the richard iii effect

Glamis Castle

Actors consider it bad luck to say his name, but a Scottish Member of Parliament hopes that a new tourist trail dedicated to Macbeth will bubble, not trouble, the fortunes of Scotland’s tourist industry. “Apart from boosting tourism, I would also hope the Macbeth trail would put some facts behind the myths about Macbeth,” said Alex Johnstone, who represents Northeast Scotland. And with this latest initiative, any plans dedicated to the rehabilitation of a villainous British monarch through tourism shall henceforth be known as The Richard III Effect, after the notorious Duke of York, who was slain at Bosworth while calling for his horse and recently discovered buried ignominiously beneath a Leicester car park. The proposed trail is expected to include sites such as Lumphanan, the village in Aberdeenshire where Macbeth was killed in battle in 1057, and Cairn O’Mount where he took his supporters en route to his defeat. Famous sites such as Glamis in Angus, where Macbeth died in Shakespeare’s play – written around 550 years after the king’s death - are also likely to be included. Other sites include Spynie Castle in Pitgaveny – where the battle between Duncan and Macbeth took place – and Dunsinane, the hill fort in the hills above Perth, where the Thane of Cawdor fought a battle with Earl Siward of Northumberland. Notably absent is the tiny island of Iona, part of the Inner Hebrides, and at one time the burial ground of early Scottish Kings. (Macbeth, Malcolm, and Duncan are all known to have been buried on the grounds of Iona Abbey, though none of their graves are now identifiable.) As many of the locations are spread out, consider the trail a good pretext for a “fair is foul and foul is fair” golf holiday. Then again “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” seems a tailor-made complement to Edinburgh’s annual arts festival. Or there’s my favorite justification: the “too full o’ the milk of human kindness” crawl across the Highland’s whisky distilleries.

iona abbey

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andy fraser, tartan butler

Curious about whether you can pull off a tartan plaid in 2012?  Look no further than Andy Fraser, the new Tartan Butler at Edinburgh’s Balmoral Hotel. A master at tracing Scottish ancestry, Fraser scoured over 30 variations of his own family tartan to trace the clan as far back as the early 13th Century. Coming quick to the realization that this talent was more than just an avocation, the local Edinburgh resident partnered with Rocco Forte’s Balmoral to share his expert guidance with guests wanting to find out a little more about their Scottish heritage. The gentleman definitely knows his history, too: “It was the Dress Act of 1746 that tried to bring the warrior clans under government by banning the tartan and other aspects of Gaelic culture,” says the Scotsman. “When the law was abolished in 1782, it was no longer ordinary Highland dress but was adopted instead as the national dress of Scotland.” Just imagine: plaid, a political statement. Once Fraser has established a connection to one of the thousands of clans and traditionally recognized tartans, he can arrange a trip to Kinloch Anderson, one of the city’s most established Highland dress shops. Or better yet head to my friend, kilt maker Howie Nicholsby, for an altogether 21st century kind of statement.

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bucket list: 2010 – august

UK: It’s a good thing I got all that rest in July, because I needed it once August rolled around.  My producing partner and I premiered a new musical we’ve been developing in London, later moving it lock, stock and barrel to Edinburgh as part of the largest arts festival in the world, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.  Many of you know about my theatrical background, but for those of you who don’t, I need to get you up to speed via an old theater joke:  if Hitler were alive today, his punishment should be to go out on the road with a new musical in trouble. (I just need to think that joke and it cracks me up every time.)  Of course, it wasn’t all that arduous – or punishing – but to start, it was being done across an ocean.  And while my partner and I are both old hands at this by now, we’ve also both invested a peculiarly personal part of ourselves in The Screams of Kitty Genovese, which only served to raise the stakes.

On top of it all, we were in two of my all-time favorite cities:  London and Edinburgh.  Yet we were working, working, working the whole time – and not in the lighthearted way travelers do but in the how do we fix this particular scene and how much is it going to cost us way that producers do.  I will say it gave me a different perspective of each city.  I may have been staying along Hyde Park but I spent the days working – or is it wandering? – the back streets of Hammersmith. Once we made it to Edinburgh, we were lucky enough to be staying together in posh digs at the Hotel Missoni, which was transformed into Kitty HQ.  A bee-line to the theater was quickly established, from which we rarely strayed.

The show – as I’m sure you’re dying to know – was an unqualified success.  A complete sell-out in London, it was equally well received in Edinburgh.  Plus it looks like it will be coming to New York in the very near future, so watch this space! It was an exhilarating experience, working overseas without any infrastructure in place or familiar resources at our disposal.  It made us get out into the streets on a very basic level, which went a long way towards making my romantic notions of two cities I’ve come to know extremely well over the years much more realistic.

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is that all there is?

Edinburgh has been a whirlwind:  as both traveler, producer, and artist.  Is it possible to be both exhausted and exhilarated at the same time?  Absolutely.  I’m glad it’s over and I can’t wait to do it all over again.  Do I contradict myself?  Well …. to paraphrase Whitman:  I contain multitudes and I am too tired to argue.  Ciao for now, Edinburgh.

