From behind closed (toilet) doors and onto the stage: Feminism at the Fringe

By Siobhán Stack-Maddox 

 

Kicking off with Katy Dye’s ‘Baby Face’ and ending with Cows and Kisses and Mind Out Theatre’s ‘The Ladies Loo Chronicles’, my week at the Fringe was nicely sandwiched by two very different, but both very powerful, pieces of feminist theatre. The power of these female performances made a lasting impression; both pieces are bold, with a definite shock factor, compelling audiences to reflect. I spoke to the cast and producers of ‘Chronicles’ about the inspiration behind their piece and their experience of performing at the Fringe.

 

“Daring, blunt, funny and unapologetic”: this is the kind of theatre co-producer Evangeline Osbon wanted to create when she set up Mind Out Theatre and these words perfectly sum up ‘Chronicles’. The comedy, which takes place in a club toilet, questions and breaks taboos whilst valorising female friendship and experience. Sharing Osbon’s desire to create “work with, by and for women”, Flora London, the show’s writer and co-producer who also plays the character of Megan, founded Cows and Kisses Theatre Company this year with the aim of “writing for real women”. London recalls bonding experiences in women’s club toilets on nights out as inspiring her to write a piece which brings women and their stories “out of the toilet and onto the stage”.

 

Disclaimer: although the play takes place in the eponymous ‘Ladies’ Loo’, ‘Chronicles’ is definitely not exclusively aimed at women. Osbon emphasises how impressed she has been by the show’s mixed audience demographic at the Fringe, both in terms of gender and age, including a large proportion of over-50s. Evangeline Dickson, who plays Lydia, notes how “creatively satisfying” it is to be part of a show which addresses such a broad audience and creates a dialogue surrounding the issues it explores.

 

As well as the witty writing, comic timing and energetic dance pieces, to which Osbon attributes the show’s broad appeal, ‘Chronicles’ pushes both theatrical and sociopolitical boundaries and raises questions surrounding class differences, the tampon tax and the Windrush generation. London explains that she wanted to explore “real women’s” thoughts and experiences of these issues. This kind of boundary pushing is fundamentally important at an exciting time of “evolving” and experimental theatre, according to Osbon. As roles within productions become “more fluid”, without distinctly separate writers or performers, theatre is developing into “a more creative, collaborative process”. The ‘Chronicles’ team agree that Edinburgh is the perfect place for creating and performing “more exciting theatre” which combines different mediums and challenges convention. Dickson enthuses about the city’s “buzzy, inspiring” atmosphere, which fuels the “need to create and collaborate”.

 

So, what’s next after the Fringe for the ‘Chronicles’ ladies? “We’d love to get in a toilet!” says London. They are already looking into collaborating with different venues, including clubs and bars. Watch this space: ‘Chronicles’ may be coming soon to a loo near you…

 

See my review of ‘Baby Face’:  http://edfringereview.com/r/W09kF9LcT-y_MEmrXDx6yg

‘Baby Face’ is on until 26th August at Summerhall at 13:30.
The ‘Chronicles’ team is raising money for Tommy’s and Sands stillbirth and neonatal death charities. They would like to thank their partner, organic intimacy company ‘YES’ and Alra drama school, especially the caretaker, Darren.

 

 


Emma Dean: the woman behind the unicorn

 

By Claire Richardson and Kathryn Tann

 

When we met Emma Dean at the start of the month (shout-out to Greenside for a wonderful show speed-dating event) her rainbow spangled garments and vivacious enthusiasm for music made her shine. We sent some reviewers, they gave five stars, and so we went to see for ourselves what was on the other side of this rainbow. “It’s a show for anyone who’s ever been heartbroken”, Emma tells people when she hands out flyers. It contains everything from beautiful ballads, to cheeky fetishes, to her anthem of the summer – “I’m a f*cking unicorn.”

m205x285_ffffff“Sometimes, when you’re in your darkest moments the littlest thing can speak to you.” Emma found her mantra in a simple blog post, and it has become her buoyancy aid. “I’ve not found anything else quite like it.” And so Emma embraced her past pains, put a ‘magical horn on her head’, and boldly built a show around her heartbreak.

But it dawns on us that not everyone has experienced heartbreak. Emma agrees – she says she’s learnt a lot about her show through flyering – some will scoff, happily married and uninterested in such a show. But the singer goes on to make the point that even so, everyone has felt insecure, has needed a boost of self-worth, has had friendships fail. These are issues everyone faces, and with ‘Broken Romantics’, Emma hopes to give a little light. The show is metaphor which lets the audience make up their mind – you can interpret Emma’s unicorn horn as you please.

So from this mantra, how did Emma then write her songs? She says her writing process is hard to explain; ‘it just happens’. But she does talk about the ‘I Heart Songwriting Club’ back in Brisbane, which helped springboard a number of our favourite ‘Broken Romantic’ songs.

