Book Festival Round-up

Aug 25 2017 | By More

The view from Charlotte Square

The Book Festival continues to explore the interface between literature and performance in a way that is refreshing and risk-taking. If it does not always come off, that is certainly a price worth paying.

The second of the three Lyceum/Book festival Playing With Books collaborations, a version of Graeme Macrae Burnet’s His Bloody Project, was every bit as intriguing as the first but less satisfying.

Roger McGough at this years EIBF. Pic: Helen Jones

At both events, Lyceum chief David Greig has been at pains in his introduction to stress that ‘playing with books’ refers to both the making of books into a play, and ‘playing’ as in having fun.

However, there is a fine line at times being being playful and being self-indulgent, and that line was in danger of being crossed here.

His Bloody Project places the reader on constantly shifting ground, with a plethora of sources casting doubt on the motivations and state of mind of its murderous central character. The magnificent production of Paul Bright’s Justified Sinner showed just what can be done with such tricky texts, but here the parade of interruptions by adapter Duncan McLean and director Paul Brotherston became a little wearing.

The opening salvo – that they were celebrating the death of the author, and questioning the importance of books themselves – was always going to be a challenge at a book festival, but turned out to be little more than a tease. The constant breaking of the fourth wall was at the expense of the book rather than in its service, while the Rashomon-style replaying of a scene to give a different perspective was a neat idea that ended up adding little.

shifting ground

Luckily, it settled down after a while, and the dramatised excerpts from the book itself were top class. David Rankine managed to give the central role the nuance and shifting ground the meta-theatricals tried and failed to, while Helen Mackay and David James Kirkwood were honest and versatile in other roles.

The subsequent discussion was as illuminating as always, with Brotherston in particular informative and enthusiastic. However, while most of those who attended the first EIBF/Lyceum collaboration would welcome a proper production of The Outrun, a full-length version of His Bloody Project in this vein is not necessarily such an appealing prospect.

A celebration of the birth of poet Charles Causley was a low-key affair that was done few favours by being promoted as a ‘one of a kind performance’ with ‘storytellers, poets, spoken word artists and puppeteers’. What transpired at Charles Causley 100 Years was a conventional Book Festival event, with Causley Trust CEO Jen McDerra introducing poetry, some set to music, and general reminiscences. Roger McGough had appeared in the publicity prominently as ‘presenter’ but this entailed nothing more than a short introduction.

Although given a full 90 minutes, the event still overran slightly, and a tighter, more organised hour would have had more effect. It might have been better to give each participant a separate slot rather than keeping returning to them – Anne Marie Fyfe’s readings of Causley poems accompanied by Cahal Dallat’s music inspired by Causley’s days in a dance band needed a bit of getting used to each time it surfaced, and would have worked better as a discrete chunk.

Causley’s great-nephew, distinguished folk singer Jim Causley, has set some of the children’s poems to music – including Timothy Winters, the one most people would know – and these were the most effective part of the evening.

Anecdotes about Causley’s life and background were tantalisingly used, not least some material about Hamish Henderson and Bob Dylan that seemed almost thrown in.

The evening reinforced the fact that Causley was undoubtedly a decent bloke and an accomplished poet, and that the Trust does valuable work in Cornwall and beyond. However, it was not clear how much it would do to remedy the state of relative obscurity he has slipped into in the few years since his death.

From the portrait painted of Causley here, it appears that this situation would not have bothered him very much at all.

The third of the Edinburgh international Book festival and the Royal Lyceum Theatre’s Playing With Books presentations is James Kelman’s Dirt Road.

Dirt Road by James Kelman.
Saturday 26 Aug 8pm (9.30pm), Garden Theatre.
Tickets available at:

Æ’s listing of the Book Festival’s theatre-related events is here:

Book Fest on Stage

The Book festival continues until Monday 28 August.



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