A brief Twitter conversation with the always-awesome Mitu Khandaker got me all nostalgic this evening. Y’see, Mitu has just come back from the Edinburgh Interactive Festival, where she was speaking about exciting and clever things to do with love, sex, relationships and obsession in games — a topic which I find particularly fascinating, as my extensive series of posts on Katawa Shoujo will attest.
But that’s not what I want to talk about today, as I’m sure video and/or slides from Mitu’s presentation will be available online at some point soon, and they will probably say things rather more coherently than I can. (I LOVE YOU EMIIIIIII)
No, instead I just want to look back on why Edinburgh is awesome. Because it is awesome, and if you’ve never been I strongly suggest you take the opportunity to do so.
My memories of Edinburgh stem entirely from my several trips to the Fringe festival with the Southampton University theatre group, known on various different occasions as SUSU Theatre Group, “Blow Up” and “RATTLESNAKE!”, for reasons that I have, sadly, since forgotten.
My first trip there came during my first year at university. I’d joined the theatre group and had already had a small part in our overly-elaborate and rather pretentious production of Macbeth. The Matrix was still fashionable, you see, so it was seemingly obligatory for every student theatre company in the country to do a Matrix-inspired Shakespeare production, and we were no exception. (It actually ended up being quite good, though vastly over budget.)
Anyway, Wachowski-Shakespeare crossovers aside, my association with the theatre group eventually led to me auditioning for the Edinburgh production and successfully securing a part. The play we’d decided to take up was Ivan Turgenev’s A Month In The Country, which is a good play with interesting characters (I played Afanasy Bolshintsov, a character for whom I was legitimately able to leverage my legendary Harold Bishop impersonation), but quite heavy going. Our bright idea was to perform it outdoors in the Edinburgh Botanical Gardens, which sounded like a great idea on paper.
Actually, it was a pretty great idea that added some lovely atmosphere to the play, the only flaws in the plan being 1) the amount of rain that Scotland gets and 2) the fact that the Botanical Gardens were rather off the beaten track. As a direct result of 2), we had rather disappointing viewing figures, but soldiered on regardless, despite having no more than one or two people watching most days.
Performing the play was just a relatively small part of the whole experience, though.
In the mornings, we’d be flyering on the Royal Mile, one of the main streets in Edinburgh that attracts entertainers and promoters come Fringe time. Flyering was always fun, even if it was rather difficult to sell the idea of a tragic Russian love story performed outdoors in a venue no-one really knew the location of to passing tourists. We managed to get a few people coming along, though — and not just all our respective parents.
In the evenings, we’d take in some shows (all right, lots of shows) and then go drinking. Lots of drinking. You see, at the time, Scotland’s licensing laws were significantly different to England’s — in England, you could only drink until 11pm in a pub and 2am in a club; in Scotland you could drink until… actually, I can’t remember what time you could drink until in a Scottish pub (I want to say 2am) but I certainly remember that the clubs were open until 4am.
Our two regular haunts for drinking purposes were the “Frankenstein” pub, a rather tacky (but awesome) theme bar that sold overpriced (but awesome… and deadly) cocktails; and a club just around the corner called Espionage, which had five floors, each of which was themed after a far-flung locale that James Bond had visited in one of his movies. (Incidentally, I am very pleased to note that both of those venues are still there. That makes me feel warm and fuzzy.) Following drinking until some ungodly hour in the morning, we’d often decide that The Thing To Do at that point was to get a pizza from the conveniently-located all-night pizza place that was near Frankenstein — an all-night pizza place which provided you with said pizza at an astonishingly high speed.
It wasn’t all roses, though. On this first trip, I was enjoying the experience but found myself suffering considerably from the social anxiety that has wracked my personal life for as long as I can remember. I found it difficult to start up conversations with the people I was living with at times — despite the fact I was acting with them every day — and I found myself worrying that people would think the things I said would be stupid. I recall one evening getting very depressed, breaking down in tears and being very embarrassed about the whole situation despite the fact I was sitting by myself in the hallway when it happened.
Two of the guys I was staying with came to my rescue: Chris and Des (no relation to Des). I was very grateful to them, because they proved to me that the things rattling around in my head were completely wrong. They took me in to their room, talked to me, got to know me and let me stay the night in there with them. (To sleep. This was not a period of “experimentation” for me.) We had some laughs, particularly at Chris’ expense when he fell asleep in mid-sentence, and I got up the following morning feeling considerably more positive about myself, my situation and my ability to make friends.
That night was a real turning point for me. Remembering that night gave me the confidence to go back to Edinburgh on two other occasions with the theatre group — once without a show, once with a double-bill of The Importance of Being Earnest and Alan Ayckbourn’s Round and Round the Garden. Both visits were amazing, and neither were tainted by feelings of anxiety. In fact, the experiences I had on those two visits were remarkably akin to the way I felt when I visited PAX East a couple of years ago before my life went to shit — I felt like I was “home”, “among friends”, and completely comfortable. I would have given anything for it to have lasted forever.
But these things don’t last forever, sadly. What will stay with me forever, however, is the memories — Des getting told off for trying to dry-hump a guy dressed as a dinosaur on the Royal Mile; recording our drunken conversations on a Dictaphone in the kitchen of the hostel we were staying at; climbing Arthur’s Seat after a solid night of drinking, reaching the summit in time for sunrise, drinking sake in silence as we witnessed dawn breaking, then sliding down the muddy hillside on our arses.
Thinking about it, my positive memories largely revolve around what I did while I was there than the city itself. I’ve never been there when it wasn’t Fringe time, see — and at Fringe time it’s a magical place, infused with a wonderful atmosphere all day and all night for the entire duration of the festival. But from what I saw beneath the glitz and slightly grotty glamour of Fringe time, it’s a beautiful city, too, and one that you really should visit if you’ve never had the opportunity. One day I’ll make it back there, though whether or not it’ll be at Fringe time I don’t yet know!