Forest Fringe at the BAC

Written for the London Theatre Blog, 29 March 2009

Preparations have officially begun for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2009. Accommodation for August is already becoming scarce, the Fringe Society is taking submissions for the 2009 Programme, and companies are hard at work writing, rehearsing and road-testing brand new work.

The Forest Fringe – a studio space in an abandoned church, supported by Battersea Arts Centre – was a popular venue at the Fringe 2008. The Forest Fringe at the BAC weekend (27-28 March) showcased some of the best work from last year and previewed some exciting work in progress planned for 2009.

2008 highlights included Tip of Your Tongue, director Abigail Conway’s PostSecret -style anonymous truth-telling ritual, in which participants read and then eat unspoken truths written by others on rice-paper; and Lucy Ellinson’s Eulogy, In State. Ellinson’s piece, staged in a dusty corridor under the BAC’s main staircase, required the audience to help construct a eulogy for Ellinson before holding a vigil over her ‘dead’ body.

Looking ahead to this coming August, Bootworks had taken over a corner of the foyer with their Black Box, a short performance installation intended for a single audience member. In fact – probably intentionally – Black Box proved as entertaining for those outside the box as for the lone observer seated inside. While the silent-movie narrative could only be decoded from inside, only from outside was it possible to appreciate the company’s feats of timing and physical illusion.

In the Committee Room, Tinned Fingers created a cosy, playful world of animal stories, adapted drama games and arbitrary popularity-contest morality, in Our Father’s Ears. An ample supply of wine and the friendly atmosphere ensured the audience were happy to take part.

For just 15 lucky participants per night, Rotozaza were testing out their new ‘autoteatro’ experience, GuruGuru. Autoteatro blurs, erases and redraws the line between audience and performer by feeding prerecorded lines and instructions to participants via headphones, creating a prepackaged performance that changes with every iteration while requiring no regular actors. It’s a form of theatre that would be impossible to conceive without modern technology.

The Festival Fringe is a space for experimentation. Fringe audiences not only accept, but expect deviation from convention. From the looks of its 2009 line-up so far, the Forest Fringe is set to challenge every convention in sight, from the role of the audience right up to what we can comfortably classify as theatre.

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