Apocalypse, Art, Bourgeoisie, Class struggle, Death, Edinburgh, Edinburgh Festival, Edinburgh Fringe, End of the Fringe, Financial Meltdown, Fringe Ticket Prices, Hamlet, Humor, Masses Against the Classes, Satire, Shakespeare, The Dunciad, Theatre
It had been a long day and we were half way through another, rather undistinguished production of Hamlet, when I was suddenly nodding and blinking, and for a moment I shot up to surf frantically on a huge, watery wave of consciousness, which then broke, sending me plunging down into the black depths and my dream about the death of the Fringe.
Ticket prices had been rising steadily. They had been expensive to begin with – so expensive, in fact, that they had effectively notified ordinary people that, “You are not welcome here. How can you think that this belongs to you?” Indeed, when doing the rounds of Fringe theatre, one quickly forgets to be outraged if nobody in the audience ever seems to be Scottish, let alone working class. This is the garden of England, and if you closed your eyes during the average Fringe play, you could be sitting under a gazebo somewhere in Kent. You do not belong here. Or else you should be serving the drinks.
But then there was a sudden escalation of ticket prices, and even the wealthy bourgeois audiences became tight-fisted, if only out of indignation. They finally just hung around in the bars, gossiping loudly about which actor had the prettiest smile and the brightest future. Soon I was virtually the only one – the only Fringe theatre fan who worked through June and July – grabbing every penny to build my little Fringe fortune. In some shows, there would be a solitary viscount or a princess sitting amongst the rows of empty seats, but soon even these people were repelled, departing in their helicopters for more hospitable climes.
I persevered, assuring myself that it was only temporary, that the prices would come down once the recession had ended. But perhaps the recession was not temporary. The worst thing was the fliers. The students who handed them out had rolled around Edinburgh in a huge restless mob, until one of them had finally tracked down where I lived (for I was the only critic still reviewing the Fringe), and they had all descended upon my home. They would yell through the letterbox, peer through the windows, stand in the garden watching me, until they somehow got up on to the roof. I would lie in bed at night, listening to hundreds of students screaming their pitches for Fringe shows, yowling like cats on heat.
The performers from the Royal Mile annexed the small street outside my home. When I fought to get out, the jugglers and human statues and novelty opera singers would surround me like the paparazzi besieging a disgraced cabinet minister. It would take me half of the morning to lose them, as I tore around the city in a series of taxis, tumbling out of each telephone box in a new disguise.
And the venues were so forlorn. C on Chambers Street became a huge, haunted mansion, and this deep well of silence ripped my nerves to shreds. Stranded on their tropical island in the middle of the Meadows, the Ladyboys of Bangkok were now screaming at passers by for attention. I would sit under canvas in the abandoned Underbelly Pasture, listening to the steady pattering of the rain outside. When the Fringe had lived, I had joked that the torrential rain would soon kill it, or else that the Fringe could survive only if it built itself an Ark. But the cold August rain was now my only Fringe friend.
But many of the shows remained superb and this made it all the more harrowing. When the Fringe had lived, I had been weeping with frustration, ranting to my bemused, apathetic friends or writing on Tychy for apathetic readers that, “You really have to see this play. There is nothing like it. There is nothing with such power.” But I was now alone at every show, and I could not share the beauty and the majesty with anybody.
But I am a theatre critic of great conviction and as the Fringe now essentially belonged to me, I thought that I could correct the bad plays. I would deliver a stream of comments through a poor show, pointing out which actors should be dropped and which scenes deleted, but however strident my heckling, the plays would proceed like clockwork. The actors could not hear me, they would not look at me. They smiled and bowed during my applause – which I now played at full volume from a “ghetto blaster” perched on my shoulder – but a true cast will never return to life during the applause, and they will continue to perform as if to some theoretical audience. I finally climbed up on to the stage to get a response. I stuck my fingers into the corners of their eyes and flicked at their foreheads. But they continued to beam with stilted, clockwork gratitude.
I finally faced my own powerlessness. But I wanted to believe in the Fringe – in the idea that when it was here, our civilisation was in flower, and that this was the pinnacle of our human achievements. I wanted to believe that the Fringe was like Camelot shining over the Dark Ages. I wanted to overlook the injustices, the mediocre shows, the pretentious writing, the contempt for audiences and the stealing from their pockets. For surely the greatest tragedy of Hamlet is that Yorick is dead, and that we can never hear his gibes and enjoy his temporary infinite jest? Every year this city of a thousand worlds falls apart like a rose, with its petals dropping away. Oh great Anarch let the curtain rise again, and universal splendour enlighten all.