Edinburgh Hits Hit LondonDate: 27 August 2002
The 2002 Edinburgh Fringe has officially drawn to a close. Now returned from Scotland as the frantic race to transfer south begins, a weary Mark Shenton wonders whether he could have just as easily stayed at home to see the Best of the Fest.
The Edinburgh Fringe is always an unruly, daunting beast: with 1500 shows to choose from, playing in 200 venues, it's difficult to know where to start when it comes to deciding what to see. The lazy or the wise, depending on your point of view, simply lie back and think of England: instead of braving the rainy cobbled streets of Edinburgh, you can just wait for the best of the fest to transfer to London. This year, seemingly, more so than ever.
In four long days (and correspondingly short nights), I took in some 24 shows during my visit to Edinburgh this year, a full quarter of which I could now see in London in the next fortnight. But outside of my own relatively modest, though frantic, slice of the Edinburgh action, there are at least another six transfers to London already confirmed, making a dozen lined up so far (and means, if you look at it another way, that there are 1488 shows that could conceivably follow!)
So while the Fringe Festival officially draws to an exhausted close on 26 August (with the parallel International Festival that the Fringe now dwarfs staggering on for another week), the instant diaspora of Edinburgh's hits (and some of its misses, too) start wending their way southwards.
Given that roughly a third of the fringe is given over to comedy acts (there were over 400 this year) and the high media and public interest attached to them, its no surprise that the biggest transfer is the instant elevation of freeform comedian Ross Noble to his first West End run, when he takes up residence at the Vaudeville for a season from 9 to 21 September with his show Sonic Waffle. Like Eddie Izzard before him, Noble has the ability to spin seemingly improvisational riffs from the ether around him, and no two shows are apparently ever the same.
Also heading to the West End are the top picks from the Perrier Awards (comedy's equivalent of the Oliviers or Tonys, only once given to a comedienne, none of whom were even nominated this year) gets a night at Her Majesty's in October, along with the nominees. This year's winner - off-the-wall 25-year-old Daniel Kitson, shortlisted last year - took the honours over other local boys Omid Djalili, Jimmy Carr and Noel Fielding, Australian Adam Hills and Canadian Phil Nichol.
Surprises & Certainties
Theatregoers in search of serious plays in Edinburgh know that the first port of call always has to be the Traverse, and this year was no exception, with two of the four things I saw there amongst the highlights of my trip. One, David Greig's achingly atmospheric play of birdwatching, romantic discovery and anthrax on one of Scotland's Outlying Islands in the 1930s, is already confirmed for the Royal Court, where it will run from 5 to 28 September. The other, Rona Munro's searing prison drama, Iron, must surely follow it, but has no London date yet. Anthony Neilson's disturbing Stitching - seen at the Traverse in a co-production between the Bush Theatre and new writing company the Red Room - heads to the Bush from 10 September, and provides an extremely intimate, fragmented portrait of a couple playing out their sexual fantasies.
Edinburgh is adept at springing surprises, and it was certainly surprising to encounter a new play at the Pleasance at 11 in the morning by none other than Ron Hutchinson, who wrote one of the great Royal Court plays of the 1980s, Rat in the Skull (subsequently revived by them in 1995), but who has since been largely lost to Hollywood. Lags, which premiered at Bristol's enterprising Tobacco Factory last year, is another compellingly acted prison drama from Hutchinson, but rather than focussing on an interrogation, it takes a more circuitous route, observing a drama teacher as she tries to unlock the feelings of a hardened group of inmates. It transfers to Battersea's Latchmere Theatre from 3 September.
It was less surprising that Anthony van Laast's Bounce took hold of the largest hall in the Assembly Rooms and shook it to its foundations with a breathtaking display of break-dancing, hip-hop, tap and more. The show - originally seen in London at the Roundhouse last year - now transfers immediately to Sadler's Wells from 28 August ahead of more regional dates. Also seen at Assembly, Greig Coetzee's Happy Natives provides a post-apartheid portrait of the new South Africa that is as welcome for its critical, character-based truth telling as much as it avoids mere polemic. It transfers to Soho Theatre from 2 September.
And again at Assembly, Snatches is about more truth-telling, or more precisely, versions of the truth as told by Monica Lewinsky and recorded by Linda Tripp, and replayed here onstage in verbatim transcripts of their conversations. In 78th Street Theatre Lab's over-fussy production from New York, however, director Laura Strausfeld isn't content to let the words do the talking but insists on viewing the two bold actors from disorientating perspectives that draw attention away from them. It transfers to Hampstead's New End from 29 August.
Of the other shows with confirmed transfers already, Fringe First winner Derevo from St Petersburg goes to Riverside Studios from 2 September, as does The Secret Death of Salvador Dali from 29 August. Soho Theatre also has another two lined up: Tamasha Theatre Company's Ryman and the Sheikh from 2 September and Theatre of Science’s Sleek Geeks from 23 October, with talk also of providing a home for Richard Herring’s Talking Cock, a male response to Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues, and the one-man diatribe Goodbye Seattle Coffee Company. Julian Garner's Silent Engine, meanwhile, heads to the Arcola from 3 September.
In Addition & Expectation
Expect a further life for a whole raft of other productions seen in Edinburgh, sooner or later. I would stake money on it for Jerry Springer - the Opera, the overall highlight of my trip to Edinburgh that, for the first act at least, is the most galvanising new all-British musical in years, and if they can make the second act as all-out thrilling as the first would be completely unbeatable. Gyles Brandreth's amiable Zipp! - a rapid jaunt through 100 musicals in 90 minutes - promises more than it delivers, but in its low-brow way, and thanks to the unfailing energy of its star and creator, has an engaging mix of the truly amateur and the professionals it spoofs.
On the play front, Alan Davies and Marcia Warren delighted in Aunty and Me, a tale about a nephew and his apparently dying aunt. The British premiere of The Laramie Project, a devised piece about the murder of gay American teenager Matthew Shepard that was originally produced off-Broadway, won a Fringe First. A new production of David Mamet's Oleanna, relocated to a British campus, drew admiring notices. And finally, a thumbs-down from me will probably not impede the progress of the off-Broadway rap version of Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors, reconceived as The Bomb-itty of Errors, but I had to flee after 20 minutes. By the time you're seeing your sixth show of the day, your patience can wear thin; and mine was worn out by this club remix and redux of a great play.