Smoke without fire

August 11, 2008

The beautiful thing about the International Festival is that I’m covering very little of it for anyone else, so I get to write about it here. Tonight I saw the final performance of Dybbuk, performed in Polish by TR Warszawa. I’ve seen it criticised for being too obscure, but I fail to see that. It’s a ghost story. Just because they call the ghost a dybbuk doesn’t make it difficult to understand. Here’s the gist, since it’s over now and I can talk about it without the fear of spoiling it:

Boy loves girl. Girl loves boy. Boy dies. Girl marries Boy 2. First boy’s ghost turns up to the wedding and possesses the bride. Rabbi has a chat with the ghost to figure out what it wants. It emerges that there was some grudge about a broken promise between the boy’s dead father and the girl’s living one and that’s why everything has gone horribly wrong. Girl wanders about the stage like a cross between Lucia di Lammermoor and the scary kid from The Exorcist then collapses. She continues to talk to the dybbuk but there’s some ambiguity about whether it has left her body and she’s just traumatised or whether it’s still there.

So there you have it. For “rabbi” read “Mulder and Scully”, put it on in English at 9pm on a weeknight and I doubt many people would be complaining about the obscure origins of the tale. It’s not important to understand the history of the mythology, you understand the story already because it’s a pretty old story.

Anyway, the important thing is not the mythology, the important thing is that from my seat in the front row I could hardly see a bloody thing! The stage of the King’s Theatre had been extended so it nearly touched row A of the stalls, and for some reason the director had decided to put lots of furniture downstage, blocking the sightlines for (I suspect) the front half of the stalls. Fill that furniture with a lot of static actors, as was often done, and you’ve got a lot of action going on where a significant proportion of the audience can’t see it. I have no idea why anyone would do this. I don’t forgive amateur companies for messing up the basics like that, let alone companies appearing at the Festival!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the deliberate breaking of theatrical conventions to serve particular effects. But there are some rules that you don’t break, and for good reasons. People paid for those tickets because they wanted to see a play, not because they thought it might be interesting to hear a play going on while they stared at a table for 75% of the show’s duration. I suspect that the moment when the possessed bride grabbed her unsuspecting husband in an extremely aggressive kiss was quite powerful visually, but I wouldn’t know for certain because all I could see was a lot of legs. Yes, I know the people in the circle paid a bit more than the people in the stalls, but not that much more.

The other issue that Dybbuk threw up was that of hazers, more commonly referred to as smoke machines. There was a lot of haze, or smoke, or whatever you care to call it. Inevitably, it billowed out into the auditorium and people began to cough. Could theatre audiences stop being such drama queens, please? It’s not real smoke. Theatres are subject to health and safety regulations just like everyone else, they are not allowed to try to kill you simply because it serves the piece. And where would the actors be if real smoke were used in such vast amounts? First they’d walk straight off the stage and end up sprawled in the lap of someone in row A (probably me), then they’d find themselves in casualty being treated for smoke inhalation.

Hazers use water. Some haze solutions contain oil, but most of the time they’re water-based. The whole point of this is that the haze catches the light so it is visible enough to suggest smoke or fog or simply a weird atmosphere, but it’s fine enough that you can see through it (smoke and good visibility don’t generally go together, and as you can tell from the last section I’m not a fan of poor visibility in theatres) and it won’t choke the cast.

The presence of a little water in the air does not cause people to cough. If it did you’d be having a very hard time of it in Edinburgh at the moment, since there has been rather a lot of water passing through the air on its way to the ground. So next time you see a show involving smoky effects, ask yourself whether you can see through the supposed smoke and whether the cast are responding to it. If they are, the chances are that the safety curtain will soon be lowered and the building evacuated, or that it’s part of the play and they’re acting. If they’re not, it’s haze. Don’t cough. Your energies are better spent glaring at people who are not privy to this secret about hazers and insist on coughing theatrically, or perhaps on watching the play. It is what you paid for, after all.


Decisions, decisions

August 7, 2008

In case you’ve never experienced it first-hand, the Edinburgh Festival is vast. It’s not actually a single Festival, it’s an overwhelming mish-mash of Festivals which all take place in the same city at the same time of year. You’ve got the International Festival which presents classical music, ballet and theatre, often in foreign languages. You’ve got my beloved sprawling mess, the Fringe. You used to have the International Film Festival until this year, when it moved to June amidst wailing and gnashing of teeth from  certain journalists who like to have all their Edinburgh junkets at once. There’s the Book Festival, which use to happen every two years but became so popular that it’s now an annual event. Then you’ve got the Mela, the Jazz Festival, the Politics Festival, a computer festival and various others that I don’t know anything about despite living here. There’s also the contentious issue of festivals-within-festivals, but we’ll go into that another day.

