Tuesday 16th August – Sugar:
There are two things notable about Sugar. Whilst the fringe circuit has mostly moved on from the online programme pioneered over the last two years, some of the biggest successes have been remembered and brought back in person – it seems The Space’s efforts to be part of the temporary online programme have paid off in this regard. The other thing is that this is a prime example of why I think the current system of content warnings doesn’t work. Sugar contains subject material that I’m pretty sure some people really don’t want to relive, but it would not be possible to spell it out without giving away how this play goes. I am going to spell it out here because it’s not possible to review this without giving the theme, and on that note, please consider this your spoiler warning. If you have already decided you want to see this (and you’re comfortable with having anything thrown at you), stop reading now. (And for the way I think we should handle content warnings without acting as spoilers, come this way, for a solution with the unlikely inspiration of the joke website Does the Dog Die?)
The tagline of Sugar is “One Girl. Five Ages. Many Morally Ambiguous Life Choices.” Between the ages of 6 and 18, Mae (written and performed by Mabel Thomas) tells the stories of her madcap adventures in a sort-of hybrid of Just William and Derry Girls. Whether it’s her scheming at six years old to get the coveted raffle prize of a day with the headmaster in a fast food place, her foray into entrepreneurship at ten or her underhand tactic to boost her grade point average at 16, the story is kept light-hearted with warmth and humour. Until we reach 18½. The cheapest higher education she can find is impossible to afford. And her latest get-rich-quick scheme is to get a sugar daddy. I already have a bad feeling about this.
In a different play, I might question what the point was of the first five of these six chapters. Story-wise, they have little to do with what happens at the end. But that’s not really the point here. We are not building up a story, we are building up a character. Why is Mae embarking on something which is so obviously dangerous and she’s so obviously out of her depth? Because for the last twelve years of her life, she has built up a lot of misplaced confidence. It’s true that she’s got her way most of the time, but it’s a lot more down to luck than her ability to talk her way out of any trouble. But it’s not so much an overestimation of her own abilities, but an underestimation of what a big bad world it is out there. Until now, she’s lived in a relatively innocent and sheltered world where the stakes are low. In the world of sugar daddies and sugar babies she’s stepping into, there are people more ruthless, more amoral and more exploitative than anything Mae can imagine. Whatever petty lying and cheating she’s done up to now, she doesn’t deserve this.
There is one piece of subtext about this play I liked, and I’m not sure how much is deliberate and how much is accidental. There is the obvious question of how there is any justice in some awful people have incomprehensibly vast amounts of wealth. But the more subtle question is the attitude to people without the money. The only reason Mae is doing this is to get enough money to pay for a community college. As the girl from the poorest family at school, the safe and morally accepted route means no money, no higher education, and perhaps a lifetime of soul-crushing minimum wage jobs. Over here, there would be at least some protests over this situation, but in the leafier parts of Wisconsin, it’s just accepted as completely normal. Neither Mae nor anyone else questions this – it’s just the way it is, that’s that.
So yes, I must advise you that, contrary to what the title might imply, this play is a lot less sugary than the title and first two thirds may lead you to believe. This play has a lot to say, and it’s not just trap many plays fall into that Good Things and Good and Bad Things or Bad, but other less comfortable subjects about the dangers of naivety from a sheltered youth, and how some of the worst people out there can get away with some of the worst things. Recommended, but brace yourself for the final uncomfortable chapter.
Monday 15th August:
We’re now into week 2. Today and tomorrow a lot of full-run shows will be taking a day off. Don’t worry, fringe bingers – that’s more than enough on offer to make up a full day. You just might need to plan a bit more carefully if there’s someone specific you want to see.
As well as that, we have some new things starting this week. Unless otherwise noted, they run until the end of the fringe/ We have:
- No-One from Akimbo Theatre. A physical theatre-heavy piece loosely inspired on The Invisible Man, but what it captures from the original it does well. This actually started yesterday, and has a short run until Saturday. 5.45 p.m, Zoo Playground.
- The Bush, Alice Mary Cooper’s new play which I’m looking forward to, about the original fight for a green belt in Australia. Starts tomorrow, 3.00 p.m., Summerhall.
