First Time at the Fringe: Five Tips

By Megan Denny

 

 

Fringe first-timer? You’ll need this advice…

 

1. Navigation

Even if you’ve visited Edinburgh outside of August, Google Maps will become your new best friend as the city is turned upside down during the Fringe. When your phone inevitably runs out of charge by lunchtime, be prepared to resort to a good, old-fashioned paper map to locate that obscure, back-of-pub venue. Even better, ask for directions from Fringe regulars or locals who know all the shortcuts.

 

2. Planning – not too much

Booking some shows isn’t a bad idea, particularly more well-known productions which can sell out far in advance. However, be prepared to go with the Fringe flow and be flexible. If you find yourself with some spare hours between booked shows, have a wander down the Royal Mile, pick up a few flyers and chat to people promoting their shows. Look at the many posters on bus stops, lamposts and phone boxes, or go to venues and read the listings displayed outside. If anything catches your eye, go for it – who knows, it may be the best thing you see at the Fringe.

 

3. Waterproofs

Seriously – preferably head-to-toe, or at least clothes that dry quickly (i.e. not denim). Layers are also a good idea as storm turns to summer sunshine within the space of 15 minutes… such is Edinburgh’s climate.

 

4. Get talking

A major part of the Fringe relies on word of mouth, so get involved! If you enjoyed a show, spread the word. Tell the people who made and performed it – they will really appreciate it. Help them out by recommending their show to people who you bump into in coffee shops, on the Mile or via social media. You will probably also receive some great recommendations of shows to see in return.

 

5. Sleeping, eating, drinking 

Embrace the alternative reality of Edinburgh Fringe, but remember do the ‘normal things’: sleep (for at least a few hours), eat (vegetables), and drink (water) – then you can’t go far wrong.

 

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The Best Fringe Tickets (but not quite in the way you’d think)

By Andrew Jameson

 

So you’ve seen a few plays, you’ve read some reviews, but you feel that you’re still missing something from this year’s Fringe experience. A something that feels quite like, oh I don’t know, a vaguely in-depth review of the design of specific Fringe tickets that I’ve received. That’s it, isn’t it? Uncanny.

 

Nope, this isn’t a nuanced comment about theatre or an interesting interview with a director, it is solely one person’s potentially questionable opinion about the design of some pieces of paper. So yes, I would definitely say it’s a worthwhile read.

 

 

First up on this list is an Underbelly Event ticket. All that I can really say about this ticket is that it may appeal to those who don’t like design at all. Its highlights being the faint grey ‘Underbelly’ text on an otherwise white background. Call me demanding but a ticket’s going to have to do slightly more than that to impress. One star.

underbelly

 

Next is theSpace ticket. Now I’ve received a few of these tickets this year and while the Underbelly ticket may have underperformed, I feel these go rather too far the other way. They feature a large blue banner across the top which includes ‘theSpace’ in the subtle style of block, white capitals. The dotted background and the outline of an unrealistically exuberant audience complete, what I do not feel is an exaggeration to describe as, an assault upon the eyes. I appreciate that there was effort here but I feel it was misdirected. Two stars.

the space

 

The Greenside tickets are imaginatively green. Now I’m not saying that’s a bad thing – if they were purple I’d probably be asking questions. They’re sticking strongly with their brand and I can only admire them for that. I would say that the ticket designers could possibly have chosen a slightly less dull shade of green, but maybe that’s just me being picky. The ticket also features some nice white bubbles – at least, I think they’re bubbles. I don’t have much to say about them but they’re there and they’re different sizes so I suppose that makes them interesting. It’s at this point that I’m starting to question how qualified I really am to be making these judgements. However, as we’re this far in I think we’ll just have to keep going with it. Four stars.

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‘So what is the best ticket design?’ is the question I’m sure you’re all asking enthusiastically. Either that or, ‘Why am I still reading this?’ but as I can’t answer the latter, we’ll go with the first question. Now, this may be a controversial move but I really enjoy the Summerhall tickets. Yes, I know you may say they’re rather plain and uninteresting but I would call it minimalistic. I like how the ‘A’ is in a different style to the rest of the letters – I don’t really know why it’s like that, but does art need to explain itself? I also think the touch of orange complements the ticket well without making it feel too cluttered. Five stars.

summerhall 

 

Now you may disagree with my judgements but as we all know, ticket design is a subjective and often very controversial art form. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this review and maybe next year you’ll look at your tickets in a new light. Or maybe you won’t, but I’d like to pretend this article had some very minor effect on your life.


