Coales' Notes: Beyond the Fringe and up the wall: Gordon Coales, director of the Wormwood Centre for the Arts, visiting the Edinburgh Festival, discovers something of the visceral thrill of live theatre

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The Independent Culture
MONDAY: Edinburgh. Hell.

We arrived yesterday. What am I doing here?

I had been happily going along with Rowena's idea that we stay with the Invasion Theatre company, because it seemed so obviously bound to fail. I thought we could then simply abandon the Festival and head for the Highlands.

We turned up at their house and there was no one in, which looked promising. Rowena made me track down the venue they are performing in - a disused swimming-bath. Unfortunately we found them there, rehearsing. There were about 15 young people in the empty pool - apparently simulating the effects of a gas attack - writhing, clawing and shouting their heads off.

We finally managed to make ourselves known to the director - Sasha Finn. She said there was a room if we wanted it. We had to wait through the rest of the rehearsal before anyone could produce a key. I think this hardened my resolve not to visit any performances this week.

There is a bed at least. The rest of the room is boxes. The house is disgusting. There is a used bandage in the fridge. Rowena felt this would not really matter because we could spend most of our time out at shows.

Today Rowena has been out seeing shows. I have been walking around, trying to find something to do. There isn't much. I went down to Leith and had a drink. The licensing laws appear to be very liberal here.

TUESDAY: The troupe were downhearted this morning. Small audience and poor response at their first night. Rowena on the other hand very excited - having discovered that an old friend of hers is performing in a one-woman show, based on the life of Rudyard Kipling's nanny (a neglected figure, apparently). She insisted we go. I begged another day's grace.

There is still very little to do here. I have found a bar just round the corner from the house which seems never to be closed. This evening I had a conversation with someone who said he had already seen five shows, and thought that, with a bit of running between venues, he could fit in four more.

Rowena came back late, keen to relate the day's intake. I can't take very much more of this. I'm simply too old.

WEDNESDAY: I feel almost too drunk to write.

Pretty awful day. This morning I had a row with Rowena. I told her I really didn't feel like going to her friend's performance this evening. And she told me that I was 'imprisoned in negative modes of being' and 'not open to any new experience.' This was not said as a criticism, but to help me. And such words as 'evasion', 'cowardice' and 'dishonesty'. Then we had a row.

She went off, saying she would be staying at her friend's. I went out to my bar for a few hours.

I returned to the house. There was a message waiting for me, to ring the Centre. I rang, and got through to Olly in the box office. I do not have a very clear memory of the conversation. There seemed to be some kind of problem with Alan's exhibition, people being obstructive. I spoke to Juliet. She said 'On your head be it, Gordon.' I said 'Very well, on my head be it.'

I feel unclear.

Then the troupe returned from their performance in great despondency. No review has as yet appeared in the Scotsman, which is a misfortune for them. Ms Finn addressed us sternly. 'It's coming together. But it's not coming across. The pain is not coming across. The audience isn't feeling the pain. Because we aren't feeling the pain.' We all agreed to go off to try to feel some real pain.

I went back to the bar, and met a man who told me the plot of a play by Harley Granville Barker. I told him that the point he was missing surely was that he was insane. He moved away from me, because he was very sensitive.

THURSDAY: When I say 'on my head', I mean ON it - because I am my head, I am myself IN it - and if it is ON my head, then it is ON my head, and not OFF my head. And I have made that absolutely clear, and it is now clear.

FRIDAY: I have been trying to piece together the events of yesterday, without success. I have tried to apologise, but there is no one who will accept my apologies.

This morning I went down to the kitchen, feeling like utter death, and a great roar went up. A notice had at last appeared in the Scotsman. Someone handed it to me, saying 'just read the last two paragraphs'. I transcribe:

'Experimental or what, you may be thinking. But at this point a real edge of danger is introduced, with a 20-minute outpouring of rage and pain, defiantly hurled equally at the other members of the cast and at the spectators themselves. Barely articulate, part-confession of despair, part-searing diatribe, we are forced to ask ourselves who is really mad - the middle-aged man struggling in the pool, or we who have paid to watch him? I have seldom seen an audience look so frightened.

'One may have doubts about the ethics of involving those who are genuinely disturbed in a stage entertainment, but this is the question that Invasion Theatre are confronting in this terrifyingly direct and compellingly honest piece of theatre. See it.'

I am very popular with the troupe. Someone is trying to work up my act for the rest of the run.

Rowena rang in the afternoon, to say that she had been in the audience last night. She had found the experience 'beyond words, so wonderfully truthful'.

We had dinner this evening. I made her promise never to mention this episode to anyone in the Centre. Southbound tomorrow, thank God for that.

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