Categories
Culture Theatre

‘Toodle Pip, Ip’ – Din Edin, August – An Ode to the Odes

This is a tale of two Welsh bards with whom I spent my summer, one stuck in a folkloric past, and one whose folkloric present I was able to be a part of. Perhaps a tale of bardic Welshmen and a second year English Literature student has more place in Comedy,  yet this is a story of surprising contrasts — of gruesome battle odes washed down by oat milk iced lattes. And thus begins my tale of Ip and the songs of yore that brought us together to perform y Goddodin – Scotlands Oldest Poem.

Although the product of a Shakespearean upbringing, nothing could have prepared me for the bizarre August that awaited me in my first Fringe Festival. And I suppose that that is the very essence of this unconventional month in our city: after all, I was a boisterous literature student excited about the Fringe and everything it had to offer. My friends and I were bringing our beloved Ondine to the festival, under our own production company. The months prior were a frenzied entanglement of glimmering trouts and buffoon judges and since March we had spoken of nothing else but Ondine and devoted our lives, money and sanity to our dear project. Yet this is not about my beloved play, but instead about the unlikely friendship formed through performance with a Welsh man in his sixties called Ip.

In June, many of my friends had started internships and instead I fell into that all-familiar chasm that many of you will know as ‘Edinburgh Theatre and Film Opportunities.’ I was desperately in search of a new creative endeavour that would distract me from the realisation that I too should be spending June working in investment firms and publishing houses. Ah! And there it was, my deus ex machina, plain and bold as day: ‘Seeking actor, preferably older Scot interested in their history. Performance: AD 600 hundred battle odes: bloody, gruesome, and some in Welsh.’ So naturally as a twenty year old English girl from the south, this must be aimed at me, and Zuckerburg’s bots had drawn me here for some cosmic reason. So I applied, and here we are. The rest of Summer I was completely lost in the world of Y Goddodin. From yelling gruesome tales of bloody spears at my younger sister over an Aperol in Spain as I learnt the unfamiliar lines, to hijacking my best mate’s twentieth dinner to perform tales of doomed soldiers. Even drunkenly attempting to flirt with boys in smoking areas by telling them about the cadence of the Welsh language and that they MUST come up and see my odes (shocker — they didn’t.).  I had entered a new era of bardic obsession and I was all the better for it.

And so my Fringe begins in a park off Nicolson Street where I meet Ip for the first time. With him I truly meet the odes. He carries them with him in his every movement and expression. Like a man of religion, the very makeup of his whole personhood built on his own personal poetical doctrine. His performance was unlike anything I have ever seen before, years of his passion fed into this all-encompassing stage presence as he became one of the very soldiers he sings for.  This was a man to whom time has no real importance, taken over by the very spirit of the Odes he sang. It was truly wonderful to watch. And so every day, I walk down the Polwarth canal and I hang out with Ip all morning and then we perform our odes in the vault of St Augustine’s. Our first performance has eight people. Our second has two. I am surrounded by invasive billboards screaming about their successes and sold out shows and here I find myself, passionate about something that no one seemed to care about. There was one show where we had only one audience member. I was angry. Angry that the fringe dream I had been sold was a lie, angry that the odes weren’t fashionable or sexy enough and angry for Ip that he had given so much of himself to these odes only for them to be shoved aside in place of a smarmy billboard. Yet none of this mattered to Ip. This was his song for his dying language and it was in the very performance that he cradled his hopeful renaissance. As long as the odes were performed and not left as dusty academic references, and talked about and listened to — albeit by one kind audience member — his very battle was won. This was the great passion of his life and no amount of success could alter this love of a lifetime. As it turned out this solo performance ended up being the most personal, the most intimate of the whole Fringe run.

Ageism in theatre is a prevailing issue that runs throughout the whole industry. Naive to this before, it became the third performer during our run. Ip and I were ultimately not dissimilar; we were both obsessed with our own shows in the same manic fashion, yet society’s treatment of us was entirely different.  Everyday was spent flyering down the Royal Mile, battling against hundreds of other small shows so as not to fall down the dreaded chasm where rest the forgotten and shunned. Daily, people would ignore and walk past Ip and two seconds later stop for me.  My passion was deemed sweet and eccentric whilst Ip’s was outdated. Over and over again youth sold and people listened to me, a second year undergraduate, over one of the finest minds on bardic folklore and Aneirin that has ever existed. Without question, every performance people would ask if Ip was my grandfather and what had led me here. My friends were busy in shows about sex and student life and here I was hanging out with a sixty year old Welsh man trying to correctly pronounce ‘Buddugre’ and people just couldn’t understand why. I was discovering an ugly truth that the industry I so adored would not be a friend to me once I reached a certain age. Yet every day our little audience of an average of seven trickled into our St Augustine venue. And in came professionals and learned individuals who were keen fans of Aneirin since the seventies. And in flocked poets and Game of Thrones fans alike. And in came the old and the young and the inbetween, this band of merry bardic enthusiasts!

It is in inclusivity that lies the true brilliance of the Fringe — this real authentic, bardic, valiant Fringe. I went to see Green women singing about sewage plants and Pergolesi sung through cut out cardboard. And each of these shows had this same troubadour brilliance about them, this lack of smarmy narcissism that can so often dominate theatre. Covid was hard on the Performing Arts, but it is a lot easier to resurrect if you’ve got that ‘bright young thing’ about you. The irony in this so-called ‘freedom’ in this industry is that it falls with great might upon the less fashionable pieces or the older generations who have years of experience upon us snarky youths. And quite frankly we owe it to them for treading the path before us and making the Fringe what it is today. And so ends my tale of the odes, Din Edin and Ip.

Image provided by Agnes Perry-Robinson