This article has now been superseded by the final roundup, which included everything I’ve said below and more. I’ve kept the text below as a record of my thoughts at the time, as well as an archive on the comments.
Okay, here I am. Like last year, I’m splitting my Edinburgh Fringe stint into two visits again, partly because of work commitments, and partly I discovered I quite enjoyed doing a split visit. So this interim list will start growing this weekend, and there will be some more in two weeks’ time.
Anyway, my first discovery is From Where I’m Standing from Delerium Theatre. This is an ambitious piece that strings together a story over four decades, from the schooldays of a cynical teenager on the eve of Tony Blair’s election, to his alleged involvement in a bombing in 2013, to a fight over a social media-obsessed world in the future. Spanning on play over that length of time is difficult; the writing had a good attempt at handling this, but there were some things that could have been done better.
However, the really impressive bit of this play the staging. The one thing that has changed in theatre faster than anything else is the use of technology. Digital sound and projections are relatively recent additions to theatre, but we’ve had years to observe what works and what doesn’t on stage. But the newcomer is tablets (what non-techies call the iPad on the incorrect belief that only Apple makes tablets). There is very little opportunity to learn from other people’s mistakes here, but Delerium theatre worked this into the show flawless, along with sound, projections, and a very creative and versatile set. This is worth a visit simply to see what you can do in a Fringe space if you try.
I don’t normally mention Bite-Size in interim reports because I concentrate on plugging shows that I haven’t already covered, and Bite-Size gets more than enough coverage. However, I’m making an exception this time because, having seen two shows out of three so far, I think this might be their best Edinburgh Fringe line-up ever, helped in part by their unusually good crop of new plays shown at the Brighton Fringe. Elephants and Coffee remains my firm favourite of the ten-minute plays.
Now a non-theatre recommendation for a change: Desperately Seeking the Exit. Well, it’s down as theatre, but it’s really a talk from Peter Michael Marino who wrote Desperately Seeking Susan – sadly not the famous movie form the 80s but the disastrous musical based on the film that featured the songs of Blondie. This is the writer giving his side of the story, so you should naturally treat the account with some caution, but it’s certainly believable, and enough to put any aspiring writer off letting the West End get their hands on anything. And it’s funny. And part of the free fringe (also known as the “free” fringe, but Marino makes that part of the act).
A big thumbs up for Big Daddy v Giant Haystacks. I’ll go over this in detail later, but for now, blog regulars will know I saw this in 2011, generally liked it, but had concerns that it got confusing towards the end. Well, they’ve reworked it, and thoroughly cracked it. This is possibly the only show where the stage fighting is awful and that’s a good thing.
Now I’m back for my second visit, my early recommendation is The Devil and Billy Markham, performed by the extremely obscure Theatre Someone. I only picked this play because it was the only half-price show on at the right time that grabbed my interest. The venue was a function room, which isn’t a bad thing in itself because loads of functions rooms get converted into makeshift theatre spaces, but this one looked like a function room – not really something that sets the mood for trailer trash America and Hell. And whilst almost all plays rely on flashy posters and flyers for publicity, the publicity for this play was looked like a quick MS Word job. So my expectations weren’t very high.
And what do you know? It was surprisingly good. The play is an hour-long poem from Shel Silverstein about the bets the devil plays on life loser Billy Markham, how they outwit each other again and again. Played with a cast of two men and one blues guitarist, within ten minutes you forget where you are. But annoyingly, I cannot put this on the list of things to see, because it was only on for two nights and last night was the last one.
Fade from Dugout Theatre was also unexpectedly impressive, and an example of why you shouldn’t always dismiss student theatre out of hand. The story itself is quite simple – a gloomy journalist setting up a meeting with his teeneage crush-turned famous actress, who’s apparently hooked up with a penis of a director – but the strength of this play is the way the play expertly blends in music, flashbacks, and stage choreography. I have some misgivings about the extent to this was used – something I just wanted them to get on with the story – but this blows most student theatre out the water.
So, one day to go. As soon as I’m back, I’ll expand the list (not everything that I intend to put in the roundup is in this interim report).