of Silent Voice explode like that.
Please keep your head down. Keep your head down.
I'm self-employed, you see, which is a shit job because, now and then,
you have to run away from the cops, shoot at them or they shoot at you,
and God willing, you survive or you die.
So how healthy a state is South African theatre in
two decades on from the fall of apartheid?
South African theatre is well and alive and it's finding its feet,
but I think that this year,
as we celebrate 20 years of democracy and freedom,
we can safely say that South African theatre is more relevant.
You can see more from South Africa online
and Inala transfers to Sadler's Wells in London next month.
We're back in the trams now, but staying with our South Africa theme.
The Dloko High School choir has never been outside Umlazi
township before, but this month they're in Edinburgh
performing to raise money for community projects back home
and they're creating quite a stir.
THEY SING IN OWN LANGUAGE
The amazing Township Voices are at the Assembly Rooms until Thursday.
Now, there is one Edinburgh venue that has propelled itself from very
humble beginnings to become a very powerful presence in three decades.
The Pleasance opened in 1985 with just 2 theatres and 18 shows,
and now it sells one Fringe ticket in five
and helped launched the careers of people like Graham Norton,
Miranda Hart and Michael McIntyre.
To help celebrate its 30th anniversary,
Pleasance veteran Arthur Smith takes us
through this venue's amazing history.
Edinburgh in August, where you're never more
than 15 feet from a drama student in period costume.
The Edinburgh Festival and it's Fringe provides one of the great
playgrounds of the imagination.
I've been here nearly every year
since 1977 with a whole range of shows
and there's one venue I keep coming back to.
Welcome to this great thriving hub of the Edinburgh Fringe
and one of my favourite places on Earth,
the Pleasance and its courtyard.
Over the last 30 years, the Pleasance has welcomed countless fresh-faced,
keen young comics on stage and helped turn a few of them
into household names.
To me, it's a sort of courtyard of dreams.
The buzz of all these different people moving through it,
and just the sense that it really was the coolest place to be.
I've had some of the greatest highs of my life at the Pleasance
and some of the worst lows.
I don't think there's a toilet I haven't cried in.
There hasn't been a cobble I've not splashed lager on or a tear.
Every single kind of performer you can imagine,
every famous comedian, was packed into this courtyard,
just downing pints of filthy-looking beer.
The Pleasance is so popular with performers
and punters that, this year, there are 227 shows across 27 venues.
So, on an average day,
they've got 30,000 people streaming through their doors.
Queues can be long.
You never quite know who or what you're going to see here.
-It's a play about... Just over there.
-..with cross-dressing women.
Excellent. Thank you very much, madam.
Good day to you.
And I always manage to bump into a few old friends,
here in this courtyard.
I always thought I'd attract a stalker.
No, no, I'm not a stalker.
I just have an unhealthy interest in you.
-What's the difference?
-A stalker would get more exercise.
Well, clearly you've had issues.
I do not have issues, mate.
My life is way more normal than yours.
For a start, I'm not the one with a stranger in my hotel room.
-Paul, what was your first show here? Do you remember?
Myself and Mark Steel had an idea that perhaps we'd come up to
Edinburgh, but we didn't know anybody up here.
There was this guy in a straw hat, Christopher Richardson,
who we didn't know, and he said, "Come and play my venue."
We thought we would have to go in and try and argue
that somebody should take us.
He said, "No, come and play. It'll be great."
I'm guessing you played some smaller venues here first
and play bigger ones now.
-None of them are that big, but...
Well, yes, that's right.
The first one we played here is now the cabaret bar.
I'm not even sure that was called anything then.
I've directed a play up in the attic, which seats about 50 people.
You must have done a few unusual events and shows.
Yes, there was one night, there was this sort of informal cabaret thing,
where myself and Julian Clary decided to go on
and do each other's acts.
So he went on and did my stuff and I went on and said,
"Hello, how are you?" And all that sort of stuff and...
That's quite a good...
Yeah. I wouldn't have suggested it otherwise.
