EdFringe 2022 – thank you

Historically I look back on my birthday at a massive array of shows seen, workshops offered, and meetings had at Edinburgh Festival Fringe.  This year I have only seen 19 shows with a further 5 missed because either I or they had cold/flu/covid.  2022 was a year when Edinburgh was filled with rubbish on the streets and talent on the stages. It was a year when my main responsibilities were to guide a programme for 10 senior Korean producers in London & Edinburgh and then 10 aspiring designers/directors from Saudi Arabia in London & Perth. Seeing Edinburgh through the eyes of first time visitors is always a delight – and getting to go to a Gerry Kielty’s walking death tour of Edinburgh with the Koreans taught me so much about the City I now call home.

I wasn’t doing any surgeries at Fringe Central, or The Space or Greenside this year or reviewing any shows for anyone. I did have a few opportunities to sit with UK creative artists and talk about their pathways, but in the main my time was juggling guest lecturers and programmes of events.

For my own benefit, if not for anyone else’s, this blog gives me a chance to list the shows I have seen and reflect back on the variety of extraordinary art people are making for the Edinburgh residents and visiting audiences.  I seemed to be in, mainly, quite full houses and I was part of many standing ovations – all well deserved.  So here goes in alphabetical order: 

An Eve and an Adam from Granhoj Dans at Dancebase – a beautiful exploration of the naked form and the meeting of two naked souls.  Charlie Gradon with Butterbath at the Kings Hall/House of Oz – a wonderful chance to see my nephew and his wife playing as unscheduled warmup for this Australian band whilst they were in the UK.  Half Empty Glasses from Paines Plough in the beautiful Roundabout Theatre – offered me a chance to get under the skin of the challenges of young people trying to influence their school curriculum to give a broader perspective on narrow Victorian white English teaching.  In The Weeds from Mull Theatre – my first time seeing this small producing theatre which always punches above its weight with our Authentic Artist colleague James Zubairi joining Carla Langley in a pool of water.  

On the International Festival we caught Akram Kahn Company’s Jungle Book re-Imagined at the Festival Theatre which offered 10 phenomenal dancers realising the Disney/Kipling story against the backdrop of climate catastrophe and rising sea levels.  As a colleague said afterwards this piece needed to cause major debate and to have been made 20 years ago – it is too late and maybe too nice/beautiful and maybe not action driven enough.  I am sure there will be a wrap-around EIF Education programme which will encourage action.   A man who should be part of the International Festival now/soon is Edinburgh’s own Kevin Quantum Dark Materials at Reid Hall – the phenomenal magician who works in detail/closeup and at scientifically big scale. [Check out his Britain’s Got Talent You Tube flaming balls trick which was part of his 2018/19 repertoire at EdFringe]. 

Sometimes you land in the right place at the right time and realise a show produced by an old colleague is about to start. That’s why I was lucky enough to see the phenomenal Richard Vergette in Andy Jordan’s production of Leaving Vietnam at The Space.  45 years ago I nearly joined Andy as Administrator for his fledgling Bristol Express Company – and he continues to make work with and for that company. Amazing.

It is good to see more of the Scottish Theatres being part of the festival than maybe I remember and nice to see Lila Clements in Look No Hands from Pitlochry Festival Theatre which, like Sarah Lou to follow, tackled how to come to terms with life after a major traumatic incident in her life.  Staying deep in the Scottish musical roots it was wonderful to catch Mairi Cambell’s final acoustic night set at the Ukrainian centre – I can never hear enough of Dave Francis’s complementary lyrical magic.

We’ve had a phenomenal array of international family visiting us over August as they all arrive to see their mother, grandmother, great-grandmother at 95.  My daughter has also been up and it is great to see a random show because someone else has heard from her best friend’s boyfriend that an artist is amazing. Well MC Hammersmith the white middle class improv rapper was indeed amazing and took me into the gloriously grungy world of the Hive nightclub with a packed sweaty lunchtime crowd ready to be overwehelmed by his linguistic fast fire braincells.  He seems to be all over the Fringe with other shows too and is just starting a UK tour.  Mr Memory and a Rhyming dictionary on speed.   

In 2007 I started the Musical Theatre Awards with colleague Andy Barnes. In the first year we were blessed to have Fiona Orr as one of our champions and judges. She has continued to run the award and I have often been an early assessor for her. No time this year, but it was great to catch up with Medea The Musical from Cambridge University which I hope and suspect will be picked up, a little like Six by Andy Barnes/Kenny Wax, and be nurtured and moved forward to a new iteration which could/should find a commercial home.  I’m delighted that Kathy and Stella Solve a Murder! Won the 2022 Award and I am sure producer Francesca Moody will steer that show into London and beyond too. With writers Jon Britten and Matthew Floyd-Jones it was being talked about as one of the hits of the Fringe from the very first whispers.  Medea will give it a run for its money I hope.