Into the Unknown: if you don’t see at least one bad show, you’re doing the Fringe wrong

By Martha Crass

So, you’re heading to Edinburgh, planning to indulge in one of the most unconventional, brilliant and rainy festivals the UK has to offer: the Fringe. Like many, you may have trekked from afar to get here, and after a restorative deep-fried Mars Bar and a refreshing Irn Bru you’re ready to hit the festival.

 

You soon become faced with a difficult, but clear, choice: you can go to the big-name, award-winning, touring musical that’s about to transfer to the West End, which has received unanimous five-star reviews from critics; or a piece of amateur new writing which is being performed in the back room of a local primary school. The box office for this is literally a shed, and odds are you’ll be one in an audience of three. So, naturally, you make the obvious decision and go for the latter, and -

 

Wait, what? You mean you DON’T want to experience a show whose only five-star review is from the director’s mum?

 

The thing is, there will always be performers at the Fringe who, after their sell-out runs in Edinburgh, are going to be spreading their professionally-trained, well-funded wings and taking off to greater theatrical heights. But why are you coming to the Fringe if you’re not willing to be a little uncomfortable? Not that you should avoid any show that looks a little too slick; if anything, seek these out! Enjoy! Relish! But don’t let these define your whole Fringe experience: see something on a whim based on a random flyer, see something from a group you’ve never heard of, see something outright, undeniably, unforgivably bad.

 

Sometimes (quite often, really) it’s the Fringe first-timers, or the stuff which sounds pretty dubious, that can surprise you. And the joy of this is: you’ll never know which are the good ones. So wade through all the bizarre melodrama and gut-wrenchingly funny attempts at tragedy; go and feel horrifically uncomfortable as an improv troupe fails miserably at the one thing they claim to do well; and then you might find something truly brilliant.

 

Part of the Fringe is about venturing out of your comfort zone, encapsulated particularly aptly by the theme this year: try venturing ‘into the unknown’, and you might be pleasantly surprised.

At the very least, a lot of those shows might be free, and there’s no arguing with that.

 


Comedy on an Extinct Volcano with Barry Ferns

By Louis Harnett O’Meara

 

On August 18 Arthur’s Seat underwent a change. Hundreds of people trekked their way to the top of the hill and placed their buttocks squarely on the pebbled floor. A man with the look of Curt Cobain and Richard Branson’s love child stood before the gathering crowd. And so they waited.

 

“I am Barry Ferns, and it is time to enter the venue!” Curt Branson announced, and gestured to the door that stood beside him. “Please form an orderly line, and mind your heads coming in; it’s low in there.”

 

Barry entered first, before the crowd milled down the slope to the entrance and passed into the venue one by one behind him. Each man, woman and child took their place and sat expectantly before a speaker and a microphone – and Barry took his place before them.

 

“We have three acts lined up for you this afternoon everyone. Welcome, to Arthur’s Seat.”

 

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I approached Barry after the show, and he suggested we grab a drink at the Starbucks just down the hill. It was surprisingly quiet – but then I suppose people wouldn’t come all this way just for a cup of coffee. Comedy, on the other hand…

 

How long have you been doing this?

I started running shows on top of Arthur’s Seat in 2007, 11 years ago now. The first show was called ‘Arthur’s Seat Belongs to Lionel Ritchie’. I changed my name to Lionel Ritchie for it – it was my name for seven years.

Like most of my comedy, it just came from a ridiculous idea. I just think Lionel Ritchie is a ridiculous man, and the idea of doing a show on top of Arthur’s Seat is just too ridiculous not to do.

 

How has the show developed?

The basic idea hasn’t changed much. Originally it was just a very small show; there were only around 20 people there. I’ve never advertised it, but it seems to have spread a lot just by word of mouth. This time there were about 250.

Back in 2012 and 2013 I performed a show every day for the whole run of the Fringe – I’d drag an amplifier, a mic., a door and a bag of comedy gear up every single day.

 

You managed to drag up three comedians to perform this year. How do you choose them?

They’re just my favourites. Tony Law’s been up a lot. The first time he came up his kids did a stand up set as well. I’ve had Simon Munnery, Josie Long, Rich Fulcher, who was Mighty Boosh at the time.

 

What if someone else was to decide they wanted to put on a show on Arthur’s Seat?

