Often, the best Fringe discoveries are those brought about by chance meetings, rather than a rigid timetable.
So it was that, while showing an American friend around Edinburgh, I ran into Erin Alexander singing beautifully outside Surgeons Hall. As an advert for the show, it was certainly effective â€“ we decided to take a chance, and we were so glad we did.
On a High Note tells the story of Graziella Sciutti, a contemporary of Maria Callas, using an imagined retrospective interview about her life. This is told with verve and joy by Erin, and interspersed with musical moments spanning the work of composers such as Mozart, Verdi, Puccini, Rossini, and Bach.
I confess to not being familiar with many of the pieces performed, but Erinâ€™s compelling, clear voice held the audience in her hand throughout. Menottiâ€™s Hello, Hello from The Telephone was a standout moment of light-hearted comedy, as was the coy, flirty Don Giovanni section. Knowledge of the operas isn’t necessary, as Graziella gives a concise overview before each excerpt.
Her life story is fascinating, and is mostly lived on the road away from her husband and daughter. The one constant love, she tells us, was Mozart; we learn that one of her favourite roles was Despina in Cosi Fan Tutte for her strong proto-feminist attitude. Through the highs and lows, Graziella is engaging, witty, and funny.
Overall, itâ€™s a spine-tingling performance, made all the more impressive by the revelation that both Erin and Nick had heavy colds. If this was the quality when they were ill, I can only imagine that audiences are in for even more of a treat when they’re at their full strength. An oasis of musical calm in the Fringe madness.
On a High Note, theSpace @ Surgeons Hall, 21-24 Aug, 16:25
Another last-minute choice, Polaris, in which Hannah Raymond-Cox leads the audience through her journey to self-identity in an emotional hour of spoken word bildungsroman.
Using gay slang Polari as a starting point, and falling down a â€˜wiki holeâ€™ in the process of researching the show, she explores the power of words in shaping female roles. Her peer groups makes her question whether she fits in, or how she should do that â€“ â€˜Be bold? Be sweet? Be whatever youâ€™re toldâ€™.
Hannah comes to the realisation that heteronormative spaces are harmful, from the posh boarding school where the girls viewed their private parts as something alien and not to be touched, to the partner obsessed with Scott Pilgrimâ€™s â€˜manic pixie kickass girlâ€™ Ramona Flowers. Heâ€™s described wonderfully as â€˜grinding departure from mediocrityâ€™ into her hair in the form of pastel chalks.
The content is often disturbing, such as dealing with an early boyfriend with violent tendencies and bouts of crippling anxiety. This condition is described as less of a torrent, and more like constant water torture, thoughts dripping into her head. Anxiety isn’t sexy, Hannah declares, in the way depression is sometimes depicted. Whether stuck in a hotel room reassessing herself or using cooking as therapy, Hannah delivers her beautiful imagery with effervescence.
RuPaulâ€™s mantra â€˜if you can’t love yourself, how in the hell can you love somebody else?â€™ is returned to several times. Hannah questions whether she’s queer enough for a gay bar (which she defines as wearing a minimum amount of flannel and rainbows), tries to unravel the tension between her mum thinking bisexuality is â€˜just a phaseâ€™ versus a desire to be openly bi, and works through unrequited love from a housemate. At the end of her journey I left moved and humbled by this honest, raw performance.
Funded by The Trevor Project, an American non-profit focused on suicide prevention among LGBTQ youth, and supported by LGBT Health Scotland, this is a highly accomplished show from a promising spoken word artist.
Polaris, Scottish Poetry Library, 21-24 Aug, 17:00
Laura is a fiction/creative non-fiction writer based in Edinburgh. Their work has been published by Scottish Book Trust, Monstrous Regiment and the Dangerous Women project.
Twitter: @uisgebeatha, Instagram: @lauraclayauthor