RBS Main Theatre
21 August, 13.30
It’s the conventional approach to read books before attempting to write your own. But to those luckily endowed with a natural genius and wit alike to Griff Rhys Jones’s, this need not apply.
Actually, of course it does. It was thirty-seven years since his first visit to Edinburgh’s August festivals, when, as vice-president, he brought the famous Cambridge Footlights to the Fringe. Before pursuing his successful comedy-turn-acting-turn-media career, he read English and History at Emmanuel College, Cambridge.
But perhaps Griff Rhys Jones doesn’t need an introduction. Indeed the first charming words he delivered today in Charlotte Square’s full-to-bursting-Main-Tent were to refute such an effort: Thank you Jenny Brown, but sadly ‘multi-talented’ is a label my father would smile at and my mother believe. He prefers ‘every-man’ or ‘forcibly retired comedian’. How teasingly self-deprecating of him. But then again, that’s all part of his charm, isn’t it?
However, I was not disappointed by the lack of formal comedy. Evidently, it was Rhys Jones’s ‘retirement’ from this scene that provided the space and time to present the wonderfully eclectic documentaries constituting his portfolio. And although various, they are bound by his infectious passion for heritage, for the environment, and for communicating a sense of what makes us belong to a Nation. He’s rediscovered Restoration architecture, cities, mountains, now rivers (those corridors of wilderness), and next to come: Rome, folk music, and tribal primitive art. If only the hours were metric.
His amiable manner carried the audience easily through fifty-five minutes (that’s longer than the ITV’s hour) of raconteureal virtuosity. Feeding off his own charisma as much as the audience enjoyed it, he narrated the adventures of his not-so-faithful companion, Cadbury, as well as Rivers, of course: hearing tales of canoeing the Bridge of Gaur, of (skinny) dipping in the Mersey, of drifting down the Huddersfield Narrow Canal at 4MPH, slaloming the Derwent, punting the Cam, and balancing on the Coracle of Peril (yes, it is perilous when the twitch of a bum cheek is enough to tip you over-board) were all just a tantalizing toe-dip into the memories of his experience. For fifty five minutes we were immersed into icy winter waters and summer bog-snorkelling, as well as some meaty philosophy. Have you ever been intrigued by a river’s connection to the natural landscape, to agriculture, to cities, to history, and to art? Well I am, now.
Ending the hour with an evocative summary of his latest adventure-turn-documentary-turn-novel, he left us, chortling, with a two-fold campaign, ‘We have to respect our rivers. They can give us pleasure, nurture, adventure and delight. And you can float on them too. P.P.S, it’s only Nineteen Weeks ‘til Christmas.’