-How was Julian doing you?
-Oh, well, you know,
his impression of a heterosexual man is quite strange.
It's a friendly, lively, beautiful place.
I wouldn't really play anywhere else, really, in Edinburgh.
This place would not exist were it not for founder
Christopher Richardson, the man in the Panama hat.
Christopher, when you first thought,
"All right, I'll book that place the Pleasance and see what happens"
30 years ago, did you...?
You can't have imagined all this.
No, I certainly didn't.
I thought we might keep going to the end of the year
and the end of the following year.
But how many venues were there at the beginning?
Just the two. Yeah, there was the big one upstairs,
which was 250 seats, which we increased,
and then there was a cabaret bar.
I think one thing that Pleasance has that the other venues don't
so much is the kind of wonderful courtyard here you've got.
It's such a wonderful place to meet people
and for audiences to meet actors and performers and whatnot.
-That was kind of luck, in a way, was it?
There was this place that had a courtyard,
it looked slightly like Hogwarts or whatever,
and it was a wonderful place to do things.
We've had things happening in the middle
when there were rather less people coming to see things.
We've had performances in the yard itself, which annoyed
the neighbours and annoyed most of the people performing,
so we've had to change that.
And there was a lovely lady called Betty Brown,
who lived in a tiny little flat on top of the Pleasance,
and one day she sort of flung open the window
and served a pint of beer through the window...
and the outside bar has sort of grown out of that.
There's a moment, about seven o'clock in the evening,
when you look across and you see the sun on the edge of that Quaker hall,
and you think, "Gosh, this is a good place to be."
Will you please welcome onto the stage,
and this year's 1995 Perrier Award winner, Jenny Eclair?
Many comedians have broken through with shows honed at the Pleasance,
including the first woman to win the Fringe's top comedy award.
The Pleasance really helped me
in my career because they invited me back, they would have me,
and I think that it's quite important in Edinburgh to set
yourself... You know, to go back and then people go,
"Oh, we saw her last year, she was good."
And then the word of mouth and, pre-Twitter,
the courtyard was its very own Twittersphere,
really, because word of mouth goes around
very quickly in a sort of walled garden.
For the League of Gentlemen,
getting a gig at the Pleasance in 1995 was a dream come true.
We were given a slot in the Pleasance attic,
which was the smallest venue, but in the Pleasance,
which felt like it made all the difference and indeed it did.
It was that rare thing. It was a sort of Edinburgh fairy tale.
By the end of our stint there, we had a radio show
and Reeves and Mortimer's agent.
I mean, one of my best memories is, after we'd won the Perrier in '97,
the next day, the show the next day,
we looked out and the queue was immense.
But right in the middle of it, I just went, "It's Ronnie Corbett!"
-I've never got over that.
The Pleasance encourages comedy as an art form,
not just as a way of making money.
You know? It's a kind of...
The idea is that you're trying to do something new,
you're trying to do something that you believe in,
and the form of it is not necessarily...
It doesn't have to be a guy at a microphone,
it doesn't have to be this or that. It's a bit more...
Now, all around the venue, you can spot tributes
to the host of stars that kicked off their careers here.
Oh, all these plaques everywhere, I thought, "Where's my plaque?"
I asked Anthony, and lo and behold, at the bottom of a cupboard,
he found this blue plaque for me.
Yes, they haven't put it up or anything,
it's the wrong venue and the wrong year.
But never mind. I'm a plaque in the Pleasance.
We owe it all so much to the Pleasance,
and that whole, unique atmosphere of the place.
It was just a kind of hothouse of excitement, really.
It's still the first place I head for when I go to Edinburgh.
You know, if I'm feeling a bit by myself
and I've got some time to myself,
want to see some shows, then I will go there.
OK, well, Anthony and Christopher,
I'd like to pour this champagne all over your...
All over the suit that I gather you've had for 30 years.
-Your very good health.
-30 years of the Pleasance. Bravo.
