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Michael Bryher: On ... The Road to the Fringe

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With three shows at this year's Fringe, the theatre company Dumbshow has many a story to tell about the process of bringing a play to the festival in Edinburgh. Artistic Director Michael Bryher talks about rights, costumes, advertising and what it takes to make it to the Fringe.

The road taken by any young theatre company up to the Edinburgh Festival is not just long and winding, it's often a treacherous one.

After racking up a host of positive 4 and 5 star reviews at the Fringe, and a national tour of hit show Clockheart Boy culminating in a run at the Manchester Royal Exchange, Dumbshow knew we had to think big to get to the next level.

We just weren't expecting Elton John to be the one to stand in our way.

In late 2009 Dumbshow started planning another assault on the Fringe. A script was written, rehearsals began; everything was looking rosy for the company's new version of George Orwell's Animal Farm. We were just waiting for that email confirming we had the rights to the perform story. That’s when the Elton bombshell dropped.

Turns out the one and only Reginald Dwight – the Rocket Man himself - had also been thinking it was time to bring the classic Orwellian Stalinist allegory to the stage. Great minds think alike. Suffice to say, in the great battle for the story's theatre rights, Dumbshow's dream was quickly snuffed out, not unlike that proverbial candle in the wind.

And so we went back to the drawing board. Which is where we found the ultimate femme fatale, Moll Cutpurse - a 17th Century anarchist born on a barbaric faraway island - who comes storming into London to satiate her lust for revenge whilst drenching the city's women in gin and loose living. Roar is her story.

In keeping with Dumbshow’s reputation for big, spectacular storytelling, Roar is full of cross-dressing, cabaret-inspired accordion numbers and buckets of glitter. In fact, on a recent research trip, actress Lotte Allan won the much-coveted Best Tranny prize at Madame Jo Jo's. Channelling Bonnie Tyler and loaded up with sequins, Lotte beat the best Drag Queens in Soho at their own game.

In fact, we have a habit of getting noticed for our costumes. In 2007 actor Jack Cole - during his first foray into Dumbshow drag - found himself talking to a few friendly chaps with film cameras. Five minutes later he was inundated with texts informing him he'd just appeared live on Richard and Judy. Later that month, we saw Dumbshow-er Nicola Cutcher bounding over to an unassuming Tom Hanks on the Royal Mile. Decked out in long johns and a swimming cap to play a silkworm egg, she enticed the superstar to linger long enough to pick up a flyer and affectionately coo, "you're all right, kid".

But we can’t rely on networking with Hollywood royalty forever. This year Dumbshow will also be unleashing the power of social media: blogging, tweeting, podcasting and plastering flyers with QR codes for all three of our Fringe offerings.

Who knows who we'll ensnare that way!

Roar plays at C Venues - C from 3-29 August (excl 16) at 20.45. Clockheart Boy runs at C Venues - C from 3-29 August (excl 16) at 16.25. Oedipus: A Love Story plays at C Venues - C soco from 3-16 August at 14.15.


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