Playing With Books – the Yellow Door

August 31, 2021 | By | Reply More

…and other final Book Festival events

by Hugh Simpson

The last of this year’s Playing With Books events at the Book Festival was a singular piece. The Yellow Door was even more of a ‘work in progress’ than is usual for the strand as it is not yet even a book. Instead this was an adaptation directed by the Lyceum’s David Greig from ‘a pile of fragments’ written by the new Makar Kathleen Jamie over the last three years.

Anyone considering watching it online (which is highly recommended, especially as it is available on a ‘pay what you can’ basis) should probably do so before reading on any further.

Not because of any spoilers regarding plot; as both Jamie and Greig were at pains to point out, there was ‘no narrative’. However, many of the most arresting visual and theatrical moments worked so well simply because they were so unexpected.

Gabriel Quigley in the Yellow Door. Screengrab: All Edinburgh Theatre

The way it started without fanfare or introduction, the moments of stillness, the figure – apparently a member of Book Festival staff there to help out – who starts moving balletically and is revealed to be dancer and choreographer Róisin O’Brien – all of these and more made for a spectacle that was full of the arresting and the poetic.

Despite Jamie’s stated reluctance to use the term ‘prose poems’, this is exactly how the fragments came across; although they did not coalesce into a tangible narrative, there were certainly characters of sorts thanks to the efforts of Keith MacPherson and the outstanding Gabriel Quigley. David Paul Jones’s music, meanwhile, added a further lyrical layer.

Attempts to project too much of a storyline should be resisted, however, as the experience was all the richer for always remaining slightly out of your grasp.

full of eagerness

All concerned seemed to be excited by the possibilities that had been unearthed, in a discussion anchored enthusiastically by Charlotte Higgins. The performers were full of eagerness, Jamie was a trifle nonplussed by the unforeseen opportunities for collaboration, and Greig seemed positively energized by the idea of a less linear theatre freed from financial imperatives.

Greig was also careful to namecheck others who had contributed to the process – assistant director Leonor Estrada Francke and designer Jen McGinley.

Keith MacPherson in the Yellow Door. Screengrab: All Edinburgh Theatre

Even if none of this never makes it either to a book or a more rehearsed performance, there were enough moments here – some of the prop design, or when the previously silent dancer finds her voice – that chimed so beautifully with Jamie’s nature-infused words, that it seemed pretty much fully formed already.

As always, moreover, the opportunity to ‘play’ with a book under comparatively little pressure brought out the best in all concerned, and the insights gained into the creative process were endlessly fascinating.

Further engagement was to be found in Jenni Fagan’s adaptation of Jessie Kesson’s radio play You’ve Never Slept in Mine for Stellar Quines. Fagan took Kesson’s story of young women in care and placed versions of herself and Kesson at the heart of it, drawing on both writers’ own experiences of the care system.

rawly human

What could sound from a bald description as a tricksy piece was actually a rawly human play that wore its deep cleverness very lightly. Both the autobiographical and metafictional elements were used to create clearly drawn characters and generate considerable empathy.

Genna Allen and Chloe Wyper from the Citizens’ WAC Ensemble joined Kirsty Findlay in an extremely impressive performance. Although performed script-in-hand, this was a much more polished version of a script than the Playing With Books strand would provide, and Caitlin Skinner’s direction was similarly accomplished.

A sunny afternoon at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Pic Edinburgh International Book Festival / Robin Mair

One drawback of having a more focused piece was that it filled a much smaller percentage of the 90-minute slot than was possibly intended, leading to a period of discussion that ended up being much longer than was perhaps anticipated.

The Book Festival’s Genevieve Fay did, however, chair a throughly revealing exploration that – just as the play did – managed to give voices to experiences and opinions too little heard, as well as bringing Kesson back to the forefront of literary discussion where she surely belongs.

heartiest congratulations

As for the Festival’s first year at the College of Art – it is certainly different from Charlotte Square, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Being in a space where people study and work will bring challenges and benefits, and how the festival can respond to changing times and demands on space will be seen in the future.

Overall, the Book Festival still seems the most civilised place imaginable to sit and chat, and (like everybody else who managed to put a festival on this year, what with one-thing-and-another) Nick Barley and his team deserve the heartiest congratulations.

The Book Festival will return in 2022. Many of this year’s events are still available to watch on demand on a pay-what-you-can basis.

Details at https://www.edbookfest.co.uk

However, some have a more limited timeframe – You’ve Never Slept In Mine was only available until Monday 30 August.

Details at https://www.edbookfest.co.uk/

The Yellow Door is available to watch at any time
Details and link: https://www.edbookfest.co.uk

ENDS

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