While Emma might, on stage, be a rainbow clad, horn-wearing unicorn, she sits down with us as a friendly, relatable, and even (as she admits herself) slightly shy singer-songwriter. “The Fringe has always been on the bucket list… We raised a portion and I just saved the rest. And here we are.” She tells us that back home she runs a community choir with her brother, and then recounts all sorts of amazing stories about singing at the recent Commonwealth Games, entertaining children by day, even opening big-name drag shows in New York! Having come all the way from Australia, we imagined Emma’s large suitcase might be brimming with rainbow tights and glittery makeup, but she assures us that her dazzling costumes are quite separate from her usual attire. Apart from the hair: that’s always one bright colour or another.

‘Broken Romantics: A Unicorn’s Quest for Love’ is a quintessential fringe piece – brilliant, weird, touching and hilarious, all at once. Unicorns are a familiar symbol in popular culture at the present; emblazoned across t-shirts and decorating stationary. And here are a lot of shows about heartbreak at the Fringe, and most of them manifested in sarcastic stand up. Emma escapes gimmicky unicorns and bitter comedy, and instead creates this glittering, musical masterpiece that we think everyone, not just the heartbroken, should see.

 

You can catch ‘Broken Romantics: A Unicorn’s Quest for Love’ at Greenside @ Infirmary St until the 25th August (7.35pm). 

 


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.  

 


Coffee Shops and Cafes: Five Special Spots in Edinburgh

By Beatrix Swanson Scott 

 

Edinburgh’s lighthouse within the Fringe storm has to be its profusion of excellent coffee shops – whether you’re after cute and cozy, cool and swanky or (very) hipster, every part of town seems to have excellent spots on offer. I’ve spent a lot of time typing up reviews, trawling the Fringe programme or simply recharging my batteries (literal and figurative) in Edinburgh’s many cafes. Rather than acting as a definitive guide to the best, this article offers up a selection of five of the city’s coffee shops that are dear to me for one reason or another.

 

cafes

 

 

Lovecrumbs – 155 West Port 

This spot on West Port near Edinburgh College of Art had to be first on the list. Lovecrumbs, which until recently served only cake, is an Edinburgh institution. I recommend the warming cardamom hot chocolate to go with your sweet treats – it tastes especially good when balanced on the old piano which serves as one of the café’s random assortment of tables. Otherwise, the sought-after window seat is a rather cool place to hang out (once you’ve manoeuvred yourself into it).

 

Peter’s Yard – Quartermile 

Peter’s Yard is where I had brunch on my 18th birthday in September 2015 – I had stayed on a while after the Fringe that year. This Scandinavian-inspired bakery-café’s pastries are delicious; I especially like the cardamom buns. Right on the meadows, it’s a lovely central place to go for a light meal – and I am told their pizzas are amazing as well.

 

Filament – 38 Clerk Street 

I discovered this place back when it was located in India Buildings on Victoria Street – the window seats at the back of the high-ceilinged, cleanly hipster shop provided a welcome oasis around the corner from the hubbub of the Royal Mile. I took a shine to the unique name, and therefore went back when it moved to smaller premises on diverse, studenty Clerk Street. Though the move meant losing those wonderful ceilings, it’s still a great place to go for a bite and a well-made coffee.

 

Press Coffee – 30 Buccleuch Street 

This cute little place just around the corner from George Square (perfect for Fringe staff) serves good coffee and breakfasts, in an atmosphere that’s always friendly and bustling. I’ve done a lot of early-morning writing here. I recommend the delicious scones with jam and clotted cream. Bonus: their blue china on marble table has great Instagram value!

 

Mary’s Milk Bar – 19 Grassmarket 

Alright, this isn’t really a coffee shop. But there was no way I could leave it off the list. One of my favourite ice cream places in the world, this little place on the Grassmarket serves an eclectic rotating selection of homemade gelatos (from ‘Tea & Jam’ to ‘Candied Violet’) with distinctly vintage flair. Milkshakes, hot chocolate floats and, yes, coffee, are also available, and I promise that once you’ve braved the inevitable queue the first time, you’ll be back again and again.

 

 


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.

inferno 2

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!’”

inferno

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.


It Takes Two: Coupling up in the EFR Villa

By Kathryn Tann 

It’s August, meaning EFR are sweating over their laptops in a desperate attempt to schedule as many shows as possible for this year’s Fringe. It means sending lots of emails and making lots of phone calls, all confirming that two tickets have been reserved for our red-garbed reviewers. “But why two tickets?” we so often hear. Well, let
me tell you.

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When we so boldy respond to applications for a review with a request for two whole press tickets, we’re not just taking the mick. For Ed Fringe Review, being able to send two keen thinkers to each show is essential for what we believe a good review should be: fair.