- The Grandmothers Grimm, a play about the origins of stories before they ended up in the Grimms stories. To be fair, the originals were even more fucked up than the Grimms versions, but was the change entirely a good thing? Starts tomorrow, Greenside Riddle’s Court, 4.25 p.m.
- How to Live a Jellicle Life: See the weird CGI version of everyone’s favourite felines brought to life by Linus Karp. Starts today, Greenside Ridde’s Court, 5.15 p.m.
And also, since I think I won’t get round to mentioning this separately in time, we also have a two shows running since week 1 that close in a few days. There is:
- Head Girl. One of the plays from Durham Fringe, an energetic two hander about a schoolgirl desperately wanting to be Head Girl without really understanding why. Finishes Saturday, runs this week Space on the Mile, 10.55 a.m.
- 1972: The Future of Sex: Another Durham-originated production. Bold move to take on such a difficult play perfected by The Wardrobe Ensemble, but I’m hearing good things from those who’ve seen it. The Space on North Bridge, finishes Saturday 1.20 p.m.
Have fun everyone. I’m next joining you on Sunday.
Sunday 14th August, 11.00 p.m. – Utter Mess!:
And last up in my weekend catchup is another different things: a clowning productions. One of the reasons I picked this is that Stonecrabs is one of the most determined theatre companies to ask me for reviews, and with one of their productions somewhere I can see it I wanted to check this out. Stonecrabs is quite a large theatre company that do productions over sort of different genres, and this clowning piece is a joint production with Busu Theatre, a Japanese company primary specialising in folklore.
A pair a clowns: an older Japanese man and a younger European woman, start off getting the audience to do a warm-up. Any preconceptions this might be a jolly hour of custard pies and cars with wheels that might fall off are dispelled at the end of scene one, when the exciting message they’ve looked forward to seeing says “You’ve been drafted!” Yip-ee-yiy-ay! They are clowns after all. Then comes the “interval”, where the clowning stops and the older clown is informed that the board has decided to lay him off.
I do need to give a major caveat to this review: I am not that familiar with either clowning or Japanese folklore, so there may well be something I didn’t pick up that other people would. From the point of view of someone used to more conventional theatre though, it did feel a bit like this had “concept overload”. There were a lot of abstract concepts thrown in with subjects chopping and changing. The main theme, I picked up, was the two clowns being locked up the Musuem of Lost Things, and they cannot leave until they find what they have lost – not a physical object, but what they have lost in themselves. But I didn’t get what the younger clown constantly taking selfies for Instagram was about. Now, to be fair, I read about the meaning of this in the press release later, and it made more sense. But you can’t count on everybody going back to the press release when they’re stuck.
There are some strong points to the performance. The pair of clowns are both strong performers, and they certainly know their stuff with the loop pedal. I really liked the scene of the laid off clown seeing the annoying psychiatrist who keeps switching to the messenger from the boardroom telling him he’s lost in touch and other messages to talk him down. I guess that, ultimately, this is Stonecrabs’ call. If their target audience is people more used to clowning and/or Japanese folklore, and they’re confident they will pick this up, fair enough, carry on as you are. If, however, this is supposed to be accessible to everybody no matter how little they know of this format, that’s a much bigger challenge, and I don’t have any bright ideas here as this is way outside my field. But good luck either way. Runs until next Saturday at Greenside Infirmary Street if you want see for yourself.
Sunday 14th August, 12.00 p.m.:
Now for a subject I’ve been meaning to get around to. There’s been a lot of talk about a “sustainable” fringe, and one thing that is in the firing line is flyers. I have to say, I’m a bit sceptical about the focus on visible aspects of an event – being seen to make a difference is not the same as actually making a difference. A pub that proudly flaunts is paper straws could still be wasting masses of plastic packaging in the back room, and no-one cares because it’s out of view. Nevertheless, there’s an awful lot of flyers handed round at Edinburgh and it’s worth questioning if this is really necessary. One company who’s made a big thing of this is Box Tale Soup.
