Deep in the basement level of Summerhall lies one of the most tranquil experiences of the Fringe. It’s a room with deep red walls, decorated with a wonderfully eclectic mix of photos, posters, and assorted paraphernalia. There are no windows, which sounds claustrophobic. It’s not. Instead it feels like being protected from any intrusion from the outside world. You can do whatever you like in this room. The only instruction is that you should pick an envelope.
Within each envelope is a selection of Ryan van Winkle’s poems, and once you’ve made your selection he’ll sit and read them to you. But first, he’ll make you a cup of tea or pour you some port. The tea is delicious. There are Jammie Dodgers. There’s even a well-loved teddy bear to keep you company while you listen. The poems are full of beautiful images and van Winkle has a wonderfully calm, welcoming presence. It’s like a twenty minute meditation during which you forget that the world’s biggest, most chaotic and hyperactive arts festival is going on just beyond the door.
The only possible flaw is the piece’s brevity. It would be easy to spend hours holed up in the red room, examining all the bits and pieces and wondering about the stories behind each object, so perhaps allowing a little more time would be nice. Just extending it to 30 minutes might soften the blow of realising it’s over.
There has been a lot of site-specific and installation work this Fringe, but this is easily one of the best. Ryan van Winkle is to be congratulated for creating a piece that has real depth and substance and is willing to take all the risks that go with creating a one to one piece. It’s a medium that might seem intimidating for both artist and audience member at first, but there’s no need to worry about not being able to sneak out unnoticed if you don’t enjoy it – go in with an open mind and you certainly will.