Christopher Haydon: My first Edinburgh Fringe

Christopher Haydon is artistic director of the Gate Theatre in London and director of the Fringe First-winning Grounded, showing until 25 August 2013 at the Traverse

Christopher Haydon
Christopher Haydon

It’s the last day of the festival. It must be the year 2000 – or maybe 2001? I am sat on top of Arthur’s Seat and am looking down on the city. I’m f**ked. We – my student drama group and I – have been performing two shows in rep every day for the last three weeks.

They weren’t especially good. In fact, they were probably quite bad. But that doesn’t matter now. It’s evening and we are drunk, and my exhausted brain is trying to process everything I have experienced during my first venture in to the intense bubble that is the festival. I have seen more shows in the last few weeks than in the rest of the year combined and the whole thing has become something of a frenzied haze.

I probably can’t say much more about my earliest memories of the Fringe than that. If I am honest, the twelve years that I have been coming here – first as a student performer, then as an assistant director at the Traverse, then as a critic for the Scotsman and now as a director in my own right – have all merged in to one rather epic blur. The festival is it’s own world. It rests precariously in a liminal space between the grandeur of Edinburgh Castle and the garish catastrophe of flyers, posters and street performers that is the Royal Mile.

Yet all this kinetic energy can be punctuated by moments of pinpoint clarity. And it is these – shows, performances, events – that ultimately stick in the mind. I still remember Paola Dionisotti’s heartbreaking performance in Zinnie Harris’s Further Than The Furthest Thing at the Traverse in 2000.

More recently, Kieran Hurley‘s Beats, which played last year at the Traverse, also stays with me as one of the most remarkable sensory experiences I have had in a theatre. And it was at the festival in 2006 that I saw The National Theatre of Scotland’s Blackwatch for the first time – a piece that is still the best show I have ever seen and has profoundly shaped my understanding theatre ever since.

But the most meaningful things I have taken from the festival are the friendships I have made. I remember approaching Rachel Chavkin – artistic director of NYC ensemble The TEAM – as something of a star-struck groupie after seeing her 2005 show Give Up! Start Over! In The Darkest of Times I Look To Richard Nixon For Hope.

She was obviously going to be far too cool for the likes of me. But to my massive (and continuing) surprise she seemed genuinely interested in talking and it is a conversation that we have continued ever since.
involved are entirely fair. And yet I am also keenly aware that in the odd year or two when I have not been able to make it up, I have missed it hugely. If you know where to look you can still find beauty in the behemoth.