Andre Breton, Antonin Artaud, Belt Up, Dada, Death, Dominic J Allen, Edinburgh, Edinburgh Festival, Edinburgh Fringe, Fascism, Fascist, Federico Garcia Lorca, James Wilkes, Lorca is Dead, Louis Aragon, Paul Eluard, Rene Magritte, Salvador Dali, Spain, Surrealism, Surrealists, Theatre Review
For my final review of the Fringe, what fitter subject than the death of Federico Garcia Lorca? The Spanish playwright was executed by the Fascists in 1936, and his fate will have a peculiar resonance on the last day of the Fringe, as festivalgoers abandon the creativity and poetry and eloquence of Fringe theatre and they return to the office, to the darkening nights, to the mouths to feed and the wolf at the door. At the end of Lorca is Dead, the Surrealists who have fallen over each other, and often us as well, in their hapless attempts to narrate Lorca’s life and death, abruptly announce that “it is finished.” They pull audience members to their feet, indifferent to their applause, and as we empty out of Andre Breton’s study, the Surrealists stand helplessly at the door, in tears at Lorca’s death, which is itself only a symbol for Salvador Dali’s flight to the world of commerce. Outside, the streets are full of people roaming about listlessly or returning home – few of them are drunk because there is work tomorrow. And Lorca is dead.
Belt Up theatre have come to Edinburgh from York, and tomorrow they will take all of their shows home, just as theatre groups from Nottingham and Manchester and Bristol are dispersing to the provinces. Nae bother that Belt Up’s play, which was scripted by Dominic J. Allen, is drowned in the shadow of its star Dali, who returns in an immaculate Second Coming by virtue of the superb acting of James Wilkes. Nae bother that Wilkes knocks the rest of the cast (and all of the “interactive” audience too!) into a bowler hat, just as Dali’s support for Fascism necessitated a domineering charismatic leader like himself (Dali sent telegrams to Franco congratulating him on his repressive crackdowns). Nae bother that this is the story of Dali the showman, rather than of Lorca the poet, and that Dali’s showmanship – his easy wit and dancing and adverts – spill out of the Surrealist wardrobe to encompass everything, so that it seems impossible that such a cheap stage turn could have commanded a painter’s discipline or a philosopher’s vision.
Nae bother that this Dali claims that his very identity rather than merely his work is Surrealism, whilst there is no mention in the play of his terrible paintings; or that the rest of these Surrealists tumble about in Monty Python-style slapstick, rather than truly reflecting the monumental idealism of Breton, who believed that he was at the frontiers of reality itself and that Surrealism was more important than any modern scientific insight. Nae bother that these Surrealists are unconscious Fascists – that everything is scripted and rehearsed – that the audience members who are given parts to perform respond well to orders like Fascist collaborators – that no audience member tries to rip off Dali’s moustache or burst into spontaneous poetry or take a shit on Breton’s desk, which is what the Surrealists would have most likely wanted. Nae bother that after Dali storms out like a prima donna, the heartbroken Surrealists have no answer to reality (which they never should have acknowledged as a formal adversary) other than a bare, snivelling sentimentality.
Lorca is dead. Tearing from one play to another earlier in the week, I was suddenly aware of something surprising and unfamiliar in the air. It was chilly. Like a cat in the long grass, the bleak Edinburgh winter has already noticed us, it already has an eye on us. The last week of the Fringe is a sustained note of regret – pouring over the Fringe Guide, we shudder at all the performances which we never got around to seeing, and which will now never return. Dreamland is evaporating into the morning light, Dali is selling our dreams to Hollywood, the theatres are back in their boxes, the venues are being shut up or they are returning to their practical careers as bars and lecture halls. The Fascists are here, Creativity is vanquished, Lorca is dead!