Not being in Edinburgh is so hard to capture

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The Independent Online
I am suffering from slight Edinburgh Festival withdrawal symptoms at the moment. This is a mild ailment caused by withdrawing from the Edinburgh Festival and going somewhere else while it happens. It is triggered by switching on the radio or TV and listening to someone saying what a great time they are having at the Edinburgh Festival. This is especially true of switching on Ned Sherrin's Loose Ends, which sounds all the year round as if it is being broadcast direct from a bar in Edinburgh, but sounds even more so at festival time.

Yet why anyone ever broadcasts programmes from the Edinburgh Festival I have no idea. The programme planners must think that because everyone is having such great fun at Edinburgh it is only fair to share it with the rest of the nation, but this idea involves two great errors of judgement. One, it assumes that you can give some idea of the fun going on. Two, it assumes that the rest of the nation gives a toss about the Edinburgh Festival.

In fact it is almost impossible to give any idea of what it is like to be at the Edinburgh Festival, especially if you're having a good time. The Edinburgh experience is something that builds up through days of sleeplessness, acute parking problems, ticket hassles, inspired word-of-mouth hints, unexpectedly wonderful theatre, late night drinking, early morning hangovers, acute ironing problems, hilarious people you've never heard of, dull famous people, great music, snatched sandwiches, health-threatening meat pies ...

This is not something easily captured on TV or radio. And when the media do try to capture this, they either try to plug straight into the excitement, which is a bit like being phoned by someone at a wild party (you can HEAR how exciting it all is down the line without getting any effect from it, except perhaps depression), or they present little bits of acts in front of a captive audience with a chatty presenter, which is like being taken to a restaurant and being given one spoonful of lots of different dishes. It wouldn't work in a restaurant and it doesn't work on TV.

The wisest thing to do if you are not at the festival is to ignore the fact that it is going on at all. This is a difficult thing to do, and I must admit that I have given in to temptation. I tuned in to BBC's Edinburgh Nights last week in an effort to give myself some instant nostalgia, and through the hit and miss camera work I actually recognised an act which I had previously seen in the flesh. It was Dylan Moran, last year's Perrier award winner, whom I saw in Edinburgh a year ago, on the last day before he won the award.

He was great. On stage last year, that is. He rambled around in a controlled, discursive Irish way from subject to subject, like a pin-ball machine in slow motion, gradually weaving a hypnotic pattern, sounding a bit drunk but thinking very soberly. Over 60 minutes it built up powerfully and I came away thinking, This man is good - too good to be lumbered with the Perrier award. (I am convinced that getting the Perrier does no good to anyone. Where has Dylan Moran been in the year of his title-holding? I have not seen his name anywhere.)

On TV, however, he was not great. He just did a few minutes of amiable Irish ramble and could have been anyone. What he does on stage is not designed to be quick-fire or snappy - quite the opposite - so why anyone thought a short extract of him would work on TV I cannot begin to understand.

But then I cannot begin to understand why anyone thinks the Edinburgh Festival is worth bringing to the nation at all. Not only is it an impossible task, but it is a thankless task. The Edinburgh Festival, especially the Fringe, is a huge private party, and there is no way you can transmit the flavour of a private party. Admittedly it is attended by hundreds of thousands of people, but it is none the less a private party. I have been to many of them as a performer, and enjoyed them all tremendously, but I have never been able to describe adequately to anyone who has never been there what it is like (and do not need to with people who have been there) and I do not believe any TV or radio programme has ever come close either.

I blush to find that I am as guilty as the next man of trying to turn my experience into words, because I find, looking back, that when I am at the festival I do write about it and I do try to convey the flavour of it and I do, doubtless, fail. And this year I am not there, and yet here I am writing about it once more. Worse, I am actually writing a piece about what it's like NOT to be at the festival!

God forgive me, the Edinburgh Withdrawal disease is even more pernicious than I thought it was.

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