And Arthur Smith himself is back at the Pleasance this year,
performing the songs of Leonard Cohen from next Friday.
Unsurprisingly at this year's festival,
there's a whole host of productions
relating to next month's independence referendum,
from debates at the book festival, to plays, to sketch comedy,
members of the cultural community
are all wading into the referendum debate.
So, what is the role of artists and writers at a time like this?
This year at the Fringe,
it seems there's one topic on everyone's lips.
Tonight, we're going to be looking at politics.
We're going to be looking at the big question, the burning issue.
-We're going to be having a mass debate.
-Can I stop you there?
With the Scottish referendum just over a month away, writers,
artists and performers across the city have plunged into the debate.
Oh, my God, when recession hits here,
you'll wish the English were still with yous.
One venue, the Assembly Rooms,
has eight shows tackling the issue, through comedy, cabaret and theatre.
In his one-man show, The Pitiless Storm,
David Hayman plays a Labour activist
who undergoes a political conversion.
Boris and Nigel Farage
and Jack "Nippy Sweetie" Straw
and their zero-hours contracts and their food banks
and their destruction of everything that is good and dear in humanity.
So yes, thank you, thank you, Westminster,
and the great British Commonwealth.
What do you think is the role of writers, artists, performers,
in a time of change in a country?
Well, I think the artist's job at any time in any society is,
I mean, a real cliche of putting a mirror up to society.
I love that Scotland is going through an extraordinary period right now,
where people are debating, discussing, arguing the toss
in pubs and clubs and workplaces around the country,
and if we, the performing artists or visual artists or novelists,
can embody that with a little bit more clarity, aye.
I'd like to think we're going to make a difference.
What if Scotland votes yes?
-Jings, crivens, help ma Boab, son.
Well, Bogle, do you see all of this...
Tunnock's tea cakes!
In The Pure, The Dead And The Brilliant,
playwright Alan Bissett imagines how Scotland's mythical creatures
would feel about the referendum.
Scotland will have become...real!
Too real for us, son.
They decide to campaign on behalf of a No vote
and use various enchantments and spells. It's a comedy,
but underneath it, you know,
there's serious questions being asked.
Do you think that there appear to be more people
in the creative community prepared to say
that they support independence than there are
those who say they support the United Kingdom?
I think it's fair to say that there are more people
in the creative community who are voting Yes.
If you look at the nature of what artists do,
we're interested in risk and experimentation
and doing things anew,
which is really what independence is about, actually.
Loud voices in favour of a No vote are much harder to come by.
Author Denise Mina, who will be appearing at the book festival,
is concerned about the decibel level of the Yes campaign.
I had to come out as a No voter,
because people were quoting me as if I supported the Yes campaign.
So I was forced to out myself. I had to say to them,
"I'm a No voter. Leave me alone."
I mean, artists make terrible pundits, because, you know,
you get trapped in this pundits' conundrum,
where you're on a stage discussing the world economy
over the next 15 years, and you're a portrait painter.
You don't know what you're talking about.
Why do you think it seems that the majority of
the creative community is for a Yes vote?
I think it is that the Yes vote is more vocal.
They're pushing for change.
It's very hard to argue for the status quo.
The status quo is not sexy, it's not interesting,
and I kind of worry that there is a bit of a consensus,
and consensus is never good in the arts.
Ladies and gentlemen,
please welcome to the stage Erich McElroy!
American Erich McElroy is one comedian on the fringe
taking a definite No stance...
..in his show, The British Referendum.
Emigrating here and having gotten my British passport in 2007,
I feel a connection to being British.
So I saw this as 10% of the country being torn away.
You know, you would notice if 10% of you was torn away.
Although I could probably use 10% of me torn away!
So, that seemed to have an impact.
It's not actually the first time I've done a show like this.
I actually did a show during the Crimea referendum,
and that turned out really well(!)
You're almost dropping a kind of hand grenade
in the kind of creative, as it were, establishment,
who are supporting the Yes campaign.
It seems so.