All of this adds up to the world’s largest arts festival and makes August an insane month. Normal life is suspended for the whole city as the population doubles. We moan incessantly about the bloody tourists and the fact that the three minute walk down the High Street becomes a fifteen minute walk and all the buses are full and there are discarded flyers all over the street, but we don’t complain too much about the money they bring in – and I don’t know about anyone else, but I prefer the trouble caused by the tourists to the trouble caused by the trams.

You can’t possibly see everything that takes your fancy during the Festival. Trust me, I’ve tried. There simply isn’t time. You’d think that when a show runs for at least three weeks it would be easy enough to catch it, but no. The weeks flash past and they’re gone before you know it. My usual practice is to get hold of a copy of the Fringe Programme the moment it comes out and make a list of my must-see shows, then I create a detailed timetable and plan everything down to the last wave of the guard’s hand on the last train out of town. I still don’t get to everything, because planning Festival stuff is futile and I know it.

This year I knew that I wouldn’t be choosing most of the shows that I saw, so I tried to wean myself off of the obsessive planning. I skimmed through the programme to check for perennial favourites and then re-read it in enough depth to maintain my position as Fringe Know-All among my friends, then I put it aside and waited to see which shows would be assigned to me. 

So far I don’t think I’ve been sent to a single show that I’d have chosen myself. It has been an amazing experience. I’m having to step outside my comfort zone. Sometimes I see things that prove to me that I’m really not into particular genres, but at least I have the satisfaction of knowing that I tried. Sometimes I see things that I don’t expect to like and have my preconceived ideas turned upside-down. I’m seeing more than I usually do at the major venues, which I often shun because of the high prices and low chance of scoring a free ticket without a press pass.

I’m loving every minute. If I’m not reviewing next year I know just what I’ll do. I’ll skim the Fringe Programme, make sure I haven’t missed anything important, then I’ll put the name of each show into a hat and when I need to choose a show I’ll pull one out at random. I’m finding that there’s a lot to be said for relinquishing control of your Fringe viewing. After all, seeing things that you wouldn’t normally see is supposed to be half the fun. It’s just easy to lose sight of as you try to fit in your first choice shows. I won’t make that mistake again.

As the Fringe lumbers into action…

August 3, 2008

When I created this blog, all those long days ago, it was my intention to use it for posting reviews of things I’d seen. That’s still the general idea, it’s just that a bit of ranting got in the way. I can’t promise that it won’t happen again. However, before I get round to using the blog for its intended function we’ve got to get through the Fringe.

This August I will be wielding a press pass, which means that someone else supplies my tickets, holds the copyright on my reviews and generally owns my soul. Publishing reviews here when they can be found in another place would risk disclosing the identity of my mild-mannered (ha) alter ego anyway, so you won’t be seeing them on Primary Antagonist. If I post any reviews here this month, they will be of shows that I see in my free time and either pay for out of my own ticket budget or talk people into giving me for free. (I am expressly forbidden from blagging tickets using my press pass, but they didn’t say anything about simply walking up to people and asking for free tickets with no press pass in sight, which has been working well for me for years. Since I have another source of free tickets this year, I recommend that you try it.)

Everyone else is handing out recommendations at the moment, so allow me to leap gracefully onto the bandwagon and offer my own:

Death By Chocolate: An Interactive Murder Mystery With Chocolate Tasting: Zoo Southside, Dates Vary, 18.00 (90 mins). Do I really need to explain why I’m recommending this? There’s chocolate.

Absinthe: The Green Fairy: Greenside, 1b Royal Terrace, 4-16 August, 11:20 (60 mins). Sounds like the perfect antidote to the children’s shows that are usually on at this time.

Shakespeare for Breakfast: C venue, until 25 August, 10.00 (50 mins). One of the great traditions of the Fringe is the ritual dragging of self out of bed in time to join the long queue for decent seats for this show. The consolation is that it’s usually a brilliant start to the day and they provide tea, coffee and croissants. It occurs to me that I may have been hungry at the time of writing this post.

Also keep an eye out for Elizabeth and Raleigh: Late But Live!, which I can’t find in the Fringe Programme at the moment but I’ve seen posters for it. I saw the same performers last year in Boswell and Johnson: Late But Live! and it was one of the most enjoyable elements of Fringe 2007.

