C on Chambers Street, China, Collective Encounter / Collective Ma'louba, Edinburgh Fringe, Mudar Alhaggi, None Drama Studio, Pu Songling, Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio, Summerhall, Theatre Review, UK Visa Restrictions, Your Love Is Fire
It is my first day out at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe and the immediate theme seems to be internationalism in peril. This is not a happy start.
I have gone to the Summerhall to see Mudar Alhaggi’s play “Your Love Is Fire.” Free mornings are currently few and far between for me and I have prioritised “Your Love is Fire” from amongst the available morning theatre. But the show is cancelled. The girl in the box office is flustered; she rifles wildly through the information on her screen.
An idea occurs to me. “Is it to do with visas?”
“Your Love Is Fire” is performed by Syrian actors.
The girl admits that this could be an explanation. I read in last week’s Scotsman that several Fringe shows have been delayed or even terminated because the personnel could not obtain their visas on time.
I am very annoyed and, with my superstitious reflexes leaping over all the fences that normally contain them, slightly frightened. This is my first show and it has been cancelled. Will my Fringe be jinxed? At this moment, turning from the box office with suddenly nowhere to go, I think that the Home Secretary should resign. If you go around saying these things too often, however, then people stop listening to you.
I later put in an inquiry to the company and they confirm that one of the actresses has not yet received visa clearance. The show will instead open on the 8th. Five performances have been cancelled.
This is totally, maddeningly unacceptable. Internationalism is the golden jewellery of the Edinburgh Fringe – it is humiliating to our city that these artists have not received a proper and prompt welcome. It is surely time for the question of visa processing to become politicised. Amber Rudd has not even issued a public statement on the fiasco.
Things look marginally better for Beijing’s None Drama Studio, who have at least got across the military-industrial border, but they are the victims of a casual rather than an official unfriendliness. Nobody has come to see their show. “The Cricket” is a beautiful, striking display of classical dance. The C on Chambers Street theatre contains over a hundred and fifty seats. And how many are in the audience? Yep, it’s just me, smiling encouragingly at the performers over my lonely glass of stout.
“You need to get some publicity,” I advise the director unnecessarily. The situation looks so unjust that I am about to pour out on to the streets to hand out the flyers myself.
I am reminded of that old Edinburgh folk tale about the fairy boy of Leith. In the story, an otherwise commonsensical Scottish laddie disappears every night to join the fairies in their secret underground realm beneath Calton Hill. This is what I feel like now, alone here as strident music plays and Chinese students dressed as insects frolic in front of me.
Who is this show meant for? There is a vast potential audience of Chinese students in Edinburgh but “The Cricket” has evidently struck no nationalistic chord. Chinese nationalism is often, I find, geared more towards the present and the future than the past. Yet curious Western theatregoers might be deterred by the initial academic dryness of the production. The original story was written by Pu Songling in the eighteenth century and it is set in the fifteenth. There is no dialogue. The surreal events feature two brothers or friends who are hunting the eponymous insects, before the younger of the two turns into one of them. Invading roosters and animate shadows and a sinister, spidery old lady add to the bedlam.
So you have to slowly learn how to read this performance. It is not, I think, a show for children – most children would lack the patience to really steep themselves in it. I should say that my self-consciousness at being the only person in the audience eventually melted away, leaving me at complete liberty to ponder the action on stage.
It is a bit like a ballet but there is more clout. The lead is impish and he has the right amount of charisma – a lot, but not too much to overshadow the supporting cast. The dancing is stylish and at times, when everything nods into flower, gorgeous. There are sensual impersonations of crickets, fanciful but still entered into, as Norman MacCaig might say, by every aspect of cricketness.
The booming music at the end is a mistake – my lone applause has no hope of being heard. There is pathos to the cast’s futile bowing and they also look rather sorry for me. When the Fringe does not live up to its internationalism, it can be heart-rending.
[I’ve been unable as yet to procure the cast’s names for “The Cricket”; I’d be grateful if anyone can provide them in the comments.]