After three weeks of non-stop theatre, Edinburgh Fringe Festival is over. There has been a huge variety to see: theatre, dance, cabaret – you name it, it probably exists. I have collected enough flyers to last me a lifetime and seen productions in a caravan, a double-decker bus, and an Italian deli with pasta and wine adorning every wall (the venue for Larkin’ About, a charming play about the life and loves of the poet Philip Larkin). Here is my retrospective pick of the Fringe:
Initiate was a particular highlight, with outstanding performances from all three cast members. Walking into this Paines Plough production, I had very high expectations and over the course of the following hour, all these expectations were met. Initiate followed a Somalian taxi driver working in Britain. His son was being bullied for looking like one of the Somalian pirates who were in the news for kidnapping a British couple. The taxi driver travelled to Somalia to negotiate with the pirates to save the British couple and restore some kind of pride to the portrayal of Somalian people. The cast of three took on a variety of roles, each of which was played flawlessly so that jumps between the taxi company owner and a school boy and a pirate seemed natural, no need for elaborate costume changes, and importantly non-racial specific casting. This was acting at its best.
Cutting off Kate Bush was a perfect example of the way a one woman show should be done. The aptly named Cathy rediscovered her mother’s old Kate Bush records and began to recall her mother’s depression and her suicide at the age of 30. It addressed isolation, mental illness and the effect that complete dependence upon the Internet can have, creating an alienated world. However, the piece was punctuated by great comic timing, a naturalistic and contemporary approach to dialogue peppered with “like totally” colloquial phrases, and some seriously impressive Kate Bush impersonations. Having already written for the Royal Court, Lucy Benson-Brown is definitely one to watch.
Another piece which poignantly addressed mental illness was Mental. In an unknown location, shoes off, tea in Starbucks coffee mugs where the usual strapline was replaced by ‘Fuck Off’, we sat in semi-circular rows of cushions. On a mattress lay James Leadbitter. Over the course of the performance he related his experiences of mental illness, and police reactions to his left-wing art and activism. He revealed report after report – health reports from the NHS alongside police reports of injunctions, as well as telling his own experiences. We were shown the tragedy of police brutality – a female police officer whom he witnessed crying as she beat a sedentary protestor with her shield – and the reality of the treatment of mental illness in a world where the law requires the police to examine anyone who calls 999 for mental health reasons, before the paramedics can attend them. “I’m sorry,” he said at one point. “I’m finding it really difficult tonight.” It was the most personal performance I have seen. Yet like Benson-Barnes, he also managed to treat such a topic with a touch of humour, so that his audience laughed and cried.
Sister was a piece created by two sisters, Rosana and Amy Cade, one a sex-worker and feminist, the other a shaven-headed lesbian and feminist. It detailed their journey to reconciling their different conceptions of feminism, and almost all of it was performed naked. Although some more content about Rosana’s life would have been appreciated, the piece made many interesting comments, particularly on choice. As Rosana said, she has chosen to show us her naked body, she has not chosen her sexuality, she does choose who she sleeps with. At one point the sisters gave the audience three minutes to ask them anything they wanted. The piece ended with the two sisters dismantling the pole and chatting casually about their sexual preferences.
The Fringe is renowned for comedy. James Acaster was a favourite of mine, particularly when he discussed the trials of leadership – in his words, just look at the person at the front of a Conga line. Shakespeare for Breakfast was also guaranteed to make you laugh, and as regular performers at the Fringe, they are certainly a company to look out for next year. At ten o’clock in the morning, tea and a croissant in hand, I was sat in a packed theatre. Steph, dressed conveniently as a boy found herself in Shakespeare-land. Here every good character had a villain who looked just like them, including Tamora, Queen of the Goths – extra points if anyone knows which Shakespeare play she features in. These villains planned to kill Shakespeare and rewrite their unfavourable representations. It might have been an early get up but the hour of fun which followed was definitely worth it.
Acapella has also been heavily featured this year and you would have been hard pressed to walk up the mile without seeing a group busking. Several Oxford groups were up representing Oxford’s active acapella scene: Out of the Blue, In The Pink, the Oxford Belles, the Alternotives and the Oxford Gargoyles. Another uplifting musical experience was the Soweto Spiritual Choir. Repertoire spanned the 11 different official languages of South Africa, and varied between beautiful ballads, and upbeat songs which had the audience dancing in the aisles.
Of course there were many more plays on offer that I didn’t have a chance to see. Near Gone, Klanghaus, Every Brilliant Thing and Lungs (the latter two both by Duncan Macmillan) all received critical acclaim. For some late-night cabaret, Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho and Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens, came highly recommended. With always more to see, there’s no better place to be in August, than Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival.