A chilly August in Edinburgh. Colder than it’s been for 20 years and the city looks scruffier than ever. Locked Portakabins squat in elegant stone courtyards. Unused site machinery lies abandoned outside neoclassical museums. Pavements and bridges are scarred by ugly steel roadblocks, and lurid street signs mar the visual harmony of virtually every thoroughfare. The place seems to be governed by a crew of philistine control freaks whose bossy urges affect the festival staff. You can’t move anywhere without a lecture. ‘Go this way, not that way, mind your head, ascend the steps on the left to avoid those coming down on the right, and take off your jacket for your own protection and comfort.’
It’s a relief to visit Panmure House, where Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations, and which has been chosen by Dominic Frisby for his comedy lecture about gold. Some of his funniest stories are tragic. In 1886, a prospector found traces of alluvial gold in Witwatersrand, South Africa, and he promptly sold the concession for a profit. The seam he discovered would eventually yield 40 per cent of all the gold ever mined on Earth. His price? Ten pounds. Some investors mistrust gold. Warren Buffett can’t see the point of it. You dig it out of a hole, he says, and drop it in a new hole surrounded by armed guards.
Bad Play is a jaunty spoof of an Arthur Miller drama. An anxious mother awaits the return of her two sons, one from jail and the other from war, while her husband tries to conceal the fact that he’s gambled away the family fortune. The zany show starts out as a spirited Saturday Night Live sketch and so it continues without enough variety.