here was probably never an Edinburgh International Festival Programme which the pundits didn‘t greet with a fair slagging off. Every year, the sages of media-land cast their limited minds back to the wonderful Festivals ofyears

j gone by. Years when, ofcourse, they slagged off the Festival as well, but that‘s all quickly forgotten. So incoming director Brian McMaster, quietly spoken, thoughtful and no showman, was never likely to stand comparison with the dear departed Frank DunIOp, vivacious, expansive and no shrinking violet. Yes, that‘s the same Frank Dunlop who got a fair slagging, year in year out. from the sages of media-land for being vivacious, expansive and no shrinking violet, but you don‘t miss a good thing till it‘s gone, etc, etc. ‘For three weeks the Festival Director is a sitting duck,‘ says Brian McMaster stoically in his Market Street office piled high with classical CDs awaiting his attention. ‘But for the other 49 weeks it’s the best job in the world. You just take it on the chin.’

And it‘s likely there‘ll be plenty heading for McMaster‘s chin this time round. When the Festival‘s official souvenir guide runs the headline ‘Harley Granville Barker. . . Who?‘, it must be said that his programme falls awkwardly between the kind ofexotic rarity of Dunlop’s line-ups (you may never have heard ofthe National Theatre of Craiova, but you were intrigued) and the immediate accessibility of a well-known 3 name (anyone for a Willy Russell ; retrospective?). McMaster is well aware of the risk. but it is surely foolhardy to bring together not one, but two retrospectives of relatively obscure playwrights. His argument is that no one is obliged to see seven C. P. Taylor plays followed by seven Harley Granville Barkers. but the option is there for anyone who wants to. True enough, but for every extra play in the retrospective and many of the producing companies are not in the top league there‘s one less space for the kind of unexpected delight with which the Festival has become 3 associated.

‘My feeling was that we had to give the I Festival a greater distinctiveness,’ says McMaster, who has certainly lost no time in stamping his mark on the cultural jamboree since taking over last September. He has made a welcome move to reflect the

vibrancy of Scottish culture and there is

8'l'he List l4 leAugust l‘)‘)2



This year‘s International Festival is fine for fans of Harley Granville Barker, C. P Taylor and Tchaikovsky but, Mark Fisher asks new-boy BRIAN MCMASTER, aren’t there too many eggs in one basket?

some weight in his argument that because foreign theatre has become more common in Britain, it is time for the EIF to assume a different purpose. ‘And it‘s got to do things that only a Festival can.‘ he continues.

‘There are wonderful odd things that you couldn‘t do at any other time.‘

' Things like the CR Taylor and Granville

Barker retrospectives and the performances ' of nearly everything written by Tchaikovsky. They‘re quirky choices, but on i the strength ofthe rave reviews picked up by l the Tron‘s production of Good and

! Greenwich Theatre‘s Schippel. perhaps not

‘There is not a note of Tchaikovskythat anybody out there can’t enjoy. Our job isto try and persuade them on that point.’

as wayward as they might at first seem. And McMaster makes no apologies. ‘I can‘t shift responsibility for this year.‘ he says. ‘We planned it fast. it was an incredible five months. but it was fun to do it.‘

And beyond the retrospectives. there are other curiosities of which McMaster is particularly proud. ‘For instance. playing Beethoven‘s Hammerklavier Sonata on its own,‘ he says about Richard Goode‘s 50-minute piano recital. ‘If I go to a recital where it‘s part of the programme. it‘s such a ; complex piece that you can‘t concentrate on

other things. The economics of concert life mean that you‘ve got to see it as part ofa recital. but in a festival we can do it on its own. I do think you have to do different things. Elisabeth Siiderstrém probably couldn‘t sing cabaret in a normal situation

certainly you couldn‘t do a late-night performance of lusty ballads at the Lyceum but she can do it in a festival.‘

But beneath his desire to be different. McMaster insists that the cornerstone of his philosophy is to be accessible. ‘It‘s what any of us in the arts is about.‘ he says. ‘I worked in opera for fifteen years and I was up against that eltist myth for all ofthat working time. Pavorotti singing ‘Nessun Dorma‘ at a football match was terribly important. A lot of us knew that was one of the great tunes. but we were called elitist for enjoying it. There is not a note of Tchaikovsky that anybody out there can‘t enjoy. Our job is to try and persuade them on that point.‘

Similarly. it might have been Rumanian

director Andrei Serban who singled out the

Corn Exchange to house the production of his Greek Trilogy. but the conversion ofthis old sports hall in Newmarket Road has been championed by McMaster for allowing the Festival to reach out into new areas of Edinburgh. ‘()nly in Edinburgh could it happen that a festival has been run on this scale since 1947 and there‘s a venue that hasn‘t been used before!‘ he laughs. ‘I think the District Council is quite keen that somebody will use it. but I expect people will need to experience it during the Festival before decisions are made. It is an exciting space but it is costing us quite a bit and I hope that money won‘t go down the drain.‘ Regarding the Fringe as the place for innovation. McMaster sees a place for the International Festival to present challenging productions ofthe ‘respectable‘ arts. ‘The aim is that everything is excellent. it’s more the type of work you‘re doing,‘ he explains. ‘I do think second productions are important. We‘ve got a responsibility to do that. I would be great ifwe were doing the second productions excitineg and the Fringe was where you went for the new work. I said to a friend perhaps one year we‘ll do a retrospective of Lope de Vega— he‘s known to have written 1600 plays and he probably wrote a great deal more and if the Fringe came in on it we could do a hell of

. a lot of them! And he said what an awful

idea! But I think it‘s rather good.‘ So is this Festival a blueprint for Festivals

' to come? ‘Oh no. I hope there‘s no such

thing. I hOpe I won‘t fall into the trap of repeating myself. . .’


The Corn Exchanio