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This programme contains some strong language.
This programme contains some strong language.
Welcome to the Culture Show at the Edinburgh Festival where we are
bending over backwards to bring you the very best in comedy, theatre,
art and dance. Coming up: Mark Thomas's moving tale of opera,
fathers and sons. Harry and his hobby - the hilarious Mr Hill talks
painting. Miriam Margolyes discovers the treasures of
Catherine the Great. And why have one when you can have three? Phill
Jupitus on his gruelling Festival triple bill. He's available for
weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, funerals, Holy Communions - he's very
flexible! Back to business. Comedian and political activist
Mark Thomas is best known for bashing political and corporate
baddies. But his latest work involves bringing live opera to a
bungalow. I went to see him to find out why.
Ten years ago my dad started to walk backwards. His feet shot out
from underneath him propelling him in the wrong direction and
instinctively he pulled his torso forward trying to go the right way.
He would inevitably lose the battle and his arms would fly out -
"Argh!" And he would fall. Over the months, the falls got worse.
could fall up to ten times a day. And then he started to shake.
was right. When that arm went he had a kind of tremor to it. That
was when I sent him to the doctor. The working class, aria-loving Mr
Thomas Senior was diagnosed with the degenerative condition
supranuclear palsy. Bravo Figaro! Is the story of Mark's quest to
give his father one last gift - an opera in his very own living room.
My dad is pushing against the arms of a chair with his hands and
forcing himself upright. The concentration has caused his face
to go red and his white beard stands out against his complexion,
but his eyes. He has fought the battle against his eyelids and won.
And his eyes are open. I had forgotten they were blue. They were
crystal blue. And my dad is back in Mark, take me through the inception
of this project. What was the igniting spark? I was the first
person to do inheritance tracks on Radio 4. You talk about a song that
is meaningful to you from a family perspective. And I realised that
that aria, Figaro's aria from the Barber of Seville was this thing
that my dad particularly loved and that was the thing that, as he got
ill and disappeared from us, that was the thing that I started to
connect with. They played that on the Radio 4 and someone from the
Opera House heard it and Mike Figgis was curating the Festival at
the Royal Opera House and asked me if I would do something about opera.
That's where it all started. Hello? Mum, it's firstborn. Listen to me
through. I've got this idea. Don't shoot it down. Dad doesn't get out.
Dad doesn't listen to opera. He can't even watch it because he's
going blind. So I've got singers, proper opera singers from the Royal
Opera House. Think about this. Could we put on an opera in dad's
living room? Could we put on an opera concert in the living room,
with you, for dad, in Bournemouth? And my mum says, "Oh my God, what
will the neighbours think?" does your mum feel - because your
mum is now the mouthpiece of your dad. She's the carer. How does she
feel about him being immortalised in this show? She's kind of all
right with it. But she's very protective of him. So I have to
talk to her quite a lot and say, "What shall we do about this?" "Can
we put a picture of him in the press?" And she's like, "Well, he
can't make that decision so we have to go with caution."
My mum remembers the first time she went to Glyndebourne. She said,
"I've sent your father up to the bar for a glass of the iced coffee
and all I can hear is his voice going, 'How much?!'" But he loved
the music and he knew about opera. He could tell you if he had seen a
good one or a bad one, unlike 80% of the audience there who are just
happy to pat themselves on the back just for turning up!
I love standing up there just going, "My dad was a working class Tory"
which sort of flies in the face of what people expect, do you know
what I mean? There's something nice about that. Do you think his end-
game would have been for a Rossini- style opera about Thatcher?! He
would have loved it! I think he would have adored it. That would
have been amazing, yeah you're right. The Iron Lady Opera. Yes.
Bravo Figaro is on at the Traverse Theatre until 26th August. It's
unlikely that those horse rumours about Catherine the Great are true,
though undoubtedly she was a formidable woman. Alastair Sooke
went along to look at some of here trinkets with another formidable
woman about whom all horse rumours are false, Miriam Margolyes.
Empress, lover, reformer, collector. Mother Russia personified. The
National Museum of Scotland has brought an immaculate collection
all the way from St Petersburg to Edinburgh this summer. More than
600 objects from the personal collection of Catherine the Great
that reveal the truths, the contradictions, the lives and the
loves of one of the most extraordinary monarchs that ever
lived. Joining me to uncover her story is actor and Catherine
admirer Miriam Margolyes. Very nice to meet you. I just love her. I
think a woman like that, who took all the opportunities that life
offered, and she had so many interests - she was sexually active
- and that personality has come through the ages down to us about
250 years later. So she was quite a gal! Shall we go and have a look?
Terrific, thank you. It's so fascinating that she was only 14
when she was whisked across Europe to go and marry the man who became
her husband. Before she became this. Hey! It's quite grand this. That
makes me think of Elizabeth I. I have the heart and stomach of a
king! And she's male there. That's the thing that I find so
fascinating. It's a radically androgynous portrait. It suits her.
