The Edinburgh Fringe programme is an intimidating document. At 347 packed pages long it defies anyone to read it front to back and still be conscious by the end. Once you get there it will be no easier to decide what to go and see, with every other person you meet on the street telling you that their show is the must-have ticket of the year (frankly, whether they’re actually involved in one or not). But with a bit of time on my hands and ticket money burning a hole in my pocket, I have decided to take one for the team and try to make sense of some of the theatre on offer at the Fringe this year in order to pick out a few things that are, hopefully, worth your while seeing. If you’re not making the trek to Edinburgh this year, keep reading because this year there’s even a little something for you.
The Caucasian Chalk Circle
Student societies are ten a penny at the Fringe, but the University of Birmingham’s 3BUGS Fringe Theatre are still managing develop quite a reputation. Last year they staged Ophelia (Drowning), appropriately enough, in a swimming pool, transforming the unusual location into an atmospheric window into the depths of Ophelia’s desperation. Suffice to say, tickets were pretty much impossible to come by and so I’m booking early for this year’s production, where they’ll be using music, puppetry and movement to take a fresh look at Brecht’s classic.
Belt Up Theatre
I’m not even going to try and pick just one of the nine impressively different experiences that award-winning York-based theatre company Belt Up are bringing to this year’s Fringe. Specialising in interactive and site-specific theatre, they will be staging everything from Homer’s Odyssey to the life and works of J. M. Barrie in their own, disconcerting way. Be brave and let yourself be taken in to their newly created theatrical realm The House Above: you’re unlikely to get a more immersive experience on the Fringe.
Impossible Things Before Breakfast/Traverse Live
Traverse Theatre and cinemas across the country
The Traverse is Scotland’s new-writing theatre, and although its productions come in at the slightly pricier end of the Fringe it is by far the best place to enjoy new plays and do a bit of star-spotting in the vibrant café and bookshop. I’m limiting myself to one recommendation from there this year because they’re all probably worthy, although if I’m being completely honest then Teenage Riot, from the company behind last year’s one-on-one experience Internal, and Grid Iron’s Decky Does a Bronco should both be worth seeing.
Plays that do well at the Traverse will often be staged elsewhere, so it’s worth keeping an eye-out even if you’re not in Edinburgh, and this year they’re going one better with Traverse Live. Throughout August, Impossible Things Before Breakfast rewards those dedicated enough to get up at the crack of dawn with brekkie and staged readings of specially commissioned plays from a number of UK playwrights. On August 23rd these will all be staged at the Traverse and broadcast live to Picturehouse cinemas across the country as part of a special one-off performance which promises to give the audience an insight into the process of bringing a new text to life. A chance to see high-quality Fringe theatre without braving the Scottish weather? Yes thanks!
The Forest Café
Hosting five micro-festivals within a mini-festival alongside the main festival, the Forest Fringe has an intriguing line-up of different forms of performance all costing precisely nothing and hosted in the Forest Café, a tasty veggie haven with a DIY-aesthetic. Throughout the day there will be spaces for artists to discuss and collaborate; special performances by theatre companies; the chance to be part of a dizzying selection of site-specific and interactive projects; music, art and film nights; secret performances from the likes of SHUNT; and ‘making days’, where theatre practitioners can discover new ways of creating audio, intimate and site-specific performance (the latter led by Grid Iron). The Forest Fringe isn’t in the main programme so go to http://forestfringe.blogspot.com/ for further details or just rock up at the Forest Café on Bristo Place to see what’s going on.
Controversial in more ways than one, rock musical Spring Awakening gets its Scottish premiere after multi-award winning Broadway and West End runs. It is based on the frequently banned 19th-century play of the same title (that is also being staged this year, sans songs, at C Central), which brutally explores teenage sexuality. If you’re interested in seeing the musical, having missed or particularly enjoyed it first time round, then this will be a good chance to catch it; however, to say that the West End version got mixed reviews would be rather generous indeed, so don’t come crying to me if you hate it. You have been warned.
And now you have read that, do yourself a favour and forget it all. The best shows and sell-out runs will inevitably be the things no-one mentions beforehand, which of course is the beauty of the Fringe. Digest the hundreds of reviews, listen closely to word-of-mouth and share your own recommendations freely and passionately – nowhere else does the power of each individual audience member to shape a show’s reputation matter as much as it does on the Royal Mile.
See the full Edinburgh listings of shows during the course of August on the EdFringe.com website.