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A Space Dogyssey

UNITED KINGDOM | Tuesday, 19 August 2014 | Views [372]

Monday morning, we checked the Half-Price Hut part of the Fringe app to see if they had more tickets that we wanted for sale. They did. So a bit before 10, we all set out- my parents to go grocery shopping, my sister and I to get more tickets.

 As we walked past, we noticed that there was a pretty long line and a sign announcing that today it would not be open until 10:30. So we went along with our parents to the grocery store.

 We knew it was on Princes Street. We knew the address was 54. We knew it was a Mark and Spenser's. Which all amounted to us reaching Princes Street, looking both ways, and trying to decide which way was more likely to have a Mark and. We decided to go to the left and walked, keeping an eye out for addresses. Several blocks later, we found 100 Princes Street. A few blocks later, we found our second address. It was greater than 100. So we turned around and went back.

 From the outside, the grocery store looked more like a small food court than anything else. But once you stepped inside you could see all of the items you'd expect to find at a large grocery store. Except caramel and chocolate biscuits, and candy bars. But they had elderflower cordial and a nice selection of pastries, so they were forgiven.

 After my sister and I had finished our search for chocolate and juice, we asked the parentals if they were fine carrying everything back, then we went to stand in the line for the Half Price Hut. Since we'd been there, it had both started moving and grown.

 At first, we were frequently approached by people trying to give us fliers for shoes. None of the, did a particularly good job, although some did do a less bad job. One person approached us twice. That's to be expected when we're walking around at the street. That's less OK when we're not moving around much or changing order at all. Then there was the person who would not go away.

"Are you interested in seeing this show?"

"No thank you."

"It's produced by this woman."

"No thank you."

"And it stars this actress."

"No thank you."

"It has some strong language, so if you're offended by that you might not want to go."

Alternatively, if we have no interest, as we've already demonstrated, we might not want to go.

 The show-promoting people went away when we were reached the formal part of the line, with ribbons to keep the queue neat. It says a lot about Edinburgh that people will form naturally into queues. For Dracula, people need to be told to queue badly. To accommodate as many people as possible in the roughed area we were clumped together, but the next group of people would arrive and try and form a single file line behind the clump in front of them. Total culture shock compared to Morocco.

 We walked away with another success- half-price tickets to Laika: A Space Dogyssey at 1:45, Departures, A Song Cycle at 3:40, and Miss Julie at 7:00.

Laika was the story of the first dog in space. It was a lot sadder than I was expecting, with a fair amount of dealing with the moral qualms of sending a living creature int o space to die. The program included a quote from one of the scientific directors of that program, Oleg Georgivich Gazenko. “The more time passes, the more I am sorry about it. We shouldn't have done it. We did not learn enough from the mission to justify the death of the dog.”

The play opened with an old scientist expressing similar regrets. Then it cut back in time to where that scientist was concluding that nothing that they send into space could come back down, and Gazenko came up with the idea of sending a dog up. That way they could beat the Americans once again. The question was where to find such a dog, although the scientist we saw initially had his qualms about sending a dog up to certain death.

Cut to the streets of Moscow. Scavenging for food, we meet Laika and her brothers. Laika is the one who has kept the family together, after their father ate their mother (the mother was a chihuahua. The father was a good deal bigger) and died choking on one of her bones. They dream of getting out, and are hopeful of an opportunity when they hear that Russian scientists are searching the streets for a space dog.

After a rousing dance number (“Life's a bit of a bitch in mother Russia / Mother Russia's been a bit of a bitch to me / Still I know I have to love her after all she is my mother / Still sometimes I wish that I was born into a different family”) Laika and her brothers go to a training academy. They are roundly mocked by the purebred soviet dogs that they will never go to space. Her brothers look for the spa and the proverbial free lunch, but Laika, with the help of the suborbital dog Gregor, trains hard.

While they're lolling about, Laika's brothers hear two of the scientists discussing the certain death of the dog that is chosen to go into space. They warn Laika, who runs to the scientist and asks if she is going to die. The scientist sings about how science is greater than one man's moral qualms (“Fleming made friends with his bacteria”) then assures Laika that no, she will be fine. The next day, Laika is chosen to go into space, outraging the purebred Soviet dogs and worrying her brothers. She has a lot of publicity, photographs, manicures, signing autographs, the whole spiel. To ease his own conscience, the day before Laika goes into space the scientist brings her to meet with his children, and she has one last day of behaving like a normal dog.

In space, Laika sings about how she misses her home, and wants to be back there now, with her brothers. (“The pages of history is the loneliest place to be.”) But of course, she is never coming down again. Then the scientist, aged, comes back on and says how they drank champagne while Laika's barks died away.

 At least they beat the Americans?

