The streets are packed, the weather is not-too-bad, and the theatres I have visited so far have been 50% – 100% full. I can’t quite equate this with the oft-stated claim that the average audience per show is 3. Even in the Stage this week it was quoted in a respected columnist’s article. Of course there are shows in deep problem land, and I have met a few at CGO Surgeries who are struggling, but I would love the Fringe Society to issue a revised look at averages after this year. Or maybe of course my spreadsheet of shows is just genius good/popular taste ?
Here are a few recommendations and highlights from the last couple of days.
Nearly Lear is a solo multi-role playing exploration of King Lear from the consummate professional actor Suzanne Hamnett who has returned to live in the UK after 22 years as a film/theatre actor in Toronto and New York. The simplicity of role switching and the blend of contemporary vaudeville/clown with Shakespearean quotes/fool make this accessible and rich. If I was a student reluctantly studying the Bard I reckon I could tick off King Lear at the end of this 1hr 20 mins of enjoyable theatre – even my teachers would be impressed by the level of my knowledge of the complexities of the tragedy. And if you are richly steeped in the play already, then this offers some fine moments to savour whipping up quite a storm in the lovely Space45 theatre. Suzanne is working on a new show for 2024 around the same style of work, and I recommend to tour bookers and venue/festival programmers to check Nearly Lear out and bring her into your programming fold. https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/nearly-lear (Only playing till 19th)
I’d like quickly to celebrate the global touring National Theatre of Korea and Trojan Women which came to the Edinburgh International Festival for the first time. It has headed home now. In the old days EIF tended only to welcome first runs of international shows, and I think it is great that we are now having the chance to soak up amazing, tried and tested international productions on EdFringe and EIF. Do take time to check out the ongoing Korean Season across the whole of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. And watch this space for Korean programmes in the UK in the future. It has been my pleasure to host a third delegation of producers from the Korean Arts Management network across London and Edinburgh this month – and there are some exciting UK/Korean plans bubbling for 2024.
I have seen two absolutely packed very populist shows at the Traverse Theatre this week – Adults and Grand Old Opera House Hotel. Both feel as though they are created to appeal to the local and non-edgy theatregoing community who have been coming to the Festival for 20 to 30 years. They don’t push the form, they don’t tackle tough subjects, they made me laugh and have a nice time. But I sincerely hope that they are profit centres for the theatre allowing a surplus to support the core principals of the Traverse as a nurturer of new amazing Scottish writing voices. Adults reminded me a lot of my first job as a tea boy at the Strand Theatre working in the office above the hit run of No Sex Please We’re British – and that ran in the West End for over 6,000 performances. I hope Glasgow playwright Kieran Hurley has the same kind of commercial success going forward. https://www.traverse.co.uk/whats-on/event/adults-festival-23 (Gentle Warning – If booking for this or any other show at Traverse this festival be aware that each show we have seen has started late and overrun – so that you may be leaving the theatre up to 30 minutes later than you expected. Traverse 1 is clearly a nightmare to house manage when it is full… but it is a great view from every seat when you are packed in there)
Another show which has played throughout the world is Andre and Dorine which is beautifully placed in the Assembly Rooms Ballroom for the whole Festival from the Kulunko Theatre based in the Basque Region of Spain https://kulunkateatro.com/en/portfolio/andreanddorineeng/ . This ‘play without borders’ is word-less and so accessible to audiences across the world. 3 phenomenal mask performers bring to life the aging world of two artists and tackle head on the effects of Alzheimer’s on a family. It is deeply moving and, for so many of us who have witnessed this disease first hand or are caring for an aging relative it totally gets-it and touches the heart. It holds itself lightly and we left sad but joyful at the craft and the love of family. One day someone will reflect on the extraordinary work done by some of the biggest Fringe presenters like William, Anthony and their teams in bringing new International Festival projects to our attention. Their international programme of theatre is easily as large as the ‘by invitation’ fully funded EIF. Both are needed, but maybe there are even more opportunities going forward for collaboration across this interweaving ecology of festivals. https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/andre-and-dorine
From here we hopped over to the Voodoo Rooms for Holly Penfield’s cabaret gig show directed by Sioned Jones Tree Woman Tales. She channels the soul of Tom Waits along with Simon Cowell describing her as ‘David Bowie meets Liza Minelli’ https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/tree-woman-tales. I’ve seen pictures of her full show with wonderful projections however, as is the way with Free Fringe inhabiting venues, we were not able to see these last night – but no one would have known because she filled the stage with her presence and was blessed with a great sexy group of audience members at the front to dance and explore her songs with. It was especially touching when she dropped the backing track and took to her own keyboard, re-finding the pace of her own songs in the moment with us as the live community. Her songwriting poetry is rich and earthy – do go and enjoy her set nightly at 17:30. I’m next back at the Voodoo Rooms on Wed for the annual charity Naked Cabaret which is a joyous naked occasion in aid of Body Positivity.
I’m enjoying the eclectic mix of International hits in Edinburgh for the season and homegrown or solo pieces finding their way through the extraordinary world of the city in August. I’ve only seen 19 shows so far – pacing myself and getting home early to have a life away from the late night bars.