Best of the Edinburgh Blogs - Week Three
"Go see a show at the Fringe and there's a fairly good chance that you'll find yourself in a non-traditional performance space … But even in a context where any space that will fit performers and an audience can become a makeshift venue, there's still something special about deliberately site-specific work … My schedule threw up three site-specific performances in three days and I was struck by how affecting I found each of these very different experiences. First up was The Ethometric Museum, a sound installation performance in the cellars beneath the Hill Street Theatre … The second show on the list was The Simple Things in Life, which takes place in a series of sheds at the Royal Botanic Gardens … The final site-specific piece I attended was 3rd Ring Out: The Emergency, an interactive gaming-style show in a shipping container placed at one end of the Grassmarket … There's simply something extraordinary about coming out blinking into the daylight after a site-specific show. The best work in traditional spaces, of course, succeeds in taking its audiences to another place but it's rare that you'll actually be made to forget that you're in a theatre all together. Site-specific work can be so powerful because it does just that."
Well, today is the day that Showstopper reaches its 300th show … I’m up here with two improvised shows, Showstopper! and The School Of Night, both happily playing to busy houses at the Gilded Balloon … Improvisation (or Impro, or Improv, depending on your love of contractions or the letter “v”) is going from strength to strength at the Fringe, which is thrilling. Lots of new companies rubbing shoulders with the old guard – it was a joy meeting Mike McShane last night – he’s up with Paul Merton’s Impro Chums, and he really is the business … Phil Jupitus has an impro show, great companies like the Scat Pack and the Noise Next Door are pushing improv in new directions, and there will soon be a separate section in the Fringe programme for improvised musicals … Showstopper is in its fourth year, so it feels like being a fixture … Brian May came to see Showstopper last night, and as a Queen fan of 35 years standing, it was all I could do not to replicate the Alice Cooper “We Are Not Worthy” scene from Wayne’s World. Yes, his hair is still that amazing.
"The lady checking in my suitcase is not budging. I am three pounds overweight and for some reason she wants sixty pounds charged to my credit card … I’m being shipped back to London with my show in pieces. I have been sitting on my case since 7am to try and get it to close. I pray to god my underwear does not spill out onto the carousel at Heathrow … I queue for information next to an acrobatics performing couple who ask me about my show and no matter how hard I try to explain the dark tragic story they keep replying "ah so it’s a comedy!" They are off to their next gig in Stockholm and are genuinely pleased to hear that I got four stars … I have broken the small suitcase. It is a casualty of the Royal Mile cobbles and sits on its back wheels forever smashed. My battered suitcase holds the stories of my life but we all have our cross to bear and mine is my luggage at Edinburgh Airport so I push on pretending the dirt is part of an urban design. My props deserve more than to be lugged like cargo for the wonderful story telling service they provide and when all is said and done they get an aisle seat too."
"I am feeling somewhat aggrieved as it seems I have missed the single most hilarious thing to have ever happened at the Fringe and possibly at any comedy/arts festival ever in the whole wide world. My friends were lucky enough to witness it so I am able to give a second-hand account of this perfect storm of comedy. This apex of amusement did not take place at the Pleasance Courtyard, C venues, the Underbelly, Udderbelly, Overbelly, Bellyflop, Wellybelly or any other Fringe venue … There was no press release, no flyer, no warning. My friends were mooching about near Victoria Street when it happened. A woman was walking along when suddenly her legs went from under her and she was flying backwards into the air, a look of shock and surprise etched across her face … They looked down to see what had caused this unexpected trip and there it was: a banana skin. Someone actually slipped on a banana skin. The entire street erupted with mirth. Six stars."
"The Musical Theatre Matters: UK Awards gala has been held, the gongs presented and I have safely managed to pack what feels like half a flat back into my rucksack and get onto the train back to London … Between the individual musicals being judged there was a huge range and real ingenuity in the way productions harnessed the traditional ingredients of book, music and lyrics … Scary Gorgeous really did push what I would think of as the form of a musical … Chances are if you are a musical theatre fan you will have come across some variety of improvised show … I was lucky enough to catch Baby Wants Candy at Assembly at George Square… an ambitious and successful example of the improvised musical species … A piece of new musical writing I can only describe as beautiful and wonderfully simple, can be seen in Some Small Love Story … Homemade Fusion was nominated in the Best Production category… as I made my way out I overheard cast member Christina Tedders referring one of the theatregoers to Kooman & Dimond's album Out of Our Heads which contains most of the numbers in the show in addition to others … Finally, a note on the show which rather swept the board (at the MTM:UK Awards)… From the Fire … My heart normally fills with dread when someone says their live performance has been filmed, particularly on the Fringe scale, as it never does the piece justice. But even in the rough edit which was projected in the George Square Theatre, it was clear the footage had been elegantly shot and the music well recorded. It captured the show admirably. As short snippets of the garment factory workers' oratorios were shown, I again felt goosebumps start to rise, just as they had on live viewing."