Well they’d have to talk to me, I’m the venue manager! It’s ridiculous. It’s a difficult one to put on your CV though – “What do you do?” “I manage an extinct volcano.”

 

How do you think the Fringe has changed?

Back in the 80s, 90s, early 2000s you would find a lot more oddballs at the Fringe. You didn’t know what you were going to get. People have much more of an idea of the Fringe as a career move these days. If you want to become a comedian you go to the Fringe, perform a sell-out run, get booked onto ‘Nine out of Ten Cats’ then you perform your tour.

You still get the Free Fringe, but there’s a lot more of the slick West End style shows now, and they cost a lot of money. The financial cost of it all means audiences and shows are less willing to take risks with what they see or what they put on.

 

When you started your show on Arthur’s Seat was it in response to the commercialization you saw happening?

It wasn’t in response in a direct sense, but it’s in the same vein as 1980s Fringe. It’s a ridiculous idea put on by a ridiculous person. I just love doing odd things. In 2012 I won the Hardy award for making a load of fake reviews for fake shows. I just printed them out and stuck them all over Edinburgh. I gave myself a six star review in one of them. People would come up the hill like, “excuse me, is this the place for the show with the six star review?” It’s amazing the stuff people believe just because it’s been written down.

 

Are you going to see anything interesting this evening?

Arthur Smith is hosting an unofficial tour of the Royal Mile at Midnight tonight only. He’s been doing it for years. It’s not your normal tour; someone nearly always ends up getting naked. He got arrested once for nearly starting a riot. When Nelson Mandela was still in prison he convinced everyone to crowd outside Leith police station where he told them Nelson was being held. He had the whole crowd of them chanting “Free Nelson, free Nelson!” Utterly ridiculous.


The Edinburgh Fringe: How Did We Get Here?

By Thomas Pymer

 

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is one of the largest drama festivals in the world. In one month, it is estimated that over 50,000 performances take place. Roads close, the population triples and the entire city turns into a massive multi-staged theatre. With the Fringe in its 71st year, I’ll be taking a look back at what happened between 1947 and 2018 to transform the Fringe into the cultural hub it is today.

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In 1945, Sir Rudolf Bing (an Austrian refugee), decided to host a festival in his adopted country of Britain, hoping to “establish… a centre of world resort for lovers of music, drama, opera, ballet and the graphic arts”.

Sir Rudolf and his friends (notably Harry Wood, Chair of the Scottish Council, Edinburgh’s Lord Provost Sir John Falconer, Lady Eva Roseberry and Professor Sidney Newman of Edinburgh University) selected Edinburgh, which had largely escaped the damage inflicted by the Blitz, as the host city (although Edinburgh was the second choice after Oxford). Several select companies (including the Glyndebourne Opera Company, the Viennese Philharmonic Orchestra, Sadler’s Wells Dance Company and the Old Vic Company) were invited to perform at the first festival in 1947. This became the Edinburgh International Festival.

However, eight amateur companies (Glasgow Unity Theatre, the Christine Orr Players, the Edinburgh College of Art Group, Edinburgh People’s Theatre, Edinburgh District Community Drama Association, the Scottish Community Drama Association, London’s Pilgrim Players and Manchester Marionette Theatre) decided to take advantage of the heightened artistic excitement to perform in smaller venues alongside the Festival. Mixed among their opportunism was a desire to promote working-class art in contrast to the aristocratic tastes of the professionals, and outrage that no Scottish drama was included in the Festival. Before long, word began to spread (beginning a long tradition of oral advertising) that these amateurs were putting on amazing shows.

Still, there the story might have finished were it not for journalist Robert Kemp. Kemp noticed the hype about the smaller companies and wrote about it. It is Kemp we have to thank for the phrase “fringe”, which he used to describe how the companies were performing at the edges of the Festival. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe was born.

The next major development in the Fringe’s history arrived in 1950, when the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo (a music and military festival) was scheduled to happen alongside the Festival. The Fringe became a space for the musicians and dancers who followed the Tattoo to showcase their talents.

The first big hit to come out of the Fringe was the Glasgow Unity Theatre’s performance of The Gorbals Story. Within a year of its Fringe debut in 1947, it had 600 appearances across the country, performed at the Garrick and became a film in 1950.

In 1951, the Edinburgh People’s Festivals began. Although they were only held until 1954, the legacy to the Fringe was enormous; poorer companies and performers who came for the People’s Festivals discovered the Fringe and kept coming.

