The Fringe Festival is one of the most important parts of my year, and with it comes a huge swathe of new entertainment, new stories, new friends and experiences. One aspect of it I love, is the change to see some truly spectacular theatre and comedy. Being a Fringe reviewer gives me the chance to see more plays in one month than most people get to see during a year. What’s more, this isn’t an unachievable goal for anyone else either.
When I first started reviewing plays, I hadn’t even imagined what the Fringe would have been like. My first year I requested close to 80 Shows, was allocated 75 and unsurprisingly only made it to around the mid 60s. Even then only getting the last few reviews in a day or so after the Fringe had ended. Needless to say, I had reached beyond my grasp. The following year I cut back, and still had too many shows. This year I’ve cut down to what will likely end up a workable 40ish productions. This way I’ll have some time to see shows, write them all up in good order and still have time to get other work done, without frying my own brain in the process.
I’m far from the busiest person at the Fringe though. A wonderful Californian Professor I met some years back, Shaun, runs Fringefan.info. Where he reviews upward of 120 shows each year. Shaun’s method is simpler than mine, and quite effective. He goes to a single venue and books himself into shows back to back all day. Only changing venue if he runs out. If you see him, a sharply dressed affable fellow who looks a bit like Sharlto Copley crossed with a young Robert Duvall, be sure and say hello!
Never Give Advice!
I want to make sure that plenty of folk could experience the same fun I get while working the Fringe. Which is why I made up the Free Fringe Showlist and instructions. However, the natural result of me doing this is that people are regularly ask me, “what would you recommend?” Unfortunately, this usually ends with me becoming a little flustered, for three reasons:
The first is that usually people want to know about Comedy, first and foremost. It’s true that for a great swathe of people, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is a place where you go to see unknown comedians strutting on a makeshift stage in some backroom of a pub, freemason’s hall or old church. To me, this is only the smallest part of the Fringe, and understandably, I tend toward the Theatre side of things in general.
The second reason I pause, is because usually people want to know about the Free shows. In an understandable twist of irony, I usually haven’t the foggiest about the Free shows because the ones I review are invariably NOT the free shows. This is no comment on quality or snootiness, more the fact that as a rule, we concentrate on reviewing paid shows, and see free ones in our spare time, reviewing them only when they are of sufficient high or low quality to merit spending the time on them.
Reason number three is the simplest; most of the time, the chance of the same show returning more than two years in a row is often slim. Most Fringe shows are by their nature ellusive and transitory, as performers and companies form and dissolve year in and out without notice. Chances are, many of the shows I mention, or companies I suggest, won’t exist any more!
Despite all this, I think it’s a good idea to give folks something off the beaten track to look for, so with that in mind, I’m going to suggest to you all some of the shows run by returning companies, who have created theatre I have enjoyed, or some of the returning productions which I have seen before.
Shows & Companies
I’m sure to have missed out a swathe of the regular acts I attend, but in trying to give a wide selection of styles of Theatre (and specifically theatre) I hope to give a few shout-outs and maybe treat the hard of decision-making to seeing something they’d otherwise miss. In each case I’ve added links to videos, reviews and of course to the Fringe booking site for the relevant performances this year.
One that will likely need less introduction to most discerning Fringe-goers is Theatre Ad Infinitum, whom I first became aware of back in 2011 with their Fringe-slaying show Translunar Paradise. A tragicomic, wordless piece, about an old man dealing with the death of his lifelong love.
Since then, they’ve returned with the highly acclaimed, interpretative cabaret piece, Ballad of the Burning Star, dealing deftly and curtly with morality, militarialism, the holocaust and the current hot topic of the Israeli/Palastinian situation.
For 2014, the Lecoq trained ensemble have returned with Light, an avant garde piece, staged in near total darkness, peering into the themes of Hacking, cyberspace, and government infringement of personal freedoms. Knowning them, it won’t pull any punches and is likely to be an essential production this Fringe Festival.
Another staple of my Fringe advetures is the wonderfully mercurial Livewire Theatre Group, who have specialised in adaptations of classic works of literary fiction, often with a uncanny slant. I came across this company back in 2006, where they were toying with a modern-looking feminist reimagination of the Homeric epic poem, in Iliad: Fall of Troy. It was a masterful creation, with a self-loathing Odysseus pinioned by the vying wills of the brothers, Menelaus and Agamemnon, and a pre-Bieberian preening teen hero Achilles. Deftly observed, the tale was also spun to encompass the hardships of long suffering Penelope, and Helen, a shellshocked survivor, simpering with dead eyes before the lusty egos of her husband, and her lover Paris.
In subsequent years, they’ve brought similarly inspired renditions of The Jungle Book: A Murderous Song, The Scarlet Letter & Other Betrayals, Odyssey, among others, and always managing to bring something new out of the classic, well known tales, which will make you rethink the meaning of the tales, and how they relate to your life.