If you’re not in Edinburgh you can have the consolation prize: check your local cinema listings and if Man on Wire is on, go and see that. I am a diligent Edinburgh theatre blogger who keeps an eye on the Edinburgh International Film Festival too.

Be Prepared… for trouble.

July 30, 2008

When you go to the theatre you are expected to obey a couple of simple rules:

1. Sit down.

2. Shut up.

There are exceptions to this which can usually be found in the realms of experimental and fringe theatre, and of course in promenade performances, but these rules apply in the vast majority of theatre environments. If you do not think that sitting down and shutting up is your cup of tea, you are not required to go to the theatre in the first place and frankly I’d rather you didn’t.

During a recent performance of Habeas Corpus at Pitlochry Festival Theatre (which you should see if you can because it’s a damn good play and very entertaining), I had the misfortune to be seated behind a group of Scout leaders. Just so that we’re 100% clear on this, that was Scout leaders. Not children. Children would almost certainly have been better behaved.

Twice during the first act, the entire row of Scout leaders rose to permit a couple of them to get out. I appreciate that from time to time this happens. People in the centre may have legitimate reasons for needing to leave the auditorium. But when this happens, you make your exit quickly and quietly and with a properly contrite expression on your face. You may whisper apologies if you mean them. What you don’t do is giggle your way along the row, stopping from time to time to exchange comments with your equally noisy, equally inconsiderate friends.

The other thing you don’t do is attempt to return to your mid-row seat while the performance is in progress. It is really not polite to push your way back to the centre. You’ve already disturbed everyone around you once, isn’t that sufficient? Correct procedure is to find a vacant seat at the end of a row and slip into it with minimum fuss. If it’s a packed house and there are no other seats, stand at the back. Thankfully the ushers at PFT agree with me on this and stopped a trio of Scout leaders who were about to return to their original seats, doubtless looking forward to another hilarious commentary to pass the time as they shuffled along. They were sent to vacant seats in a row further back. Unfortunately this put them closer to me, which is where I became acutely aware of their unfamiliarity with Rule 2.

If the house lights are down (that means it’s dark) and the play has begun (that means there will be stuff happening on stage), you need to show a little respect for actors and fellow patrons (that means shut up). Don’t whisper, don’t attempt to rustle your sweet wrappers quietly because that can’t be done anyway and will make everyone hate you even more, just HUSH. The actors can hear you. In some venues, and I believe Pitlochry is one of these, they can even see you. Whether they can or not, the fact remains that the people around you probably paid for their tickets and came to see the show, not you playing a noisy game of musical chairs with your mates.

I do not know what this group of Scout leaders got out of the evening, other than a bit of a dressing down from me as they left the auditorium. Unfortunately I missed the worst offender, who left before the play had actually finished (which means she missed one of my favourite moments, which serves her right). I had been looking forward to telling her off, it might have made up for some of the times when I couldn’t hear the actors because I could only hear her yapping.

I was less incensed on my own behalf than on that of the other audience members who were being disturbed. I saw Habeas earlier in the season so I could fill in the bits that were obscured by kilt-clad Scout leader posteriors from memory. Anyone seeing it for the first time must have had their impression of the play as a whole marred by the inconsiderate behaviour of these people who didn’t realise that just because you’re allowed to take drinks into the auditorium, that doesn’t mean you’re allowed to act as if you’re in the middle of a booze-up at your local.

I found myself thinking fondly of the little announcement in the programme for Black Watch which warns audience members that if you leave the auditorium you won’t be allowed back in. Oh, if only Pitlochry had had such a policy in place last night!

If you find yourself in a similar situation, you have full encouragement from me to take these people to task. They only do it because people let them get away with it. I will qualify that remark only by saying that you should obey Rules 1 and 2 yourself and limit yourself to damning their bad behaviour during the interval and after the final curtain call. You may also direct your attentions towards wrapper-rustlers and people who don’t switch off their phones. Tellings-off will have to suffice for them until the campaign to bring back the stocks as a penalty for annoying me in a theatre succeeds.

An update about updates

July 27, 2008

Unless you take refuge in New Writing and refuse to emerge, an interest in theatre is almost certainly going to lead you to the point where you have to make a decision about whether you care for updated versions of plays/musicals/operas/whatever. It’s a subject that seems capable of dividing the room, and I feel like a coward when I say that I don’t mind updates but only if they’re done really, really well. How’s that for sitting on the fence?