A joint box office at the Edinburgh YMCA was established by Edinburgh students in 1955. At this time, students began to arrive to perform. 1955 is also notable as the first year a one-person show was performed at the Fringe (Elspeth Douglas Reid in One Woman Theatre), a style which has thrived since.

In 1958, the companies united into the Festival Fringe Society, codifying the regulations for the Fringe. Significantly, they agreed performances would be unjuried, with no selection process: any company could turn up and perform.

In 1960, the Festival, irritated at the growth of its rival, hired the Cambridge Footlights and the Oxford Theatre Group to create Beyond The Fringe. This backfired when the Fringe erupted in satire, earning satire a home at the Fringe and inspiring the anti-authority “satire boom” of the 60s.

In 1966, the Fringe hosted its most famous play to date: Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. The success the play achieved cemented the Fringe’s reputation as a name-maker for aspiring celebrities. The Fringe has given the national stage to Cleese, Atkinson, Fry, Laurie, Thompson, Izzard, Mitchell and Webb, Burton, Gielgud, Dench and Jacobi. What future big names performed at this year’s festival? (In my opinion, Elina Alminas, Toby Marlow and Zach Ghazi-Torbati are names to remember.)

In 1974, the Fringe overtook the Festival in ticket sales, which it has done almost every year since.

The Alternative Comedy boom in the 1980s brought stand-up comedians to the Fringe. In 1982, the Fringe began to move to bigger venues, such as the Pleasance Dome and the Assembly Rooms.

In 2016, over 2000 companies performed at the Fringe, setting a record for dramatic festivals anywhere.

And that, in brief, is the history of the Fringe in the last seventy-one years. Thanks, Sir Rudolf, it may not be quite what you had in mind, but I think you’d love it.


An Interview with Planet Caramel

By Charlie Norton

 

I’m approached in the noisy foyer of Buttermarket by a normified David Blair, transformed from alien comedian to down-to-earth nice-guy by the absence of the Planet Caramel costume of a pair of neon orange Mod glasses. When Alex Harwood and Richard Duffy, sporting a shock of mauve hair, sweep in together, the three avidly fill each other in on whatever has happened in the hours spent apart since their last show – I’m reluctant to disrupt the lively flow of chat between them.

 

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Can you tell me about early days of Planet Caramel?

Richard: We were all in the Edinburgh Revue at different times.

David: Then I wanted to form a group with Alex, and Richard was a necessary appendage.

Alex: And now we’re all best friends!

 

How did you choose the troupe name?

David: ‘Planet Caramel’ was chosen completely at random–

Richard: Then we decided it would be a good idea to have a bribe and managed to get hold of Tunnock’s, who give us 600 caramel wafers a year.

David: You know the worst thing about the wafers is that we’re the only show at the Fringe that gives them out and 10% of people go “Oh, have you not got Tunnock’s teacakes?” For f*ck’s sake guys, we’re not called Planet Teacake.

 

So, who decided on the fluorescent Mod glasses?

Richard: (to Alex) You’re essentially the aesthetics man.

Alex: Yeah – that was me! I was trying to get us a uniform for ages, and wanted us to be dressed as Cosmic Postmen…

David: Not a lot of Google results.

Alex: The glasses idea came from Devo, an Art Pop electronic band from the 80s, who wear these famous weird hats and look really bizarre. I imagined us doing the equivalent with glasses and it just worked.

Richard: We actually had a sexy photoshoot with the glasses and matching orange tutus.

 

Speaking of sexy, that word has been thrown about a lot in relation to your show…

David: I don’t know why, I don’t think of us as very sexy at all. Richard is another species.

Richard: Well, my flatmates overheard some Americans after a performance refer to me as ‘a tall glass of water’!

Alex: My boss’s mate fancies Richard too. There are definitely parts of the show where I feel sexy and then parts where I wish I was dead.

David: 1 minute of the former, 58 minutes of the latter. I’m not sexy… unless you like screaming and sweat. I actually sat down on the stage last night and left a puddle just from my own buttock sweat, which isn’t sexy, is it. Is it?

Alex: A puddle is just a spilt tall glass of water!

 

Have you thought about what Planet Caramel itself would be like if you ruled it?

Richard: Sticky.

David: I think it would be populated by nice boys just being friends. Girls would be allowed too.

