Forest Fringe (Day 1)
The Forest Cafe, Bristo Street
4 stars ****
DON’T LOOK FOR IT in the Fringe Brochure, because it just ain’t there. The Forest Fringe – co-directed by Andy Field and Deborah Pearson, artist-led, and free in every sense of the word, although donations are welcome – is a Fringe in itself; and if you did nothing for the next two weeks but hang around in its bar, and saunter into its round-the-clock sequence of shows and music sessions, you could have yourself a good Edinburgh Festival.
It’s not that everything at Forest Fringe always goes smoothly; when I arrived, around ten o’clock on opening night, there had been an unexpected creative intervention from someone in the kitchen, who burned a strong chilli pepper so fiercely that the entire bar and theatre space were full of stinging, cough-inducing spicy fug. The programme went boldly on, though. At the time, the theatre was packed for the first Edinburgh performance of Hitch, Kieran Hurley’s fine 2009 Arches show about his radicalising journey to the G20 summit in L’Aquila in Italy; Hurley apparently coughed his way through in style.
Then it was the turn of Glasgow group Fish & Game, with a brand new piece called Two Trillion, mad as snakes and at least as fascinating. Put together by Eilidh Macaskill and Jodie Wilkinson, with co-performer Sam Phipps and a seven-piece RSAMD brass and string ensemble called Ensemble Thing, Two Trillion seems to be about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln on one hand, and the idea of moral responsibility on the other; if two human beings are just two clusters of a trillion cells each, how can they be answerable for their crimes? I don’t know whether this is a clever joke about evolutionary biology legitimising bad behaviour; I do know that the moment when the band arrives, and the show opens out into a kind of sonorous, mourning lyricism, is quite electrifying, and that it ends with the boldest aria I’ve heard in a while, as Macaskill sings her way through a thundering version of Lincoln’s Funeral Ode.
And that was almost it, apart from 25-minutes spent snuggling up to a fellow-critic in Melanie Wilson’s sweet new Forest-Fringe-sponsored audio piece Every Minute Always, a romantic headphone show for an audience in pairs playing at the Filmhouse every afternoon, and based on images from Brief Encounter. As I left the Forest, Andy Field was about to kick off the William Shatner karaoke, in which participants volunteer – in the style of the well-known Star Trek actor – to perform a popular song in a deeply earnest spoken monologue. Essentially, this year’s Forest Fringe is billing itself as a Festival Of Thoughts in the afternoon, a Festival Of Ideas in the evening, and a Festival of Experiences at night; but at Forest Fringe there are ideas and experiences everywhere, just waiting to happen.
Until 21 August.