The first thing I will say – and I’m sure Noel Byrne and Antonia Christophers will agree with me here – is that what works for one group may not work for another. Box Tale Soup don’t need to flyer – they could probably have a got a tramp to sit on the Royal Mile holding up a piece of cardboard saying “BOX TALE SOUP HAVE A NEW PLAY” and still filled the house. However, what I think a lot of people are forgetting is that this form of publicity has little to do with a piece of paper and a lot to do with direct engagement between performers and prospective audience. The chance of somebody going to a show based on a flyer alone is low, but if you chat to someone about the play who later comes to see it, 80% of the work was done with the chat – the flyer is simply a reminder of the chat, with a note of where to go and when to see it. In theory, the QR code does the same job as the flyer – but I’m sure the small number of flyers handed out this way are negligible compared to all the other resources being burned up.
The practice that I think does need clamping down on is what I call “flyer-spamming”. The logic here is that the chance of getting someone to your show simply by handing out a flyer on the street as they walk past is low – maybe 1% or thereabouts. But if you hand out thousands of flyers, some of them will have success, and you can hand out a lot more flyers if you don’t bother to chat. Or – and this is the big problem – you can pay someone to hand out flyers for you. That way, you can scale up for flyering as much as you like, dishing masses of paper, and it might be low return per flyer but still (in theory) gets you an audience. I hate it myself – there’s few things more soulless than someone flyering who doesn’t care about the play and whose only connection is being paid to hand it out. And no, reciting a pitch by rote doesn’t make it any less soulless. Even if you don’t think this is a big deal environmentally, it places a big extra financial overhead on performing groups, as those who don’t want to hire extra flyerers feel obliged to keep up with those who do. Based on my observations so far, this seems to have been cut down on a lot, and it is a change for the better, maybe environmentally, definitely financially.
There’s other kinds kinds of flyering between these two – there’s piles of flyers in venues, and there’s flyering by venue staff. For reasons I don’t have space to go into, I’m okay with both of those. What I think is important is that we separate out the different kinds of flyering practices going on at the Edinburgh Fringe. The occasional flyer given out by people who are involved in the shows who care about them are not the same as paying for thousands of flyers to be handed out indiscriminately. I personally what we’re seeing at Edinburgh Fringe this year is about the right balance – but don’t obsess over this too much. There are less visible impacts on the environment that might need more attention. It would be a mistake to fall into the trap of performative environmentalism.
Sunday 14th August, 10.30 a.m. – Finlay and Joe, Perpetual Hype Machine:
Okay, that’s enough shitstorm analysis for now. I must get back to reviews. I caught up with visit 1 yesterday, now it’s time for visit 2. I’m going to start with something I don’t normally review: sketch comedy. It’s not quite in my no-go area of stand-up but quite far removed from my normal area of theatre. However, it was what happened to fit into my schedule, and I like to occasionally explore outside my comfort zone, so here we go.
As it happens, this duo might be a sketch group, but they do overlap in theatre a lot. Their on-stage personas are a couple of losers who hear phrases such as “Oh, you’re still at the bar, good for you! I’ve just been promoted.” and “Still at you’re mum’s? That’s nice. I brought a house.” and ” Are you still single? So am I. However, I’m more attractive than you.” However, all that is about to change. They have a new machine that automates sketches. Just spin the wheel and away you go.
Finlay and Joe are a family-friendly sketch group, and it was only about half-way through I realised I was enjoying myself without hearing a rude work or anything risque once. (In fact, I’ve actually dragged down the done myself with the rude/Anglo-Saxon word at the start of this update.) It is fair to say that whilst the sketches are family-friendly, the humour is more likely to be picked up by grown-ups than children. Nevertheless, is was good fun, such as what happens when the engagement ring is the One Ring from The Lord of Rings, and how confusing it is to explain sentient engines to Mick Lynch as he visits the Island of Sodor. In the strongest sketches, the fun part is the moment you realise where this is going.
However, Finlay and Joe have taken a leaf of out Beasts‘ book, and the sketches eventually become part of a story – by creating a super-intelligent AI contraption, it becomes sentient and hell-bent on taking over the world. This, I think, could have been built up a little better – there was an argument over who gets the straight character and funny character in the sketches, but surely this need to be mixed in with increasingly sinister hints building up to the “I’m sorry, Dave, I can’t let you do that” moment.
Fortunately, everything is resolved in the end, culminating in a super-sketch that encompasses at the other sketches. This includes giving a ten-pound note to someone earlier in the show and assuming you’ll get it back later, which I can only describe as brave. As I said, I’m not the best person to rate fringe sketch shows as I don’t have that many to compare it to, but this looks like a good start for a duo who are relative newbies to the comedy circuit on the fringe. Looking forward to seeing where they go next.
Saturday 13th August, 9.15 p.m.:
I’ll crack on with reviews tomorrow, once I’ve got my recovery day out of the way.
On the day of the unexpected shitstorm, it’s worth taking a look at what isn’t shitstorming. After the war of words amongst various venues over the Festival Fringe Society, it’s calmed down in week one and everybody’s just been getting on with things. In some respect, the Edinburgh Fringe has the precedent of the London Olympics counting in its favour; for all the sniping ahead of the games – and there were a lot of thing to argue over – they were swiftly forgotten when the games began. I don’t expect all the issue to go away here, but it might provide some breathing space to re-engage in constructive discussions for next year.
The thing might still be a problem is ticket sales. Should ticket sales across the fringe be particularly bad, expect there to be hell to pay for the Festival Fringe Society, whether or not this is actually the case. One observation that is being repeated all over the fringe (not just this one but also Brighton) is that there a a lot fewer presales and a lot more being bought on the day. As for overall sales, this is harder to gauge. My informal observations from the shows I’ve been in is that they’re about the same as pre-2020, but it varies enormously from show to show. Other observations I’ve heard so far have been similar, give or take a few details.
There are, however, reports of some shows struggling. At this stage, it’s unclear whether this is any better or worse than a normal year. I guess we’ll have to wait for sales figures at the end of the year to get an objective measurement. I would expect a modest shrinkage – the observations from Brighton and Buxton have been that audiences aren’t recovering as fast as participants. But if Edinburgh Fringe is hoping for an acceptable level of ticket sales, I’m cautiously optimistic it’s been achieved.
Saturday 13th August, 5.00 p.m.:
Brace yourselves. New shitstorm approaching, and not one I was anticipating. The issue of censorship is back.
Amongst the hundreds of comedians lined up for the Edinburgh Fringe, there’s one called Jerry Sandowitz. He was due to perform last night and again tonight. An hour ago, he tweeted this:
But whilst I was writing up my thoughts on this, this came up. Scottish Sun, I’m afraid, but the article seems to keep to factual account of claims. This is probably an over-simplified accounts, but two things stand out. If these claims are true:
- He used some, shall I say, “interesting” words to describe Rishi Sunak related to his ethnicity.
- He exposed himself to a woman in the front row.
On point 1, I am reserving judgement. What he is alleged to have said is appalling, but freedom of speech means defending the right of other people to say things you loathe. Much as I hate it, the alternative is to give other people the power unilaterally censor you because they said you were offensive – and if you don’t think other people can’t find ways to twist your words if they want you silenced, you are very naive. Never underestimate the power of self-appointed people who get to decide what offence is. However, no-one is obliged to offer you a platform, and even in an open-access festival such as Edinburgh I would defend a venue’s right to steer clear of anyone who’s going to be a liability. What is less impressive is a venue cancelling a show in response to protests when you knew perfectly well what you were getting in the first place. That’s not standing by your principles, that’s flip-flopping depending on which crowd you want to appease this week.
This one pushes my patience to the limit. If The Pleasance knew exactly what he was going to say, my dispute would be with The Pleasance – you could take issue with The Pleasance for accepting that in the first place or attack the Pleasance for flip-flopping, but either way the fault would be with them. However, my reading of his publicity is that he has a reputation for being offensive and he might do anything – that’s a weak defence. Maybe the Pleasance should have been clearer over what they would and wouldn’t accept, but if it was me and I heard “I could do anything” I would probably assumed it wouldn’t include something like that. However, there may be details over who said what to whom when, and if this was the only issue I would have waited to see what comes out.
However, point 2 renders point 1 moot. I don’t care how many content warnings you give about what content to expect, waving your dick in from of someone is not acceptable. That’s not a matter of offence versus free speech – that’s verging on being a sex offence. Unless there was an express warning he was going to do that sort of thing, he should count himself lucky the Police weren’t involved. I would have done exactly the same thing if something like that happened in the venue I was responsible for.
