Reading-based theatre company FreeRange is certainly cooking up a storm in Edinburgh. The company’s taking on the mammoth task of doing three productions during their first ever visit to Edinburgh as a company, they’re all under the age of 22 (with one exception) and are doing it for free. Sounds like an organisational and financial nightmare, but Chris Snow and his team have taken on the challenge and have high hopes for this fledgling company.
“I’ve wanted to produce work at Fringe for as long as I can remember,” says Snow, “but I’ve always wanted to make as big an impact as possible up here, really do something on a large scale to attract an audience and exposure on a level that we haven’t achieved before when working on smaller projects in the South East.” Which just happens to be the main reason that loads of companies come to Edinburgh – to achieve exposure to the right people and use that as a platform for greater things. Snow is hoping that the company will be able to go on tour at some point next year with one of the productions currently on at Edinburgh, and as each of the three shows are a different style and subject matter yet play to the strengths of the company, it would seem his high hopes might not be in vain.
Right Honourable Member is new writing from Tobias Wright, which tackles the theme of identity via student politics. It’s a brutally relevant piece that Snow describes as “so pertinent to our society right now”. Montmorency is an adaptation of Eleanor Updale’s novel, adapted by Snow himself and is the largest production to be done so far by FreeRange; a dark piece set in Victorian London, it is rich in character and utilises a strong ensemble to great effect. The final piece, The Three Faces of Doctor Crippen, is a European premiere of an American “mad Vaudevillian farce”, again set in historic London. Not only is the company putting on three productions, but each is brand new to Edinburgh audiences, either because it is a new piece of writing, a new adaptation or never been put on in Europe, let alone at the Fringe.
Each piece plays to the strengths of the collaborators that Snow has chosen to work with, from actors to technical crew. Every member of FreeRange is there for a different reason; many are about to start or have finished drama school, but there are also members who just enjoy being part of the company and have plans to become teachers or go into television presenting. Snow himself understands the internship culture that has developed within the arts for recent graduates and although he would love to be able to pay his company, he would never have been able to put on three productions and take on so many people. He believes that the experience the company members get is invaluable and is a “real investment” in their individual futures – as well as that of the company.
With the company being so young, there have been some challenges in getting audiences. Many of their shows back home in Reading are sell-outs, but mainly because they are playing to friends and family. “I think we’ve been lucky that nothing has been published commenting negatively on our age or experience…and the thing I’m probably most proud of us for at the moment is our professionalism, and the fact that our age isn’t affecting people’s judgement on the shows.” So once people pay their money, get through the door and watch the show they are impressed, but getting people to choose to go and watch such a young company has been a challenge, particularly in Edinburgh where there are a lot of youth groups all peddling their wares to the thousands of audience members. “No matter how well things are run behind the scenes, how hard we flyer, or how good our reviews are, people will often choose to see an older and more experienced company over us. That’s a mould that I work tirelessly to try and break out of.”
Reviewers have been to see the Edinburgh shows, as have those interested in new and up-and-coming drama, but maybe theatregoers who seek value for money will lean towards seeing a well known company or story; this is happening even in the West End where audiences want to see a show they already know with a celebrity in the main role, even if that person has perhaps not had the theatrical training others may have. But Snow emphasises: “I wholeheartedly believe that the quality of our productions don’t correlate at all with our experience and age, and it’s just the case of more people coming to see us that will spread that.” FreeRange has gone all out on maximising “the splash” they want to make at Edinburgh, and with such diverse productions and focused drive, it’s hard to doubt their success. They’ll certainly be giving their all to their endeavours at the Fringe and beyond.
“I think [the] Fringe is the perfect springboard for young companies; it’s an amazing place to nurture the theatrical practitioners of the future. Audiences at [the] Fringe are open to new ideas and approaches, and the fresh vitality that young people bring is exciting to see here.” Hopefully all the hard work that has been put in will pay off, and with many other young companies at the Fringe this year, who knows? A collaboration may well be on the cards for FreeRange, a nationwide tour or a transfer to London; all that is certain is that this company, although young, should be given exactly the same opportunities as any other company because their standards and values are the same as any professional company out there. It’s going to be “utterly terrifying, and completely thrilling”.
Image credit: Right Honourable Member by FreeRange Productions