Edinburgh Festival 2014: Independence takes centre-stage for city’s comics and playwrights

With the Yes/No vote just weeks away, fringe-festival players tackle the debate with gusto

Arts Correspondent

While performers from 47 countries gather for the largest arts festival in the world, a wee chunk of the 3,200 shows in the increasingly international affair is focusing on matters at home.

With the ballot on independence north of the border little more than six weeks away, organisers of the Edinburgh Festival said it was “no surprise” that hundreds of its shows deal with Scottish identity – as satirists, comedians and playwrights go at the issue with gusto.

Among the referendum-themed shows picking up the most interest is Spoiling, which envisions Scotland shortly after a Yes vote has been returned but before power has been handed over. John McCann’s work at the Traverse Theatre opens with a Scottish foreign secretary designate due to give a speech on the state of the settlement talks. “Every year we see what’s going on in the world culturally represented on stage here in Edinburgh,” said McCann.” This year what’s happening in Scotland is taking its rightful place in the festival.”

McCann is Northern Irish but has lived in Scotland for six years and wants to “honour my adoptive country”. He is firmly in the Yes camp but said the play itself is not meant to come down on one side of the debate but challenge both sides.

Stand-up comedian Bruce Fummey offers a similarly balanced approach – with one show titled Aaah’m Votin YES, featuring “101 reasons to vote for independence without boring politics or freedom bollocks”, and one titled Aaah’m Voting NO, which he sums up as “nothing new here”.

 

However, most of the work appears to favour the Yes vote or at least adopt a neutral standpoint, with no pro-union productions yet picking up attention. “There may be some gems that emerge,” said McCann. “There may be the No play that comes out of nowhere that makes everyone sit up and take notice.”

He added that the subject was a boon for new material. “There is a massive variety of stuff and there has been so much creativity going on around this, artists really engaging with people.”

Another show at the Fringe McCann is looking forward to is Alan Bissett’s The Pure, the Dead and the Brilliant, a satire on the No campaign with the bogles and demons of Scots folklore getting involved in the referendum.

In a show inspired by the lack of dominant female figures in the debate, Rachael Clerke is performing How to Achieve Redemption as a Scot Through the Medium of Braveheart. She will play roles including First Minister Alex Salmond and Mel Gibson’s version of William Wallace.

A performer on the Royal Mile on the first day of the festival A performer on the Royal Mile on the first day of the festival (David Cheskin/PA)
A Split Decision, meanwhile, written in verse, will symbolise the issue as a marriage on the verge of divorce.

There’s a healthy sense of debate amid the humour. All  Back to Bowie’s, a reference to the plea earlier this year from the singer at an awards ceremony to keep the UK together, will see different guests each night discussing referendum-themed politics, poetry polemic and pop.

Matt Forde will be interviewing politicians from both sides of the debate, while former civil servant and stand up Dave Nelder, who used to work on policy for the Scottish government, is presenting the contrasting arguments in Scotland’s Referend...uhm?

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