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Edinburgh Fringe, Part 2: The Vengeance

UNITED KINGDOM | Thursday, 25 September 2014 | Views [353]

On Friday morning we got up and went down the breakfast. Essentially, it was a blend between the typical Hilton breakfast and the breakfasts we'd been having all over Scotland. There was fresh fruit and muffins, but also potato scones, haggis, and black pudding. There were also several kinds of juice and our choice of tea or coffee. I had tea, as I'd been choosing ever since we left Edinburgh the first time. I'm not sure if that because of a “we're in Scotland, we should be drinking tea, not coffee” mentality or if I was merely imitating my sister.

After breakfast, we walked to the Ingliston tram stop and bought day passes to go to Prices Street. (We couldn't quite figure out how to get round-way tickets, and the day passes were only 50 pence more. Besides, this way we could hop onto the tram if we were tired or wanted free wifi.) The price was several pounds cheaper than the price from the airport was and, despite the signs that said you couldn't walk from the this stop to the airport, you could (we did, albeit on separate days.) So if you ever have a overabundance of time and energy and an underabundance of money and you need to get between the Edinburgh airport and the Edinburgh city center, you have your solution.

In the tram, we finalized our plans for the day. Although it's not like the entire Fringe had changed in a week, the week were were gone was enough for some shows to end and others to begin and appear at the Half Price Hut and elsewhere.

I had a memory of looking through the programming and being disappointed that a show that I really wanted to see was running when we would be near the Fringe, but not actually going to it. Now that our plans had changed, I was able to see the show. The only problem was that I couldn't remember which show that was. I had to read through most of the theater section to find the play I was looking for-- Tom Stoppard's The Real Inspector Hound. Then I needed to talk my father into seeing it with me, since I like being able to talk plays over with other people. My father did read Rosencranz and Guildenstear are Dead aloud to me when I was around 9 years old, so going to see a more obscure Stoppard play was a logical extension of that.

Other shows that we were interested in seeing were The Complete Works of William Shakespeare: Abridged and Pioneer, a play another attempt to put humans on Mars in the aftermath of the failure of Mars 1.

Those two were half price,, The Real Inspector Hound was not. So the rest of my family went to stand in the Half-Price Hut line, I went to the venue to buy tickets for The Real Inspector Hound, wander around on my own, and get lunch, and we arranged to meet up before Pioneer and after The Complete Works of William Shakespeare: Abridged. Between those two, my father and I (and also my mother, but for unrelated reasons) had The Real Inspector Hound to see, and somewhere between 15 and 30 minutes to get between venues.

I bought the tickets, verified that I knew the route between the two venues, explored Edinburgh, ate lunch, and met up with my family. My father and I exchanged tickets and queued for Pioneer. They checked our tickets pretty early, tearing off their portion and leaving us the stub. Right before we entered the room, they wanted to see our tickets. I found the stub in my pocket and held it out to show the usher. That was the last time I saw any of my tickets.

Pioneer was very, very good. For one thing, the science was sound. (Or at least my sister was impressed by how scientific it was, and she's a rocket scientist, so I'm inclined to trust her.) The show began with two Russians giving a somewhat generic introduction to why Mars is fascinating. Projected on a screen behind them was the view from a rover, which, although not as well illuminated, was also on stage. (Mini rover Probably not autonomous, because I doubt the show had that much of a budget.)

The play had four main sets of characters. There was a fairly young Indian woman, the stand-in leader for the agency that was preparing the Mars II mission, there were Russian brothers connecting over space history before the younger of them goes back to the United States, there was the Dutch couple living in a colony on Mars (we only ever saw the wife and her AI companion) and there was the crew of Mars II, the first people to go to Mars since the failure of Mars I.

In the aftermath of the Mars I failure, (alluded to, but never fully explained) the space agency tried to figure out what had come wrong. They had two main ideas- none of the people on the Mars I mission were scientists, and none of them knew each other. Like real scientists, they needed to test these theories. So they recruited two people to undertake a secret mission. They would fake their own death and “go to Mars.” The couple believed they were going to Mars, and the woman's sister (the only other person who knew the truth) believed they had gone to Mars. In truth, they were only going to a dome somewhere in the former Soviet Union where they would have some of the stresses (a lot of the stresses) of being in Mars simulated for them. When we see the couple, the husband, Oskar, has been missing for longer than normal, and the woman is getting worried. Eventually, her sister is asked to talk to her and tell her to go on. She refuses, and is finally told the truth. She is nearly convinced, but then she shares the truth with her sister, devastating the Indian woman in charge of the mission. The Mars II mission's landing is contingent on the experiment ending well.

We also have the real Mars II mission, featuring a married couple and a French chef. We know that things will end better for them because they come up with cheesy answers to audience questions (for example, answering “how have you decided who will touch the ground first” with “we will all hold hands and step out together.”) On the plus side, the connection between them and the other characters is relatively obvious, even during the early portions when it was a little unclear who the Dutch couple were.

Operating almost solely for exposition and wacky adventures are the Russian brothers. They make pilgrimages to places important in Russian space history only to find out that they are the only ones who care about them and the places are closed, and they come the closest one can to imitating space flight while on the ground. (Go to an isolated desert in the middle of the night, turn your headlights off, and accelerate to 150 km//h. When we realized that they were in the same area as the newly-escaped Dutch woman, there was a bit where we worried that it was going to have a dark ending, but fortunately the brothers find her unconscious during one of their headlights-on normal-speed portions of their road trip.