 

So, you don’t have an agenda in particular?

David: I want to be nice, a lot of sketch groups aren’t nice, a lot of comedy isn’t nice.

Alex: Exactly. We don’t like doing dark edgy stuff for the sake of looking clever. The sketches are all ideas that have tickled us.

Richard: Comedy needn’t have a point; when it does it’s good. There’s a slight issue at the moment in that the shows we see promoted are often not the funniest but the most poignant or ‘significant’ shows.

David: (teasing) He’s getting defensive of us not getting shortlisted again.

Richard: I just think it’s strange that that’s almost a requirement of comedy now.

 

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An hour with Planet Caramel proves them to be a comedy trio worth supporting: Richard, David and Alex really are ‘nice guys doing a nice thing’, bringing sharp sketches that amuse and amaze for fun’s sake. After a successful run of Rotations in Flavour Space, they are sure to be back to the Fringe next year with another raucous and unmissable light-speed sketch-show.

 

 


5 Films to Cure Your Post Fringe Blues

By Olivia Cooke

Missing the Fringe already? Fear not, these films are the perfect remedies to fill that place in your heart left void by the lack of regular viewing. So, take your seats and settle back for a movie-marathon.

Trainspotting (1 & 2) (1996, 2017)

Danny Boyle’s iconic 1996 black comedy and its 2017 sequel, start our list with an adrenaline- fuelled bang. The opening scenes of Ewan McGregor and Ewen Bremner sprinting down Princes Street to Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life, will always be held as one of the greatest moments in British cinematic history. Although the majority of both films were filmed in Glasgow, no other film in the modern era has been able to champion the Scottish capital in all its glory. Strap yourself in for a visceral junkie ride through Edinburgh to the pounding, relentless rhythm of Underworld’s Born Slippy reverberating through your ears.

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Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

The iconic parade scene alone justifies a viewing of John Hughes’ magnificently upbeat masterpiece. Matthew Broderick’s infectiously fun performance of The Beatles’ Twist and Shout on a parade float reminds me of walking up the Royal Mile and seeing all the Fringe come together in one huge spectacle of comedy, dance and theatre.

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Sunshine on Leith (2013)

This feel-good musical set to the songs of the Proclaimers is a guaranteed pick-me-up after a long withdrawal from any Fringe action. Led by charismatic performances from George MacKay and Antonia Thomas, Sunshine on Leith spins a Mamma-Mia style narrative of love, heartbreak, revelations and reunions. With a musical number in front of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and picturesque shots of cobbled streets off Regents Bridge, this film certainly shows off Edinburgh in a wholesomely sun-drenched light.

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Airplane! (1980)

Airplane! feels like it wouldn’t go amiss as some sort of satirical comedy playing at the Assembly Rooms. Its surrealist and fast-paced slapstick comedy holds you in a hypnotic trance, leaving your sides splitting after an hour and a half of non-stop gags. To put it simply, this film is a pure delight. Its dry, witty, and deadpan humour can probably be found in some of the best comedy performances at the Fringe.

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The Illusionist (2010)

Edinburgh-based animator Sylvain Chomet casts a spell over his adopted home town, taking us on a journey to the city’s 1950s past. Written as a love-letter to his long-lost daughter, Chomet’s film is based off a screenplay by French mime actor Jacques Tati. It tells the story of a struggling illusionist who befriends a young woman, who in turn becomes convinced that he possesses genuine magical powers. For fans of Studio Ghibli and Pixar, stunning sequences of Old Town and the Castle are guaranteed to whet your appetite for all things aesthetically animated. A beautiful and unforgettable film.

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Reflections on the Fringe: a Festival for Everyone

By Anna Marshall

 

“It felt like when you’re a teenager and the city is yours. Those mad runs through the streets at night to discover new things. Young, free and bursting with energy… Yes – that’s how it felt to spend a day in Edinburgh!”

Across from me, my 77 year-old grandmother Margaret and my 54 year-old mother Katy continue as I try to translate their exclamations. “We had a mad time. Just dashed from place to place – didn’t even have time to finish our soup – and we saw so much, it was magical” – “Just magical” – “And gosh, we didn’t get tired did we? I thought we would, especially after the three hour journey there and back on the train… but it took me ages to get to sleep and the next day I woke up 7am bright as anything!” And the two women revert to chuckling with laughter as they proudly bring out their “Fuck it” pin badges they were given from their day at the Fringe.

