Written for the London Theatre Blog, 6 September 2008
So the Festival Fringe is over, but perhaps its most important task is just beginning. It’s all very well staging thousands of challenging new productions for a month in one city, but what about the future life of those productions, and what about all the audiences that never made it to Edinburgh? Once the Festival itself ends, those plays that survived the pressure can go on to revitalise the theatre scene throughout the United Kingdom and the world. The powerful figures of the Fringe talk constantly about the Festival’s low public profile in comparison to its cultural significance; far fewer people attend than the event deserves. It’s time once again for the best and brightest of the Festival to venture out into the wider industry and act as its ambassadors.
First up to the podium is Itsoseng, Omphile Molusi’s one-man show about his South African hometown. Previously at the Pleasance Dome, the play opens at the Soho Theatre on 8 September for a three-week run. I never saw Itsoseng and to my knowledge I didn’t meet anyone else who had, but Molusi’s play picked up some excellent reviews and managed to win a Fringe First award despite not playing at the Traverse, so this could well be worth taking in.
Likewise, I never managed to see The Idiot Colony, winner of both a Fringe First and the Total Theatre Award for Best Visual Theatre; chalk it up to inexperience that I missed most of the year’s really significant shows. The play, which picked up four and five star reviews, is a condemnation of the treatment of women by the mental health system in the mid-20th century, when homosexuality and childbirth out of wedlock were considered mental defects grievous enough to warrant sectioning. The Idiot Colony is touring the country from late September to mid October. Detailed information is available on the company’s website.
There are reasons to look forward to next August, of course; not least that Belt Up (Nothing to see/hear), over whom I went embarrassingly gooey in Part 5, have won the Edinburgh International Festival Award. This means they’ll be back next year with International Festival funding, performing as part of the EIF’s Behind the Scenes programme. But as much as the Fringe is a theatre lover’s fantasy, with potentially life-changing theatre hiding in every pub, bookshop and temporarily converted university space, there’s no point spending the year pining for Edinburgh’s stairs and cobbled streets. The best of the Fringe is coming to us, and there’s always been a wealth of exciting theatre to be found in London. It’s just that, with it being more spread out both geographically and chronologically, we might have to look a little harder to find it.