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Edinburgh Festivals Diary – Day 3

To Assembly Hall for a very special EIF performance. Ian McKellen is celebrating his 80th birthday by performing extracts across his career, from Gandalf to Shakespeare and a brilliant revival of his panto dame Widow Twankey. 

The actor has already performed at 80 venues, raising £2 million for theatre charities by the time the current run ends in Orkney.

All profits from the tour will be used to support regional theatres and local drama provision. In Edinburgh, proceeds will support a bursary for an Edinburgh resident to study performance, as well as contributing to the refurbishment of the Drama Studio at Leith Academy, as part of the International Festival’s residency partnership with the school.

The show is a ebullient love letter to theatre and it is fifty years since McKellen last trod the boards at this somewhat intimate setting. 

If that wasn’t enough, next month he starts an 80-date west end run at the Harold Pinter theatre, raising funds for theatre charities. It was an unforgettable afternoon of recital, high jinks and reflection. 

Sir Ian McKellen shaking his bucket

Sir Ian McKellen shaking his bucket

As well as donating ticket sales, McKellen collects funds in a bucket after every performance  and wherever he goes, donates the takings to a cause specified by the organisation. 

I spot him on the stairs with collection bucket and hand over my loose change.

‘Carl! You get everywhere…’ said the octogenarian. 

‘Like dry rot?’ I suggested, smiling.  

‘Well, yes,’ he laughed, ‘but don’t worry, I still like you. Now give me your bloody money!’ 

Later, I head to Summerhall for Moot Moot.

You sometimes wonder what the second house Friday night at Glasgow Empire would have made of today’s Fringe acts and in Moot Moot’s case the answer is probably ‘torn to shreds’.

Moot Moot 

Moot Moot

It’s not entirely deserved, because their presentation is stylish and their creation of the world’s dullest radio chat show hosts ‘Barry and Barry’ are useful idiots, but their point about the futility of the format for meaningful discussion is made in the first five minutes and doesn’t survive even an Edinburgh hour.

After lunch I head to the Lyceum for Hard To Be Soft. Cast across fifty minutes and four episodes, the piece looks behind the masks of violence and masculinity to the inner lives of Belfast people.  

Hard To Be Soft, Lyceum Theatre

Hard To Be Soft, Lyceum Theatre

Belfast street life and religious ritual collide with liturgical dance and verbatim performance. Choreographer Oona Doherty exudes a powerful authority in this EIF-show that ranges from solo interludes, to electric all-female hip hop crew to solo rooted in pitiless vastness. Quite something. 

Taking time out from a relentless schedule is crucial. As is hydrating. I use the early evening to unwind, before heading back to Summerhall. 

Gavin Jon Wright and Daniel Portman star in Kieran Hurley and Gary McNair's Square Go

Gavin Jon Wright and Daniel Portman star in Kieran Hurley and Gary McNair’s Square Go

Square Go, one of a number of shows this year exploring toxic masculinity, revels in a charged, fun and occasionally demented adolescent energy as the Roundabout becomes a wrestling ring. Gary McNair and Kieran Hurley’s two-hander returns and it really is a highly entertaining and brilliant hour of Scottish banter.

My WhatsApp pings – a message from Park Theatre’s Founder and Artistic Director Jez Bond. 

‘Right so tonight I will be at Abbatoir after my last show – about 11pm. Wanna join?’ 

‘Absolutely. See you later – don’t get too excited.’ I replied. 

So, I walked to the Underbelly’s members bar at George Square – you need a shiny black card to slip in after dark – to be greeted warmly by Jez and his colleague Mark Cameron. The place is a kind of Soho House style for performers and industry folk in Bistro Square

I have a large glass of white wine and stand outside on the terrace – on my best behaviour, of course. My eyeballs usually freeze spending time in these kinds of places. But it was good to meet and chat with the cast and crew of fringe hit Four Woke Baes and see Jez. 

Anyway, I’d rather scratch my eyes out than see a show at 11.55pm. But Richard Gadd’s intense 65-minute Baby Reindeer, also at Summerhall, was a hot ticket. This was one of thing several additional late night performance added due to demand. Jon Britain’s production is angry, revelatory and visceral. 

Baby Reindeer. Photograph: Andrew Perry

Baby Reindeer. Photograph: Andrew Perry

It tells Gadd’s shocking experience of being stalked by a woman he met while working in a bar in London. Gadd delivers blistering insights into the horrifying failures of the police system. 

(The police said they were unable to help.)

A transfer to Bush Theatre was announced in the wee hours of Friday morning – lucky London. 

Ian McKellen On Stage runs from 20 September to 5 January 2020.

Hard to be Soft: A Belfast Prayer is at the Southbank Centre on 11 October. 

Baby Reindeer runs at London’s Bush Theatre, from 9 October to 9 November.