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Utilities and Incense

UNITED KINGDOM | Thursday, 14 August 2014 | Views [342]

The apartment we were staying at the first two nights was a bit removed from the Royal Mile, but the apartment we'd be in for the rest of the week was on the Royal Mile. As such, it made sense to go see things not near the Royal Mile. We set out to do that, only to discover that Edinburgh wasn't all that big. There's a lot to do, but it's all packed pretty tightly.

We began by heading towards the university. I didn't think I'd been there before. I was wrong, because Plesance, Underbely, the Gilden Balloon, and some of the Assembly rooms were all located on campus. Also the map of the university seems to be equivalent to the map of Fringe venues, which is equivalent to a map of Edinburgh as a whole. There are academic buildings all around the city.

New this year, there is a full box office in th visitor's center of the university. After finding two shows that we wanted to see (Austentatious- an improvised Jane Austen novel and Siddhartha the Musical.) The line in the university was nonexistent, and they even remembered my father's name when he gave it. Tickets in hand (or, more securely, pockets) we went off in search of lunch.

 Of course, immediately after we wen to we had definitive plans for a 1:40 show we were offered free tickets to a show at 12:40 expected to last an hour. (The Trip. “It's a comedy written to raise awareness about autism. I needed to change my woridng, because calling it a comedy about autism just sounds wrong.”) We considered it, but wouldn't have enough time to get from one venue to another. So, regretfully, we had to decline.

 We ate lunch at a falafel place. It was rather spicy, but good. My parents were content to sit there and read, but I wanted to wander around. Taking advantage of the five year age difference from the last time we were there, I went off on my own.

 I verified that I knew exactly where Austentaious was, then wandered around. I was looking for quiet and calm places. I found them. The first was the Old College, which was beautiful and tranquil, but not the best place to sit. So I went off to a park that was right next to the tent for the Assembly Square (close enough to hear a bagpiper there) but, unlike that tent, public for non-ticket holders.


The park was mostly quiet. There were people sitting in benches around the labyrinth, making me too self-conscious to go in and follow the twisting and winding paths. A little later I got to see two people practice juggling. They weren't yet very good, so they dropped the pins a while. I would not recommend that they start trying with the knives or flames that the people on High Street joggle.


I read in the park for a bit, then headed in to sit in the venue and wait for the show. While I was waiting, I saw a man walk through wearing a Regency-era overcoat and a stack of flyers. Was he an actor for the show,, fresh off the streets spreading the word? Later, I would learn that the show was sold out and the “flyers” were in fact programs. Inside the programs were sheets of paper asking us to write down the title of an imaginary Jane Austen novel.


First off some minor gripes. Both Northanger Abbey and Persuasion were published posthumously, and in addition to the six novels commonly known to be written by her, she finished Lady Susan and had two unfinished novels- Sanditon and The Watsons. Also, dinosaurs were kind of known while Jane Austen was alive, they weren't called that.


Now for the play itself. It began with a “Austen professor” getting on stage to talk about the many formerly undisocvered Jane Austen plays. Among them were a few that they would not be performing today including Out of the Closet and Into the Cloister (“Rather progressive for her day, Jane. Out of the Closet and Into the Cloister abandons most of Austen's typical female protagonists to focus on a young gentleman's decision to become a monk. It's a journal of his time after joining the abbey, following day after repetitive day.”) and Cliffhanger Abbey (“Near the end of her life, Jane ran out of ideas and started reworking her old novels with similar names. So this follows the romance of Frizzy Hennet and Ditzwilliam Farcy. For obvious reasons, we won't be performing this one tonight. Instead, the work we'll be performing is” Incense and Utility.


Incense and Utility began with a conversation between two characters as they were cleaning giant sheets. Their master comes in, and it is quickly established that he loves building gigantic pillow forts with his childhood friend, George, and that the pipes are broken again. One of the servants, Susan, made the pipes burst just by looking at them.


The scene than cuts to Jessica and George in the carriage riding to his house. Although George and Henry are old army bodies (George once got a hole through his hand stopping a bullet from reaching him) Jessica has long resented the influence Henry has on George. So much, that when she was younger, she burned down the moat in their blanket fortress. It took hours of work, but she did it.

Of course, when Henry and Jessica meet, the interaction was cold and thinly veiled the deep attraction between them. George asks why she never liked Henry, and they flashback into when the boys were 9 and Jessica was 7. They were remarkably audacious and flirtatious for their age, with Henry offering to show Jessica how to bend her fingers in the sandbox alone later. Snap back to the present. George: “That was a pretty auspicious beginning, actually.” Jessica: “You weren't around for what happened in the sandbox.” Flashback. Jessica: “You broke my fingers!”

 Meanwhile, George's mother is meeting with the utility man, Mr. Pipe. He gives a solution, and their relationship turns more flirtatious and loving. Then, in a letter to “Richard, my business partner. (That's who you are)” Mr. Pipe reveals his secret plan of taking all of their money so he can support his lascivious hobbies like gold golf and bobbing for diamonds.

 The mother engages herself to Mr. Pipe, but he reveals at the altar that he has simply stolen all of her money. This leads the fire coming from eeys servant Susan and dinohands Jessica to kill Mr. Pipe. Finally, Jessica and Henry are able to admit their feelings for each other and, since there was a wedding all set up, they get married. And George had incense in his pocket that he could bring out to complete the wedding.

 The cast did a really good job of being creative, and also rolling with everything their fellow actors said. This led to wonderful exchanges like “I made sandwiches.” “Pickle and lime?” “I never eat anything else.” They also kept a decent continuity throughout, with things like “can I take your kerosene” shortly after Jessica arrives at the house and occasional refernce to Sparky, the favorite horse of Henry's that Susan killed by looking at. It was an amazing show, and well worth the slight cram from it being sold out.

As we were walking back, it started to rain. Severely. We had umbrellas, but that was not enough to keep us dry. Especially when, as we were stopped at one light waiting for the green walk light, a bus drove past and splashed us with water. By that point, all we wanted was to be back in the apartment in newer, drier, clothes.

 We stopped in a grocery store to get food for dinner and ate it in the apartment. When we set out again for Sidhartha, the rain had lightened considerably, and we arrived at the theater dry.

 Siddhatha was good, but it was in Italian with English translations appearing on teleivsion screens next to it. It was not an opera- there were numerous sections that were spoken, and the music was overall more modern. The actors were good, as were their singing voices, and the costumes were beautiful. It just left me feeling much the same way the Herman Hesse book did. Siddhartha Gautama might have achieved enlightenment, but I don't share that understanding.

 When we got back to our apartment after that, both my mother and I had a really strong desire for garlic chips. So I did a search on Google maps for Garlic chips, found a chiper not too far, and my father and I set out in search of it.

 When we got there, garlic chips weren't on the menu, but we figured we would ask anyway. The woman gave us a very confused look. “We don't have that.” A man behind the counter asked if we wanted garlic mayonnaise. “Yes, that would be lovely, thanks.” We weren't expecting them to find garlic potatoes to make chips out of.

 The chips weren't slathered in sauce, like I was used to. But it was the same kind of sauce that I'd come to know and love, and I was having real chips again. Even if I was looked at like I was crazy or highly confused because I asked for a perfectly valid (and delicious) dish. Maybe it's only in Ireland that they're called “garlic chips.” Everywhere else you need to ask for “chips with garlic mayonaise.” Except in the US, where that combination will be particularly disappointing.”


Tags: austen, chips, improv, juggling, theater, university

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