ARTS / Cries & Whispers

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ENJOYING my customary annual trip to the Edinburgh Festival, I am perplexed to sense a growing self-importance among the artistes. At the Fringe Club press conference, each journalist was given a carrier bag. A bin liner would certainly have been handier. Groups were dishing out publicity folders as thick as final-year dissertations. One was embossed in gold. Really, it's of no interest where else a stage manager has worked. Let's hope the shows are snappier. The first leaflet someone handed me on the Royal Mile was shaped like a small envelope and contained two extra-safe Durex. The outside of the envelope advertised Brian Friel's play about teenage pregnancy, Lovers. Inside there was information about safe sex. I suppose we can look forward to British Telecom sponsoring a production of The Ring and handing out phone cards. In the competitive world of leafleting, someone drew my caricature, someone else performed a card trick and a comedian held out a leaflet, adding: 'This isn't funny'. I took it at once.

I VENTURE into a karaoke night in a pub off the Queensferry Road. Some of the performers are embarrassingly bad, others surprisingly good. But at least everyone has a chance and there is no quality control. Like the Fringe, it soon emerges, this free-for-all is dominated by a bunch of regulars. I asked a man who'd just done a passable 'My Way' to have a go at 'New York, New York'. No, he said, rather primly, he hadn't sung it for ages. With 540 shows on the Fringe, audiences and reviewers head mostly for established Fringe companies and TV comics for whom, too often, this free-for-all festival looks like just another touring date. Late at night, audiences generally prepare to enjoy irony and Irn-Bru. At least it might have been Irn-Bru, were it not for the fact that only sponsorship beers are available. It is increasingly hard to do stand-up and be counted among 47,000 other comedians and cabaret artists, but if public taste is anything to go by, the majority will soon die off. Another year of tampon jokes and even Fringe audiences will be mourning Benny Hill. John Sessions coined a word, luvvidote, to describe anecdotes from the stage. These bore, but not half as much as the comedians' version: 'When I played this gig in Luton (pause for laugh) yeh, Luton, 'orrible place', etc. How much longer will people pay good Scottish pounds for an hour of comedotes?

MOST dismally appeased of this year's backstage rows must be the one between the director (Martin Duncan) and designer (Howard Hodgkin) of the Tchaikovsky opera/ballet double bill Yolanta and The Nutcracker. Hodgkin pulled out. But the festival, anxious not to lose so eminent a name from its listings, has clung on to him with a 'special exhibition' in the Modern Art Gallery. It consists of one picture, forlornly isolated in a room of its own, and apparently the product of a trip to Venice eight years ago. The title: 'Lovers'. Could this be ironic?