The thing is that it’s true. I’ve seen some really good updates. I’ve also seen a lot of truly terrible ones and some which simply weren’t worth the bother, and I’ve arrived at the conclusion that you should never update anything unless you’re absolutely sure what you’re doing. “It had everyone in the pub in stitches” is not a good enough reason for messing about with the original work. If someone in the pub suggested me that Rigoletto on the Planet of the Apes would be brilliant, I’d probably laugh and agree. I just wouldn’t back it, programme it or touch it with a ten-foot pole until they presented me with a bit more evidence that it would actually work. (In case you think I am making up examples off the top of my head, let me assure you that this production actually happened. Opera magazine had pictures. Tito Beltran was in it. I would probably have gone to Germany to see it if I’d known about it in advance, but I’m weird when it comes to things that I think will be terrible. I saw Gone With The Wind: The Musical of my own free will and volition. Never assume that just because I’m excited about seeing something, I think it’s going to be good.)

A few weeks ago I saw ENO’s Candide, which is one of my favourite shows in the whole wide world. I first saw it at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2003, a wonderfully high-energy, low-budget production by Par Exemplum Theatre. I think they evolved into Apricot Theatre and did a wonderful Duchess of Malfi the following year – if you happen to know anything about them and what they’re up to now, please leave me a comment! I’d love to see more of their work.

But back to Candide. Since 2003 I’ve seen it fully-staged in Prague with songs in English and narration in Czech, I’ve heard it in concert opening the Edinburgh International Festival last year, and I’ve now seen it updated to the 1950s at ENO. It was the kind of update that makes me think updates aren’t such a great idea after all.

Firstly, there’s a logistical problem. If you’re going to set the opening of Candide in the White House, what New World are you packing him off to at the end of the first act? And if you’re going to rename Westphalia as West Failure (how terribly subtle), you’re going to create mangled pronunciation among your singers.

Secondly, Candide is already a tricky show without muddying the waters. No opportunity for a 50s pop culture reference is missed, but this often means extending the dialogue and drawing attention away from an already convoluted story. The opening of Act II involved a particularly tortured take on Some Like It Hot as Maximillian enters America in drag and the writer and director can’t resist the chance to borrow lines from the film. Yes, yes, terribly funny, aren’t we clever – except that they gave him the wrong instrument! All the dialogue they swiped belonged to the Jack Lemmon character, so why on earth would you give him a sax instead of a double bass? A note to all directors: Get these things spot-on or don’t do them at all. And if they slow down a scene which is already slack, leave these gags in the pub where they belong.

The whole thing was just a bit too slick, a bit too “look at how witty and clever I am, aren’t I witty and clever and by the way you’re not getting out of here until you admit that I AM WITTY AND CLEVER”. There’s plenty of wit and cleverness in the book and music without some director/writer team “improving” them. It was a bit like being in the presence of a precocious and attention-seeking child, the kind who needs to point out to you that the Auto da Fe scene could be a comment on McCarthyism, in case you hadn’t already figured that out from when the opera was written and the bit in the programme which quotes the lyricist’s letter to the House Committee on Un-American Activities. And indeed, this is pointed out in the production by removing the satirical bit (the Auto da Fe setting) and replacing it with… the House Committee on Un-American Activities. And dancing Ku Klux Klan members. Stop, you’re killing me, I almost dropped my Fringe Programme when Jerry Springer: The Opera did it back in 2002.

The whole thing could have been saved by lively, sparkly music, but I think the conductor was as bored with all the innovation as I was. It was certainly the least enthusiastic rendering of the score that I’ve ever heard. That’s a pity, because Candide is a musical treat and there were some good singers on the cast. Even if they did have microphones, but that’s a grumble for another day. It would have been nice if the cast had been better served by both the pit and the production. Then the man in the seat next to me might not have chosen to spend Act II in the pub, which saddened me because I would like it if everyone loved Candide  as much as I do.

Still, one bad update isn’t enough to put me off Bernstein and I shouldn’t let it be enough to put me off updated versions in general. A day or two after Candide I saw Chichester Festival Theatre’s new production of Six Characters in Search of an Author, which was very cleverly updated and much more entertaining than the rather stuffy 1920s version presented at the Royal Lyceum in Edinburgh earlier this year. There’s a fairly strong chance that I’ll get round to comparing the two on this blog at some point. I probably should, given that I titled it Theatre In Edinburgh and have hardly written a damn thing about my home territory yet.

