What’s worth watching: Festival Fringes 2012 (2)

So, Brighton and Buxton are out of the way, so here’s comes the big one. The Edinburgh fringe is not only the biggest open arts festival in the world, it is probably several times bigger than all the other open arts festivals put together. With hundreds of plays to choose from every day, it might seem impossible to know what’s the best thing to see. And I’m not going to pretend I know the answer. Most plays I see in Edinburgh are plays I’ve never heard of by groups I’ve never heard of, and I learn if they’re any good the hard way. (You can lessen this risk by reading reviews from ThreeWeeks, Broadway Baby or FringeReview, but I prefer to go with no preconceptions and make up my own mind.) However, I do recognise a handful of groups, and out of those I can make a few recommendations.

In my last post on Fringe Festivals, I recommended Kemble’s Riot and Mess, and you can read why I recommend those shows in that article. I also recommended The Girl With No Heart, which I have since seen as a preview in Chatham and reviewed here. Since then, the full Fringe programme has come out and I can add a few more to the list.

One thing I neglected to mention last time is that The Big Bite-Size Breakfast, as well as being Brighton Fringe favourites, are still making annual trips to Edinburgh. This year is no exception, which is just as well because there would be rioting on the streets if they didn’t. Their format for years have been three different morning performances, each with five sets of ten-minutes plays, and it really is worth going to all three sets of plays if you can. This year, the plays are organised into three themes: A Vintage Breakfast, Love Sex and Death, and Forces of Nature. I have some reservations about putting plays into “themes”, but I’ll reserve judgement until I’ve seen how this works. But don’t let that put you off, because year after year I have been amazed by the weird and wonderful ideas you can put into 10-minute plays.

In my Buxton Roundup I mentioned an upcoming “interactive farce” called The World’s Greatest Walking Tour of Edinburgh. I’d better expand on what an “interactive farce” means. I came across Three’s Company in 2008 in a play called “Auditorium”, which seemed like a normal play until someone stepped through the door in the fourth wall and found a room full of people staring at them – and from then on, the play proceeds with compulsory audience participation struggle is on to control a mystical portal to the 2nd floor of C venue. This was followed up in 2011 with The Importance of Being Frank (Three’s company do other styles of play too but this format is their most memorable), where Earnest, Algernon, Gwendolynn and Lady Bracknell are transported to the Buxton Arts Centre (sadly no Edinburgh tour for this one), so Velatrix from the 22nd century can prevent Earnest’s great-great-great-grandson Frank from detonating a nuclear bomb in Buxton Pavilion gardens and starting World War Three. But Algernon goes the other way and finds a load of people sitting in- … you get the idea. I don’t know what they have in store for a walking tour led by an enthusiast with an A* in GCSE history, but I look forward to finding out. Good fun, but not one for anyone with stage-fright.

Live Theatre (in co-production with Murmur) is bring Steve Gilroy and Richard Stockwell’s The Prize to Edinburgh this year. I missed the preview at Live Theatre last week because I was uber-busy, but this is one of Steve Gilroy’s “edited verbatim” plays. The most successful one is undoubtedly Motherland, where word-for-word interviews with mothers, wives and girlfriends of serving soldiers in Iraq and elsewhere. I have some doubts over this format – I still feel verbatim quotes work best in documentaries – but Steve Gilroy is the clear master of this kind of theatre. He captures some very interesting stories, the actors has uses re-enact the people they portray very convincingly, and – crucially – he doesn’t cherry-pick the stories to make a one-sided portrayal of sensitive issues. Anyway, this play covers the considerably more upbeat stories of past and current Olympic athletes. Even if verbatim theatre isn’t your thing, it is worth including this in your schedule as an example of what you can do on a simple stage.

Finally, a word in for Philip Ridley’s Sparkeshark. I don’t normally plug Ed Fringe productions simply on the play they’re doing. There’s a lot of well-known plays performed at the Fringe (I counted three different productions of Miss Julie and six productions of Romeo and Juliet), but in my experience, you can normally see better productions of these plays outside of the Fringe. Sparkleshark, however, is an obscure half-forgotten play that deserves more exposure. In the play, a bullied boy Jake, whose takes refuge in fantastical stories, manages to save himself from a tough gang who all end up demanding starring roles in his latest adventure. Unlike most productions that run the full three weeks, this only runs on 21-25 August,  I don’t know how good this production will be, but it’s worth seeing for the script alone.

So there’s my recommendation for you. Hopefully coming soon is a list of good plays I don’t know about yet.