So I reluctantly accept The Pleasance had no option but to boot him – but I’m not convinced about their reason. Apparently, they said “opinions such as those displayed on stage by Sadowitz are not acceptable and The Pleasance are not prepared to be associated with such material”. Hang on a second, what exactly is the issue here? Brandishing his dick at someone without her consent, or expressing opinions the management don’t agree with? Surely the first one is the bigger problem here? I accept The Pleasance had to get a statement out quickly, but they’re going to have to be more specific over what this is about. Sure, they did what they had to do, but does this mean they can retrospectively punish anyone they programmed for opinions – even when they knew what to expect when they booked you? I hope not – but it’s up to Pleasance to explain things better.
Saturday 13th August, 3.00 p.m. – Sandcastles:
I was keen for an opportunity to see Brite Theater as they were behind Emily Carding’s hugely popular Richard III. I never got to see this myself, and I wish I had because 1) I’ve heard a lot of good thigns about it from people who I know and trust, and 2) it features stickers saying “dead” applied to certain unlucky members of the audience. This one features a different writer and different actors, but, it would appear, shares the same high production values as previous plays. Like Ghislaine/Gabler, I think it’s fair to treat this one as a marmite play, with a concept that people will like or won’t. Unfortunately, on this occasion I’m on the other side.
Hannah tells Beth she’s moving to New York. Even though they are lifelong friends – even since the moment they met in the sandcastle park as children – Hannah never told Beth she was thinking of leaving. Throughout their friendship, Hannah has always been the risk-taker and Beth has been the cautious one arm-twisted into wild scheme, and even though Hannah frequently oversteps the line by stealing Beth’s boyfriends and other things, they stay friends. Hannah is finding her feet in New York, keeping little contact with Beth, but dies in a terrorist attack … That’s it. Normally I would hold something back, and in many plays I could not possible write about (or remember), but that’s the entire plot. When the first six minutes consists entirely of Hannah and Beth arguing over this unplanned decision and nothing else, the play swiftly fails the “Get on with it” test. The rest of the play unfolds at a similar slow pace.
That’s a pity, because everything else about the play is done to a high standard. At every point you feel like these two on stage really are the best of friends through thick and thin. The script too is naturalistic and serves the pair well. I was particularly impressed with the music for this – there has been an upturn across the fringes for supporting plays with fitting music to set the mood, and this was one of the best. But sadly none of this can distract me from the painfully slow pace of the story. Much as I have to say this, when the truck attack finally gets talked about – the moment when I ought to be hoping against hope the inevitable never comes – I was wait itching for something, anything, to move the plot along.
I know other people like this. If you want an in-depth intimate portrait of a friendship, and long digressions into memories that need not have any bearing to the story are a plus for you, this could be your think. Indeed, this play as attracted glowing reviews elsewhere for precisely this reason. But me? I don’t get it. Sorry.
Saturday 13th August, 10.30 a.m.:
I meant to do this last night, but my stamina ran out halfway on this train.
Anyway, as we approach the end of week 1, some plays are coming to an end. Here’s a roundup of picks finishing soon:
- Green Knight, a retelling of the story of Sir Gawain as told by Lady Bertilak. Saw it again yesterday, better than I remembered. Finishes Sunday, 5.00 p.m. Scottish Storytelling Centre.
- Nychtophilia, a play set (mostly) in the dark with some cleverly executed writing and staging to go with it. Last performance today, 10.10 p.m., Greenside Infirmary Street.
- Jekyll and Hyde: A One-Woman Show: Helps if you’re familiar with the original book, but the gender-flip used in this story has a different impact to what you might expect. Last performance today, 8.15 p.m., Zoo Playground.
- Ghost Therapy: A fun play about a therapy session for ghosts, written to a surprisingly good standard for an 18-year-old writer. Two last performances today, 11.50 a.m. and 7.20 p.m., Zoo Playground.
- The In-Laws: Mime piece with a down-to-earth storyline that gets very surrealistic very quickly. Half-hour of finely-constructed stagecraft. Last performances today, 11.05 p.m. and again at 11.40 p.m.
- Take It Away, Cheryl: Play set in a kissing booth, except that Cheryl’s lucrative business actually doesn’t involve kissing, instead being a sort-of agony aunt for men. But can Cheryl ever put herself first? Last performance today, 5.30 p.m., Greenside Infirmary Street.
