At the Fringe I: Rupert Brooke and Faded DJs

At the Fringe I: Rupert Brooke and Faded DJs

Happy Dave at the Pleasance.

Happy Dave at the Pleasance.

Its late. Already it’s late. I am hurrying back towards the Royal Mile. The streets are busier than I remember. Difficult to navigate. Surely this, the third press office, will help. Dutifully they check the records. Smiling. The show starts in five minutes and I find myself apologizing. How long is it since I lived here. The Edinburgh Festival is waking up. The Fringe blinking its eyes in the muggy August air.

I finally make my way through some labyrinths and arrive at the correct press office. An attendant guides me through a doorway into a darkened room. There is coughing and then the lights go up. Rupert Brooke, Yeats’ “handsomest young man in England”, is the centre of attention. A cast of four take to the stage for a preview of Arsalan Sattari Productions’ Verge of Strife (Assembly George Square, Venue 17).

They swirl around the war poet as the travails of his early love life spin out. His genius as a poet,  his magnetic physical attraction, his seeming failure to connect with anyone around, his fraught relationship with sodomy.

I find myself thinking of the Illogic of Kassel, Enrique Vila-Matas lost in that small German city. Acting as a fictional reviewer for an art fair that itself seems almost fictional. Stumbling between darkened rooms. The anxiety and dread that descends on him at nightfall. The “euphoria-producing” pill he receives from Dr Collado. Did he struggle to find something to say about those exhibits?

I should perhaps be taking notes but it is dark. The actor (Jonny Labey) playing Brooke continues the poet’s tragic trajectory finally leading his battalion into war to die a hero’s death and then the play is over.

I am outside again. I  the damp brewery-tinged air. I had forgotten the particular grey, stasis of summer in Edinburgh. I have another appointment. As I walk I worry on my own lack of knowledge of Rupert Brooke. The name rang only a faint bell. I recognized snatches “….some corner of a foreign field/That is forever England…” But I am left with little liking for him. Was he so self-centred? Or simply dedicated to his art?

I should probably have done more research. There is no excuse for a lack of research. As I walk to the Pleasance I check my phone. I read on Wikipedia that Brooke did not die in battle but from an infected mosquito bite. It is curiously second-rate. I missed any mention of that in the play but I find I like him more after reading that detail.

At the Pleasance the press office, produces the next ticket almost instantly and I have enough time to buy a coffee. I woke up too early this morning. Preternaturally early. I wish for one of Dr Collado’s (surely) fictional pills.

I am quickly seated in another room, below ground once more. Now Smoke & Oakum Theatre open with Happy Dave (Pleasance Courtyard, Venue 33). There is a rave taking place. Compared with the staid movements and clipped RP of the show I have just left, everyone moves like fluid.

Dave, the titular character, is an ex-illegal rave DJ from the nineties. Past his prime he finds his star rising once more when he falls in with a group of disillusioned youngsters half his age. Gradually he takes it upon himself to show them how to break free from a world where the spirit to party has been crushed out by dull corporatism.

Even as their illegal raves take-off however the mantra “rave is dead” is being repeated and none of their pills or planning can stop the disaster that clearly awaits.

I wonder if they still hold illegal quarry parties here in Edinburgh. They are probably ticketed now. What would Vila-Matas make of it all? He would probably be reaching for one of Dr Collado’s pills himself  by now.

The show ends and I find myself outside.  It is nearly 6 o’clock.  The Pleasance is starting to get into full corporate swing. Already it is late.

Verge of Strife continues at the Assembly until Aug 29 (tickets £11, £10 concessions). Happy Dave also continues at the Pleasance until the 29th (tickets £10, no performance on the 16th).

Lochlan Bloom is a British novelist, screenwriter and short story writer. The BBC Writersroom describes his writing as ‘unsettling and compelling… vivid, taut and grimly effective work’. He is the author of the novel The Wave as well as the short fiction pieces – Trade and The Open Cage. He has written for IronBox Films, BBC Radio, Slant Magazine, Litro Magazine, Porcelain Film, EIU, H+ Magazine and Calliope, the official publication of the Writers’ Special Interest Group (SIG) of American Mensa, amongst others

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