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.

 

 


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.


Don’t Say Cheese: The Oxford Imps on the show where you’re in charge

By Sally Christmas

 

Director Dan Squire and producer Megan Morgan talk us through the ins and outs of improvised comedy.

 

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Tell us a little bit about the Oxford Imps and what you do. 

D: The Imps are an improvised comedy troop based in Oxford. We do comedy that’s made up on the spot – nothing scripted, nothing prepared in advance – based on random suggestions from the audience.

 

What does a normal Imps show look like? 

M: We start off with some short games, kind of like the ones on ‘Who’s Line Is It Anyway’, and then we end with something longer.

D: For the longer pieces we do improvised musicals, Shakespeare plays, novels, movie scripts. We tend to take one suggestion at the start and then sort of spiral off the back of that.

 

…and is it really improvised? 

D: I did the maths recently to work out how many different combinations we’d have to rehearse, and with around 25 improvisers available, with 3 or so in each game, doing about 30 games in total, there about 35,000 possible different permutations for who’s on stage, and then you take audience suggestions…

 

M: Surely it’s infinite, right? 

D: There are some suggestions that come up more often, but we never know in advance and we don’t plant anyone in the audience. The wackier the ideas the more fun it ends up being.

 

What’s the best thing about doing live improv? 

M: It’s very freeing in that you can’t know what you’re doing until you’re doing it. I like the group aspect too, you have to rely on each other, you have to listen, and go with the flow. It has to be like everyone’s thinking with one mind.

D: I got into comedy for the adrenaline rush, and when you go on to do an improvised song or a rap or whatever, you have no idea what the next line out of your mouth is going to be, so in the moment it’s really exciting. You have no safety net.

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What does it take to make good improv? 

M: I think it’s two big things: a willingness to listen to the other people on stage, and also a willingness to play, because you want to be creative and add ideas without worrying about looking stupid. It’s getting used to doing those things that we’re often trained out of - if you watch children play make believe, they’re essentially improvising, and it’s relearning those skills.

 

What have been the best – or worst – audience suggestions? 

D: This is one of the weirdest ones I remember - we play a game where we ask for periods of history, and we often get the same ones, so it’s fun to get something unusual. We had a man call out “Medieval Belgium”, which for me was brilliant, because everyone knows you don’t know anything about Medieval Belgium, and that’s where a lot of the comedy comes from.

M: The least favourite ones are the ones that come up regularly. We get a lot of cheeses, for some reason. We’re a family friendly show, so we can’t take certain suggestions, which is good, because in a lot of comedy it’s easy to resort to shock factor and cheap jokes. Sometimes the most common and benign things make the best joke because starting small allows us to get more creative.

 

In three words, why should we come and see the Imps perform this summer? 

D: All I can think of is ‘Medieval Belgium musical’.

M: ‘It’ll be great?’. Oh no, that’s terrible. Oh, ‘you’re in charge’! Audience suggestions lead our show, so ultimately the show is made by you coming, and you can influence it as much or as little as you’d like, so you’re in charge. And ‘Medieval Belgium musical’, of course.

 

Catch the Oxford Imps in the Gilded Balloon Teviot’s Billiard Room at 13:15 until August 27th.  

 


Wrong Tree Theatre Presents: ‘Inferno’

By Megan Luesley

 

When asked to sum up Wrong Tree’s latest devised work, director Henry Gould emphasised one word – intense. Perhaps a show about hell could never be anything but. Still, as the latest work by Durham University’s acclaimed devised theatre, ‘Inferno’ is far more than just an adaptation of Dante’s masterpiece.

This is Wrong Tree’s third trip to the Fringe since it was founded in 2015, and it’s an ambitious project to say the least. Seven cast members and as many live musicians as they can squeeze in the Argyll theatre attempt to take both successful lawyer Bella (Isabel McGrady) and the audience on a whistle stop tour of hell, in all its grotesque, horrific glory.

But what exactly are the demons of the 21st century? Wrong Tree reject the fire and brimstone in favour of something more relevant, and perhaps more troubling.

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Take, for example, the ‘Fraud’ scene in which the demons labour in an office like clockwork robots. Combined with the suits worn by the cast, it creates a hell for the modern era. Still, this is just one facet of the production. “We had a lot of disagreements about different concepts, like hell and violence,” says Kyle Kirkpatrick (Demon ensemble), “and whether or not we went for an orthodox vision.”

