ED2014 Columns ED2014 Week3 Edition

Letter To Edinburgh: Damian Sandys

By | Published on Tuesday 19 August 2014

Director Damian Sandys isn’t in Edinburgh this Festival. So he wrote this letter instead.

Damian Sandys

Dear Edinburgh,

This trial separation has been an interesting period. For thirteen years solid we have lived together each glorious summer. It’s had its ups, it’s had its downs. But we’ve always held each other up along the way. Through the sleepless nights and the permanent glaze of the eyes; through the euphoria of sell out shows and five star reviews; through that horror when five reviewers turn up to the very first preview; and through the countless hours of flyering on the Mile, watching the weather go from sun to rain to hail and back to sun, all within the space of half an hour.

Until this year.  I’m still not exactly sure why but, for some inexplicable reason, my heart said we needed a break from each other. My head tried to reason with it (“It’s only a phase you’re going through… You’ll regret it if you don’t… Buck up and just get on with it”) but it would not budge. No matter how much love was there, for the first time it felt like it just wasn’t enough and we needed to look elsewhere for a little while, even if just to confirm that, actually, we are meant to be together.

It felt like a betrayal at first. Back in the spring, when friends started talking excitedly about their Edinburgh plans, I’d guiltily have to admit that I wasn’t actually taking anything to the Fringe this year, and probably wouldn’t even visit. Every time the reaction was the same. “But you have to go! You’re always there!” they whispered, their faces agog with silent horror. I felt the shame but pressed on with my plan. I’d started on this slippery path towards breaking out on my own and to veer off it already would be a sign of weakness.

The months passed by and, for a brief while, I felt at peace with my decision. When the Fringe brochure was published, I avoided it at all costs under the guise of ‘out of sight, out of mind’. If I pretended you didn’t exist then everything was fine. It may not have been the most mature way of dealing with our separation but hey, it worked just fine. For a time.

Yet fast forward to mid-August and here I am, gazing miserably out of a London window, surrounded by newspapers and computer tabs, all lying open on pages of Edinburgh reviews, and thinking wistfully of what might have been.

Now, don’t be getting all big headed and think I can’t live without you. I’m not going to lie, July was actually rather fantastic without you in my life. Rather than the usual jumping from rehearsal to rehearsal, or trying to obtain print approval after the insertion of an extra comma, I simply enjoyed myself. I saw people; I slept in, waking only to watch Jeremy Kyle; I looked at holidays abroad and realised I could actually go if I wanted to. There were no technical forms to fill in, no last minute script adaptations, no freak outs about accommodation or transport issues. Everything was calm. Everything was quiet.

And that was when I realised I missed it. I missed you. Suddenly my world was in disarray. I’ve been with you every summer for the whole of my adult life. Thirteen years together and I’d taken it away. I had the crushing realisation that I actually had no concept of what the rest of the world actually did in August.

All I knew was life within the Edinbubble and I had single handedly taken a pin and viciously popped it with no thought of the consequences. And now I’m scared that, having taken it away, will we ever get it back? I see now it was a rash decision. I thought I could handle it. Yes, it’s given me sleep and vegetables and home cooked food. Yes, I’ve spent the least amount of money I ever have during a summer. Yes, I’ve been to the theatre and not fallen asleep once in the darkened, warm space.

But I haven’t had that Edinburgh feeling; the rush of exhilaration and exhaustion as you walk out in the morning, ready for another day of the Fringe. I haven’t queued in the rain whilst a show goes up late or danced with glee at getting a ticket to the big sell out show; I haven’t visited the Mosque kitchen or had that moment where nothing else will do apart from a Piemaker tattie dog; or eaten every meal from a paper plate with plastic cutlery for a month.

I haven’t rocked out to the pre-show music when the audiences have reached the sell-out point; I haven’t proudly collected lanyards and waved them to get discounts on everything; I haven’t been able to become an absolute fan boy of a show or performer and worship them for the month from afar; I haven’t seen some of the most magical, creative, beautiful productions there are; I haven’t even seen the Cringe of the Fringe; I haven’t declared for three weeks that I’m never going to climb Arthur’s Seat again and then found myself rounding everyone up and leading the trip to catch sunrise on the final morning.

I guess, I’m trying to say I’m sorry. If it’s not too late, maybe we can start again? And, no word of a lie, the day you opened I found myself making a huge plan for next year. I’m actually ready to start work on it right now. I’ve got making up to do, I know. But give me a chance. Don’t forget me.

I know that you’ve probably found someone else by now, but, Edinburgh, I’ve realised that you are everything. You are the one place that whenever something goes wrong, it can simply be celebrated as “all part of the Fringe experience”. Your beauty lies in the imperfections and I’ve realised that, Edinburgh, I love you just as you are. You know, if you’ll have me, I could be there in four and a half hours. Just give me the word and I’ll be there. Edinburgh, be mine forever.

Damian is a freelance theatre director and has directed or produced 33 productions at the Fringe since 2001, including eight years of running C theatre and ‘Shakespeare For Breakfast’.