In the end, the woman doesn't tell anyone what happens, so the Mars II mission lands successfully and they all step out holding hands, but not before the Indian woman, convinced of her failure, kills herself. The Dtuch couple find each other and re-integrate into the world that thought they were dead. And the brothers end on a slightly more tender note than some of their previous fights and petty thefts would have led you to believe they could.

Overall, it was a very good show. Even if I hadn't had almost a week of not seeing any theater, I still probably would have thought it had that extra spark of originality that a Fringe show needed. Several sparks of originality, and the science and acting to back it up. Overall, a success.

With the play over, my father and I headed off quickly towards the next venue. We got there before the theater was open for seating, which would have been a success. Except that while my father was using the restroom, I was discovering that I didn't have a ticket. Any ticket. I checked all of my pocket and my purse. Twice.

I had lost all of my tickets. Had I accidentally thrown them to the ground while I was showing the ticket stub to the usher of Pioneers? I couldn't have, because then I would have at least had that ticket stub. The only ticket I had was my tram pass. I was missing all of my theater tickets, and nothing else. What had happened?

That didn't matter. What mattered right now was getting a replacement. My father and I went over the the ticket desk. He had both the receipt and his ticket, which he was able to show and, after one failed attempt (there was another ticket sitting on the desk that confused the woman) she reprinted my ticket and gave it to me. Up we raced to the theater, We only missed a minute or two of the play.

It was certainly amusing,” my father said when I asked him afterwards what he thought of the play.

But...” I asked, finishing the sentence the way his tone of voice implied.

But it's kind of difficult to watch a play where the actors are intentionally acting badly.”

I'd say that was a very fair assessment. The cast was at the level of terribleness where it had to be intentional (During the play, one of the actors shook another to get his attention the same way you'd shake a vending machine that had swallowed your money and didn't seem to have any intention of giving you your coke) but that tells very little about the skill of the actors themselves. The same could be said about Tom Stoppard. If I had nothing else to judge on, I might have believed that he was only capable of writing terrible mysteries and analyses worse than your average high schooler's. Fortunately, I have read other Stoppard, and I can give the actors credit for being far more capable than that play could show.

I think I might have preferred The Real Inspector Hound when I was reading it. Even so, I'm glad I got to see it. There are too many plays that I've loved, but only ever been able to read. I like to see those plays performed. (Reason the Fringe made me happy: so much Oscar Wilde. Reason the Fringe made me unhappy: absolutely no Eugene O'Neill.)

Once that was done, we raced to the next venue to get to the box office with enough time to try and reprint my ticket. This is where it gets tricky. We hadn't bought the original tickets at that venue. We'd bought them at the Half Price Hut. Technically, I'm not sure if they were supposed to reprint them. But when we asked, and showed them my father's ticket, a woman took both of them and disappeared to the back room to call and check.

We ran into my mother, and told her to go without us. She came back to say that it was a fair distance away, and my father should take his ticket (or I should take his) and leave, or we might be too late. Very nice, but we no longer had a ticket. Our fates were now linked. The woman eventually came back with two tickets, and we thanked her and ran off. Literally.

My mother hadn't been lying about the distance. You'd think “It's all part of Plesance Courtyard. How far could it be?” Answer: Very. We left six or seven minutes after the show was supposed to start. We were handing over our tickets ten minutes late. Fortunately, the show took 12 minutes after the theoretical beginning time to truly start.

I really like The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged. Whenever I'm talking to someone who can actually tell his comedies apart, I usually like to link them here so that they can understand why I say “Much Ado About Nothing” when I'm really thinking of “As You Like It.” I'd seen it televised a couple of times but never before live. There was less of a difference between the two than I might have hoped.

And with that, we were done with the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. My sister was waiting outside the venue, and we went together to find a place for dinner (Chinese. There were four different menus, each with different dishes on them, all of which seemed to be valid. Some of them had pictures, which was helpful, except when you found yourself staring at a picture of chicken legs and lost your appetite.) We stopped at the Mark and Spencer's we'd shopped at before for some final snacks, and then we took the tram back.

 Technically, the first show I'd seen at the fringe was Peace, Tolerance, Surveillance, and Drones, and the last was The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridge. Without completely writing away those shows, and especially not the other shows I saw that final Friday, I'm going to replace that with my own canon: the first show I saw was Austentatious and the last show was Victorian Vice's The Picture of Dorian Gray. Ausentatious was the first show that I wanted to see, and The Picture of Dorian Gray was the show that I consciously chose to be my last experience with the 2014 Fringe.

 So Austentatious and The Picture of Dorian Gray are my two bookends. Between(ish) the two I saw 27 shows, most of them very good. I saw three musicals based on the works of Oscar Wilde, and several other more conventional performances of plays by authors I normally have to read quietly to myself. I saw more theater in a single week than I'd seen in the previous three or four years combined, and I go to plays a lot for someone my age. I love the Fringe.

 Our previous two visits to Edinburgh were five years ago and six years. Before that it was 11 years. In my opinion, five years is two long. After we arrive, my mother will make a comment like “how long has it been since we were here,” “five years.” “No. It feels like we were just here.” “It was five years. Trust me.” And then she'll do the math and realize that it's been five years, it just felt like less to her. To me, it always fells like at least that long.

 I'm not sure when I'll be able to go back. But I know that as soon as I can, I want to. 

Tags: food, fringe, hilton, mars, shakespeare, tram

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