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Ella Hickson: My first Edinburgh Fringe

As the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe kicks off, award-winning playwright Ella Hickson (Eight, Precious Little Talent, Boys) reflects on her early experiences of the world's largest arts festival. This is an extract from the book My First Play

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Ella Hickson
My mum has taken me up to the Edinburgh Fringe every year since I was about thirteen. It was back when tickets were five or eight pounds, so you really could pack in ten shows in a day.

I used to love it – we'd always start with Shakespeare for Breakfast and then rattle through anything and everything – some crackers, some stinkers. I remember some pretty hairy (so to speak) moments – the revelation of Elizabeth I as a transsexual was played no more than a metre away from my blushing thirteen-year-old face: my mum kept telling me to close my eyes.

The moment that I really remember was a performance of Rat in the Skull. I remember the theatre exactly. It was in a C venue space – black felt on the walls, and maybe 30 people in this tiny ad-hoc black box. I think it was in what is now the Carlton Hotel, I have a memory of tartan carpet. The play blew my mind. I was only a teenager, but I can still feel the strain in me as I focused, completely riveted for the whole thing. I'd seen some things at the National that had gripped me and the shiny lights in the West End theatres always excited me – but I think that was the first time I'd been, sort-of, mind-punched by theatre. I walked out and I felt different. I realised, I suppose, that theatre isn't just for watching, that it had power. I remember wanting to be part of that gang.

I said to my mum afterwards that I'd loved it and she said that I should go and tell the actor – and I did. I remember going up to him and being a bit bashful and saying, "I thought you were great" – he was very nice about it – he said thanks. And just now – writing this – is the first time I've ever googled it. There's a single review from the British Theatre Guide – the days before internet marketing. It was in Little C apparently, by a group from Manchester University – the review agrees it was a five-star show. It was apparently in 1998 – which would have made me thirteen – it must have been the year of the transvestite Elizabeth: I saw a lot that year! And get this – the review says the following…

‘It is impossible to fault this production. The audience is gripped from the start and the scenes between Nelson (Colm Gormley) and Roche (Benedict Cumberbatch) are almost painful in their intensity. This is a production not to be missed.'

I swear to you, I've only just discovered that in googling it. It could have been Mr Cumberbatch I said ‘well done' to – mind you, could just have easily been Colm Gormley – if anyone knows either of them can you give them a buzz and see if they remember an impressed thirteen-year-old telling them they were great? And which ever one – well, in fact – both – could you thank them for inspiring me – it may have been a whole other career if they hadn't.

This is an extract from My First Play: An Anthology of Theatrical Beginnings published by Nick Hern Books.

To buy the book with a 25% discount and free UK postage and packing (total price: £7.49) go to the Nick Hern Books website and use voucher code WOSMFP in the box for vouchers at checkout.

Offer valid until 31 August 2013.