On our second day at the Fringe we managed to fit in four shows. That’s rather a lot for a single day, especially with two teenagers in tow. Like the day before, it was a mixed bag, with some very good and some either awful or, to put it mildly, highly problematic.
This was not technically a Fringe show or even a theater performance. It was a walking tour organized by a big tour company. In many ways the opposite of the Spanish Civil War tour we took in Barcelona, it was nonetheless a lot of fun. Basically it consisted of walking through some narrow streets by the Royal Mile. The mile is the historic city’s main street and sits on the top of the hill that forms Edinburgh’s oldest part.
We learned about torture that used to take place in the market square; the narrow streets, called closes, that people in the city used to live on; the slum that used to be where a bunch of bars and nightclubs now are; and the portion of the city that was enclosed in 19th century after the bridge connecting Old Town (pre-18th century portion) to New Town (18th century or later section).
The heart of the tour was a walk through the enclosed part of Edinburgh. It consists of the arches under the South Bridge. Originally meant to be storerooms and workshops for stores situated along the bridge, the arches were filled in and abandoned at some point in the 19th century.
The history was fascinating and the ghost stories a lot of fun. Certainly something I’d recommend to those visiting the city at any point in the year.
Kevin Quantum: Dark Matter
This was our second magic show of the Fringe and the first paid one we went to. It was not worth it. The magician seemed like a narcissist and did things like show videos of himself on Britain’s Got Talent wowing the judges with impressive tricks while just showing us endless card tricks. We came thinking we’d some of the impressive tricks and left irritated that we spent almost an hour and fifteen minutes watching him do things with cards (in fairness, there were quite a few non-card tricks but none wowed any of us). We left really perplexed as to why Kevin Quantum could charge 10 GBP per person for his show while Jame Phelan, who seemed to us a much better magician, was offering his as pay what you can.
Every year I’ve gone to the Fringe there’s always been a performance that was so good I found myself talking and thinking about it for years afterwards. This isn’t an experience that is by any means unique. My mother was for a long time obsessed with the National Theater of Gent and still talks about many of their Edinburgh performances. A version of “Nixon’s Nixon” that I saw with my father perhaps fifteen years ago was one of the most intense and immersive theater experiences I’ve had. My Dad and I occasionally still reference it.
John Rwothomack’s “Far Gone” is a show like one of those. A one man play telling the story of a child recruit in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), the piece is by turns gripping, immersive, and provocative. At its core is question that is difficult to wrestle with, at what point do those who commit horrendous acts of violence lose their humanity?
Rwothomack is an actor’s actor. He’s able to fully embody characters with quite divergent personalities and physical traits. And he can switch between them in an instance–almost even playing two of them at the same time.
After the show Rwothomack told us that theater doesn’t end with the performance. Drama isn’t just about entertainment. It is about empathy and the opportunity to peer into the psyches and situations of others. And like the best of the art, “Far Gone” raised questions for me that I’ll be struggling for years to come.
Ali Affleck Celebrates Nina Simone — Little Girl Blue
It wouldn’t be an understatement to describe this as one of the most problematic performances I have seen anywhere. Sadé and I are huge Nina Simone fans. When I saw an advertisement on the festival website featuring a poster of Nina for a show celebrating her we decided we needed to go.
Naturally, we didn’t anticipate someone doing an accurate rendition of Nina. But we also didn’t expect to see what we saw–an all White jazz band doing her music.
The venue was lovely–the Jazz Bar makes the best drinks of any place we’ve been in Scotland–and the backing band was excellent. But… the whole thing felt like watching an incident of blackface. Of course, the singer, Ali Affleck, wasn’t in blackface and did mention the obvious at several points, that she is not an African American woman, but that didn’t lessen the sheer horror of the experience. It was a moment of Black culture performed by White people. Nothing like that should happen in 2022–though it constantly does–and nothing like that should happen in a space where I would have imagined both the audience and the performers knew better. But, of course, when people like Aisha Hauser, Kenny Wiley, and Christina Rivera push the conversation about white supremacist culture in Unitarian Universalist spaces and try to get folks like me to think seriously about culturally misappropriation they are often just trying to get us to recognize that we continue to do many things that perpetuate and center White culture in the name of diversity and even honoring other cultures. “Ali Affleck Celebrates Nina Simone” felt exactly like one of those.