Wednesday, August 26, 2015

One Day When We Were Young

I was not intending to blog any more about my various 'adventures' at the Edinburgh festivals. But, with Skip garden now an embarrassment from lack of attention because of the summer we've had, my steam cravings satisfied for now, and more walks awaiting a dry day or so, perhaps another Edinburgh story might be in order.

It began as I was heading to see one of my taiko performances. As Fringe regulars will know, when heading anywhere around the centre of the city, one 'collects' leaflets promoting a variety of shows. One accumulates a pile of flyers, unfortunately most destined for the bin at the end of the day.

I noticed a young couple dancing in the street up by the George Square venues. A flyer duly appeared as I made to take a photo or two.

The leaflet described 'One Day When We Were Young', a play by Nick Payne: "The story of two people as their paths cross throughout the years, changing both their lives irrevocably. In this heartbreaking time-shifting journey of would-be romance, we track the meetings of Violet and Leonard in three parts, from the hope of youth at the height of WW2, to the loneliness and hindsight of old age."

Now, call me a hopeless romantic, but that sounded like something I would go and see. For one thing, I wondered how the two young actors would meet the challenge of the 'old age' bit!

I couldn't go that day, but I kept hold of the performance details.

More visits to Edinburgh, and I went to a number of performances of various things that my life is none the better for. However, I did see Dolly the sheep, suitably stuffed, in an small exhibition in the University Library, and aside from the drums, that had been on the top of the list of enjoyable experiences.

The flyer for 'One Day When We Were Young' was still in my bag, albeit a bit battered. That's it above! It kept reminding me that, if I went up to Edinburgh again, I should go and see this play. So, yesterday, I found myself with a ticket, and was first in the queue at the Box, one of the Assembly George Square, venues.

I then saw a theatre performance that dug a knife through my own life's emotional memories, and left me with a lump in my throat. You know you've had an 'experience' when you have to go on a bit of a walk afterwards to get yourself together. It's what theatre should be, I do believe. I haven't been as affected by a play since 'I Saw the Swede' (about Raul Wallenberg) many years ago.

Nick Payne has written a good script for 'One Day When We Were Young', but it is the two actors which made the play special. Valorie Curry and Sam Underwood are extremely talented, and totally committed to their parts. Enthusiastic and passionate. They were good. No, they were brilliant!

Watching the play from the perspective of an 'older person' - and having just celebrated another birthday, I'm feeling every year that has passed - there were too many reminders of my own life woven into the narrative. I smiled at the mention of the first Wimpy Bar, the Bournville chocolate, and the short clip of Cliff Richard singing 'The Young Ones' - you see, Cliff and the Shadows was the first live 'gig' I ever attended. I was all of fourteen. I remember when my mum got her first washing machine too.

I'd better not say more about the play, or I'll have to give a 'spoiler alert'. Needless to say, Valorie and Sam met the challenge of playing Violet and Leonard in their later years just brilliantly. Clever stuff - I was so impressed.

And there's a twist ... and I don't mean the sparklers.

Great theatre. Well staged. Wonderful actors. Ten out of ten!

Read about the Fundamental Theater Project here.

If you can get a ticket, in the few days this show has left to run, do go. Like me, your life will be enriched for the experience. Assembly George Square, 13.45, until August 31.

And just in case any younger friends are reading this and don't get the Cliff Richard reference, here's a reminder. Innocent times!

Thought for today, 'Life is not a rehearsal'.

Photos © Skip Cottage

Friday, August 21, 2015

Fringe Days

I recall the years when I would spend a week or more in Edinburgh at various performances around the Festival and Fringe. These days I like to think I'm a bit more selective in what I spend my money on. And, of course, Skip Cottage is not as close to the big city as, sometimes, I would like.

This year, I've treated myself to a few days of 'culture'. Some of that has been searching out various taiko performances, see here. But I've also had a taste of theatre, recitals, dance, and musical theatre too, mostly picked at random. Some performances have been good, others ... well, let's just say that there are times when you come out and say to yourself, "That's an hour of my life I'll never get back." But that's the Fringe, of course.

In contrast, ALL my Japanese drum experiences this year have been exceptional. It's probably my scientific genes that have encouraged me to compare and contrast. I have enjoyed four different groups. All good, in different ways.

First of all, there was Terindaiko Seed's 'Advancement', at C, Venue 34, on Chambers Street, until Tuesday 25th, at 14.00. Full of enthusiasm and excitement.

Samurai Drum IKKI are at the space©Symposium Hall, Hill Square, Venue 43, at 17.10, but only until this Sunday (the 23rd). Technical brilliance. I went to see them twice, as I couldn't really believe what I'd seen and heard first time around!

Japan Marvellous Drummers are at the Assembly George Square Theatre, Venue 8, at 13.00 every day until the end of the month. A well travelled and accomplished company. Great drumming, and much more. There's humour, and if you would like to hear 'Scotland the Brave' played on a Japanese flute, this performance will make you smile.