- Late Night Dirty Scrabble, which is Scrabble with rude words. And if you don’t have a rude work, made one up. Or come up with a rude meaning for a normal word. Last performances today and tomorrow, 10.30 p.m., Gilded Balloon Teviot.
Join me later when we catch up with some more reviews.
Friday 12th August, 9.30 p.m. – Make-Up:
I realise I’m still on reviews from visit 1 when I’ve just hopped on the train home from visit 2, but I will be posting multiple updates over this weekend and catch up.
For this next review, I must declare a conflict of interest. As you should have picked up by now, if I think a play has room for improvement, I will suggest how – and until now, that’s been the end of that. No Logo productions, however, have been keen to stressed to me that that have specifically acted on my feedback from this play what originally saw online for Brighton Fringe 2020. Under these circumstances, it is very tempting to say that the revised version is great and congratulate myself for giving such good feedback, but that temptation must be resisted at all costs. I’ll leave it up to you whether or not you believe me, but it is my honest opinion that this has changed the play for the better.
So, to recap from just under two years ago, Lady Christina, drag artists extraordinaire, is leaving the stage. In the dressing room, glamorous Christina undergoes the transition back to plain old humdrum Chris. Chris expresses some mild snark over these newcomers to the drag scene who think it’s a quick ticket to Ru Paul’s Drag Race. However, the day has arrived when Chris discovers he looks like his estranged father. The one who threw him out for being gay. The weak point with the original is that plays about a gay man and his relationship to a homophobic father are ten a penny. What stood to be interesting was the fantasy world of Christina, with her imagined father who was everything his real dad is not – but that was only an aside. It would be a lot more interesting, I thought, if we heard more about Chris’s alter ego. Clearly Lady Christina means more to Chris than a drag act – but what is it about her that’s so important?
Well, I can sort-of take credit for the idea (not full credit, I gather other people said similar things), but I can’t claim credit for the solution. Andy Moesley now works Lady Christina’s backstory (as imaged by Chris) throughout the play. At some points, Lady Christina’s life is completely different from reality, sometimes different from Chris’s family, other times different from Chris. At other times, however, Chris lifts his own life into Christina’s – every comeback he could have made against the bullies at school, how she won over the cool kids. I won’t tell you the best touch into how Christina came into being, though. That’s too close to the end, too much of a spoiler, but it does a lot to explain why Chris can never leave Christina behind.
I just have one small issue. There’s a slightly confusing lighting cue at the beginning of the play. The rectangle implies that Lady Christina is in the door of her dressing room, but if I have understood the text correctly, she’s still on stage addressing her fans. If that’s the case, I’d have though a spotlight would make more sense. Other than that, good job done. I will give a health warning here and advise that it doesn’t always pay to act on feedback given by a reviewer, not even me – if the reviewer doesn’t share your vision it will only make it worse. On this occasion, however, I’m very happy with the way it’s gone, so thanks a lot to No Logo for persuading me to give this another chance.
Friday 12th August, 3.30 p.m.:
I have now tried out the new-look Half Price Ticket “Hut”. I was going to tell you about it earlier, but earlier the internet went for no reason at all. But I can tell you about it now. The Edinburgh Fringe has got stick for a lot of things, but for once, this is a decision I support. In spite of everybody saying the Fringe has to change, there’s been a lot of calls to keep things the same, and this one I think doesn’t make sense to stay the same.
The Half Price Ticket Hut is an unusual part of the Edinburgh Fringe. Most things need to be made quick and easy, but the Half Price Ticket Hut needs, by design, to be just the right level of inconvenient. Make it as easy as buying a normal ticket, and everyone’s going to buy the half-price tickets instead and your box office income halves for the day. Make it too difficult and nobody uses it. What you ideally want is a method of sale that people looking for a bargain will use, but people who would see your play anyway won’t. Until 2019, that meant a jaunt to the bespoke Half Price Ticket Hut on Princes Street.
The Festival Fringe Society says the prefabs used for the physical hut are at their end of life and they can’t afford to replace it. Maybe that’s true, maybe the real reason is cutting down on the cost of staffing two different ticket offices. But the more important point, I think, is that ticket buying has changed. E-tickets, rolled out for an emergency, have become permanent, and I’m willing to bet that most people aren’t switching back from online tickets. With half-price listings (if I recall correctly) already available online, I’m not sure it’s worth going out of your way to show the listing on a noticeboard too.