When we send two reviewers out, they come back with two opinions. By the following day, those two opinions will be published side by side on our website. The reviewers won’t have discussed the performance with each other, nor will they have shown any sort of bias. In this way, our double-sided system will never rely on one personal opinion, it will never be influenced by outsiders, and it will always give a better impression of a play than if we’d done it the usual way.

Of course, sticking to this two-person rule can sometimes be a bit of a faff. It means double the work load for myself and my co-editor, double the mouths to feed, double the trouble when it comes to booking tickets. There has to be a Love Island style re-coupling every day, which takes organising. (Sadly, our budget didn’t allow for personalised water bottles this year). Sometimes it feels like EFR is some strange parody of The Handmaids Tale: our reviewers are only ever seen wandering Edinburgh in pairs, and always clad in that signature scarlet.

And yet, it’s all completely worth it. Being an EFR reviewer is never a lonely job. But most importantly, we’re giving students, beginners, new writers, and all those innocent productions the fairest chance we can. We’re starting the conversation about their show; we’re doing our bit for the Fringe and all the wonderful theatre-talk that comes with it. It takes two people to start a conversation, and for us, that means it takes two to give a review.


Stars on the mile: ‘Break a Leg’ with Gyles Brandreth

 

By Claire Richardson

EFR speak to writer, broadcaster and entertainer, Gyles Brandreth, about his new show ‘Break a Leg’. The show takes us on a semi-autobiographical journey across a star-studded career, discussing the names and faces that inspired and entertained Gyles throughout. As a Fringe fanatic for decades, with multiple sell-out performances, we ask Gyles for his advice for the student and amateur groups that we will review this August.

Gyles

Gyles first encountered the Fringe as a member of the audience in the sixties. Then, it was a cluster of around thirty acts that dotted the mile, and a shadow of the 3,400 strong machine that will explode on the Mile in a week’s time. ‘Then, it was literally a fringe – an add-on’, he muses, ‘and the word ‘stand-up’ did not exist’. In decades since, while new genres emerged and the Fringe community grew, Gyles assures us that the infectious atmosphere remains unchanged.

Another unaltering Fringe attribute is the style that Gyles brings, seen in his first Fringe production in 1997; a one hundred minute musical featuring one hundred musicals called Zipp!. This pastiche style, that attempts to create depth by blending the dynamic drama of various sources, mirrors that of ‘Break a Leg’. Gyles’ new show aligns anecdotes from his experiences in showbiz, rather than excerpts from musicals, ranging from his time as a student at Oxford, to his social sphere as a performer in 2018. As such, Gyles has often worked to combine the highlights of an inconceivable range of pursuits. These include the establishment of a teddy bear factory, a World Record for the longest after dinner speech, the organisation of the first British Scrabble Championships, and hosting his Radio 4 show, Just a Minute - continually embracing jam-packed variety.

Gyles is also former Member of Parliament, and the loss of his seat in 1997 was what propelled the creation of Zipp!; finding both escapism and liberation. Discussing the frontier between politics and theatre, I explain that we would groan to be sent to ‘another one about politics’ when reviewing in 2017 – be it Brexit, or the British and American elections. ‘My show is a Brexit free zone,’ Gyles assures us. ‘I should get a sign. There will be no Boris. There will be no Mrs May.’ He adds ‘my wife said – ‘Gyles, in politics, the door is shut’’. For Gyles, the Fringe was an open door.

‘The Fringe is brilliant,’ he states, describing ‘a place where anyone, young or old, from 14 to 94, can succeed’, as he did in 1997. Nevertheless, after his first Fringe performance, the applause made Gyles wince, accustomed to the heckles and boos of the Commons. ‘Feel the terror – do it anyway – and take your time. There’s terror every time that you perform, even across 26 performances,’ Gyles explains, as we ask how an amateur can succeed. Behind the glitz and glamour, he warns that it is hard work and consistency that allow a live show to flourish - each and every performance must be special, personal and likeable.

Above all, Gyles disparages the star rating system.  ‘There were no star ratings back then!’  he objects, ‘it was a lucky dip. I think the Fringe should be a lucky dip. Everyone gives it a go. I’ve seen some great shows but because that night it wasn’t particularly good, or the reviewer didn’t like that subject, it only got two stars…’.

Gyles has certainly had a lucky dip over the years, but his ambition, aptitude and arduous work ethic have clearly driven the production for the content of this show. Technically decades in the making, he whisks us on his whirlwind tour of the brightest lights and delights of his encounters in the entertainment industry. Irrespective of the stars we would award, the reminiscent ‘Break a Leg’ is set to be full of the star memories, characters and anecdotes of a twinkling career.

You can find Gyles in Edinburgh at Pleasance One, Pleasance Courtyard, 1st-26th August, 4.30pm.