Gleeful farces, world-class puppetry and the death of the ampersand

Day 3 of Nicky Woolf's Edinburgh diary.

 

August 10. Day three.

 

My first show this morning is the other half of Greenlight Theatre's Seeing Double. While yesterday's show (Visions) followed the production crew of a doomed production of Macbeth, today, in Figures, we join the cast and director in their rehearsal room. When you see both of the shows, the first serves as the set-up, then the second reveals just how clever the production is. Knowing what the other participants are doing and saying in the other room, and knowing where they're going as they rush on and off-stage makes the second show a real pay-off, and the effect is both a gleeful farce and a deeply impressive piece of synchronisation.

After that, deciding to stick with Pleasance, I dive straight in to Les Enfents Terribles' The Trench. Enfents Terribles are fringe veterans, and their latest offering, about a World War 1 sapper trapped underground, is slick and brimming with gorgeous stagecraft; the puppetry especially is world-class, and the ethereal atmosphere is underscored by the soundtrack by singer-songwriter Alexander Wolfe.

Today is to be a quieter day than yesterday. I need to settle down, get my bearings, and plan my schedule, so I spend the afternoon hot-desking with the staff of Twitter-based review site Fringebiscuit, who themselves spend much of the afternoon debating the death of the ampersand in the 21st century (the Twitter API can't handle this useful piece of punctuation. Why not?), before heading to C Nova to see Loves I Haven't Known, a small and utterly perfect musical comedy piece by Bush and McCluskey, the team behind Tony! The Blair Musical. Optimistic and bittersweet, it is truly a five-star show.

Speaking to the two of them in the C Nova bar after the show, they tell me that tonight's was their biggest audience yet. The fringe is beginning to gain momentum; this is the point at which shows like theirs begin to see their labours finally, thankfully, beginning to bear fruit.

Catch up with Day 1 here and Day 2 here.

Kufasse Boana and Danielle Hollreiser, who are playing the witches in a production of Macbeth on Inchcolm Island. Photo: Getty

Nicky Woolf is a writer for the Guardian based in the US. He tweets @NickyWoolf.

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How a dramatized account of Mark Duggan's death found a prime-time audience

I usually have an aversion to actors pretending to be police officers in this kind of scenario, but Lawful Killing: Mark Duggan was done with surprising care and nuance.

The BBC grows ever more lily-livered in the matter of current affairs. It would, you feel, rather devote an hour to yet another historian in a silly costume than to a piece of investigative journalism – the problem being that while the latter often has serious consequences, the wives of Henry VIII, being dead, cannot be libelled, and thus shows about them are consequence-free.

But what’s this? When I saw it, I had to rub my eyes. Lawful Killing: Mark Duggan, a 90-minute film at 8.30pm on BBC1 (5 December) about the shooting of the 29-year-old Londoner by the police in 2011? Who commissioned this extravaganza of inquiry, and by what strange magic did they secure for it such a whopping great slot in the pre-Christmas schedule? I would love to know. If you have the answers, do please drop me a postcard.

What made it even more amazing was that this documentary contained no hint of a scoop. It was revelatory, but its disclosures were achieved cumulatively, through the careful pulling together of every possible version of the events of that August day: wildly conflicting stories that its director, Jaimie D’Cruz, told through a combination of interviews and reconstructions.

I usually have an aversion to actors pretending to be police officers in this kind of scenario; they often come over like The Sweeney gone wrong. But the dramatisations in Lawful Killing had a terrible veracity, being based almost entirely on transcripts of the real thing (inquest accounts, witnesses’ interviews, and so on). Every voice seemed to reveal something, however unwittingly. In these accounts, the attentive viewer heard uncertainty and exaggeration, ambivalence and self-aggrandisement, misunderstanding and back-covering – all those human things that make the so-called truth so elusive and so damnably difficult to pin to the page.

A lot of the supposed intelligence that caused the police to follow Duggan that day remains secret, and I can’t see this changing any time soon. For this reason, I am not qualified, even after seeing the film, to say whether or not he was holding a gun as he emerged from a minicab on that warm afternoon. (The inquest jury decided that Duggan threw a weapon on to a nearby patch of grass before he was – lawfully – shot by an armed officer, while the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which had access to the secret intelligence, decided he was killed while holding one.) However, other things do seem to me to be crystal clear, and chief among them is the strange, cowardly and stupidly inept behaviour of the police immediately after his death.

In those hours, rumours swirled. At Duggan’s mother’s house, the family gathered, expecting a knock on the door at any time. How, they wondered, can a person be dead when the police have not yet informed their closest relatives? But no one came. The next day, the extended clan went to Tottenham Police Station where, again, they waited, for several hours. “Someone will be with you shortly,” they were told. Still, no one came. It was, incidentally, as they finally made their way back home that Duggan’s sister Kay Harrison saw a burning car. It was the first sign of the nationwide riots that – speaking of consequences – ultimately resulted in the deaths of five people.

Meanwhile on Channel 4 is a show for people for whom the Netflix Gilmore Girls reboot isn’t sugary enough (I can’t imagine who they are, these addicts with rotting black stumps for teeth). I was secretly hopeful that This Is Us (Tuesdays, 9pm), which is made by NBC, would be a bit like Thirtysomething, the touchy-feely series about a bunch of baby-boomer friends that I watched obsessively as a sixth former.

But, no. This is the kind of show in which a guy finds his long-lost parent, only to discover that the noble, adorable daddy is – boo hoo – dying of cancer. Its principal characters, three siblings, don’t talk to each other, or to anyone else. Rather, they make speeches, most of which come in two basic formats: mushy and super-mushy. This is schmaltz on toast with a mighty vat of syrup on the side.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit to Trump