 

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The Fringe is an exhibition of people power. Created as an unofficial extra on the side of the Edinburgh International Festival, this global celebration of the arts emerged steadily over the twentieth century to become an annual month-long takeover of British culture. And although there’s now an official programme, ‘Fringe Shop’ and snazzy website, it remains an open access event. Like a body comprised of many individual living cells, the Fringe is simply thousands of theatre companies, comedians, street performers and artists deciding to come to Edinburgh, and doing their thing simultaneously to create a thespian overload. The Festival Fringe Society doesn’t have any quality checks or a selection process, but merely tries to compile this beautiful artistic mess into something you can attempt to navigate. The journalists and traders only hop along for the ride. With this in mind, we’re left examining a product that has skipped all the usual commercial tripe of a festival, and allows the audience to decide who their target is. Unlike the many music festivals littering the British Summer calendar with advertisements aimed at specific groups, the Edinburgh Fringe just doesn’t seem to have had the time to stop, collect its thoughts, and consider which group we’re aiming for.

“Oooh”, they both coo simultaneously, “it was lovely”. Margaret and Katy don’t seem to be anyone’s target audience. Certainly if I was chasing the big guns, they’d be off my radar: rarely out of walking trousers, they’re more likely to be found pushing a barrow of manure down the garden path than loading up a shopping trolley. They’ve seen Joseph! and Les Mis, but other than that most of their theatrical experience has been performed in a primary school hall. Margaret likes Shakespeare, so last year when we went to a live screening of Julius Caesar in town: she printed us both off a Wikipedia synopsis so we’d understand what was going on. In short: we fall into that majority of people that go to the theatre once every couple of years and come out saying “We should do this again”.


Pomona: A Chat with the Directors

By Jessica Loram

 

Struck by the professionalism of HiveMCR’s production of Alistair McDowall’s 2014 psycho-dystopian thriller ‘Pomona’, I reached out to directors Kwame Owusu and Thomas Thacker to find out how such a polished student production came into being. At first, I was surprised to discover that Owusu and Thacker had not seen any previous productions of ‘Pomona’, instead staying “fervently distanced” from anything that might taint their “own digestion of the piece”. On reflection, though, this makes sense. Completely new to ‘Pomona’ myself, I had a hunch that their interpretation had come organically to Manchester University’s HiveMCR.
The team’s fresh engagement with the play manifests in excellent performances delivered by the entire cast. Thacker and Owusu tell me how “building up an extensive knowledge of the characters’ hopes, fears, past, projected future and relationship with others was absolutely paramount”. This considered approach is indeed what distinguishes ‘Pomona’ as a first rate student production. Ensuring that an entire cast sustain convincing character development is admittedly a tall order for a university group and, from my experience as a reviewer at the Fringe, is rarely achieved by amateur groups.

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HiveMCR are, however, successful in their endeavour, and the emotional landscape of ‘Pomona’ is thrilling. In spite of the narrative’s surreal backdrop, the real drama of the play lies in an inner human realm, and Thacker and Owusu explain to me how the cast deliberately looked “at the characters at their best and worst to get a perspective of where their emotional range began and ended”. There is no room for lukewarm efforts in HiveMCR’s work

 

Given the “character-driven” nature, the directors reason that “the drama exudes from the way the broken narrative interacts with its broken characters.” Compelling physical theatre allows the emotional suffering to bleed into the physical realm, too. An unbearable fight scene unravels between the endearing Charlie (Stoops) and Moe (Whitehouse). Finding myself genuinely wincing during the fight, I surprise myself by wanting to find out exactly how they choreographed such a stunning scene. Unsatisfied with their initial physical exercises, Stoops and Whitehouse turned to “how one truly conveys the horror of a bloody fight: the reactions”. A focus on reaction led the actors to “read articles that described the feeling of being stabbed as research and practiced breathing techniques to correctly correlate the characters’ inner panic with their severe pain”. The use of blackout snaps when their blows make contact emphasise “the way the actors vocalise and physicalize their characters’ pain when the lights snapped back on”. Such an attentive and creative approach certainly adds to the thrill of ‘Pomona’.

