As one of the several arts enthusiasts in Edinburgh, beautifully remarked, “If this festival has to ever shut down, or even downsize in its scale, it would block one entire artery of the heart of world theatre.”
Suffice it to say, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, held each year in August, is undeniably the precinct to any theatre aficionado in the world. In retrospect, perhaps, my year-long stay in the UK would have been incomplete, had I not visited the Fringe. Inclination took its own turn, and I landed myself a summer job as a press and marketing assistant, with one of the venues at the festival. (The six-week-long boot camp, however, is another tale to tell.)
Owing to time and budget constraints, most of the shows that I managed to see at the festival were based on recommendations made by colleagues, friends, reviews and some by instinct. Whilst most of the references were bang-on, a few were less said the better. Nonetheless, those that left an impression on me were:
The Author at Traverse Theatre
If theatre promises to break the fourth wall, this quite literally broke the fifth. There was no stage, just two banks of ranked seating facing each other. The playwright, the actors as well as the director of the play, sat amongst the audience and performed. Our presence was acknowledged. They greeted us warmly and even shared chocolates with us. British theatre director, Tim Crouch’s recent act was set in London’s Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs. It told the story of another play and explored the relationship the playwright and the two actors, who acted in it, shared with their audience.
To encapsulate it all, this blatantly honest play was about the abuse carried out in the name of art. They asked us audience the very pertinent question – Why do we choose to promote trashy work? Incidentally, we were even described as “f*&^%#@ cunts”, to that a visibly upset spectator asked the actor, “to speak for himself!” Ha! A few other audience members, rather offended by the act’s provocative nature, even walked out of the auditorium. Apparently, one of them was staged. Although a part of me thought of it as a self-indulgent endeavour, it made me want to re-read the Fringe brochure and review the play list that I had chalked out for myself.
Beautiful Burnout at the Pleasance Forth
This play, presented by Frantic Assembly along with The National Theatre of Scotland, had all the elements that go into creating a full-fledged matinee-masala film. The 90-minute long production had song, dance, drama, emotion and action. Besides, it touched upon the mother-son bond. God!
However, it was the convincing performances, delivered by the actors, in this avant-garde production, which made it work. In fact, towards the end of the play, when the two boxers jabbed and punched one another, whilst sweat rolled down their chiselled bodies, I actually found myself at the edge of the seat rooting for one of them. It took me to the world of boxing, of which I had no prior experience.
Face at C Soco
It was the final day of the Fringe and I had challenged myself to catch back-to-back shows, post work. I removed the brochure out to plan my evening. The hour-long 6.30 pm play was a strong recommendation by a colleague, the 9 pm sketch comedy show seemed fun. I had exactly an hour to spare. The 45-minute performance, which started at 7.50 pm, fitted in my schedule, perfectly. It also gave me enough time to get some coffee in-between the two shows. Quite honestly, I entered the auditorium with minimal expectations, but this turned out to be by far one of the most compelling solo-performances, I have ever seen.
The play, written and performed by Haerry Kim, was based on the testimonies of the comfort women from Korea who were taken to Japan, during World War II. A part of history I was blissfully unaware of. The intimate performance was staged in a small proscenium setting. It was a real tear-jerker. I was extremely moved by the piece. Post the show I went backstage to tell the fine actress how much I loved her performance, but when I met her face-to-face, I got intimidated. So I just hugged her and left—only to catch one of the most horrid shows at the Fringe. However, even that didn’t mar the previous theatre effect.
A Midsummer Night’s Madness at C Venue
Having studied and watched previous adaptations of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I was curious to know what this production would be like. And it was MENTAL! It really was. The hip-hop adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s most widely staged comedies was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. The madness began as soon as we entered the auditorium, and it didn’t stop until the actors took their final bow. The young and energetic bunch of performers, from Hackney in London and Harlem in New York, enthralled the audience with music, dance, drama and comedy. Their comic timing was perfect. I laughed until my tummy hurt and really hoped that the act didn’t end so soon.
Naked Splendour at C Central
This 50-minute long performance was endearing. Philip Herbert, a life drawing model posed and performed stark naked before the audience. It was as if we were attending a life drawing class, except while we sketched his body on paper (materials were provided) he narrated amusing anecdotes from his past experiences. At the end of the performance, he asked the audience, in this case amateur artists, to sign and display their work on stage. Herbert smiled, “Leave the drawing here and tell your friends back home that you exhibited your first piece of artwork at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival-2010!”