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Festival Fever

By Robert Kemp


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In 1945, Robert Kemp's first stage play, Seven Bottles for the Maestro was performed at Dundee Repertory Theatre and then at the Everyman Theatre in Edinburgh, where the cast included Lennox Milne, making her debut. This early work contained the central idea of Festival Fever, but it was extensively revised and remodelled for the Sherek Season at the Edinburgh Lyceum in 1956, when Stanley Baxter played the leading role of Vassili Gortchakovitch. Since then it has been a firm favourite with many amateur revivals. Miss Urquhart-Innes, an Edinburgh hostess, has pulled off a notable social coup by putting up Vassili Gortchakovitch, the eminent Russian composer, during the Festival. The jealousy of her rival, the Lady Provost, is a source of particular satisfaction. But consternation follows when Vassili becomes enamoured of Annie, the domestic, an Ayrshire girl (she knows her Burns) who has come to Edinburgh (via work in a Glasgow factory) to escape her father, a fearsome Presbyterian of the old school. When Annie announces that the Russian has said that " if he couldna have me, he must have seven hot water bottles'', a frantic search is on if Annie's honour is to be saved and a diplomatic incident averted (it is the height of the cold war). There are many twists and turns before the unexpected conclusions of this gentle comedy, which mocks the foibles and follies of Edinburgh folk in the early days of the Festival, when the Festival Club was the place to be seen and the Fringe had scarcely been beard of.