From Star Trek to Paddy the Cope, l need to visit Edinburgh's Storytelling Centre more
Mr Sulu, that was how the world knew George Takei when he came to Edinburgh in 1988 to star in Undertow, Shimon Wincelberg’s World War II drama about a fanatical Japanese soldier and a bewildered American GI on a lonely Pacific island, at what was then known as the Netherbow Theatre.
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Today, that venue, halfway up the Royal Mile, may be long refurbished and re-branded The Scottish Storytelling Centre but sitting in the audience as the lights dimmed earlier this week it was easy to forget the changes – the little alcove where Takei curled up, hiding, all those years ago is no more.
Within the historic John Knox House, parts of which date back to 1470, the Storytelling Centre is a venue I don't get to enough, something I reflected as I checked in to see John McColl hold the stage for 90 minutes with the story of Paddy The Cope, the Irish shale miner who introduced the the concept of a Co-op, something he picked up while working in Scotland, to his poverty stricken countrymen on his return home.
Paddy the Cope shares the musings of a real life character, Patrick Gallagher, with the audience. Born in 1873, Paddy lived until 1966 and his was a tale I hadn't come across before. Spreading his own brand of social revolution, McColl as the man himself, recalls the Gombeen merchants, Dublin Castle, the Black and Tans, childhood slavery and industrial struggle, in the process, accompanied throughout by Sue Muir as the Fairy Fiddler of Cleendra.
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As ever, McColl is a consummate storyteller, earning a deserved standing ovation at the end of a entrancing performance.
That comes as no surprise, as the Narrator of my musical play I Ran With The Gang, McColl was the backbone of the production, as he was the last time I saw him at the Storytelling Centre, in Theatre Objektiv's two-hander, Wojtek the Bear, in 2012. For those who are interested, Wojtek the soldier bear died in Edinburgh Zoo in 1963 and is remembered today through a statue erected of him and his carer, Lance Corporal Piotr Prendys, in Princes Street Gardens.
Both Wojtek and Paddy the Cope are very different productions to the one that first introduced me to the ‘Netherbow’ back in 1983 when Hello, Where Are We? Goodbye premiered there with a stellar cast including Iain Johnstone, River City star Kath Howden, actor/singer and songwriter Rebecca Pidgeon, and one of my Drop The Dead Donkey favourites, Sara Smith – all fresh out of Edinburgh Youth Theatre, we were all very young then.
Sitting there, watching John do his thing on Monday, it was as if the ghosts of those earlier productions were just waiting in the wings to be resurrected... apart from one, a play I can't remember. I know I saw another play there but can't recall a thing about it, which probably tells me all I need to know.
On reflection though, I realise it's not a venue I naturally think of when considering a night at the theatre; all the above choices were driven by an individual or individuals that I knew, or in the case Takei, was there to interview. I probably need to rectify that.
Paddy The Cope runs until August 30, even dates only, not 28, www.edfringe.com