 

HiveMCR’s formidable artistic effort extends to the thinking behind the sparse set. Captivated by the cyclical nature of the text, Owusu and Thacker chose to capture this by having “a loop physically appear on stage, ensnaring the characters in a claustrophobic proximity”. A sense of entrapment is cemented further by the plot’s race against time. I learn from the directors that “the chalk circle at the centre of the stage also doubled as a clock, the creature Cthulhu marking the positioning of the scene preceding in the fractured chronology of the play”. Utterly absorbed in the psychological drama, I confess that I missed this detail, but my ignorance did not detract from my understanding of the narrative. If anything, therefore, this detail simply testifies to the diligence at work behind the scenes of HiveMCR’s ‘Pomona’. Moreover, the “purposefully simplistic” set conveys a “sense of loneliness in a city completely entrenched in an underlying moral sparsity.”

 

Speaking on behalf of the cast, Owusu and Thacker share that “the opportunity to form strong relationships with talented and endlessly kind people was what made the whole process worth it.” It sounds like the challenge of transporting a mattress across Manchester to Edinburgh and a “manic hunt for tofu/Quorn nuggets” only strengthened the group’s rapport. The play’s outstanding success is indicative of their stellar teamwork, and I’m sure would make Alistair McDowall (incidentally an alumnus of Manchester University) proud of what HiveMCR have created.


Disabled Access at the Fringe: A Conversation with Euan’s Guide

By Molly Stock-Duerdoth

 

The size, complexity, and architecture of the Fringe presents immediate problems for accessibility, but a lot had been done to improve the experience for disabled visitors and performers. The Fringe Society has been working with various charities for several years, and has been recognised for its commitment to and achievements in improving access.

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The Fringe website includes a searchable database of all performances which are signed, relaxed, captioned, audio described, have wheelchair access, disabled toilets, or level access. Access tickets can be booked via phone or email (although unfortunately not yet online), along with free PA tickets, and specific equipment to help you access a show can be requested. It is also possible to get full access information about any venue online, and the Fringe shop itself is fully accessible with wheelchair street access and a dropped counter. Free sensory backpacks can also be picked up here for adults or children with autism, which contain ear defenders, a fidget toy, a stress reliever, a water bottle, a list of relaxed performances, and, in the kids’ backpacks, a soft toy.

Aside from the Fringe’s own site, a great website to check out for general information and first-hand accounts of experiences with specific venues is Euan’s Guide (www.euansguide.com), “the disabled access review website used by disabled people to review, share and discover accessible places to visit”. I spoke to the Guide, who said that “so many things have been done well this year” in terms of disabled access and that “the Fringe society has upped its efforts to improve the quality of access” – despite the challenges which come with managing an event of this size especially when performers choose their own venues. The Guide were keen to note that “the thought that has gone into other elements of the Fringe experience has been exemplary” and celebrate that the Fringe Society has been “presented with the ‘Spirit of Inclusion’ award at this year’s Accessible Edinburgh Festivals Award!”

The architecture of Edinburgh presents some difficulties. Nevertheless, the Mile, although crowded, is fully accessible and there are disabled toilets nearby. Unfortunately much of Edinburgh itself is cobbled and steep, but steps are always avoidable, and trams and buses service the centre and wider city frequently, so most venues are not further than 0.5 miles from a public transport stop. There’s a Welcome App which allows you to let staff know when you’re arriving and what you look like if you require in-person assistance at a venue. The Changing Places map also shows where you can find accessible toilets with benches and hoists.

Euan’s Guide recommends that “The Fringe doesn’t have to be over-complicated: simply take time to read the information on the Fringe website and speak directly to the access booking team. The information is comprehensive”. They also stress the importance of utilising the wonderful staff; “the Fringe volunteers are among the friendliest people you’ll meet in the city!”

Many of the areas where access is still difficult are the venues, which the Fringe Society has no control over. To combat this, the Society has published the Adapting a Show handbook, which can be found online and lists specific ways in which theatre groups can make their events more accessible.

There are also plenty of shows on offer at Fringe which tackle disability as a subject and/or involve people with disabilities. When asked to recommend any shows featuring or crewed by people with disabilities, Euan’s Guide replied enthusiastically; “Yes! If you’re visiting with kids, check out AnimAlphabet: The Musical with every performance BSL interpreted. Speechless Comedy is another one to check out and My Left / Right Foot by Birds of Paradise Theatre Company and National Theatre of Scotland.”

The Fringe’s approach to access, while some challenges remain, has been thoughtful and excellently executed – just make sure you’re aware of all the information and resources available, most of which can be found online – and the friendly Fringe staff are always on hand.