Edinburgh Festival 2012 round up

Issue section: 
(372)

The Edinburgh Festival responded to last summer's riots with musicals and documentary dramas, but the most interesting show on this theme set about organising its audience into noisy protesters who won their demands.

The play Kemble's Riot takes the audience back to the Old Price Riots of 1809 when, for 66 days, performances at Covent Garden were disrupted by audiences protesting at an increase in ticket prices. We became that audience: stamping our feet, shouting and chanting "Old prices!" as we re-enacted phases in a struggle that forced actor-manager Kemble to apologise and reduce prices.

The major motivation for the moving documentary play Beyond Hillsborough is the continuing fight for justice for the 96 people killed in the 1989 stadium crush. We heard the testimony of victims' families, survivors and campaigners about the horror of the day, the police stupidity and the struggle to prevent a cover-up by politicians, police and the media. Twenty three years on the government has finally agreed to release secret documents about the case this September.

Grant O'Rourke performed Mike Daisy's riveting and funny monologue, The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. The Apple co-founder is described as a techno hippie who succeeded through ruthless business practices.

Daisy is a self-confessed geek, whose obsessive worship of Apple products led him to visit the Chinese factory which makes iPhones. He was shocked to find they employed child labour, required excessively long shifts, used toxic chemicals, persecuted union activists, and had a high suicide rate among workers. "In a company obsessed with detail," asks Daisy, "do you really think Apple did not know?"

Kieran Hurley's atmospheric monologue Beats, spoken to dance music played on stage by the DJ Johnny Whoop, explored the radicalisation of young people by the government's persecution of the rave scene in the 1990s. It linked these events backwards in time to the picket lines of the Ravenscraig steel strike and forwards to the 2010 student demonstrations and occupation of Millbank Tower.

Theatre continues to expose the consequences of war. Owen Shears shaped the stories of injured soldiers into the incredibly moving play The Two Worlds of Charlie F, performed by injured veterans. The production can still be seen for free at the arts site thespace.org. Songs, sharp speeches and dance take us through enlistment, training and the events that damaged their lives.

The show opens with the fevered cries of Charlie, newly arrived in Selly Oak hospital after stepping on an explosive device in Afghanistan. We can see that limbs have been amputated from these soldiers but we can't see the mental injuries that cause sleepless nights, rage and suicidal thoughts. Charlie tells us the fighting has made him part of a "regiment of the wounded, the fastest growing regiment in the army".

Second Shot Theatre, who work with ex-servicemen in prison, estimate that between 3 and 10 percent of prisoners are military veterans suffering a range of problems from alcoholism to uncontrollable aggression. Some of these veterans are the source of their tense play Glory Dazed which gives us a soldier on the run after making a racist attack.

Pepperdine's production of Peter Arnott's play Why Do You Stand There in the Rain? takes a look at the 1932 Depression march on Washington, by First World War veterans demanding a promised bonus. Swift scenes of original testimony, accompanied by the songs of Woody Guthrie and Lead Belly, depict the march, its politics and its final dispersal by soldiers who kill and injure veterans and their families.

Pepperdine links these events to the recent Occupy movement - the show begins by showing the police pepper-spraying University of California Davis students, who were sitting on pavements protesting at an 81 percent hike in tuition fees.

Among the shows celebrating the birth, in 1912, of the great political singer Woody Guthrie was Interplay's This Land: The Story of Woody Guthrie, a fast paced and uplifting account of the events that shaped his life and his music.

Guthrie wrote songs in support of migrant farmers, union activists and the dispossessed. He explained, "I hate a song that makes you think that you are not any good... I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world."

Keith McKenna