Hug the Bunny: Two Earl Grey Teas with Phoebe Wood

By Melissa Tutesigensi

I met with Phoebe Wood, writer and co-director of ‘Hug the Bunny’, at Edinburgh’s Half 8 Café. ‘Hug the Bunny’ was one of my favourite shows at this year’s Fringe and so I was keen to learn more about the genesis and development of the play. Although Phoebe was in the middle of the run with a few more shows to go, she agreed to let me pick her brain. We sat down to two Earl Grey Teas and chatted about drama school, leadership and experiences on the mile. Here is a selection of what came of our conversation.

 

Where it all began…

 

Norwich based Pits N Clits Theatre was formed very recently as Phoebe Wood, Damie Lemomu , Betsy Robertson, Sophie Abramovici, Sarah Pumphrey and Rachel Stone decided to create a feminist theatre company following their time at the University of East Anglia. Phoebe explained that, at the core, the company is a group of friends connected by their love and passion for driving compelling and entertaining feminist narratives forward. Each bring their own skills together to form the collective. Phoebe is always keen to stress the input of her team and to highlight that there is a real mix and variance of skills. Phoebe herself wrote the script but worked with fellow co-director Rachel Stone to help bring it alive. You only have to watch the play to see that there is a wealth of talent in the production company, that this a group of capable young women who understand the multi-faceted and multi-dimensional nature of theatre.

 

Explaining the title, Hug the Bunny…

 

I asked Phoebe about the origin of the name of the play as it didn’t seem too obvious to me. Concerned that I had completely missed a major symbol or metaphor, I was itching to know why the play is called ‘Hug the Bunny’. According to Phoebe, to ‘hug the bunny’ means to masturbate with a vibrator– an apt choice for the play given that female masturbation is an important part of the history on the study of hysteria. The popular school of thought of previous centuries held that women, being the fairer sex, were prone to fits of hysteria, a demonstration of their uniquely female facilities. Female masturbation was used to treat the symptoms of hysteria which up until the mid 20th century was categorised as a disease. Female masturbation is important to the play and fundamental in showing historical examples of the mans-plaining of the female sexual experience.

 

Twist, turns, trials and tribulations lead to triumph…

 

One of the revelations that surprised me the most about ‘Hug the Bunny’s’ journey to the Fringe is that it was never really meant to happen. Phoebe described how the original play she had written to take to the Fringe had to be replaced. She wrote ‘Hug the Bunny’ in a month, had to subsequently re-organise arrangements with the venues and marketing all the while raising the money to fund the project. Once the play was written and they were looking like they would meet the fundraising goal, she was still left with minor amendments such as finalising the title of the play. Things had to be scaled down and altered as they adjusted to their practical and financial restrictions. As pervasive as these obstacles were however, so was the company’s determination. It was their resilience and attitude of taking things in their stride that got them to the Fringe in the end. As I watched ‘Hug the Bunny’, I was blown away by its accuracy and honesty. The effortlessness of the play could easily fool you into thinking that it was a simple and predetermined process from idea to performance, but instead it was a product of a beautiful creative mess.

 

It’s not all fun and games on the mile…

 

Having cleared the logistical and creative hurdles of getting to the Fringe, they then faced the next challenge of attracting people to the show. They had already made waves in drawing an audience online through their use of social media ‘Crowdfunder’ but Edinburgh was a different platform altogether. The mile is a frenzy, awash with marketing of extreme levels with the aim of attracting people’s attention. They stood in the sea of actors, dancers and comedians, facing the struggle of drawing in the crowds. Phoebe is honest about the difficulty of being faced with this and explains that they had to employ their adjustment tactics to change their approach when they realised that their initial ideas for advertising weren’t striking the right chord with passers-by. It’s not an easy thing to approach people with thorny subjects like feminism and hysteria, explains Phoebe. She understands that its not to everyone’s taste. She’s aware of the fact that people have different opinions and reactions to theatre having been in the situation of being the only one in a group disliking a show. Nonetheless, it’s difficult to take that in as a writer.

 

There is life beyond the fringe…

 

We ended our conversation on the subject of future plans. She told me that her immediate plans for the future were to survive and enjoy the rest of her time in Edinburgh. Post-Fringe, it’s safe to say that Pits N Clits Theatre more than just survived, they thrived managing to pick up more five star reviews and a mention in Dazed Magazine piece ‘Eight plays we wish we’d seen as teenagers’ . The Fringe is a relentless experience for any first-time act but I hope Pits N Clits Theatre took away a sense of achievement as they packed up and prepared to leave the city. Whatever they have in store, I bet this won’t be the last we’ve heard from them.

 

 


Shower Thoughts: The Show We’re Still Talking About

Charlie Norton speaks to the cast and crew behind this overwhelming student success at the Fringe 2018.

 

In typical student fashion, composer Lavie Rabinovitz effusively tells me, ‘Shower Thoughts’ was a brainchild of the small hours: ‘it all started with a message at two or three in the morning’. The idea was to explore the bathroom as a private place for personal revelations, librettist Ryan Hay explains, ‘so we put together a list of all the things that might happen in the bathroom and chose the ones we found interesting’.

 

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‘Shower Thoughts’ follows five university flatmates as they reflect on university life in private and shared moments in their ‘grotty’ student bathroom. The song-cycle explores a breadth of contemporary issues – from mental illness to body hair – whilst sustaining the energy of a real student house through comic musical exchanges between the friends.

