WHAT'S WRONG WITH EDINBURGH?
THE Festival continues. This week on the dramatic side we have had A Midsummer Night's Dream performed with a lavish use of accessories, of ballet and the Mendelssohn music. This was indeed primarily a pictorial production. If anything was sacrificed, it was Shakespeare's poetry (I noticed that the hounds of Theseus had lost their loving description: My hounds are bred out of the Spartan kind'), but the eye and ear were amply satisfied. The eye particularly. Moira Shearer's Titania was a delight to watch, though sometimes her voice seemed a little light for the majesty of the part. The ballets, of course, gave her her chance and, partner- ing Robert Helpmann's Oberon, she took it superbly. Mr. Helpmann made a fairly sinister fairy king, suggesting at times a bat rather than the dragon-fly which, I imagine, his glittering winged costume was meant to recall. The playing of the other parts was highly polished: Philip Guard made a much less coy Puck than we generally get, while Stanley Holloway's Bottom was all that is to be expected from this actor (his ass's head was a masterpiece of mechanical ingenuity). Yet, all in all, this was spectacle rather than drama, an enchanting spectacle, it is true, but not strictly dramatic in its effect. Robin and Christopher Ironside who designed the costumes and set deserve much of the credit for its success—a success which from the point of view of the Shakespearean theatre might be regarded as a Pyrrhic victory.
At the Gateway, Theatre Robert Kemp's new play Time Other Dear Charmer strikes the one entirely Scottish note in the festival so far. Mr. Kemp recounts the story of Burns's platonic affair with Mrs. Nancie Maclehose (Clatinda), a precieuse (not entirely ridicule) who wishes to reform the poet and make him write after the approvedly genteel eighteenth-century standard. Admirers of this poet will probably feel that it is a good thing it all came to nothing. This play then presents us with Edinburgh in its golden ago and very pleasantly it does it. The only trouble with it is a certain slowness about the first two acts which could probably be coped with by cutting. It receives very good playing from Tom Fleming who shows just the right amount of mingled rustic genius and rustic bad taste as Burns and
Iris Russell who makes a terribly melting Clarinda. Lennox Milne also brings her
talents to the study of a part which is essentially rather too small. One would have been glad to see more of her.
Yet, however interesting these productions may be, they hardly provide that element of experimental daring which has been so sadly lacicing in this year's festival drama. The odd quarter of a million people who come to Edinburgh may possibly be glad to see Shakespeare and Thornton Wilder performed against the background of this impossibly beautiful town, but they will certainly not carry away with them any memories of a unique- dramatic experience. Macbeth, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Match- maker, Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, The Other Dear Charmer—there is nothing particularly experimental about any of this. Surely audiences have the right to demand some- thing a little more stimulating from a festival of international reputation? Surely they have the right not to be fobbed off with pre- London productions or portentous trans- atlantic trivialities? No doubt the festival organisers must watch the financial side of the question; no doubt they must choose some 'safe' productions: but, if Edinburgh is to offer more than, a flat money-making cosmopolitanism, some more scope must be allowed for experiments and some more thought taken as to what those experiments shall be. At present, in the field of drama, there are no signs that the festival organisers are thinking more than twelve months ahead and few signs that they are thinking at all. An instance of this is the highly anomalous situation which prevails with regard to the dramatic 'fringe' of the festival or, as they are officially called, the additional entertain- ments. Every year there appear in Edinburgh various small companies, amateur or pro- fessional, from universities or drama groups, club theatres or community associations, who put on plays in a variety of settings not adapted for the purpose with no official assistance and (for some years at any rate) with a certain amount of active discourage- ment from the festival authorities. Now it so happens that this yearly effort by young companies is one of the most stimulating aspects of the festival and one which, with a little imaginative encouragement could develop into an annual event of the highest importance for the British theatre. This year, for example, we have seen a production of Auden and Isherwood's The Dog Beneath the Skin by the Oxford Theatre Group which was a good deal more exciting than anything in the official programme. This dramatic Candide of the Thirties has stood the test of time better than one would have thought: its chromium-plated satire retains much of its glitter, though, curiously enough, the more lyrical passages (particularly the poetry of the choruses) do seem a little dated. Its success in the claustrophobic atmosphere of Riddle's Court (a wynd off the High Street) owed much to Patrick Dromgoole's intelli- gent and professional production and to sheer hard work on the part of the cast. At George Heriot's School is another Oxford company presenting Edward 2 and Ralph Roister Doister. The first of these is handi- capped by an over-large stage and insufficient extras to fill it; on the other hand, the playing of individual parts was creditable and the crowning in Westminster Abbey at the end very well done. The London Club Theatre Group are presenting a new satirical play: Love and Lunacy by Peter Philip, in which love, politics and Jungian symbolism are Inextricably and not too happily mingled. The first qualification for a satirical play Is that it should be genuinely satirical. Lacking all bite, Love and Lunacy was not saved even by the relatively high standard of he production and acting. At the Pleasancet Church there is Joseph Chiari's new verse play Mary Stuart. M. Chiari gives us an idealised portrait of Mary which contrasts too strongly perhaps with his realistic presentation of Elizabeth of England. The play suffers from lack of pace and from an insufficiently architectonic conception of history, but many of the scenes are effective —particularly that between Mary and John Knox—and Catherine Lacey makes a con- vincing tragedy queen.
There are many more productions on the 'fringe' of the festival this year, but it would be impossible to deal with them all. Of course, their standard varies both from year to year and from company to company, but enough has already been said to make it clear that the ostracism with which they are con- fronted by the festival authorities is, to say the least, quite undeserved. Amateur and club theatre productions may be good or bad, but there is no necessity for the festival to accept responsibility for their standard. All that is required is some acknowledgement that it is a good thing that they should continue to exist, some recognition of what they add to the festival as a whole. Surely it would do no harm (it would cost very little indeed) to appoint some kind of liaison officer to smoothe out the problems which they inevitably encounter while putting on their performances. Surely a prize might even be offered for the best 'fringe' produc- tion? What is intolerable is that the authori- ties should give these young companies the impression that their earnest contributions to the festival are unwanted.
But this blindness to the potentialities of the 'fringe' movement is only one example (there are many others) of a deadening insensitivity which makes itself felt only too frequently at this festival. What do the directors and organisers take the function of a festival to be? Is it merely a rather crude device to draw tourists to Edinburgh? Or is it an attempt to achieve something creative in the arts? Sooner or later this question will have to be answered, and, when the moment comes, those responsible for the biggest international festival in these islands might well reflect that, unless some effort is made to put a little life and novelty into the official programme, the visitors who throng Prince's Street will no longer find It worth their while to come.