Monday, 19 August 2013

Jim Haynes – The Original Edinburgh Man Returns

Jim Haynes has something of a dilemma on his hands. The legendary driving force behind the early days of the Traverse theatre in the 1960s, founder of the UK's first ever paperback bookshop in Edinburgh, counter-cultural polymath and host of the hottest dinner parties in town in his Paris home is bringing two show to this year's Fringe. Haynes' return to a producer's role shouldn't come as too much of a surprise to anyone who knows anything about the man who's probably the most well-connected man on the planet.

“Yeah, I remember introducing David Bowie to Lindsay Kemp,” Haynes casually mentioned one time after I'd told him I'd spent the night before watching Michael Clark's dance company do a routine set against a backdrop of the iconic video to Bowie's song, Heroes.

The trouble is, unlike every other eager beaver publicity person in town, Haynes doesn't want to oversell them, no matter how remarkable he might think both The Surrender and Broadway Enchante actually are.

“I'm wary of recommending things to people,” Haynes twinkles inbetween preparing for his annual pilgrimage to Edinburgh, “because they go expecting a ten, and if they only get an eight, then they're disappointed. If they go expecting a five and they get an eight, then they're happy. I call it Jim's law of rising and falling expectations, which is also the critic's dilemma.”

For the record, then, Haynes' two shows are very different beasts indeed. Broadway Enchante, as the name suggests, is a homage to the golden age of American musical theatre by French chanteuse Isabelle Georges and a full band.

“It's an investigation into what Broadway musicals are about,” says Haynes. “Isabelle is one of these women who fell in love with Judy Garland and musical films from an early age and started tap dancing. I'd met Isabelle in Edinburgh in a show at C venues called Judy and Me, and then I saw her do this show in Paris loved it, and knew they had to take it to Edinburgh.”

A solo female performer is at the heart of The Surrender as well, albeit in very different circumstances.

“I wonder how Edinburgh is going to cope with it,” Haynes says of the stage adaptation of his friend, dancer turned writer Toni Bentley's frank and unflinching sexual memoir of how she was liberated through anal sex.

“It's a sexual autobiography, I guess, “ says Haynes of a book which caused a sensation when it was first published in 2004. The stage version, Spanish film director and performed by actress Isabelle Stoffel, has already had a sell-out run at the National Theatre of Spain.

“It's about a woman being dominated,” Haynes says, “and is quite outrageous. It's not very PC.”

When Haynes is in town, he will also be celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Traverse Theatre, which has come a long way since its bohemian beginnings in a former High Street brothel in 1963.
The theatre's current home, its third following a move from the High Street to its much-missed former home in the Grassmarket was purpose-built in 1992, and remains arguably the most important venue in the entire Fringe.

One other venue Haynes will be spending time in is Summerhall, the newest and in some people's eyes most exciting kid on the Fringe block.

“I love Summerhall,” says Haynes. “I still love the Traverse, even though it's very diffferent to when I ran it. It's been institutionalised, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it does make it different. Summerhall hasn't been institutionalised yet, sand I don't know if it ever will.”

Haynes quotes Richard Demarco, who was also a key figure in Traverse history, sand who now houses his substantial archive in Summerhall, where a fiftieth anniversary Traverse exhibition will also take place.

“It feels like the early Traverse,” says Haynes.

One thing that wasn't possible for Haynes to bring to Edinburgh for the Traverse's fiftieth was a revisitation by an old friend who Haynes says was the original reason why the Traverse happened.

“In 1960 I saw an actress called Jane Quigley in a production of Orpheus Descending in 1960 when she was a student in Edinburgh and was still called Jane Quigley, and we became lovers. She was the reason I created the Traverse.”

Alexander went on to become a star on Broadway and in film, earning herself four Oscar nominations, for The Great white Hope, All The President's Men, Kramer Versus Kramer and Testament. In the 1990s Alexander later moved into politics, with then President Bill Clinton appointing her chair of the National Endowment of the Arts.

“What I really wanted to do,” says Haynes, “was to get Jane over to do a show at the Traverse, but they were already fully booked.”

While ill-health, including a heart-attack scare two years ago, have certainly reminded him of his mortality, Haynes remains tireless in his pursuit of the new. As someone now approaching his eightieth birthday, why, one wonders, does he keep on coming back to Edinburgh?

“I'm always gonna' give you a smartass answer to that,” he says, “and say that I never go back anywhere, I only go forward. I'm going forward to Edinburgh for the fifty-sixth time this year, and I'm very happy about that.”

The Surrender, Gilded Balloon, July 31st-August 26th, 1.30pm; Broadway Enchante, Assembly Hall, until August 26th, 7.35pm
www.gildedballoon.co.uk

The Herald, August 19th 2013


ends

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