The Perilous State of the Arts

Edinburgh Fringe 2023: Diary Entry Four

The Fringe is about learning skills, so I am pleased to say that, as the third week of the festival approaches, my ability to aim a melon so it doesn’t explode towards the front row is getting better and better. 

Yesterday started sombrely. The night before I had been on something of a high. I started the day with John Hegley’s The Early Word – a show for children and adults. I love John’s approach and his creativity. There was a six year old in the front row who delighted in the hijinks. I imagined her becoming a poet in years to come and, when asked about why she did, explaining that she had seen Hegley when she was young. 

I nearly left the next door Bethany Shop unscathed, but as I departed saw a great big book about Black Mountain College, a place of John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg and many more, and it was irresistible. 

After some carrot cake, I went to perform my show about books and stories and, as usual, had a lovely time. I hurried across the flagstones to record a podcast with Marnie Chesterton and Richard Wiseman on psychology. Finding myself near Stockbridge, gravity and a steep incline took me down to the charity shops there. I walked back up the hill fighting gravity with the extra weight of a Stevie Smith novel, a book on the private lives of the Pre-Raphaelites, a phone directory size book of Jonatan Meades’ essays, some John Carey book reviews, a slim book on Bowie and Randy Shilts’ biography of Harvey Milk. 

With no evening show to slam the brakes on my extra curricular ambitions, I ate healthily and started my journey to Summerhall to see Adam Scott Rowley’s latest theatre piece , You Are Going To Die. A downpour forced me to take shelter in the Cameo cinema bar for a glass of red. Hearing a familiar voice, I was delighted that the deluge caused an impromptu meet up with my pal Lee and her friend Leslie who had just been enjoying Mark Cousin’s latest film, My Name is Alfred Hitchcock (5 stars – Fortean Times).

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Once at Summerhall, I came close to fleeing before the doors opened. The queue was filled with the cacophony of excited young theatricals which created a rapid journey to alienation. I stuck my ground and was glad I did. Adam’s new play is as powerful as before. I know of no other performer like him in terms of intensity and invention (though I am sure there are more and I would love to hear of them). We drank in the quad and talked of the perilous state of the arts, especially anything that dares to experiment.

My sombre mood of Wednesday came as I looked at all the posters attached to lampposts and fences – this year has been a difficult year for many performers with some playing to very low number or even canceling shows in what should be the busiest week of the fringe. I thought of the day they were in the photographer’s studio, beaming and posing and dreaming, wondering if this was going to be THEIR year. I also thought of my own selfishness in leaving my family for a whole month of the Summer holiday – something I won’t do again.

Once I started performing Weapons of Empathy, I cheered up and, as usual, was surrounded by exciting conversation afterwards nd recommendations of books and shows and then went in search of melons.

Robin’s shows: Weapons of Empathy is on daily at 1pm at Gilded Balloon at the Museum and MELONS: A Love Letter to Stand Up Comedy at 8:35pm at The Stand at New Town Theatre. Tickets for both shows are here.

Robin Ince is a multi-award winning comedian, writer and broadcaster.  As well as spending decades as one the UK’s most respected stand-ups, Robin is perhaps best known for co-hosting The Infinite Monkey Cage radio show with Prof Brian Cox.  For his work on projects like Cosmic Shambles he was made an Honorary Doctor of Science by Royal Holloway, University of London. His latest books are The Importance of Being Interested and Bibliomaniac.

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