Fringe Diary: First Impressions

Written for the London Theatre Blog, 31 July 2008

On Sunday 3 August 2008, Edinburgh becomes the theatre capital of the United Kingdom. The annual Edinburgh Festival Fringe attracts the best and the barmiest of companies to show off, experiment and network for three weeks of non-stop plays and parties.

I’m a Fringe virgin. I’d never set foot in Edinburgh until last Friday. I’m here this year as company technician for Royal Holloway Theatre’s Darning Jilly, a modern re-imagining of the myths and legends surrounding Jack the Ripper. When I’m not pushing faders in the C SoCo Basement I’ll be seeing shows, walking the Royal Mile, talking to the public and the theatre community and reporting it all back home to the London Theatre Blog.

With over 2,000 shows playing over three weeks it’s near impossible to predict which will take off and which will ditch headfirst into the drink. At this stage all you can do is stick pins in the Fringe brochure or put your faith in big names. When the pin method can easily turn up Worst-Show-Title contenders like Kiddy-Fiddler on the Roof or I Kissed a Frog and it Gave me Herpes, I’m inclined to bet instead on Simon Stephens. He seems to hold the British monopoly on plays that answer big questions while also tenderly exploring the interpersonal lives of believable and subtly observed characters. His new play, Pornography, deals with the 2012 Olympics, the 7/7 Tube bombings and the growing gulfs between people in Britain today; it premieres at the Traverse Theatre on Saturday 2 August.

Also considered a guarantee of quality is The TEAM – they’ve won two Fringe First Awards in the past and great things are expected of their Architecting, also premiering at the Traverse.

The Royal Mile – a straight, cobbled street joining Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Abbey – is the traditional home of Fringe publicity. It’s impossible to beat the competition without showing your face to flyer on the Mile. When it comes to methods of promotion I’m expecting innovation and lunacy in equal measure – anything goes as long as it persuades bums onto seats. The Festival doesn’t officially start until Sunday 2 August, and most shows aren’t even previewing until Wednesday 30 July, yet some companies are already putting in the hours, hoping to beat the rush for punters’ attention. A group of people spotted on Saturday, sticking posters in shop windows while dressed in kimonos, turned out to be Mugensha Theatre Company, publicising their Japanese black comedy The Feast of the Ants at Rocket. Two lonesome members of the Alcock Players had the privilege of being the only people flyering the Mile on Monday; their show, Alcock Improv, is Cambridge’s answer to Whose Line Is It Anyway?, though how a show dependent on audience participation will fare with the average audience of 3 remains to be seen.

Those two Alcock flyerers had one last pre-Festival tip for me: Roy Walker, formerly of Catchphrase fame, is performing stand-up at Assembly on George Street. If his show, Goodbye, Mr Chips turns out to be the surprise hit of this year’s Fringe, don’t forget: Alcock Improv are to blame!

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