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The Fringe is like a casino, one gambles every time on a play, and there are occasions, like today, when you tear yourself away with few happy chips. The Fringe is being presently lashed by tenacious torrential rain, which is probably now wiping more off Edinburgh’s economy than the plummeting stock market, and I am stuck in the Surgeon’s Hall without an umbrella. There is a show with the promising title of The Last Hopeful Epistle of Bonnie Prince Charlie, and every ticket holder gets a complementary glass of Drambuie. What could be more perfect?

It was my fault – I should have checked. This production was not listed in the official Fringe brochure. The “Trinity Theatre Company” does not have a website and the “actor” Michael Nevin has no internet presence. I usually read all the other reviews before going to review a show myself, to make sure that I have picked a good one, but it is too early in the Fringe to really do this yet.

“Bonnie Prince Charlie” turns out to be a lecture by an amateur history enthusiast. Michael Nevin emerges from behind a curtain, sweating and stuttering, to reveal the results of his investigation into the Bonnie Prince. The quality of the historical analysis on offer is demonstrated when Nevin recounts how he purchased a rare letter from Charlie on auction, and then sent it to a handwriting psychologist for graphological testing. The graphologist was not told who had written the letter, although she must have been fucking thick not to have worked it out, but she nevertheless revealed all sorts of insights into Charlie’s character. It does not seem to have occurred to Nevin that these might have been obtained from reading the contents of the letter, rather than analysing its handwriting.

Although Nevin has a Midlands accent, which is hardly in the proper spirit of things, his revolutionary conclusion is that Charlie was basically a good old boy. And, other than pouring a bottle of Drambuie into the audience and giving the stuff the sort of plug that makes one visibly wince, that is it. Nevin seems a nice guy and his story cannot fail to interest, but this is simply not theatre. It should be in a tent at the book festival, or doing the rounds of local history societies.

Next up, an hour or so later at the Surgeon’s Hall, is Indalecio Coruegedo’s play Devotion, which follows a young matador as he dresses for his first bullfight. Perhaps it has obtained a nice after-dinner spot, but “Devotion” seemed to me to be playing to a full house, which boded well given the rain. As one might expect, these backstage bullfighters do not spend the whole play droning on about the most state-of-the-art brand of spear, but they instead brood upon love, faith, honour, and fear.

I could not decide whether this show affirmed our preconceptions about the Spanish character, in being so slow and lazy as to be ineffective, or whether they had achieved an agreeable suspense. At one point, the matador Juan (Ruben Martin-Vegue) takes to the stage as naked as bull, and he then proceeds to spend at least half an hour elaborately dressing for his fight, whilst his face grows slick with terror. His toilet complete, he breaks down into tears. But after stalking off to die, looking gorgeous but oddly like a pearly king, it is announced, with a ping of unintended irony, that his fiesta has been cancelled due to rain. Has Juan faced down his fear by dressing for the fight, or has his fear won an obscure victory?

This matador dresses for his annihilation like a virgin bride preparing for her big day. Juan is sustained by a passionately tender camaraderie with his assistant Yelko (Diego Hidalgo), whilst remaining disconnected from his admiring girlfriend Maria (Violeta Orgaz). The detachment is further emphasised by the fact that Juan and Yelko converse exclusively in Spanish, whilst the lonely Maria is left to chat to the audience in English.

This is a visually impressive production, with some lovely Spanish guitar accompaniment. The devil is in the detail, however, and the play was almost jeopardised by its carelessness with the subtitles, as “No Signal” appeared suddenly on the TV screen during one impassioned exchange (the audience were audibly aghast). But this was more of a theatrical spectacle than a drama, and one mourns the laziness or aloofness of the writing. If the writer Indalecio Corugedo had relied more upon his excellent actors, rather than merely their costume, then this could have been an outstanding play.

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