It's all the rhetoric of old kind of swagger portraits I suppose of
men, kings, rulers, controlling not just their horses but their
kingdoms - their empires in this case. She's got a rather engaging
smug expression as well. "Look at me and take note, folks!" What's
this? I find these really intriguing. They date from a little
later after she had taken power. These are porcelain figures of
classic Russian characters, the kinds of people you would have
found in Russia at the time. And they would have been modelled by
So these are porcelain figures of Russian nationalities in their
national costume? Yes. And it's of a piece with Catherine's whole
programme to embrace Russia, that she was more Russian than the
Russians to win the love of her people. And it worked. Good for her.
Catherine did everything she could to make Russia great. Her reign
coincided with the enlightenment - a brave, new intellectual age that
privileged modernity and the rights of man and she wanted to bring some
of that radical thinking into Russia. These are all French
philosophers because this part of the show talks about how Catherine
the Great was the Enlighten Empress. This was a bust that she had
sculpted of herself and she sent it to a French philosopher, Voltaire,
and they struck up a correspondence. Isn't that wonderful? What monarch
these days talks to philosophers? I think that's tremendous. I love
that intellectual vitality that she displayed. She was super-smart. She
was not just politically talented, she was bright culturally, inspired
really. I think he called her "the brightest star of the north" which
was some accolade. Dear old Voltaire. I like him. This is a
mind-blowing series of objects. This was originally a dining
service consisting of almost 750 different porcelain pieces. Crikey.
They were commissioned by Catherine from the Sevres Porcelain Factory
in Paris. Can I show you a detail that I love? You can see these
medallions that have been placed inside the porcelain. They were
very prestigious objects in antiquity, collected by Roman
Emperors. No surprise to see Catherine the Great interested in
cameos. She had a huge collection herself. This would have cost in
today's prices �1 million. I can believe it. Look at all the gold
leaf. They were being gathered together as a gift for Potemkin. He
was the chief lover in a series of lovers that she had during the
course of her life. She must have loved him very much. Potemkin was a
brilliant strategist and politician and Catherine needed him to help
her transform the country. She also loved him deeply. She made him a
prince. And she's rumoured to have married him in secret. He was her
soul mate. But he was a military leader. Catherine was such a
conqueror of her territories. He did it for her. She wasn't just in
love with his body, but with his military prowess. What do you
think? Was he a fine figure of a man? Yes, I think he was. She
thought the world of him. Good on her! Can I show you something I do
like? Please do, yeah. That is that portrait of Catherine. It is one of
the last that was done of her. She is about in her late 50s. To me, it
is a speaking likeness. There is an awareness of age somehow in her
face. A compassionate gaze. But there is something so real about
her there. She is an old lady and she is speaking to me, another old
lady. Catherine the Great is on at the National Museum of Scotland
until 21st October. That remains the best way of
cleaning cutlery I have ever seen! Afternoon. I know all too well how
exhausting it is to appear at the Edinburgh Festival. I had to work
for up to an hour every day. Phill Jupitus has gone one further.
Instead of the classic 60 minutes of labour, he's gone for three
shows at this year's Festival. Phill Jupitus is no stranger to the
Edinburgh Festival. This year, he's the only performer doing three
shows back-to-back. First, he performs as a camp Conservative
Minister in Coalition, a fictional account of the disintegrating
relationship between the Tories and the Lib Dems. For every political
crisis there is always the simple solution. It is always wrong!
stage at 3.30pm, he has 30 minutes to dash to his next performance. I
caught up with him. You are on a mission. I am sorry. You have to do
it! Phill's free show is a mixture of poetry, chat and music. You have
to go. I'm running late. I'm tired already. Fantastic. He started out
as a performance poet in the '80s. This show takes him back to his
roots. My nerves increased. Sir Paul at peace calmed me down with a
friendly hey, I know you, you are off the telly. And without thinking
I replied, "And I know you, mate, you're in the fucking Beatles!"
Less than two hours later, he is back on stage in his stand-up show.
Tonight, he elects to open as a German U-boat commander. How many
boats did I sink? None. I'm a pacifist! Now, you may think what
are you doing being in the Navy? Well, I am fighting my problem face
to face, I'm claustrophobic! What you are doing this year is about
trying to bust out of that feeling that you have been straight
jacketed -- straitjacketed by the panel shows. I think so. Why not
use that than think, "I must do a show, I must - let's focus on this
this year." As soon as the play clicked in, it was three shows.
What is the thrust of Coalition? Britain is not working? It is set
in a couple of years what would be the natural end of the coalition.
What makes the play work is that it is not out of the realms of
possibility. The things that happen in the play in terms of how the
coalition falls apart could happen in real-life. You start with that.
You are into... Porky the Poet. is a great show. It is connecting
you with your youth? Yes. That comes across as a lovely nostalgic
feel to it? It was how I started. You have to embrace your past.
I do one from the past, but it is bringing that side of your
personality out again, the one wordy side of me. I know for a fact
that you are not done for tonight. No. No. How many more tonight?
have two more tonight. I'm doing set list at midnight and... Nutter!
