Catherine Love's Edinburgh Fringe Diary #1
How is experimental theatre shaping up at this year's Edinburgh Fringe?
Is it possible to really challenge your own beliefs? That's a question I've been carrying around for the first few days of the festival this year, after seeing Chris Thorpe's brilliant, knotty Confirmation on my first afternoon of theatre in Edinburgh. In the show, Thorpe explores confirmation bias: the process by which we interpret information in a way that confirms our existing world view. Essentially, we see what we want to see.
That applies just as much to theatre as to politics. Our personal taste guides us as theatregoers, and perhaps even occasionally impairs our vision. I wonder if, were I not so weary with the two-a-penny whimsy of the Fringe, I might have been more charmed by Crazy Glue, a clowning tale of one couple's relationship, or by the cutesy ukulele music in The Future for Beginners. Both might have been charming enough as skits, but it takes more than a smile and a song to stand out from the heaving crowd of work jostling for attention here.
There is, however, still plenty of room for invention and surprise on the Fringe. Form has a tendency to feel more up for grabs at the festival, where genres blur and theatregoers are more willing to take a punt on something different. The Ruby Dolls, for instance, gleefully subvert both the containing cabaret format of their show Fabulous Creatures and the various narratives – from fairytale to Jane Austen – that they appropriate throughout the course of the piece.
Elsewhere, Ridiculusmus are intriguingly experimenting with the idea of playing two performances at the same time, sat literally back to back on stage at Summerhall in The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland. It's difficult to watch, and the experiment isn't without its glitches, but the overlaps and synchronicities make for a viewing experience which unsettlingly conjures the chaotic auditory hallucinations of psychosis. Like Confirmation, it's a fantastic example of how form can communicate content.
And formal experimentation can just as easily be joyful. On Thursday night, I returned for the third time to Secret Theatre's A Series of Increasingly Impossible Acts, which is playing in Northern stage's new venue at King's Hall following a preview run at the Lyric Hammersmith. The fifth offering from the ensemble is that rare thing: a show that genuinely puts its performers on the spot, as the unpredictable structure singles out a different "protagonist" each night. The result is messy, playful and utterly ecstatic.
Of course, it's not possible to enjoy everything. While Northern Stage's programme at King's Hall offers much to relish, for me its button-pushing comedy I Promise You Sex and Violence failed to hit the mark. But the brave and articulate response of director Lorne Campbell to the negative reviews the show has received is an inspiring example of how the Fringe can be a place of mutual respect and dialogue rather than claws-out antagonism. We can't always see eye to eye, but perhaps we can have a conversation.
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