Autumn is already leaning over Edinburgh, very gently but nonetheless with a discernible pressure. The end of the Fringe always comes with its own deathly majesty. The Fringe begins just after the height of summer, when the sunshine can still be as bright as crystal, when the rain is peppery and frolicsome, when there is a colourful gaiety all over the city. By the end, the days are darkening at nine and there is already a chill in the air, like a wandering, exploratory paw tapping at your neck. By the end, your mind is turning to autumn, to the autumn Semester, to more layers of clothing and thicker blankets on the bed. The Fringe always ends after summer has died but before we have finished mourning.
Tychy@ the Fringe is still haunted by a play called “Lorca is Dead,” which was performed by Belt Up Theatre in 2010. By a stroke of luck, I had chosen this play for my final review of the Fringe, and it was the perfect choice. “Lorca is Dead” consisted of a brilliant anarchistic lament about the execution of the poet Federico García Lorca during the Spanish civil war. The play featured a standout performance by James Wilkes as the sellout Surrealist Salvador Dali. The whole experience seemed to magnificently encapsulate the painful death of the Fringe and my sharp, ultimate sense of its horrible temporariness. The analogy might have worked better had I not felt the need to explain it so rigorously. But this was sixty years ago, back in 2010, and I was greatly more immature as a writer in those days.
So every year I set out to find a play which is equally evocative of the end of the Fringe. It needs to involve a story which features death or decline as a major theme. It absolutely cannot be a bad play, because it would never do to end the Fringe on a bad play. Even today, however, I cannot just pluck a good play out of the air. Yet even more crucially, it cannot be too good a play. What’s the use of suddenly becoming passionate about a production when the cast has gone home, there is nobody left to glue together into an audience, and the theatre is once again a disused cellar?
Triptych Theatre’s “Scattered,” a play about a family who are coping with the death of their patriarch, fails on the last front. It is a genuinely exhilarating piece of theatre. It is perhaps made more so by its young cast and its status as the debut production from a new company. I am cursing myself for discovering it so late.
The play is devised rather than written. I got on so well with it because I had engaged with it from the beginning as a farce. I could tell that if you tried to invest anything in these characters, then you would lose it all. The story ducks and bobs about. There are initially lots of sharp and well-delivered lines, or even just physical details. Horseplay with a relative’s ashes might supply the standard material for a farce, but the focus of this story moves constantly forward in deft steps. If the father’s instructions about the disposal of his ashes had for a long time seemed like the central plotline, it is next dismissed as fatuous and then it is gone altogether, with a kind of airless pop.
So “Scattered” makes stealthy calculations in its timing and the effect is sweeping and dramatic. But the play is also richly lurid as well. Jake (Michael Parker) and Nicky (Sally Paffett) are ghastly middle-class twits who remain apparently unphased by their father’s death. It seems simply not to have occurred to them to grieve. When a long-lost brother (Benny Ainsworth) appears on the scene, they react with a shocking absence of curiosity towards him. They might look sympathetic because they are so fresh and chatty, but they are little more than cannibals. The final revelation about Jake was unexpected but, upon reflection, hardly a surprise.
So Triptych Theatre is now a priority. Next year their production will be the very first thing that I review.
I believe that she is called Christina. She told me that she had retired over fifteen years ago, and so she must be today some distance into her seventies.
She comes to the Fringe every year. Last year, though, she was absent. This year she was back again, but on a wheeled walker. She had had a fall last summer and there had been other medical problems.
She normally lives in San Francisco. In a queue at the Pleasance Dome, on one of the first days of this year’s Fringe, she was chatting quite merrily to me about the forest fires which were wandering around near to her home. For this reason, she is happy on damp days at the Fringe.
So despite her age, despite the medication that she takes, despite the walker, despite the insolence that disabled people encounter routinely at Fringe venues, she still manages to see three Fringe shows every day, mostly at the Pleasance and the Traverse.
What an inspiration!