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Edinburgh – Day 6

Check out from our flat was at 11am and our train at 5pm, giving us a day of festivities before retreating south back to London. The first mission of the day was dump our bags in the Waverley station left luggage lockers – it was also our first upset as we waited for 25 minutes in the worryingly long queue, as it seems that they didn’t open until 11:30…

Waiting for the left luggage office at Waverley on

Luggage dropped, I left my travelling companions and wandered back towards Bristo Square for my secretive afternoon activity – a feast with Coney.

I’m not generally known for my love of the more experimental ends of theatre, or even theatre in general, but I have a specially uneasy place reserved in my heart for interactive theatre. I’m the sort of person who likes to sit in a darkened room and be entertained without any particular input other than the occasional “Ooh!”, “Aah!” and “He’s behind you!”, so the idea of either one-on-one or free-form interactive theatre fills me with a sense of dread. However, my occasional comedy-buddy Michael is very much up for such things, and he sent me an email containing one line and a link: “You must do this thing –

I called the number, left my name and a description (balding but with a ponytail and occasionally rubbish beard), and then forgot about it. A day later I received a text message from Coney: “InSpace Gallery – Coney has left you something in locker E1234”. I popped over to the gallery and sat in locker E1234 was an envelope with my name on containing an invitation to go to the feast on the following day. I asked around at the feast and while several of us had found our invites in the gallery, they had been left in a variety of places, including my favourite – “Behind the champagne section in Lidl”…

Having left my flatmates, and still having no idea what to expect, I arrived at the Forest Fringe on time and hung around until the doors of the first floor room where opened and we were beckoned in. There were about 20 of us and we sat around a long dining table in the darkened room, lit by a few spots. Shortly after we sat an envelope was dropped in front of one of the diners, a theme that would be repeated during the meal, and an announcement was read, apologising for Coney’s absence, assuring us that he’d try to attend if he could and a request that we talk to each other and tell our stories. Assistants appeared from the darkness and offered us chunks of melon.

After the melon was cleared more envelopes were dropped and we heard the beginnings a some short stories, read out by the diners, all familiar and hinting at the biblical and folkloric. Our second course was distributed, a plate of what was described as ‘insubstantial salad’ and further notes were passed out to a select few, instructing us to keep quiet and advance the conversation by questioning our companions, choosing who we thought would be the most interesting person to sit next to at the table. Shortly after another note from Coney arrived, preceded by text messages asking some of us to take photographs of the dinner, instructing us all to move around and sit next to new people. In my standard lazy fashion I didn’t move far and was presented with a new set of dining companions.

The party game element of the meal came in around this point, with a note from Coney apologising for his continued absence and a request that we discuss and decided which three people, alive or dead, we’d like to have as our dinner guests. The guests were chosen (Bob Dylan, Bill Hicks and a 1920s exotic dancer [I think…] whose name and achievements were discussed quietly at the other end of the table) and a volunteer called Coney’s phone number to let him know. We then moved on to quiche and charades, followed by more stories, and bread and cheese. A final story, that of Persephone, led to a dessert of pomegranite and some note writing for Coney, detailing our ideal dinner party, before we were let out blinking into the daylight.

Overall I’m not entirely sure what to make of it. It was slightly ramshackle in its freeformness, with some people reading out Eyes Only notes or not really getting what was going on, as well as the arrangement of the room making whole group discussion difficult. However, it was enjoyable – I got to talk to a bunch of interesting people and as I got into the mood of things did ‘act’ a bit, talking up more and paying a lot more attention than normal to what I was saying. It wasn’t really what I was expecting, not that I had much of an idea, but was certainly interesting.

I wandered back towards the station, but still having 3 hours to kill decided to stop in at the Rowan Caves for a free sketch show – Sunken Luggage. They’d pinged me on twitter the night beforehand and despite not being a fan of live sketch comedy thought I might as well stop in. In short – it was a bit rubbish. The people in the group showed some excellent comedy timing and the asides to each other were great, but the sketches themselves really didn’t work. They went for the meta route, with a sketch show about starting a sketch show, and apart from a couple of groanworthy moments there were a couple of good jokes interspersed with a lot of awkward shufflings from the audience.

Final show of my festival done I stocked up on Tunnocks Caramel Logs (better than the standard wafer biscuits) and boarded my train. It was at this point that the ordeal hinted at in my earlier posts started. I pointed out a spare seat on my otherwise empty table for four to a lady who was wrestling a wheely bag along and after she sat (swapping for my seat as she couldn’t sit backwards, no that wouldn’t be right, it’d make her sick, which isn’t what we’d want is it? No definitely not) she launched into her life story. For over an hour, as my travelling companions strove to hide their uncontrollable laughter behind their hands and knitting, she told me about her father’s death, her recent visit to his gravestone, his little dog, her relationship with her step-mother, her husband’s leg amputations, the progression of the gangrene that led to the amputations, the various support institutions in Doncaster for her and her husband, the state of the houses of all of her children from her two marriages, the problems with the train she took up to Scotland… On and on, with barely a breath. When we hit Alnmouth an older couple sat down and she latched onto the lady who sat next to her and started up her stories again. Her husband quickly saw the peril and led her away to the dining car, where the lady from Doncaster followed. Luckily they were sat on a table for two, but the nice but talkative lady ended up sat at the next table and told a new impromptu dining companion, and from the volume of her voice everyone else in the car, about her husband’s gangrene and the various operations he had which led to his leg amputation.

The steward let her off paying for her pot of tea at the end of her meal as she didn’t have enough money and was scaring diners away.

The Alnmouth couple stayed in the dining car until about an hour after Doncaster, but even as I got her and her bag into the atrium of train carriage as we pulled into Doncaster I heard snippets of her life story told to the random captive audience who were waiting for the train to stop, punctuated by silences as the end of carriage door slid shut from time to time.

When she went the passengers all breathed a sigh of relief, some laughs were exchanged and looks of awe occasionally came in my direction. I was exhausted – it’s much more difficult than I thought to be talked at for 2 hours. I should probably not do it to other people.


Comment from letty
Time 24th August 2009 at 3:58 pm

ha ha thats funny about random talkative lady

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