An EdFringe like no other

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2021 is in many ways very different this year (of course), but at the same time similar in good and bad ways to previous years.  Tuesday 10th was my first full day in town and I decided to take it relatively easy – 3 shows and some planning.  Although I live 13 miles from the City Centre I am blessed with a Community Bus from our village square to Waverley Station – what could be better. 40 mins to be quiet, or chat with the drivers about music making in Bo’ness and the best things to eat in the Lobster Pot.

My first visit was to theSpaceUK to meet up with venue manager Karl Bevis and get in the diary two workshops for his companies on surviving and thriving at and after the Fringe.  I was happily surprised to see queues out the door for shows there on this sunny Edinburgh afternoon.  A play by an unknown writer from an unknown company on mid week of Week 1 with 100 people in the house. That’s impressive and suggests there is a real appetite from the good folk of Edinburgh and surrounding area to get into a theatre again.  Space have 70 productions from around 50 companies over the next 3 weeks. They have a printed programme and a real feel of giving new young companies and Scottish creatives an opportunity to be seen.

My first show was Love In A Time Of Lockdown  (1.30 Space daily)  – direct from a well received Brighton premier. This debut show by SwanWing Productions is written and directed by Saskia Wesnigk-Wood.  An array of scenes and characters in and out of love in lockdown delivered by a small hard working cast.  I suspect almost everyone of us in the audience saw ourselves in one or more of the scenes – definitely the gentle appreciative sounds suggested the writing had hit its mark. I hope they find a flow for the scene change moments which dropped the energy a bit, and maybe a clapper at the back could give us a kick – because there were scenes I really wanted to applaud, but no-one else was. One of the challenges of an intimate show in a bigger space for covid ventilation (but a bonus bigger audience)

From there I was given a tour of the Space venues and planned with the Press Office two workshops lunchtimes on Thur 12th and 18th for Space companies to help them get through / get the best from the Fringe [If you are a Space company check whether you need to book].  And then I decided to do a wee tour of the other hub spaces.  First port of call was of course my old home at the Pleasance Courtyard which was quiet and filled with the ghosts of venues & bars past. A scattering of the public were enjoying a very quiet courtyard maybe remembering the energy of 2018 or thinking about how they would make a comeback in 2021.  The Pleasance has an online and a Courtyard/EICC Edinburgh programme plus a London August festival.

Onward to the Assembly centre in George Square and a quick look around Underbelly’s catering only Bristo Square – not spotted whether they are doing any shows this year, but pleased to see Assembly has a programme which I will enjoy dipping into later.  I’d been to Gilded Balloon Multistory the night before, and now found my way into Gilded Teviot – but sadly a quiet drink/read in the old familiar Library Bar was not allowed.  So I took myself off to the excellent and welcoming local Brass Monkey where I knew I could get a drink without having to struggle with QI codes and online payments.

This gave me a wonderful chance to continue to listen to the Shona Trilogy by Vicky Jones and Claire Hackney   which I have found on Audible. A disturbing drama set in 1950s Southern States at a time of deep racial hatred. I sense this has potential as a stage or screen adaptation material.

Then off to join a queue for Plasters (6.15pm Space) a new piece of writing by Emma Tadmor who also co-stars with Julian Chesshire. Emma is an Israeli-American actress and writer, trained at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute in New York. Julian was born in London, UK to English & Swiss parents. Together they offer a powerful duo exploring relationships dancing on a knife edge of misunderstanding. I’m hoping they will work on sighlines in this flat floor space – so do try and ensure you get a seat near the front with a good view of the bed. Emma is a rich new writer worth exploring.

Great to meet producer Lewis Forman for the first time in a non-cloud world. I have worked with him for 16 weeks on zoom and now look forward to seeing his own shows when they reach the Space next week.   It felt so good to see a piece of new writing and then compare thoughts with three of his company and a member of a Birmingham impo troupe I met in the queue. I’ve missed this random encounter.

I then returned to the Assembly George Square food/beer/theatre festival area to meet producer Nick Hennegan and happily run into producer Tanya Agarwall. Next into Under Milk Wood (8.30pm Assembly / last night – maybe extra dates next week). This phenomenal one man show by Guy Masterson has been in his repertoire for 27 years and he has given over 2500 performances. It is a tour-de-force made even more visceral and alive by a random member of the public deciding to run on stage and join in, hugging and dancing around the stage – not once, but twice during the performance. Guy didn’t miss a beat, being courteous to the young man both times before stepping back into his myriad Dylan Thomas characters.  It will be a 60th birthday Guy won’t forget – even receiving flowers from the Assembly founder William Burdett-Coutts and a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday from his audience.  

A few drinks with Guy, William, Anthony Alderson, Dani Rae and others friends of Guys rounded off my first day very nicely. A quick train back to Linlithgow. No taxis in town at 11.30 despite calling all 4 companies, so a refreshing 90 min walk in the cool night air back to home.  Exercise, theatre, the company of strangers and friends, and a couple of beers – what is not to like about EdFringe 2021.

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