First, a warning: This event has been slightly mis-advertised. The show’s description in the Fringe Programme (under ‘Spoken Word’) suggests that ticket-buyers will see a veritable smorgasbord of “debate, poetry, fiction and politics from Luath authors”. A kind of best-of showcase from the fringe of the Book Festival is implied. In reality, each dose of ‘book banter’ is a different one-off talk given by one or two authors, tackling one of the above themes. Each event will be entirely different, so the star rating above should not be taken as an overall value judgement. It is essential that you visit the website of local publisher Luath (luath.co.uk) and check the event listings before purchasing tickets for one of these talks. Now that’s done, we can move on to the review. Phew.
Monday’s talk was given by actor (and Luath-published memoirist) John Cairney, best known for his one-man show about the life of Robert Burns. Cairney is a hopelessly sentimental luvvie of the old school, but a gripping speaker. His talk was a chronological history of his life as an actor, focussing on his highly successful stage-roles (when Arthur Miller directed The Crucible, Cairney played Reverend Parris), and dealing lightly with the B-movies and creature-features which form the bulk of his film career (Jason and the Argonauts, The Devil-Ship Pirates, Spaceflight IC-1, etc).
Cairney is given to hyperbole; at one point during the evening, he claimed to have “been to every country in the world except for Chile, all for the sake of Robert Burns”. A cynical audient might wonder what the crowds thought of Burns in Burma, but it’s impossible to be cynical when listening to the man speak. Cairney’s life is a fascinating one, and he rattles through events with the flair of a natural raconteur, beginning with his earliest forays into performance, and his memory of the first time he was told that he would become “an ac-TOR.” His description of trying to lose his Glasgow accent (“Glaswegians are born with slightly too much tongue in their mouths”) provided one of the show’s drollest moments, and was greatly appreciated by the audience. Monday’s crowd had clearly been won over before Cairney opened his mouth; many were familiar with his stage work or had read his memoir, ‘Greasepaint Monkey’. This allowed Cairney to take liberties with his listeners, indulging in a few deeply thespy flights of fancy. “Think red”, he commanded us, “imagine the colour red. Good. I can see it in your faces. That’s acting. That’s the power of acting. Red is martial. Blue is hope. Green is peace. Yellow is... nothing at all.” All in all, a most colourful experience.