The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is many things to many different people. And a lot of people head to
Scotland for some, if not all, of
the three weeks in August. Just short of two million at the latest
estimate. That is what I call “a lot”. Is it an enlightened
perspective on the current state of the world of performing and visual
arts? Or is it merely a poncy indulgence for arty-farty types at the
taxpayer’s expense? Whatever.
Since 1947 many an aspiring thespian has set up shop to showcase their varying degree of talents. High art, low art, mediocre art. It’s all there. Many will go on to achieve greatness. Others will pack up at the end of their shift and go back to the day job. Much like a music festival really.
2012’s Fringe was not a lot different to any other. The usual glut of students who think they are desperately funny, but who should really just stick to the swotting. A decent play here, a lively Beethoven concert there. Much of a muchness really. So there I was, resigned to heading back down south thinking Ho Hum, Another Fringe. But then, on my last night there, I happened upon Unhappy Birthday.
It was The Smiths connection that initially caught my eye. I was looking forward to a decent soundtrack if nothing else. The blurb looked interesting. “Amy is having a birthday party. Morrissey is invited, and so are you.” That kind of thing. Even The Guardian had been impressed: “popping the bubble of pretentiousness around performance art.” And they tend to know what they are talking about with stuff like this! Who was I to question their wisdom? So off I went.
You walk in and immediately you are given a hat and a party popper. This is, after all, interactive theatre. There’s no point turning up if you just want to sit quietly at the back. You would only get picked out if you tried that trick. And I was right about the soundtrack. It was all Smiths, Smiths, Smiths. Well, nearly all. There was a smattering of their vocalist’s solo material also thrown into the pot. You are taken through the story of Amy’s life with these songs as the backdrop. You play pass the parcel. You come close to getting a slice of birthday cake, but it’s Amy’s party after all and she is perfectly entitled to scoff the lot. There is a karaoke (surprise, surprise it was a Smiths hit – an honourable rendition of Sheila Take A Bow). We finish off with a community prayer (“A Moz Blessing”) where you make your proclamations and then sing along to that well known hymn This Charming Man.
After the show I felt obliged to hang around and tell Amy that it was the best show I had seen in over a dozen visits to The Fringe. A genuinely heartwarming show, it is now the yardstick by which other stuff will be judged. Whenever I go to see a play in the future, I will somehow want more than just talking heads on a stage. This is a piece of work that is alive. It is in your face, in the literal sense. I would like to think it is going on a tour of the provinces. I would not expect to see it at the Theatre Royal, it just wouldn’t work in such a sizeable arena. But I could envisage it in the intimacy of the upstairs room at The Hop, for example. That space is very similar to the one used in
The best plan is to keep an eye on www.unhappybirthday.net if your tastebuds are aroused by the music and the medium of live theatre. And, Amy, if you see this article, please bring the show to
some time. I’ll be there. I have, after all, vowed to “proclaim by
word and example the Good News of Morrissey, despite the shame this might
cause.” That’s what I’m doing right now.