I think the trick is to find out as much as possible about the show and the update in advance and figure out how much it’s going to annoy you if it’s rubbish. There’s not a lot that anyone could do to destroy Candide for me. On the other hand, if you update something like Les Liaisons Dangereuses you will probably ruin all that I love about it and I will get very stroppy and might throw my programme at someone, so it’s safest if I just don’t go. Know yourself as a theatre-goer, know your tolerance for updates and know how much it’s going to bother you if you pay for a ticket to a terrible show. It’s the best advice I can give.

July 25, 2008

Yes, I’m sure we’re all aware by now that the RSC are presenting Starship Elsinore,  starring Captain Picard and Doctor Who. It’s a happy day for teenaged girls and Trekkies, but not everyone is happy. No, if you’re a crabby old man with a bee in your bonnet about “celebrities” being allowed to invade legitimate theatre, you might be terribly upset.

Poor old Jonathan Miller. Not only is he unhappy about not being invited to direct anything high profile recently, despite being such an obvious ray of sunshine, now those nasty producers are getting well-known people in to pollute the RSC. People who don’t usually go to the theatre will profane the hallowed halls at Stratford just because someone they saw (whisper it low) on the television is performing. The hoi polloi are invading, the end of the world is nigh.

I am a little more cheerful about this Hamlet. Last year’s Christmas stocking contained two tickets for a performance in September and I’m looking forward to it. Unlike Mr Miller, I am not a snob. Well… I’m a bit of a snob, maybe, but I try not to be enough of a snob to allow myself to be blinded to good theatre. I was brought up by a Star Trek-loving mother and have rated Patrick Stewart highly from an early age. Over the past two years I’ve seen him as Prospero, Anthony, Malvolio and Macbeth and none of them resembled Jean-Luc Picard beyond having similar noses. The chances are that I’d have gone to see Hamlet for Stewart alone.

As for “that man from Doctor Who”, I’m looking forward to seeing him on stage. I haven’t done so since he was in Shinda the Magic Ape at the Royal Lyceum in Edinburgh, which can’t have been long after he graduated from the RSAMD. I certainly haven’t seen any of his previous work with the RSC and neither, it would seem, has Jonathan Miller. Either that or he doesn’t go through his old programmes as regularly as I do. David Tennant is a trained and experienced actor who already had plenty of appearances on stage and screen under his belt before he had ever set foot in the Tardis. To ignore his previous achievements is simply disrespectful and Jonathan Miller ought to know better. We’re not talking about Martine McCutcheon in My Fair Lady here. The RSC is still using trained actors with a proven track record, and that’s not the same as a straightforward publicity stunt.

Naturally, there will be some people who will go to see Hamlet simply because Tennant is in it. I’m sure there were some people who turned up for The Tempest simply because it featured Patrick Stewart, but they managed to behave themselves and left their pointy ears at home. The question is, does it really matter whether these people would usually go to the theatre or not? People who don’t go regularly as just as entitled to their tickets as those of us who do. Theatre is for whoever wants it, regardless of their reason for choosing to attend. There’s no guarantee that they’ll then go on to become regular theatre-goers or that they’ll ever enter a theatre again, but isn’t it worth a try?

The RSC has anticipated a potential problem and banned fans from bringing sci-fi merchandise for Tennant and Stewart to sign. I think that’s reasonable enough. They haven’t banned autograph-hunting altogether, so presumably you can still buy a programme and attempt to get it signed.

And next time I go to see a Jonathan Miller production, I shall take along a Dalek and ask him to sign it for me.

July 22, 2008

The post on Black Watch can wait, there’s something irritating me and this irritation must be expressed:

Seriously, Edinburgh Fringe Office, how hard can it be?!

I am not a happy camper. Being slightly obsessive, I like to organise my Fringe-going early to make sure that I get to see the things that are important to me. It was no great surprise when the Fringe website collapsed under the strain moments after the booking system went live, because this seems to happen every year and I can’t think of a festival booking system that hasn’t done this at some point. The surprise lay in the chaos that awaited once the box office re-opened.

First it took a week for the booking system to get back on its feet. Naturally, I was poised to book the second the opportunity presented itself, but I’m not stupid enough to fall for the Fringe Office’s assurances that the online system is fine. I phoned instead. After half an hour of listening to pre-recorded messages suggesting that I could make life easier for myself by booking online I was just about ready to scream, but I got through to a very nice Fringe Office person who took my order. Twice.  Because the booking system decided to empty my basket when she tried to put my payment through.  Then the computer system collapsed again and she took my order manually and called me back to let me know when it had been processed. She was, as I said, very nice.

