Such a bittersweet day. An enthralling programme to be followed by a farewell. Oh, be still my aching heart.
First up, in the writer’s retreat, Rebecca Hunt and her huge, smelly, sweaty black dog of depression, Mr Chartwell. The writer’s retreat, the smallest venue in the EIBF, and I was glad that sound problems encountered earlier in the festival had been overcome. Mr Chartwell is one of those books that I’ve been meaning to read since publication. The topic of depression very apt for this final day of EIBF 2011, although my gloominess was lifted by Cornelius Medvei and his Caroline, a tale of an irresistibly charming donkey, the seed of which was germinated from the author’s father’s own relationship with a donkey encountered while on a family holiday.
Next an absolute must for Lizzy. Acclaimed biographer, Fiona MacCarthy presented The Last Pre-Raphaelite, Edward Burne-Jones. MacCarthy held the audience rapt for the full hour as she related how the subject of her latest book chose her, and not vice versa, and gave a teasing potted history of Burne-Jones’s life. She held the audience in the palm of her hand from the go, choosing to open her presentation with a picture of the Burne-Jones’s stained glass window installed locally in St Gile’s Cathedral. And if that window isn’t colourful enough for you, the story of the woman bottom left will be! (But you’ll have to read the book to know more about that!). Suffice to say, Burne-Jones may have been the last pre-raphaelite, but that didn’t stop him following in the sometimes tortured footsteps of his mentor, Gabriel Dante Rossetti.
Finally, an ambition is fulfilled. I have always wanted to attend the EIBF from beginning to end. This year I was at the opening event and, chest infection notwithstanding (which forced an interlude mid-way through the festival), I also attended the finale. It was the hot ticket of EIBF 2011, a world premiere. The event sold out in a matter of minutes.
The audience walked into the main theatre to the sight of 18 empty chairs. These were filled in due course by the Scottish literati as they performed/read Alasdair Gray’s play, Fleck, a retelling of Goethe’s Faust.
Cast call from left to right: Regi Claire, Ron Butlin, Zoe Strachan, Alan Bissett, Janice Galloway, Rodge Glass, Chiew Siah-Tei, Paul Birchard, A L Kennedy, Well Self, Liz Lochhead, Alasdair Gray, Louise Welsh, Ian Rankin, Cora Bissett, Carl MacDougall, Gerda Stevenson, Aonghas MacNeacail
The reading lasted just over an hour and a half and some parts were minute. Janice Galloway’s part, for example, lasted all of two minutes and Ron Butlin’s perhaps about three. Yet every author sat on stage throughout the whole reading. What a testimony to their friendship with Alasdair Gray and he thanked them accordingly during the final “curtain” call. Liz Lochhead, narrator and honorary master-of-ceremonies, controlled proceedings admirably, though laughter ensued when God (Aonghas Macneacail) stole Old Nick’s (Alasdair Gray) line. Zoe Strachan as a murdered gangster’s mol gave the most dramatic reading and A L Kennedy, Fleck’s girlfriend, the most amusing, through her deadpan delivery and off script interactions with the audience and her boyfriend (Will Self). He was impressive too. (I might now be persuaded to read something of his.) In the end, the whole added up to a more than the sum of its parts.
Cue applause for cast, everyone at the EIBF and all the virtual folk who became real during the past fortnight. With a final glance at Albert, who promises to assiduously watch over the square until next year,
Lizzy exits slowly, bidding farewell, for now.
P.S Comment of the day though from Harrison in the press tent. “How are you today?”, he asked, as I arrived. “Sad”, I replied. “Another 52 weeks before I return to Charlotte Square.” “No, it’s not”, he said. ” It’s only 50″. And so it is! 50 x 7 x 24 = 8400 hours and counting ……