This difficulty, however, reflects what they view as the production’s biggest stren

gth – the fact that it’s a communal creation. Gould had the initial idea, but the rest, from storyline to dialogue to characters to demons, is the result of this collaborative and ever-changing process. “It was always an organic process,” Gould states.  When asked about memorable moments in rehearsals, the cast recounted some of the cut lines from the devising process. “My favourite is in Gluttony, where we’re force-feeding someone,” says Olivia Swain (Demon ensemble). “Her line was ‘I need a break!’ and Harry just yelled ‘Have a Kit-Kat!’”

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Whilst hell, sin, eternal damnation and the tedium of modern life are dismal subjects to put a dampener on a Fringe-goer’s day, the cast are adamant that it’s not all doom and gloom, despite some of their wackier ideas being cut. They use their Devil (Patrick Palmer) to reinforce this. “We took a lot of inspiration from comedies, this idea of the ironies of heaven and hell that almost humanise the Devil. It’s funny to see him going through a mid-life crisis.”

And besides, what is sin if it isn’t a teeny tiny bit tempting? Gould calls it an “absolute spectacle” of a show, and the cast insist that they’ve worked hard to make it a visceral and engaging experience. “It’s not a lecture. We’re respecting the audience as independent thinking adults,” Kirkpatrick states.

Can’t make up your own mind? This is perhaps the only time I’ll be able to say this on an online journalistic platform: go to hell!

‘Inferno’ will perform in the Argyll Theatre at theSpace at North Bridge, Aug 13-18, 20-25, 11:15 am. Tickets are £7, £6 concessions.


Preview: DULOG’s Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens

By Shauna Lewis

 

The title of ‘Saucy Jack and the Space Vixenspromises a potentially ‘off-the-wall’ kind of show. Seeing it in rehearsal not only affirms that, as it prepares to return to Edinburgh Fringe, but makes it clear how much heart and passion is going into its production.

The plot revolves around the murders of the Slingback Killer at Saucy Jack’s bar, prompting the arrival of the Space Vixens in a mission to fight crime. Aside from the ‘whodunnit’ side of things, glitter boots have more power than you’ve ever seen before, sexualities are explored and fetishes welcomed in this extra-terrestrial cabaret.

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For the first time since the show was written, it is being put on by a student company external to the original writers. Entrusted to Durham University’s DULOG, it will be paying homage to its status as a cult classic, but director Euan Walker promises originality through his own experience and influences.

But as he argues, the show originated from not wanting to emulate the status quo, so to a certain extent “to disrespect the show is to respect the show.”

It’s clear from listening to Euan talk about the production how much he and the cast care. He remarks that when he first sat down with them as a cast his first questions were, “What are you thinking?” He goes on: “I wanted it to be the most about them as possible, so everyone can pour their own into the show and then it reflects entirely how much they love it.”

It shows when I sit in on the rehearsal. Millie Blair, playing Jubilee Climax as well acting as Choreographer, pitches in with the musical direction, while other members contribute on what they think could be improved as well. It seems like a passion project for them all, not to mention their undeniably good chemistry as a group.

Whilst Millie Blair’s ‘Living in Hell’ seems like it’s going to be a standout of the production, the rest of the songs are upbeat and impossible to not enjoy. ‘All I Need Is Disco’ and ‘Glitter Boots Saved My Life’ are exuberant, ridiculous (in the best way) and downright fun. Euan describes the production as a “feel-good disco extravaganza”, which it certainly is, especially when the cast clearly want to be there just as much as you do.

He claims that as an experience, Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens encapsulates the spirit of the Edinburgh Fringe, “…it’s just this melting pot of pure love for theatre, dancing, music […] and that’s how I think our production reflects on it.”

Whilst he claims there is no moral to the production, which will undoubtedly be refreshing at a Fringe to be probably riddled with political comedy, he also says it is ‘unapologetically itself’. He adds that the production brings “the energy of fun, love, exuberance and unapologetic acceptance of self. All through the power of disco and I think that’s beautiful.”

Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens is on at 9.45pm, 1st- 19th August at C Venues (Venue 34)


Why the drastic change?: Talking about ‘In Loyal Company’ with David William Byran

By Katherine Knight

 

There’s a question which has been at the back of my mind for a year and I throw it at David the moment I see him. “Did you really drink eight cans of Strongbow onstage?”

“What do you think?”

It’s a testament to his explosive previous performance that these details have remained in my mind so long. ‘Trashed’, from the brilliant duo of actor David William Bryan and writer Sascha Moore, took the Fringe by storm in 2017, coming from nothing to make Theatre Weekly’s ‘Best of the Fest’. Having seen last year’s performance and hearing that the duo were collaborating again, I knew I had to find out more about this year’s performance, ‘In Loyal Company’, which follows the true story of Arthur Robinson, WWII prisoner of war.

