Edinburgh Fringe 2012
The irrepressible Jock Ferguson (won’t somebody please repress him) is back. The self-confessed professional Scotsman is back introducing a scaled-down Burns Supper at one of the Capital’s best regarded dining establishments.
Burns Suppers are most often held around 25th January, birthdate of the eponymous bard. Yet as Ferguson explains, celebration of Burns’ insight into matters poetical, political and romantical is a year-round concern. We gather on Montieth’s terrace. This has recently been re-roofed following the mid-latitude storm, officially named Friedhelm but dubbed Hurricane Bawbag by Scots. We start with a zesty introduction to life and poetry of Scotland’s favourite author.
Ferguson has taken ownership of the script. Unlike the work he does 11 months of the year at corporate gigs for Danish autoparts salesmen or German harbour masters (allegedly) this is definitely not a tribute act in which Ferguson is subsumed into the persona of a Scots historical figure. This is his show and he is the star. Even so, his reflections on Burns’ seminal 1795 song A Man’s a Man for A’ That – “they should make the buggers down at the Parliament sing it when they sign up” – is not so warmly received by a group of former Lib Dem heavyweights (including our own former MSP).
Personally, I only found myself shaking my head at Fergusson when he touched on Edinburgh Council’s banning bagpipers busking on the Royal Mile during August. Why is the ban a good thing? Because, the vast majority of pipers who ply their trade in such a fashion are frankly pish. They do no credit to this versatile instrument or the wonders it can perform. In the hands of Clare Lynas, however, festival goers are blessed with an all-too-unusual opportunity to hear what bagpipes were made to sound like. Lynas is new to the act and raises not only the tempo but also the hairs on the back of our necks. Her heart rending long flute accompaniments to the section dealing with the tragedies in Burns’ love life are electrifying.
Last year’s FringeReviewer (http://www.fringereview.co.uk/fringeReview/4465.html) gave an excellent digest of the fare on offer, the drinks, the decor and the Monteith’s ambiance. “Under the guise of being a ‘tasting menu’ the individual haggis neeps and tatties did an excellent job of showcasing traditional Scottish portions in a contemporary setting.” Monteith’s remains the best restaurant in the city, although some of the decor is tilting towards the shabby over the chic – an armrest or two needs attention. Cocktails such as the Jack rose are the best available anywhere this side of 1929 but will add considerably to the final bill.
This show is much less of a corporate love-in than last year (and the sponsor should be pleased at not coming off looking like Banquo’s ghost haunting a children’s party). Ferguson is growing in confidence and Lynas is a prodigal bagpipe’s worth of youthful talent and charm. But it is time to question whether the double sitting format (12:30 and 15:00) is working. Monteith’s is not receiving guests much before kick off and if, like us, you are attending the first sitting you will be politely, but hurriedly, ushered from the scene.
Isn’t it time to consider putting Walter Scott on the bill for the second show? This way those of us who wish to can stay on and soak up the errm. ambiance. Essential touches such as the staff muting the stereo at the first sign of bagpipes (which do not blend well with The Quantic Soul Orchestra) are still needed. And those of us definitely attending would better value Feguson’s and Lynas’ attention than would the passing potential traffic they are still seeking to attract with only 5 minutes to curtains up.
The Robert Burns Experience in Association With Talisker is a joyous occasion – one of the few shows which has the potential to attract even the most jaded Edinbugger onto the Mile during August.