I considered myself lucky, because at least I wasn’t one of the unfortunates who booked online and got charged eight times for my tickets. Whoever made the decision to implement this new booking system owes people like that a drink.

Anyway, it occurred to me a few days ago that since it’s now mid-July and tickets are supposed to be posted out mid-July, it might be an idea to find out where my tickets are. I rang the Fringe Office on Friday. It was still Friday by the time they answered, but only just. They said that tickets were being printed and posted on Monday. Fair enough, I thought, and hung up contented.

I should have known better than to be so trusting. I have since had an email indicating that tickets are not being posted at all and we should await information on where to collect them (no mention of refunding booking fees as a goodwill gesture). The beauty of being based in Edinburgh is that at moments like these you can simply storm off to the offending organisation and demand to know what’s going on, which is precisely what I did this morning. I apologise to those I inadvertantly queue-jumped, but in fairness to myself I genuinely was looking for the pre-paid ticket collection point in its usual place when I found someone to interrogate.  I advise you to be pushy next time. It works.

Now I am told that my tickets will be posted out, along with any others purchased before an unspecified cut-off date. I have the Fringe Office’s assurance that I will receive the tickets I ordered and not a random selection generated by a capricious, possibly malicious computer system. I’ll believe it when I see it. If they send me anything other than exactly what I asked for I will show them that Primary Antagonist is quite capable of living up to the screen name.

My own experiences aside, the fact remains that this situation should never have been allowed to arise in the first place. If a large part of your business is dependent on online sales, you employ enough IT people and you pay them properly. (The most ironic part of the whole affair is that throughout the worst of the problems there was an advert on the Jobs page of the Fringe website for a computer bod, offering about £21,000 – clearly not enough for the amount of grief the job must have entailed this year!)

The second large mistake was to re-open too soon. Better to stay closed until you’ve got things sorted out and then re-open and run smoothly than to re-open in haste and bugger things up at leisure. If the posters on the Fringe message boards are anything to go by, customers aren’t feeling particularly valued or respected.

Next year I’ll be shunning the Fringe Office in favour of dealing with venues directly. I hope that any companies returning to perform at next year’s Fringe will demand a reduction of the fee they pay for the Fringe Office’s services, because it seems to me that this year they’ve paid dearly for 40 words in the brochure (particularly dearly in the case of the companies whose brochure details are in fact wrong) and little competence on the ticket-selling front.

I’ve been advised that if you have ordered tickets and there are any problems with them when (if?) they arrive, you should email the box office rather than trying to phone them. I could have told you that phoning them will make you lose the will to live, but what I only discovered today is that emails go straight through to the supervisors.

Now, just to remind us all that box office nightmares sometimes end happily, I will tell you about an incident a couple of years ago. I really wanted tickets for the International Festival’s opening concert. Really wanted them. If I couldn’t buy them I planned to loiter outside the Usher Hall and mug someone for theirs.  I was on the Festival website, ready to go at 10am on the day booking opened. It took me only a few seconds to select my seats and proceed to checkout, and that’s when the whole system crashed. Less than 30 seconds after booking opened.

Naturally it was impossible to get through on the phone and the online system was showing no signs of coming back to life, so I send a stroppy email to the Hub, explaining that I had had really fantastic seats for this one-off concert until their stupid system lost them for me and now I had to go to work and by the time I got home everything would be sold and now I’d never get to see it and it was all the fault of their idiot online system.

By the time I got home I had an email waiting saying “We’re terribly sorry, we couldn’t reserve the seats you had originally selected but we are holding the seats immediately behind them if that’s any use. Please phone us”. I was on the phone within a split-second saying YES YES YES to the seats and declaring my undying love for The Hub, the International Festival, Edinburgh in general and the lovely woman who did this for me in particular.

The moral of this story is that you should let people know when you’re annoyed. Most of the time you’ll get the figurative shrug of the shoulders and nothing more, but it’s worth it for those rare occasions when someone realises that service has not been up to snuff and does something to sort it out.

The situation with the Fringe Office has probably passed the point of no return as far as sorting things out is concerned, but I bet they’d go up a few points in their customers’ expectations if they were to offer to refund booking fees. Since that’s unlikely I’ll suggest that they’d still go up a few notches if they offered something that will cost them nothing – an unreserved public apology for messing things up. No hiding behind a duff computer system, no connotations of “well, it’s not really our fault”. Just accept responsibility and tell people you’re sorry and you’ll try hard not to let it happen again. Then make damn sure that it doesn’t.