"I haven’t done a formal scientific investigation… but from my random observations and general feelings based on four years at the Edinburgh Fringe, it does seem to be the case. What’s more worrying though is that nobody seems to be asking the question here or discussing the topic at all … I believe there are other factors that influence the demographic of people performing at the Edinburgh Fringe, and most of them accidentally come out from the presumed open access nature of the Fringe … These are the basic requirements in taking a show to the Fringe in a standard paid venue, and this is for quite a small group (us) with a small budget (ours) was a bare minimum of £6000, and that doesn’t include living expenses … For comedy groups to start making a proper impact and get noticed in Edinburgh they usually have to come back at least three years in a row … Also remember the Edinburgh Fringe takes place over the whole month of August, so you need that time off any work and family commitments … I believe these requirements already cancel out huge sections of the population from doing the fringe … Older people may have families that makes it harder to justify the repeated time away. Younger people just don’t yet have the money or organization skills to get a group there. So it’s already self-selected a small fraction of the population. When you then multiply this over the repeat years needed you can see why a tiny percentage of “fringe types” remain … Why aren’t the BBC sponsoring the Free Fringe? That’s the real grass routes here, that’s where the help is really needed. Why aren’t Channel 4 covering the fringe programme costs of new acts? … So the closest we’ve got to any kind of open access point to the Edinburgh Fringe is the fantastic Free Fringe, with Peter Buckley-Hill genuinely caring about new performers and doing an amazing job of keeping the fringe alive. Without him the cycle would break down … The Free Fringe is more creative than the entire Edinburgh Television Festival. In the Free Fringe there is no money and yet every year there is a never ending world of imaginative new ideas and life … So all in all, yes the Fringe is open access, but hidden rules and patterns pop up that make it anything but. When we have a chance to attack these factors head on, we should be open to change. Listen to Peter Buckley-Hill."
"It's slightly alarming to go away for a few days and then return to find the festival has been getting along very well without you, thank you very much … It was lovely at last to sink this year into the glorious King's Theatre, one of Frank Matcham's finest, to see The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, though less lovely to endure the show itself, which is a feeble and mostly incomprehensible staging of a great novel. Later in the evening, some of the folk in the Abattoir members' bar had, I swear, been sitting there since this time last week. But it's clearly the choice of celebrity hang-out over the Assembly bar, which is a game attempt to make a car park look cosy with a few hundred metres of Victorian swagging … Indeed, and all poo-er, or power, to Tim Supple and his wonderful One Hundred and One Nights in two plays of three hours each (one ten minutes over, the second, ten under), a glorious festival show with an engaging cast, fascinating music (which could have become monotonous but didn't)and a revelatory take on the brutish and rapacious aspect of the Arabian Nights stories … And that's it for this year. Very sorry to learn this morning why I haven't bumped into Jim Haynes, founding father of the Traverse and festival icon: he had a heart attack on Waverley Station as he arrived and has undergone emergency bypass surgery, spending nine days in the Royal Infirmary. But Tim Cornwell tells us in The Scotsman that he's already back on his feet and doing the rounds."
"Warm up at 2.45pm today found me dressed not in my habitual imping black and red, but rather in a pink summer dress with flowers in my hair, like some sort of over-sized flower fairy. Every Imps show has a fronter, to warm up the audience, introduce the games, end them when they think a punchline has come, and adjudicate if games require players to die/be put out/generally fail. There are some Imps whose fronting is a joy to watch. I am not, as such, a fronter by nature. But it's my turn, so there I was in my floral gear practising by announcing everything in the flat. "Ladies and gentleman, it's Tom washing up! He has no script, no autocues, no mothers whispering from the wings. How does he do this, you ask? By the power of soap and water and your suggestions!" … Today we continued our warmup up Drummond Street, paused as ever for a small rap near the Balloon, then went in for show 20. Twenty! How did that happen? The view from the front is exhilarating and intimidating all at once … By the second game in, I was having fun, and by the end I didn't want to stop … We've seen shows, been in shows, been to parties, stayed in quietly nursing tea, lazed about on the grass with fish and chips, baked, sung at excessive length about cowboys and other assorted oddities. Strangely, it feels like life has never been any other way."