One of the most respected site responsive theatre companies in Scotland is GridIron and, continuing the theme of rising sea levels in another International Festival show, they created an longform promenade interactive event in Leith Academy.  Muster Station was good to have experienced but, like Jungle Book, I just wish it had been there 20 years ago and found a way to get the tension running through our veins then to take action.  Maybe shows like this were there then and me/we in our complacent bubbles ignored them.

Sometimes a show which I’d planned to see is cancelled and I have to choose between a nice quiet cup of tea or just grabbing a ticket. The Pleasance box office gave me three choices of shows starting in 10-15 minutes and I am so pleased I saw Alex Roberts in No Place Like Home.  His one man duet around gay disco pickup culture was heartfelt, skillfully executed and packed a punch.   I love being surprised.

From Scotland to Korea – a chance to catch up with one piece in the Korean season – gentle storytelling from Theatre Moksung with Puppet Pansori Sugungga at one of the welcoming Space venues.  From tiny hand held rough puppetry to epic magic organised chaos with the synaptic multi-sparking mind of James Thierry in Room. A technical and choreographic feat of dreamlike mess in/from the mind of one man.  It has been a marmite show – I love marmite.    Staying in the body I had the standing ovation pleasure to see Sarah Louise Young’s The Silent Treatment conceived with another Authentic Artist, Sioned Jones.  Here is a solo artist at the top of her game exploring with us with open-hearted honesty when she felt she might have been at the end of her game.

Sometimes I choose a show for the strangest reason. A previous blog celebrated the poster/advert/image for Dead Rabbit Theatre’s Tiger Lady playing at Pleasance and coming out of Greenwich Theatre. It was good to go catch this rough storytelling actor-muso exploration of the true tale of a young black girl running away to join the circus and becoming the first female keeper/performer with tigers.

If you have read this random selection of shows in an alphabetical order without deviation, then maybe you should explore the world of wonderfully crafted surreal diversions which is the world of Ben Moor and his new show Who’s Here Lost ?. Everytime I go to one of Ben’s show I settle deeper in my heart and wait to be taken to dreamlike places in the safe hands of a master. Thank you Ben…and now I see that the script I bought has two more stories as bonus for me to enjoy as I relax after the Fringe and International Festivals.

And finally – I did a list of shows to recommend to the Korean and Saudi delegations which included some of my favourites which I had seen in other settings before. Here is a quick list in case you are looking for my extra tips for your theatregoing delight: The Adventures of (Peter) Straker, An Evening without Kate Bush with Sarah Louise Young, Dreams of a Small God by the extraordinary trapeze mythic artist Zinnia Oberski, Famous Puppet Death Scenes, Fascinating Aida, Still Floating from Shon Dale Jones, Sunshine on Leith from the Scottish Captivate Theatre, The Man Who Planted Trees by Puppet State Theatre which has toured the world for over 2000 performances and is still as fresh as a newly minted story, Thunderstruck by piper Davd Colvin, and Unfortunate – the Untold story of Ursula from Wild Entertainment. Just a few more shows and companies to follow.

I am still left with a must-see list of another 40 shows I have not got to this year. I hope to see some of them on tour or maybe at EdFringe2023.

I feel I have just dipped my toe in the water this year. There have been some storms and some very strong currents I have read about but not been in,  so it is not for me to add too much comment.  I have, in the main, been in shows with respectable if not breakeven audience numbers, but I have heard numbers are generally down. I’m not sure I am seeing the change I had hoped might flow from the covid interruption of 2 years. I do feel more can/must be done to celebrate the unfunded aspiring writers/companies/ performers. They are in danger even more than 5-10 years ago of being swamped by the Arts Council/Creative Scotland funded companies and those which are backed by big business as commercial launchpads. Fewer reviewers are here to find the nuggets hidden in the smaller venue hubs. The lions share of attention does seem (and I’m as guilty as anyone) on the main hub venues and the companies which have the funds to have the marketing and presentation infrastructure which emerging/aspiring solo artists and small companies don’t have. There are large parts of Edinburgh the Fringe doesn’t reach, and I think there are great opportunities for more localism rather than the commercial magnetic focus of the University buildings on the southside. Lots to think about for the Board of the Fringe and all the major players after they have had a well earned sleep in September.

Thank you to everyone for bringing me joy

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