With August having jumped into 2023, Scotland submerges us in artistry. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe’s marketing campaign is titled Fill Yer Boots, meaning the gathering of all things cherished and important. The phrase signals the rhythmic fall of shoes on cobblestones or soft brown floors, the stop and swing of self and travel too.
Each August, Edinburgh emphasises itself as a refuge for performance and creative opportunity, offering a range of events, theatrical performances and presentations. Blazing new soundscapes spill through a city which has a deathless presence in history and dreams. The 2023 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, spanning from 4–28 August 2023, welcomed creative interests across the conversational territories of surrounding place, displacement and identity.
“Nicola Benedetti, the festival’s first woman and Scot to be named director, led the month-long program”
Nicola Benedetti, the festival’s first woman and Scot to be named director, led the month-long program. A shaper of the world’s classical music scene, her simultaneous command of the violin and belief in its varying identities make her work remarkably singular. Her 2013 album Homecoming: A Scottish Fantasy features Bruch’s masterpiece, a transcendental ode to Scotland that reimagines this love by bringing Scottish traditional music and the Scottish Gaelic language to the storyline. Her interest in place and diffusion, affirmed in her output, makes her an essential leader of today’s imaginative assemblies.
It’s August 16th and St. Cuthbert’s Church, nestled in the cupped hands of nature’s green, feels far away from neighbouring Princes Street’s urban, gulping breaths. On 16 August, the venue for Alistair Savage: The Fiddle and Robert Burns welcomed the musician with experience in both classical and Scottish traditional performance. This presentation of Scottish traditional music, set to the writing of Robert Burns, was narrated by actor John Shedden. The classical backbone evident in Savage’s playing, such as his use of the entire bow with varying pressure from the right hand, gave the traditional melodies a new push of posture, grit and triumph. This approach served My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose beautifully. The melody soared despite an obvious clinging to the beloved, and Savage’s balance between this hold but reach (apparent in the stanzas of Burns too) was deepened by his presence in two traditions. Gregor Blarney on piano and accordion and Ewan Robertson on flute brought glistening daybreak to the tune selection, a sunshower to the earth of Savage’s sound. The audience was carried through the echoes and lilts of land and language, introduced to the influence of music on Burns and how the pen and melody were very much one to him. Music from this tradition can be found year-round at sessions in Edinburgh’s Sandy Bell’s and The Royal Oak.
“Nicola Benedetti emphasised the importance of this orchestra’s presence, considering how the internal political struggles of Venezuela have restricted the ensemble’s international engagement”
A concert from the classical schedule at the festival worth paying attention to was the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela’s performance of the celebrated Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on 27 August. Nicola Benedetti emphasised the importance of this orchestra’s presence, considering how the internal political struggles of Venezuela have restricted the ensemble’s international engagement.
On the other hand, the COMA exhibition strips us of place and personal connection entirely. This festival representative prided itself on experimenting with establishing a uniform collective. The COMA experience was held from 8–27 August at Summerhall, a collaborative venue in Edinburgh noted by The Stage for hosting events which have “rewired the Fringe.” We were asked to lie down in a bunk bed, blanketed by darkness and left to the instruction of the voices and noises from our set of headphones. We all took the harmless pill in the dish at our bedside and were swarmed by what sounded like bees, a steam engine or at times the commanding voice of the leader ordering us as a group. Instructions included reaching out for someone’s hand, or listening for your name being called.
Comparable to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, the experiment’s purpose was to have us engage with a new collective reality where we realised how vulnerable we could be. Emerging into the outside world after the thirty minutes had elapsed, I accepted the impossibility of having complete control over one’s life. Grappling with our situations, processing decisions from a never-ending list and using our time wisely as adults are fundamental to living exhaustively. COMA encourages us to understand the deterioration of the mind when the body is disoriented.
“We’re told that spaces can be stars in daylight but grim black holes at night”
Rooted in Jules Verne’s novel A Journey to the Center of the Earth, Viaje al Centro de Alhijara is a film featuring Mexican teenagers. An example of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe’s online resources, it highlights the remarkable artistic capability of Mexico’s younger generation. Based on the novel’s events, the plot follows an alchemist’s interest in reaching the centre of our planet through a volcano as characters convey descriptions of the places they call home. Through acting, they establish a relationship between themselves and Verne’s character Axel, who also considers youth, change and travel. Adolescence, labelled by one as “a revolution of hormones”, is connected in the film to Verne’s volcano. Through this passage from childhood to adulthood, they reach different understandings and centres of themselves. Descriptions of their hometowns include them being called unsafe, ugly or instead beautiful, the place of the best lollipops. We’re told that spaces can be stars in daylight but grim black holes at night. The narrators poetically fulfil our urge to see what they know. This project generates the idea that when visions slide across the screen, they become more vivid when accompanied by expressive speech. Although A Journey to the Center of the Earth is science fiction, we’re reminded through this work that our created and lived realities are capable of conversing.