In celebration of New Celts

New Celts – What a fitting title for a theatre collective bringing new work and new talent to Edinburgh Festival Fringe at this most unusual of years. A time when some national reviewers and promoters seem to be  studying the array of work on line, whilst a phenomenal group of young companies are on the ground playing to packed houses in Edinburgh.

New Celts is a collaboration between Queen Margaret University and Edinburgh Napier University, offering a platform for their graduating actors and writers. There are 8 productions alternating days throughout the festival in the SpaceUK venues.  I have seen 4 of the works in my available time and they have each been impressive pieces of work by committed and skilled companies of actors and creative teams. A great platform for their talent and a chance for agents, casting directors, artistic directors and programmers to spot people and projects they might want to represent and engage in the future.  For me this is exactly what EdFringe is there for.  SpaceUK has benefitted from Bedlam being closed, C Venues having ceased to programme, and  Assembly and the Pleasance not having their normal small venues operating. There are fewer companies vying for audiences. This adds a buzz and energy to all the shows I have seen at SpaceUK.

I have already written about Shook by Samuel Bailey which gave me a chance to see Kieran Begley (also producing), Rebecca Morgan (also directing), Ryan Stoddart and William Dron (also lighting) on stage. Highly recommended for anyone who missed the Papatango production at Southwark Playhouse and then online.

My next discovery was F-Bomb Theatre’s After Party made by and for women which has grown from the New Celts opportunity. They have bagged the talent of Napier MFA Playwright Rachel O’Regan to create a powerful representation of the bravado and vulnerability of 5 girls on the threshold between school leaving and arriving in an adult world of open and closed doors for them. Annie Welsh, Emily PembertonKirsten Hutchinson, Linzi Devers and Sally Cairns are ‘bangin’ to use their mission statement, brought to life with massive energy by Napier MFA Director Hannah McEarchern. Highly recommended for anyone ‘who wants a bangin’ good night out, because we bloody well need it’

I am so pleased to have programmes for all four plays so I can do justice to the talent that is on and off stage making this work happen.  The Fringe is about talent spotting, and we need programmes or links to full cast and credits to make it possible for critics and champions to play their part. Thank you to the academic support team behind New Celts for realising this and giving my ‘stuck record’ a chance to cheer.

Next up for me was Pool (No Water) by Mark Ravenhill which, I understand, is offered to any company as a script of unattributed lines with the invitation to the director to allocate them to any size of cast to create the production that they want to deliver. In this case the three actors deliver the lines in the right order, but in a splitting which matches director Sophie Brierton’s vision.  I have never seen this play before and now clearly have to see it again with a different cast and different nuanced vision. What a gift from Mark to directors and casts. Amy Dallas, Aodhán Mallon and Isaac Wilson riff effortlessly off each other around the themes of jealousy, friendship, envy, art and life. Highly recommended for anyone who likes their drama with, to use the warning offered, strong language, sex, drug use and death.

And finally for me with the New Celts was a new production of Laila Noble and Emilie Robson’s 2018 work Moonlight on Leith inspired by the Save Leith Walk campaign. Andrew Govan-Hall, Ania Myszkowska, Debi Perie (also director), Lucy Deehan (also designer), Kyle Martin and Nicola Alexander (also musical director) are the multi role playing highly versatile cast for this patchwork quilt of lives interspersed with beautiful acapella singing. The lyric prose, reminiscent of Dylan Thomas, with its sharp character study is a love letter to any community with a soft underbelly being painfully poked by progress, politics and profit. Highly recommended for anyone who loves Edinburgh and especially Leith.  A great darker more reflective complement to its more joyful brightly shining daytime neighbour Sunshine on Leith playing on Castle Terrace.

Just before leaving the City yesterday for a week away I snuck into Cambridge University’s On Your Bike which is a 4 hander musical exploring the gig economy and the challenges of running small business billed as being brought to you by the makers of Six.  This gentle old fashioned piece of lyrical wit and almost 1940s style songs lacked the bite and energy for its 2021 themes. No programme so I can’t namecheck anyone. The audience had a nice time and the lyric writing is bright and witty. One of the challenges of presenting in a Fringe venue is to make it flow and this company lacked any design or logistical direction to keep the energy up between scene changes.  I am sure the piece could have a future charmed life, but a lot of work is needed to make this bite home with an audience today.  I hope the lyricist will be picked up and given many opportunities into the future.

Overall a gentle 14 shows in 6 half-days at the Fringe plus offering workshops at Fringe Central and SpaceUK for creative artists, lots of interesting face to face meetings (at last) with colleagues from Edinburgh, London and Korea.  Time to wander the quieter streets of the City, and absolutely delighted that the Fringe shows I saw were all packed with punters having a good time.  The first time since the 1970s that I have had time to consider all the shows that I might see from the whole theatre/cabaret programme and be able to see almost all my choices. Sadly I missed Aidan Sadler‘s Tropicana, but that was after my bedtime – delighted it has had an extended run and a number of producers that I have mentioned it to are going to see it.

Thank you Charles Pamment and all at SpaceUK for creating a rich programme to entertain packed audiences across your reduced spaces. I hope in August 2022 we will see less catering and more art possible from some of the other big players when the University and other landlords are able to open their doors more fully to the vast array of companies wanting to showcase their work. I am sure SpaceUK along with Bedlam and other smaller hubs will continue to be the places to watch out for the new names and new companies. It is great to see well considered reviews by writers like Joyce Macmillan and Thom Dibdin for many of the shows I have seen this festival. I hope national reviewers and promoters will not leave these spaces in favour of the bright, shiny, well-funded, new and celebrity things attracted to the big networks of venues.

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