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going (bespoke) native

This website started almost a year ago with a post about Howie Nicholsby and 21st Century Kilts, so it seems logical that I would eventually circle back to Howie with a post about what is now my second kilt:  a mossy green tweed that Howie measured me for way back in May.  My first bespoke kilt, we designed it together, adding two detachable front pockets with a reverse pleat, two detachable rear pockets for a wallet and cell phone, and a matching waistcoat with an added ticket pocket.  Best of all is the flash lining, which you can’t see here:  bright orange polka-dotted silk that picks up a faint trace of rust in the tweed.   Conveniently in Edinburgh right now, I was able to swing by the shop and pick it up in person – and get the VAT back, too.  My Kitty librettist joined me and was so taken with it that he took the plunge and bought one off the peg himself.

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video: just for the record

How do you record a cast album in the middle of the biggest arts festival in the world?  Simple:  take over all of the event space at the Hotel Missoni, bring a sound engineer and a crazy amount of hi-tech equipment up from London,  set up a four piece band and an octopus of cable and voila:  almost-instant recording studio.  Next, feed your actor-singers copiously and ply them with sweets, then cross your fingers and hope that the sound doesn’t reverberate throughout the hotel.  Check, check, check, check and check.  Now you can be on the look out for the digitally mastered, multi-track original cast recording.

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hotel missoni

Edinburgh’s newest hotel is also its most stylish.  On the historic Royal Mile, Hotel Missoni combines iconic fashion with Italian warmth.  Boldly black and white, with dramatic flourishes of jewel-bright colors, every detail was designed by textile maestro Rosita Missoni herself.  Smack in the heart of the original medieval town, this concept shouldn’t work – but it does; giving credence to the fact that Auld Reekie is a city able to own its historic past without blinding itself to the present – or the future.

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another opening of not just another show (part deux)

Lines around the block for The Screams of Kitty Genovese in Edinburgh. (And sweet relief in the gut of two hard-working producers, too!) A little factoid about the 2010 Edinburgh Festival:  it features 40,254 performances of 2,452 shows in 259 venues across the city.  The average audience for a Festival show is 6.  That’s right:  6.  The show has surpassed expectations here – and gotten some great notices to boot:  The Guardian said, “it is simply the best musical theater work on show at the fringe and festival.  One not to be missed.”  What’s On Stage gave it Four Stars, calling it “a darkly hypnotic rock opera.”

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the loves of a bengal lancer

The Bengal Lancers date their beginnings back to 1787 when the Nawab Wazir of Oudh created Bengal’s first regiment of cavalry and then further developed his horsemen into a whole army of cavalry regiments.  In 1865, by then under control of the British Indian Army, the force was expanded and reorganized with five regiments of cavalry becoming classified as proper Lancers.

While the majority of cavalry regiments carried guns, the Lancers were unique in that they were armed with bamboo lances between ten and eleven feet long and weighing just four pounds.  Lancers were able to jump hedges, cross ditches, scale walls and other obstacles and thus simply armed they were able to fight with an elegance that became legendary throughout the Empire.  From Abyssinia to Peking and Egypt to Persia the Bengal Lancers drew distinction as a fighting force but by the beginning of the 20th Century the needs of the Empire were changing and Lancer regiments were being decommissioned.  The last regiment of the Bengal Lancers left the service of the Crown in 1903.

The Lancers themselves may be a thing of the past but a trace of that legend lives on in the Stockbridge area of Edinburgh.  Of the many thousands of Indian restaurants in the UK, Lancers Brasserie has been called one of the best Indian restaurants in Great Britain as well as voted Best Indian Restaurant in Scotland.  Unassuming and incredibly friendly, the gorgeous dining room alongside the Water of Leith is a spot to seek out when you get a craving for a real curry or the intricate flavors of North Indian cuisine. (trust me:  the iPhone failed me here; these dimly lit photos do not do it a shred justice.)

Sabzi tikka:  shallow-fried vegetable fritters.

Chana on puri:  chick peas cooked with green herbs, medium-hot spices, and served with puffed fried bread.

Sabzi pakura:  deep-fried balls of flour, vegetables and spices.

Misti sag:  fresh butternut squash, cooked with green herbs, garnished with a touch of fresh ginger and green chilies.

Chingree massalam:  freshwater king prawns cooked with sliced garlic, fresh green chilies, coriander, chopped green peppers, spices, herbs and butternut squash.

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the coolest t-shirt in all of scotland

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oink: the best pig in town

Start with a freshly-baked white or brown roll at Oink, just off the Royal Mile on Victoria Street.  Spread a layer of sage stuffing or haggis on one side before stuffing it full of tender, juicy roast pig.  Top it with sweet onion marmalade or spicy chili jam and voila! – the best pig in town.  Plus at 3£50 it’s also one of the best lunch deals in town, too.

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edinburgh in the gloaming

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taste the legend

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video: along the royal mile

Edinburgh’s Royal Mile is the main artery of the original city, connecting Holyrood Palace with Edinburgh Castle.  During festival season it’s positively mental: bursting at the seams with crowds of festivalgoers, buskers, and thousands of people trying to promote their shows via both formal and impromptu high street stunts. The Screams of Kitty Genovese had a stunt the other day during a downpour, yet somehow this talented group of performers found a way to soldier on and gather a crowd.

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welcome to the scrum: edinburgh’s royal mile

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