 We had some time to go before our next show, so my parents split off to get a beer, and my sister and I went to the next venue to see if they had marshmallow and nutella crepes. They didn't, but they did have nutella and strawberry crepes, and British strawberries are very tasty. We had that and hot chocolate, and it was delicious, though messy. It was also shockingly quiet and peaceful to sit and eat, given we were only a little bit off High Street.

 While I was washing my hand of the nutella and powdered sugar that had stuck to them, there was a woman wearing a dress dumping water onto her hair and trying to mess it up a bit. She asked me if she looked bedraggled enough, and I said she did, then asked if she was in Departures. She was, and I had my a minor spoiler for the show- they come on stage bedraggled and slightly wet.

 Departures took place at a station with the announcement that the train has been delayed for 48 minutes. One woman turns to the man next to her and asks for help with her crossword. They strike up a conversation, and the man starts singing about how he is ready to start a new life with an oboe that he hopes he'll be able to play. The woman responds by singing about all of the places she's been, but how right now she is helping her mother with her cancer. (“Not that she's dying. But it's such a joy to be able to help.”) 

By this point, a couple more of the hopeful passengers are paying attention. (Oboe-man drew the attention of everyone, including the station attendant, by jumping up on the bench in the middle of his song.) The woman next to caregiver worries about her husband who's waiting for her. Well, waiting to Skype with her from Bucharest. Then she sings about the eyebrow dance when people hear she's from Romania, and all of the prejudices that go along with that. And also her worries about her husband and daughter who are so far away, and her concerns she's losing them by coming to Britain to get a job.

 At this point, the station attendant gets back on to remind everyone that “for the safety and security of other passengers, we ask that you not leave your emotional baggage unattended.” Then a man finally gets up the nerve to start hitting on the girl I met pouring water on her hair. Well, kind of. He starts to, but then concludes that he has no right to assume that just because he's male he's justified in being able to objectify her. But he really likes her eyes.

 The girl is, during his entire rap, trying to work up the courage to ask if he's talking to her. She doesn't until he's done, and by that point he's talked himself out of it. So she starts to sing about how she always misses things in real life. She has a huge following on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and any other social media site you can think of. But she has no idea how to talk to people in real life, and isn't willing to try online dating. So she's left alone.

 “Passengers are reminded that, for the entertainment of personnel, this area is under CCTV.” Then, from the floor where no one could see him (except maybe people in the front row) a boy pops up and tells the girl he went to school with her. The others encourage him to share how he's feeling, though he doesn't have to if he doesn't want. He sings about how his life is mostly ordinary, mostly god, and yet he can't help but eel isolated and sad. (If he were like the character in The Notebook whoa beard and build a fence and then he'd finally have reason to cry.) While the others are comforting him, an old man, the last person on the bench, stands up and walks over to stand by himself. Everyone else is pouring out confessions, but “I choose silence.” Slowly, the others notice him and join in

 When that song finishes, they all go back to standing by themselves and admit, in stage whispers “I don't feel like I'm part of the human race.” Then the station attendant comes out of her box (“Fuck being spied on but never being seen.”) to tell them they're all idiots. In all the time she's been here, this is the first time she's ever seen a human connection being made at a train station. She advises that they all start reaching out more to people. Then, with five minutes until the train arrives, things kick into high motion. People start calling the friends and loved ones they'd referenced in their songs earlier to tell them they need to talk. They start talking with the others, exchanging names and contact information. Twitter Girl and Privilege Guy talk tentatively, then she grabs his him in to kiss. They make out for two solid minutes before remembering everyone else who's around them. And in the end they board their train to go their own separate ways, but knowing that they have finally made a connection.

 On that inspiring note, we went back to our apartment. We had plenty time for dinner, but not quite enough time we could justifiably have tea and then dinner. So we left the desserts for later and went out to go see Miss Julie.

 The venue was nice. It was a real theater, with a stage and comfy seats and everything. It was also on the Royal Mile, just a few blocks down from our apartment. With all those factors, it was rather surprising that this was the first time we'd been in there. If I were to have a show at the Fringe, that would be the kind of venue I'd want to have. Either other people think differently or there's some combination of money and personal connections you need to get that venue. In any case, the theater was comfortable.

 Praise for a venue is probably a warning sign. It's not that Miss Julie was bad, it just wasn't exactly fitting. Every single piece we'd seen before Miss Julie had some light moments, whether it was a dance number or an amusing line. Miss Julie had none. It wasn't bad, it was just utterly hopeless in a way I wasn't quite prepared for. There were also no likable characters. I tend to forget that most people have likable characters as a requirement for enjoying a work of literature.

 What I knew about Miss Julie before watching the play can be summed up in five words (“dead canary, hotel, given razor”) so I was glad that I had the opportunity to see it performed. But the classical literature that I normally like to read and watch doesn't have the same force outside of the reality of daily life. And in many ways, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is not reality.

Tags: fliers, fringe, grocery, musicals, venues, wilde

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