Thoughts on the Fringe

29 September 2007

TCS looks back on August and Europe’s biggest theatre Festival

Edinburgh Soundbite – Cat Gerrard

I regarded the pink Physical Theatre section of the Fringe guide with suspicion as I looked up “Hangman”. What, I thought, is un-physical about performing, about theatre? It was a beautiful, disturbing piece, with four characters in Chaplinesque suits, dancing Absurdly through a number of settings to their final demise. There was a mere two minutes of dialogue but so much more was conveyed by the performers through body and beat, melody and movement. The Sadari Movement Laboratory’s “Woyzeck” brought powerful images and sharp atmosphere from only themselves, a stack of chairs and a smattering of tango music. “Fuerzabruta” – with DJ – worked up the audience to a near Bacchic frenzy while the performers sweated it out dancing, swimming and sprinting on a treadmill with set flying at them. Then The 7 Fingers, in “Traces” – with their skateboards, hoops and poles – brought their Cirque du Soleil skills to a more theatrical context. I watched with awe at the manipulation of props and bodies, realising what is possible with a bit of discipline and training. It is something many performers lack – they are too physically comfortable – and so Physical and ‘conventional’ theatre are regarded, falsely, as incompatible. As one avid theatre go-er announced at the end of “Hangman”: ‘Not my cup of tea, at all.’ Certainly not. It would have been spilled in the first thirty seconds.

Ediburgh Discrimination – Hannah Fair

One can approach the Fringe as an astute and experienced dramatic connoisseur. Or one can approach it as a sponge. I chose the latter; rinsing my last hour’s worth from my venue pass, I chose to absorb everything the Fringe could throw at me; the good, the bad, and the fucking unbelievable. I saw improvisational theatre’s dark side, as I conspired in heretical feminist plum eating. I also longed for the return of a brick-solid fourth wall after having strawberry syrup dripped on me by Oxford University’s Experimental Theatre troupe. I allowed myself to be awed by spectacle, if miffed by gaping textual omissions, as I witnessed an outdoor “Macbeth”, complete with stilts, fire and thick Polish accents. I was bound, blindfolded, and intimately stroked with peeled carrots. Yet as groundbreaking turned to gimmicky I felt a need to wring myself clean and find something truly unique. This I discovered in the amicable character of ‘Hugh Hughes’ (played by Shon Dale-Jones). In just over an hour I had laughed hysterically, wept unashamedly, been enraptured by the beauty of sawdust caught in a sunbeam and had even been offered a cup of tea. This, I realised, was worth a thousand Chav musicals or death-metal “Othellos”.

Edinburgh Blitz – Marsha Vinogradova

Another August was coming to an end and once again time and financial constraints were preventing me from finding out what all the fuss was about. What was this cult event they called “the Fringe”? In an attempt to eradicate my ignorance I decided to “do Edinburgh” in a day. Not just any day, but the last day of the festival. Forget the shows for a minute, the most striking impression is of the city itself; ad hoc venues appear anywhere from attics to pubs, hoards of adrenaline fuelled enthusiasts flock the streets, forests-worth of flyers shower the Royal Mile and an actual, tangible buzz in the air. It hardly takes two hours to feel completely comfortable, assimilate the slang and start introducing yourself to strangers. One day in Edinburgh seemed 30 hours long and I managed to fit in several shows, from the critically acclaimed “Failed States” – a musical about anti-terrorism legislation – to the weird and wonderful “Gawkagogo Freakshow”. The latter symbolised my Edinburgh experience; a rapid, dynamic and bizarre puppet/comedy show which ran every fifteen minutes in a tent was just as crazy, unexpected and exhilarating as my trip to the Fringe.