No Bones About is a new student company stepping out from the cosy studios of its Alma Mater onto the well-trodden – and harshly lit – stages of various upcoming fringe festivals. The group, based at Royal Holloway, University of London, have three newly-written productions heading to he Camden Fringe this August: Trapped in Abstraction, Dreams of Louise and Charming. From meeting them, it’s clear No Bones About has strong ideas about where it is headed and can offer advice to any other fledgling companies wanting to do the same.
As fringe first-timers, this ambitious one-year-old company looks to Camden not as the finish line, but as a chance to explore, exhibit and experiment in a constant process of self-improvement. For No Bones About, along with many other student production companies, the Camden Fringe provides a perfect opportunity to develop an identity. The company knows, though, that there will probably be no flashes of fame or flood of funding, and that recognition is a slow process built from the dual axes of enthusiasm and talent. Geoff Williams, co-founder of No Bones About, thinks that not having “expectations beyond what you can actually achieve”, is essential to success as a student company. At the same time, constantly expanding the boundaries of what is achievable is important (something performing at a fringe can do).
Fringes bring the audience back into the process of performance, a thing that often gets lost in rehearsals. Engagement is an essential part of a production to get right, especially at such word-of-mouth venues. But it’s not always so simple” “I would say funding a show is a pain in the ass,” Williams says, and it’s true, “new writing” and “student company” are phrases enough to put anyone off seeing or supporting fledgling productions. But luckily, this is exactly one stereotype the fringes are working to reverse. When asked about how student-run companies can improve their self-image, No Bones About says professionalism is key:even a simple Gmail address with the company’s name is one minuscule steps companies can take to get themselves taken seriously. But No Bones About makes this student drama bias work to its advantage; a big name brings bigger expectations but being able to really surprise audience members is something every company strives to do. It is often smaller, new companies, and new writing without pre-existing expectations, that can do it best.
As students or graduates, those behind No Bones About recognise the fundamental importance of bringing everything, and everyone, into a production company; drama and biology students alike are essential to the aim of “finding something new and exciting” – a pretty tough task that company claims as its unique selling point. But they certainly do deliver this. Charming, a comedy that blew away all my expectations of student-written, -produced, -directed and -acted performance. Written by recent graduate Ross Howard, Charming traces the trials and tribulations that four quarrelsome princes (the Charming brothers) face attempting to win the ultimate wager; to marry a princess first and succeed to the throne. It’s a story we’ve all heard before, but it’s refreshing to see just how well Howard mocks the Disney idealism; the romantic gives way to the ridiculous, and the four princes are left stranded and surprised in a land where true love doesn’t exist. Watching the rehearsal of Charming’s second act I found myself laughing non-stop and this was only their third full run-through.
Of course they are anxious about fringe performances, having “a mild cardiac arrest” is a perfectly natural response to performing as a student in the ‘real world’. However, No Bones About is aware of the dos and don’ts of performing comedy: be aware of trusting the energy of a play, not predicting laughs, and not taking too much into account what a group ensemble find funny themselves are all vital. The key, actor Christie Grattan says, is finding the balance between being “deadly serious” as a character in the moment but knowing when to draw out what is seemingly a natural reaction for comedic purposes. The thing they say is to simply go for it. Holding back doesn’t do anyone any favours; the fringes are supposed to be loud and outlandish – and they are loved by all for it.
No Bones About is an example of what a new student company should be: realistic, hardworking and fun. Where the realms of being a director, performer or playwright merge into one role, the trepidations of facing a ‘real’ audience, removed from the campus and the classroom, are ever-increasing. It is always difficult for student companies stepping out into the unpredictable fringes, yet Charming looks to be a brilliantly playful comedy and deserves a successful run.
Charming is running from the 20-23 August at the Pirate’s Castle, Camden as part of the Camden Fringe. For more information about No Bones About see its website.