As the last month of summer rolls on; everyone ascends to Edinburgh for the world’s principal Arts festival. The town transforms with all available space turning into a stage, with actors, flyers, beers and press swarming the streets. Every year the festival attracts the best up-and-coming companies, international work, musicians and comics alike. With a huge amount of variety it’s difficult to decipher the packed programmes, but Fringe always has the potential to pull the proverbial rabbit out of its hat.
There have already been shows that are attracting buzz with theatre critics gushing over the single monologue plays, with one in particular, a one-man masterpiece called Baby Reindeer. This is the debut play by Richard Gadd, who last year won the comedy award for his stand up show Monkey see, Monkey do based on being sexually assaulted as a young man. Baby Reindeer– his tormentor’s pet name for him- steps out of the comic bracket, delivering the haunting tale of his stalker Martha who has taken over his life for the last six years. It all started when Gadd was working in a bar in London and flirted with Martha when she propped up the bar where he worked. Jon Brittain’s production then intensifies, projecting the 41,000 emails that she sent (in three years) across the ceiling, playing the voicemail messages and testimonies of the side characters who were affected including Gadd’s parents, partner and landlady. With award hype already, Gadd has already booked the play in for a month at the Bush Theatre in Shepherds Bush. Another solo performance receiving critical acclaim is Dael Orlandersmith’s Until the Flood, which is written about the reactions of the inhabitants of Ferguson, Missouri just after the shooting of African American Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson. It follows the American theatre tradition of documentary trauma (eg. The Laramie Project), Orlandersmith and has created fictionalised characters based on real interviews. A physical play, with Orlandersmith fully inhabiting each character, from police officers to young black men, through the subtle shift of her body or an item of clothing. With Edinburgh’s streets ringing with its name, Until the Flood is spellbinding from beginning to end.
Among the hundreds of musicals presented at Edinburgh every year, it is often hard to find one which comes with a powerful message. Yet this year is defying the odds with many shows having political and socially charged narratives. For example, Sh!t Theatre’s Drink Rum Expats combines performance art lawlessness with comedy sea shanties. Despite the disorder on the surface it is very cleverly constructed with striking tonal regulation. Set in Malta at “The Pub” where Oliver Reed drunk himself to death, the actors distribute Maltese alcohol to the audience, immediately creating anarchistic energy in the room. Whilst delivering a light-hearted tone through casual chat, songs and a playful atmosphere, Sh!t Theatre manages to discuss how Malta has become a gateway for migrants while investigating the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia (an anti-corruption Journalist) who exposed how the incredibly wealthy can buy European citizenships in Malta. Controversially, one of the stand out successes of the festival is a musical named America is Hard to See. This is an innovative piece of theatre based on a small community in Florida made up entirely of sex offenders, featuring real interviews, Methodist hymns and its own original score. With an essence of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, America is Hard to see breathes within the tensions exposed through the efforts to humanise its characters, whilst the religious overtones surrounding forgiveness create a strain in the theatre. The sharp script by Travis Russ is proficient in the balancing of opposing worlds. Dizzying and surreal the piece is not one to be missed.
We will be up in Edinburgh later this month attending The Edinburgh TV Festival where the media and art worlds collide. The Edinburgh TV festival celebrates diversity and inspirational new talent, hosting panels, speeches, live shows and networking opportunities. With over 2000 delegates from all the major broadcasters and production houses attending, and with some of the biggest names in front of the camera speaking (including Louis Theroux, which I’m not sure my tender heart can take), it is set out to be a busy event. The highlights (for me) include the live version of Hypothetical featuring James Acaster and Josh Widdicombe, When Dawn met Louis Theroux, the Top Boy Masterclass: from Street to Screen and the Killing Eve Masterclass. Hugh Laurie will be presented with a lifetime achievement award and there will be club nights organised with Audio Network.
We’re looking forward to getting involved with both festivals! It seems fitting to end with a joke, in the words of Ken Cheng “My reasons for learning origami are two-fold”.