Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2019: Summerhall round-up
Former veterinary school has imprinted itself as the third home of exceptionally good stage work during the festival
Everything I See I Swallow ★★★★☆ / Hold On Let Go ★★★★☆ / Pathetic Fallacy ★★★☆☆
The Traverse Theatre is recognised as the home of excellent new writing throughout August in Edinburgh, while the Edinburgh International Festival hosts big-budget spectaculars by some of theatre’s biggest names. Although most other venues host theatre, however, a lot of which can be very high quality, one relatively recent opening has imprinted itself as the third home of exceptionally good stage work in the city during August: the warren-like former veterinary school Summerhall, and its off-site ventures.
While it can be next to impossible to keep up with the dozens of shows happening amid Summerhall’s darkened Victorian lecture theatres, the following give a broad overview of the kind of work that might be found there. Collaborating for the first time, writers and performers Tamsin Shasha and Maisy Taylor give us a show that demonstrates the atmospheric capabilities of the spaces here to their full, as Everything I See I Swallow opens with the audience filing in past the darkened figure of Taylor’s character, bound by rope, naked and suspended from the ceiling.
For her character this is a consensual situation, a physical manifestation of her feminist exploration of her own sexuality. Alongside her, Shasha’s character is a smart-suited go-getter; the pair are onstage mother and daughter, both feminist within the definitions their own generations allow, but somewhat nonplussed by the other’s expression of her own feminism.
Mother expresses concern at her daughter’s polyamory and sexual forthrightness, while daughter is frustrated by mother’s uptightness and lack of breadth to her thinking. The pair play out their relationship amid stunning rope gymnastics and reach something approaching consensus amid a chorus of traded lines from great feminist thinkers, in a gorgeous evocation of intergenerational schism and mutual understanding.
Meanwhile, Unfolding Theatre’s Hold On Let Go is a story about the space between generations viewed from a different perspective; that of memory, both what we remember and let go of throughout our own lifetime, and what we take from those gone before us and pass on to the next generation. Written by Luca Rutherford, the play was built from a devising process shared with fellow performer Alex Elliott, and the often-tenuous nature of this process actually works well here.
The pair riff on the subject of memory, in particular Elliott’s own, ever-more poignant recollections of what his Spanish mother passed on from her youthful experience of the country’s civil war in the 1930s. Meanwhile, Rutherford acts as both his conversational sounding board and a physical evocation of muscle memory, playing and carrying out casual but deceptively skilled gymnastic stunts amid the kitchen set while they talk. Meanwhile, the smell of cooking bread and the sound of hook-laden music (written for this show by Maxïmo Park’s Paul Smith) fill the air, building a sense of vivid nostalgia for the experience before it has even finished.
Around the corner at the King’s Hall, Summerhall also presents a series of works from Canada, of which Pathetic Fallacy is one; although, themed around a sense of climate emergency, it isn’t really “performed” at all, in a traditional sense. Instead, creator Anita Rochon has decided to cut down on flying, so she appears as a disembodied voice, her part played by a member of the public standing before a greenscreen and receiving instructions by earpiece, as though they were presenting the weather.
It’s a novel idea and it works to an extent, particularly in focusing our attention on the subject of the piece – which is, well, the weather; the “pathetic fallacy” is the means by which our brains attempt to humanise the actions of non-human things when we name them, for example storms. Yet the method of the piece’s delivery can’t help but sap a little dynamism from the message.