The fourth group I saw was Japanese Drum Hibiki with 'Messages from Japan / Super-cussion'. Just four performers, with something really different. They are also at the space©Symposium Hall, Hill Square, Venue 43, at 18.20, until the 29th. If you have 50 minutes or so to spare next week, then this performance would be my recommendation. Hibiki are first timers at the Fringe and haven't, as yet, been getting big audiences. But they are great. The emphasis is on the traditional. They perform a new work, a Requiem for the 2011 disaster in Eastern Japan.

So, how much does it cost to bring the big drum - the Odaiko - all the way to Edinburgh? Sometimes this is played with a drumstick that looks more like a baseball bat, by the most muscular member of a taiko group. But in this modern world of equality, Edinburgh can now see a small Japanese lass pounding the 'big drum'. Impressive! You have to see it.

Fifty minutes you won't regret. Hai. Saiko desu!

PS Added later. Yes, I did go and see Hibiki again. Somewhat to my embarrassment, I discovered that they had found the review above, but I was recognised and warmly received, both before, and after, the show.

Here is everyone involved, relaxing after another great performance. What lovely people!

Pic © Skip Cottage

Saturday, August 15, 2015

In search of drums

I've been a fan of taiko, Japanese drumming, since I first encountered it in Karuizawa in 1997 at the World Junior Curling Championships. Since then I've seen many performances, with the great Tao my favourite, see here.

I thought it might be fun to seek out the drums of Japan at this year's Fringe, and see if the magic was still alive.

First stop was Venue 34, in the basement theatre of Adam House in Chambers Street, where the University of Edinburgh has a number of examination halls.

I thought it quite kind of one of the venue staff to warn me that the performance was going to be pretty loud. And of course these days, it's nice (?) to be sold a concession ticket without even being asked one's age!

The sign above is probably the understatement of the month!

I had come to see a performance by Tenrindaiko Seed, a young company, average age just 17, from Kasugai City, on their first visit to Edinburgh. You can read about them here.

The performance was called 'Advancement'. Good? Absolutely - five stars from me. How might I describe it. Accomplished, entertaining, energetic, fun, physical, .... taiko at its most powerful. These are the best young drummers in Japan. LOUD. And if you don't like sweat, then don't sit in the front row! At full blast, this is powerful stuff. I loved it.

Standing ovation. The performers came into the aisles at the end to thank the audience for coming along. Nice touch.

And this time, I DID buy the tee shirt!

Now, other Japanese drum performances are available. I did wonder if it was hazardous to health to take in two taiko shows in one day! But I had seen the next group before, and I knew how good they would be. 

So it was to the rather posh Venue 43, the Space©Symposium Hall, a converted church in Hill Square. Samurai Drum IKKI have been in Edinburgh before. Formed in 2002 by Ikki Hino, the group comprises just four performers, the master himself and three female acolytes. But what quality!

The programme included 'Makoto', a solo by Ikki Hino on three Shime Taiko drums. Unbelievable. How does he DO that?

The website is here. You can find YouTube clips of Samurai Drum IKKI here, and here. But watching and listening to taiko on a laptop or computer hardly compares to hearing and experiencing the drums live. 

Which performance did I enjoy more? Impossible to decide. Both excellent in different ways. I would go back and see both again. But there is more taiko to seek out this month in Edinburgh. And I look forward to that.

Photos © Skip Cottage except that of Tenrindaiko Seed on stage, which is from the group's website.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

The Duchess

It is a privilege to be able to get up close to Princess Coronation Class 46233 Duchess of Sutherland.

The locomotive was hauling the Railway Touring Company's 'Cumbrian Mountain Express' today from Liverpool to Carlisle via Settle, and return via Shap. Here it is on arrival at Carlisle.

First class is the way to travel on these railtours, for those who can afford it. Here is Pullman coach 'Sapphire' looking good in a rake of West Coast Railways' and SRPS coaches.

Class 47 No 47760 was on the rear of the train. Here, the Duchess is heading off round the Upperby loop, in readiness for the return journey, while the passengers enjoy a couple of hours in Carlisle.

And here we are facing south on Platform One, brewing up for the departure down the West Coast Main over Shap.

The locomotive would have travelled this route often in its working life. It was built in 1938 by Crewe Works for the London Midland and Scottish Railway. It regularly hauled express passenger services such as ‘The Royal Scot’ between Glasgow Central and London Euston.

The Duchess was retired in 1964, and sold to Butlins. Now, I remember clearly there being a big locomotive outside the Butlins camp at the Heads of Ayr. I wondered if that was Duchess of Sutherland, and if there was a photo of her there.

And an image search pointed me to this site, where I found the photo above, much as I remembered it, although I'm not sure that clear blue skies were ever much in evidence when I travelled that way in the late 1960s! The Duchess remained at Ayr until 1971. Go here to read about all the locomotives save by Billy Butlin.

In 1996, the locomotive was acquired by The Princess Royal Class Locomotive Trust, and, by 2001, was back in operation!

We're off! The sight, the sound, and the smell, were all part of today's 'steam fix'!

Photos © Skip Cottage