This year, being their 12th year at the Edinburgh Fringe, Livewire are returning with their Oliver Twist, from 2010; a production which is certainly amongst their best work to date. The Dickensian masterpiece reimagined as a tale of orphans displaced in the ruins of 1945 Post-war Berlin. Teeming with emotion and sonoriously delivered passion, the show ended to a standing ovation the night I saw it. One that certainly ought to be on people’s lists this year.
Moving to a more intimate style of show. I can recommend that people make an effort to see Trevor T. Smith. An old RSC hand, Trevor came to my attention three years ago with his quietly dignified one-man show An Evening With Dementia. It’s a touching piece about memory, losing one’s mind and identity and the ways in which a sneaky old actor can fool the nurses into thinking he wasn’t quite as forgetful as he really is. Sweeping a ridiculous amount of well deserved praise and Five Star reviews, Trevor has returned with the heartbreaking production several times, and it has lost none of its power.
He is also performing a second show, The Return of Savonarola, one which I will be attending during the Fringe, and is about a dead 15th century monk, returned to life from a drunken stupor. Given his writing and acting prowess, it’s all but inevitable that this will also be an enthralling performance.
A slight change of style here, with Milk productions, a company who for me epitomise the slightly off the wall scatterbrained inventiveness that for many is the iconic ideal of Fringe Theatre. Comprising of a cluttered stage of props, bespoke devices and musical instruments, the troupe enat madcap versions of their tales, complete with musical accompaniment, audience interaction and clever use of light and sound.
They appeared on the Fringe in 2012 with Bluebeard: A Fairytale for Adults, a comedic take on the classic legend of the multiple wife killing pirate, and returned in 2013 with an examination of male identity, St George and metaphorical dragons in The Real Man’s Guide to Sainthood.
This year Milk Presents are using their cabaret skills in tackling questions surrounding the issues of gender, queerness and the nature of normality in Milk Presents: Self Service. If you want to enjoy a truly bizarre but enthralling hour’s traffic of the stage, then you couldn’t do too much better!
Jethro Compton Productions
Original themed theatre is another favourite of the Festival, and this year we’re spoilt for choice, as Jethro Compon Productions have a whopping SIX shows, three of which are returning from dazzling crowds recently in Australia.
The Bunker Trilogy, which premiered last year, tells witty and thorough adaptations of the stories of Orestes’ Agamemnon, Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and the tale of Morgana, from Arthurian legend. Each piece is staged in a small room, converted into a First World War bunker. Giving a claustrophobic urgency to the entire endeavour. I only managed to see their Morgana and Agamemnon, but Macbeth received similar high praise, and with all three returning, albeit with minor cast changes, it should still be a most touching and enthralling event.
The new offering, The Capone Trilogy, wonderfully listed as an “installation” rather than a play, are all themed around Gangster noir, with the trio of plays, Loki, Lucifer and Vindici, tantalisingly tieing into the similar adaptative styles as the Bunker Trilogy.
Back with the classic one-man show format, a style which Dyad have spent the last several years perfecting. Having experimented with Victorian gloomy horror in Female Gothic, and the cult of celebrity in The Unremarkable Death of Marilyn Munroe, 2014’s Edinburgh Fringe marks a return to Literary characterisation, with Dalloway, an adaptation of Virginia Woolfe’s classic novel. While the Great War is one of the perennial topics of Fringe Theatre, it’s rare enough to get a look into the female reaction to the horrors of that conflict.
With the pedigree of excellence that Dyad bring to the stage each year, it’s easy to recommend this to anyone who enjoys good theatre. The delicate tracing of Literary characters in last year’s Austen’s Women shows that they can work wonders with pre-established characters, and as such this will be one show I’ll be making a point to see.
Out Cast Theatre
Just in case you were concerned that things were becoming quite TOO serious in my suggestions, it’s time I recommended a company that manage to stirr the cockles of merriment as well as tugging at the heartstrings. Out Cast Theatre are an Australian troupe, who bring yearly plays to the Fringe, with a particular relevance to the gay, bisexual, and gender queer communities. Although they have tended towards comedic works, albeit with a bittersweet tincture to the remedy, they have brought dark and thought provoking pieces to the Fringe, such as the bleak and harsh Monstrous Acts.
However, this year they’ve lightened up considerably, and evidently are aiming for a show more along the lines of The Adventures of Buttboy & Tigger, or Jane Austen’s Guide to Pornography. Witty dialogue full shows about people in the gay community dealing with matters of romance, work and the perils of adapting plays while being haunted by the ghost of a long dead writer. Always managing to bring a quick smile to the audience while never letting things descend into utter parody.
For 2014 they are bringing a show to Edinburgh with the marvellous title: The Importance of Being Earnest as Performed by Three F*cking Queens and a Duck. Quite possibly winning my yearly quest to find the show with the most absurd title!
I think that should do for the moment. I’ll have a follow-up piece on the staple show topics of the Fringe, and perhaps some comedy suggestions, as well as updates of what I see and when during the Fringe. Till then, have a good one!