And Best of the Fringe at 1.00am. Then you will sleep the sleep of
the funny... No, I will strip naked and I will stand there. I can get a
crowd together! How many do you need? If you would like to check
that out, watch Coalition, or him in character at the Stand
throughout the Festival. Dance now. Yes, I have trained! Not in
movement! The highlight is the Deborah Colker Dance Company. This
is them in rehearsal. The Festival has always showcased
the best in dance and this year is no exception. Over the next few
weeks, the stages of the city will be alive with a thrilling spectacle
of dance moves from a mixture of countries. First, straight in from
Rio de Janeiro is the Deborah Colker Dance Company. It is one of
Brazil's hottest cultural exports. She's choreographed videos for MTV,
won an Olivier Award and is the first woman to create a show for
Apology for the loss of subtitles for 49 seconds
Why were you so drawn to this story? When I read the story of
Pushkin, I would fall in love with the characters, how Pushkin
described them in the beginning and the transformation. It is amazing.
In the end, she is the dominant woman! LAUGHTER No, it is someone
that really chooses her destiny. The story at the heart of the novel
is of a country girl who falls in love with a cosmopolitan. Years
later, the tables are turned. Will love prevail? It is a tragedy. It
is about love. It is about life. Really, I felt that it was one
story that doesn't matter that it was not from the 1970s. You have
put Pushkin at the heart of the dance? You have made him a
character? Yeah. How did you decide to locate him in the midst of your
other characters? This is something - I like my decision. Onegin did a
version of Tchaikovsky. One film was done, very British. I like that
very much. I am the first one that really decided to have Pushkin on
the stage because if you read the book, you understand my point of
view. He is - sometimes you don't know who he is talking. It is
Onegin, it is Pushkin. Who is saying this?! What's happened? Who
is changing? You understand? That means that he is part of the story.
Also a very strong conception is that extraordinary construct - the
tree in the middle of the stage, which is so unique. Tell me how you
came up with that? The tree is the symbol of nature that Pushkin talks
about. And also it is like branches. This makes different places on the
stage. This is the house of Tatyana. This is the garden. No? And to
bring this kind of imagination. your decision to dance in it, was
that inevitable? Did you have to be part of this? This wasn't easy. To
the end, do I need to dance or not? I need to be on the stage with this
company. I'm a grandmother! Can you believe this? No! It is time to
stop. For over a decade Harry Hill's TV
Burp has been satirising everything on the small screen. Harry Hill is
in Edinburgh with an exhibition of his paintings and Michael Smith
went along to talk to him. After being a doctor, he changed to
Harry Hill and decided to become a stand-up comedian, as you do. He
made his name in this city. He took his bizarre brand of humour to the
mainstream and he managed to give kudos to You've Been Framed!
Harry's career taken another strange turn. He is here in
Edinburgh for the first public exhibition of his paintings. In my
hobby, he's turned his hand to creating an al ter Nat reality --
alternate reality. This is Philip Scholfield. This is what I thought
was perhaps his nightmare. He has to think on his feet the whole time.
There is something very dark going on with all this business. Yeah. I
used to have that joke where I used to say, "If mummy loved me, why is
she not breathing?" That was quite dark. LAUGHTER This is Colleen
Nolen. From Loose Women? Yes. There is an article about how her rabbit
had been killed by thugs. LAUGHTER You find that funny? Just the way
you said it! I got the picture of the rabbit. Why the optical? I like
the science diagrams. There's a few of those in these. This is the
Jarvis Cocker nut! I was involved in a charity event where I was
manning a coconut shy and he was manning the dodgems. My wife won a
coconut, right? And because Jarvis had been there on the day and I had
met him, I thought I would paint his face on one. Then I thought I
would have a series of Brit Pop coconuts. There is a fourth. It is
not a good likeness. That is when he was a bit older. In the future!
LAUGHTER It is not quite there. So who is the dog? Her name might
have been Lola. Why is she so sinister? She is like a sort of
plucky little dog and it is a - she had been around at various points
in history. So I thought maybe it was her... Spoiled it for Fergie
and Andrew. She had taken the ring! LAUGHTER I don't know what her role
is. Maybe she has a role of the media. OK. Right. LAUGHTER But she
is Lola the media dog. To be honest, I don't give it a lot of thought. I
think with that - I did work that one out before I painted it. A lot
of the time I start on the dog. lot of the subject matter does seem
to be the pop culture? I don't go out much! I receive all my
information through the Daily Mail. Right. Tell me about Chris Tarrant?
Once I got the hang of painting his face, I couldn't stop doing it.
Where is his hand? In the photograph he had his hand, it was
cut off there. This isn't quite as accurate. LAUGHTER I imagine, I
don't know. In your stand-up there is a lot of reference to hands
being mutilated. Your son had a rather different-sized... Gary and
Sam, his son. LAUGHTER Yes. noticed that? Yeah. He was born
with one hand a lot bigger than the other. It has not been a problem
until we have started to teach him how to tell the time. LAUGHTER
know I would say, "Where's the big hand?" He would take that the wrong
way! You get that one for free! LAUGHTER My Hobby runs until 2nd
September. Harry will be embarking on a national tour next year. Join
us same time next week where I'll be talking to Niall Rogers and we