I didn't realise that I would become what appears to be
the only No comedy show of the festival.
I've been surprised to see how much the Yes side seems to be
in the artistic community, or that people who feel No
don't feel like they can come forward, for some reason.
Outside of Scotland, some surprising names have backed
the Better Together campaign, from Eddie Izzard
to Trinny and Susannah.
David Bowie even asked Scotland to stay with us.
The inspiration behind David Greig's All Back To Bowie's,
a lunchtime variety show supposedly set in the singer's penthouse.
I feel we should ask you the very, very important question
and find out whether you are Yes or No.
And that question is...
Do you agree that David Bowie should be pronounced "BOUGH-ie"?
But why have so few of Edinburgh's performers
been willing to announce themselves as No voters?
Is it that people feel that they're going to be somehow demonised,
that it is somehow less noble to be supporting
the idea of the United Kingdom?
I think that's actually a mask for the fact that the No campaign
don't have many artists and creative types they can call upon.
For whatever reason, they might feel that
they are embarrassed by their own voting intention,
or that they don't want to have to defend it publicly,
and they use this idea that,
"Oh, we're too intimidated to come out and speak."
But there is a danger that the tenor of that debate becomes ugly.
Yeah, yeah, for sure.
But people care very passionately about these things.
The author JK Rowling has given £1 million
to the campaign against Scottish independence.
The Harry Potter creator's support of the Better Together campaign
led to a barrage of abuse
from the vast virtual debating hall that is Twitter.
People who cannot participate in political debate
have taken over a lot of the ground.
They get straight on Twitter and start swearing at people.
This is on both sides.
And they will never, ever forgive you.
As an artist, though, does it silence you, the threat of it?
It certainly makes you wary.
You think, I don't want to offend people.
Now, the problem with an adversarial interaction is, it is reductive.
It shaves off all the areas of nuance,
it shaves off all the dog-leg areas,
and to arrive at a blunt conclusion, which is Yes, or No, who won?
Now, the adverts.
That's it. That's all they've got, right?
Have you any concern that it's such a sort of polarising affair,
it doesn't seem to be very nuanced?
At least in some areas, it's not very nuanced.
Yeah, I think they're putting people off by saying too much Yes and No,
or too much attacking with,
I've got stats that counter yours, and then we'll counter these stats,
and people are just shutting down and getting sick of it.
I'm hoping that shows like mine can pierce that a little bit,
because again, that's the strength that humour has.
UPBEAT JAZZY MUSIC
The temperature of the referendum debate may now be rising,
and it's certainly got the creative community talking.
Most people, I think, are thinking about politics in whole new ways.
The fact that we're even talking about
what the arts should and shouldn't do in politics is a move forward.
You can't say it isn't, because we wouldn't be having this discussion
if it wasn't for the referendum.
There is an energy, there's a dynamic,
going on in this country right now, and if that's reflected on any level
whatsoever creatively during the Edinburgh festival, then we all win.
We all win.
It's really, really exciting.
# Pretty baby, is it yes or no? #
Denise Mina and Alan Bissett will be appearing
at the Edinburgh International Book Festival later this month.
Do join me again next Sunday for an interview with
creator of Game Of Thrones, George RR Martin,
Professor Mary Beard's guide to comedy in ancient Rome,
and Bruno Tonioli dancing his way around the fringe.
And you can see even more from the festivals on Edinburgh Nights
with Sue Perkins, next Friday night at ten o'clock on BBC Two.
And there's a new performance online every single day
We leave you tonight with the beautiful sound of Song Of The Goat,
the award-winning Polish theatre company.
They are performing laments, psalms and songs of exile
inspired by ancient Scottish Gaelic traditions,
behind me at St Giles's Cathedral on the Royal Mile.
I bet you love this. Good night.
THEY SING CLOSE HARMONIES
# On the oak leaf I stand
# I ride on the filly that never was foaled
# And I carry the dead in my hand
# On the oak-leaf I stand
# I ride on the filly that never was foaled. #