 

Though the setting is unique, Rabinovitz is keenly aware that the flat-share premise is familiar: ‘We talked extensively about the flat dynamics because we were really petrified of rewriting Friends. We wanted to write real people.’ To this end, perhaps riskily, the roles were cast before the piece was finished and the actors’ real-life personalities used as inspiration. This explains Iona Smith’s effortless charisma as Flick, the joker of the bunch. Meanwhile, Stephanie Herron’s incredibly poignant performance as Sophie is somewhat explained by her co-writing of the powerful and nuanced solo about eating disorder which, she explains, ‘is authentic to my experiences’.

 

In Hay’s words, ‘it’s important to understand that you’re writing from a perspective but to feel empowered [by it].’ As students of St Andrews themselves, the cast and crew have an obvious proximity to the fictional environment. Amy Addinall’s set design has a self-professed ‘grotty’ aesthetic ‘just like everyone’s bathroom at Uni’, which hilariously lends itself to Rachel Brown’s drunken crouching over the toilet bowl as the unlucky-in-love Ang, as well as a Kate Nash-esque ditty about body hair and self-acceptance from Sara Pearce’s Eva.

 

But this is not to say the actors are playing themselves. In fact, I choke on my water in surprise when Connor Norris who plays Jonny, a young typically English man repressed by the social implications of masculinity, has a strong American accent. On top of this, Herron and Pearce describe some teething issues with their portrayal of a gay relationship.

 

Herron: Definitely, for a couple of rehearsals, we were having a hard time figuring out, er…

Hay: Logistics?

Jess Cooper (director): Haha! Yeah, we had to have a wee ‘logistics chat’.

Pearce: One day we did a run and then Jess took us aside and said ‘Guys, let’s talk about physical intimacy’.

Cooper: I’m a queer woman myself and for me it was just a relationship!

 

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Of her naturalistic directing, Cooper says the cast had to ‘work against the desire to “perform” the content, [so as] to make the audience feel like they were prying.’ For a cast of opera singers and musical theatre fanatics alike this apparently proved a challenge. The show involves no jazz hands and no dazzling choreography; rather the character development and the themes explored are at the centre of the piece. This placed some burden on the cast, Norris says: ‘I really wanted to make sure I did the issue justice.’ Yet it is this empathetic and thoughtful handling of contemporary issues which makes ‘Shower Thoughts’ so impactful.

 

Rabinovitz sums up the sentiment of the piece: ‘if you can express those emotions in the bathroom, why can’t you do so everywhere else – open the door!’ And, Hay tells me, the door is not closed on ‘Shower Thoughts’, with an upcoming run booked on home turf as well as an ambition for a national tour. Having seen the show myself I can confirm it is absolutely worth a watch, and I’m only more convinced of this having had the chance to speak to such a passionate group of creatives.

 


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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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.


Timpsons: The Musical

By Claire Richardson

 

‘Timpsons: The Musical’. If you just thought of Timpsons: the high street cobbler, you are correct. Energetic, creative, and completely ridiculous, it’s a musical parody of Shakespeare’s tragedy ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Written by Warwick students Sam Cochrane and Chris Baker, and performed by the new company ‘Gigglemug Theatre’, it’s exactly the sort of show the Fringe encourages.

On the Royal Mile each day, I spotted the team with Timpsons flyers, wearing shoe-shaped headdresses and Timpson aprons. Intrigued, I caught up with lead actors Robert Madge and Sabrina Messer, to discover the key to this musical. With just a week left, Sabrina remains convinced that their performance is always their favourite hour of the day – ‘although, half an hour before the show, we look like zombies,’ Rob laughs.

 

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We begin with mutual, ironic grumbles as to a lack of sets of keys in crammed Fringe apartments this summer, before Rob abridges the musical. ‘It’s a bonkers but brilliant exploration of how shoes and keys came together to form the nation’s favourite cobblers – as mad as it sounds!’ The pair play Monty Montashoe and Keeleigh Keypulet, inventors and star-crossed lovers, in this (fictional!) depiction of Timpsons Ltd’s origins, 1865. The musical darts between the set of two wooden wagons; home of the feuding family businesses seeking glory at the ‘Invention Convention’.

I ask how Shakespeare might react. ‘Absolutely not turning in his grave,’ says Rob, with a grin. ‘Definitely – he was up for a laugh!’ Sabrina agrees. And what did Timpsons Ltd have to say? ‘We don’t work for Timpsons,’ Rob insists, ‘but everyone thinks that we do – we’re actors!’. The writers wrote for permission, and received generous funding for half of the show, but Sam and Chris had completed the musical long before. At the end each show, money is raised for the Alex Timpson Trust, established in 2017, to continue Alex Timpson’s work supporting children in care – in her lifetime, she fostered over 300 children.

Rob comments on first receiving their script that ‘you can’t quite believe you’re reading it. It’s so mad – and requires commitment. You can’t do the jokes half-heartedly, or they’d fall flat’. This includes posing a key as a ‘mini saw’ and a door as a ‘human catflap’ at the ‘Invention Convention’, while belting their anthems ‘Hole in my Sole’ and ‘It’s a Tingle’. Despite week-long rehearsals every month for half the year, there have still been alterations in Edinburgh. ‘A whole song at the start was cut,’ Rob tells us, ‘it was snappier to go straight in’.

The writers and lyricists are also performers in the subplot. Bouncing about in black leotards, they play characters in two love stories – that of the family servants, commenting on social class, and the most hilarious physical sketch of the relationship between two fisherman. While the future of ‘Timpsons: The Musical’ is unknown, Sabrina is convinced that the next move from Sam and Chris will undoubtably ‘be a bit wacky – it won’t be straight-laced’.

Certainly, this musical is a slice of quintessential Fringe. Ridiculous on paper, and brilliant when brought to the stage – it just needed the right team, and the high street’s cobbler, to ‘unlock potential’.


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.