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Why the drastic change from an alcoholic bin-man to soldier of a bygone era? I’m surprised to learn there’s a personal connection. Robinson is David’s great-uncle – and the genesis of the show, says Bryan, was a conversation with his father, who went to the Ed Fringe for the first time last year. It’s a very different audience this year, but that is intentional. This definite family connection underpins it all, as Bryan pulls out a family photograph to show me his counterpart, in Bombay, before all hell breaks out - “drinking beers with the lads” in a soldier’s uniform.

Photographs like these provide narrative material where history books fall short. ‘In Loyal Company’ is meticulously researched, but some details remain unknown, characteristically – including how, exactly, Robinson survived. Rather than to leave gaps, the team constructs their narrative from eyewitness reports and emotional impact. This is replicated by the characterisation of the figures in the photograph - personalities are determined from the single still image; reconstructed in vivid detail on the stage.

While this is a bold reconstruction of an incredible true story, it is clear that it is not intended to be “a history lesson for the audience”. Bryan claims the performance moves at breakneck speed, and this is believable having  seen ‘Trashed’ last year, and refreshing given the change in genre. He explains why: “Other performances are trying to get the audience going. Sometimes we need to slow it down to give them a break.”

However, ‘In Loyal Company’, despite retaining a one-man show format, faces different challenges to its predecessor. Where ‘Trashed’s protagonist travelled from his haunt only through flashbacks, this man undertakes a journey of six years in several different countries. It becomes a juggling act when communicating place, history, and emotion, all in a world which Robinson does not fully understand. How can our protagonist convey contemporary events to the audience when he is supposed to be stuck in a POW camp?

David pauses. ‘It’s a lot.’

He is adamant that the play cannot be done by halves, with respect at the forefront. That, says David, is why he’s decided to lose two and a half stone for the role. He explains that everything they do is for an audience effect, so that we do not watch, but experience. Despite sounding a cliché, the detail and care are already evident, even from a conversation across a table in Costa Coffee. By that dedication, ‘In Loyal Company’ proves itself one to watch.

 

In Loyal Company’, Aug 1st – 27th, 1pm, Venue 33

 


Bean There, Done That: Edinburgh's Coffee Shops- Caragh Aylett

We know that finding plays to see at the Fringe is pretty hard, but what’s harder is finding the perfect coffee shop; who does the best flat white? Where can I gaze longingly out of the window? And where can I make sure that the Wifi always connects? Don’t worry, we’ve sorted it out for you, here’s our #PickOfTheFringe for coffee, because that’s more important.

 

1. Black Medicine

First things first, Black Medicine is pretty much everyone’s favourite. With its dream location in the centre of town, on Infirmary Street, and its beautiful take out cups, Black Medicine is the Instagramers dream. There’s a huge room downstairs where you can set up camp, connect to the wifi and while away the day alongside other festival goers. They also do amazing peanut butter brownies, I’d definitely recommend.

2. Brew  Lab

With its especially-for-the-Fringe pop up shop, Brew Lab is perfectly situated on the picturesque Victoria Street. The flagship site is nestled on South College Street, near local rivals Black Medicine. It has an extensive amount of cake on offer and the pop-up branch has a great rustic feel. blackboard csub . It’s also the place where we accidentally left our Ed Fringe Review whiteboard for several days, so they’re pretty good at lost and found.

 

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Brew Lab, tucked away on South College Street (Image: STV Photos)

3. Elephants and Bagels

Not strictly a coffee shop but pretty good. Just off Nicholson Square, Elephants and Bagels is the perfect location for most Fringe venues, pop in after a show and refuel. They have a huge selection of pretty amazing bagels and the drawings of elephants on the wall are really cute, if you stay long enough you can even draw one yourself. My personal favourite was a drawing of ‘Donald Trunk’.

 

4. Hula

Good food and good coffee, what’s not to love? Hula holds a special place in my heart for two reasons. Firstly, it was the place I went to recover after seeing the worst play I’ve ever seen at the beginning of the Fringe last summer. Secondly, its lentil curry saved me from the most horrendous hangover at the end of last year’s Fringe. The coffee is pretty great and they do some incredible vegetarian food and if that isn’t enough for you, it’s right on the corner of Grassmarket so the perfect place to people watch during the festival.

 

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5. Century General Store

Probably my favourite coffee shop of them all, Century General do great coffee and they even sell locally grown strawberries. Being on the Marchmont side of the meadows, it’s the perfect place to escape the crowds and there’s outdoor seating for when the Edinburgh rain lets up. They also have another, bigger branch on Montrose Terrace on the other side of the city.

 

So there you have it- our round up of the best places to grab your midday caffeine fix.