So I tried this out myself and it all went smoothly. The only hiccup is that I couldn’t remember how to spell the show I’d chosen to see, and with no mobile reception in the ticket office it was impossible to look it up. Maybe the fringe Box Office staff need access to the same list on the website to cover this situation – and if people ask what’s on sale at half price, we can live with that. There is one other caveat: I got my ticket first thing in the morning as the box office open. I know that historicially the central Fringe box office was notorious for long queue times. This may well have changed with the rise of online sales, but if it hasn’t, this might push the half-price system from “right amount of inconvenience” to “unworkable”. Let me know what your observations are.
Finally, just a reminder that you shouldn’t write off plays just because they’re on sale at half price. You’d be forgiven for assuming that if they’re reduced, they’re having trouble selling tickets, and therefore the play can’t be that good. However, my long experience is that plays on half-price tickets are just as likely to be good or bad as regular tickets. Indeed, the promising-looking play I brought a ticket for did not disappoint.
But on the whole, I don’t see merging two box offices into one as a big deal, especially when in-person sales are not nearly as important as they used to be. So move along, folks. Nothing to see here.
Friday 12th August, 8.00 a.m. – Ghislaine/Gabler:
An insight into the mind of a predator who blames anyone but herself
On my way back for a day visit. Later today I will be doing my first “lucky dip” chosen by what’s in the half-price ticket (virtual) hut. Before then, let’s use the time to catch up with reviews from last week.
Now for one of the wildcards I’d listed in my picks and one of the riskiest. Once of the big news stories at the start of the year was the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell, now proven is Jeffrey Epstein’s number one accomplice. But whilst it’s easy to guess what made Epstein do what she did, there is the puzzle over Ghislaine. Why did she do it? She certainly had far from a normal childhood – a controlling father and children competing to be his favourite, (something that she finally succeeded in doing) – but how do get from that to chief conspirator for a systemic abuser?
Obvious caveat before we proceed: this is a play, not a documentary. The only person who might know what is going through Ghislaine Maxwell’s head is Ghislaine Maxwell – this is only speculation of what she might be thinking. Nevertheless, Kristin Winters’ depiction is one that has been observed in countless abusers and sex offenders: they don’t think they’ve done anything wrong. They may deny doing what they’re accused of, but even then they don’t really think the thing they were accused of doing is that bad. At this point I should give a content warning for the play. I know I’ve been getting heavy on content warnings lately – I try to avoid them when it’s obvious from the title, but this one is pretty full-on with the victim-blaming. Sometimes Winters switches to playing the victims – little about the abuse itself but a heavy focus on the exploitation of their naivety. Back as Ghislaine, she insists she was doing all these teenage girls a favour when she did all the things she denies doing but obviously did.
How does Hedda Gabler fit into this? It’s only a small part of the performance, and you could probably have run the rest of the play without this bit. Nevertheless, on the occasions this parallel is used, the gamble works. In this depiction, Ghislaine admires Hedda Gabler – but for all the wrong reasons. Hedda shows her true colours as the play goes on over how much of a controlling individual she is and that she can’t help herself, perhaps a rationalisation of her like-minded father. The one exception she insists on is that the Maxwells don’t give in. They don’t commit suicide, so it must have been murdered – but Ghislaine only reveals the level of delusion she shares with her fictional role model.
I think it’s fair to say this is going to be a Marmite play. Not everyone is going to be comfortable with the way this subject material is portrayed, essential though it is to the concept. The parallel to Hedda Gabler is a wild idea which I suspect is going to split opinion. If this isn’t the sort of thing you want to see, I don’t blame you. But see it if you can. Many plays are fast to condemn the worst things that happen in the word, but few try to understand.
Thursday 11th August – Death of a Disco Dancer:
Technical excellence, but would benefit from better characterisation
That’s enough ranting, let’s get back to reviews. Next up, a play that concludes on Saturday.
In Death of a Disco Dancer, four friends, newly-graduated from university, get together for one last party. This final party, it quickly emerges, involves, dancing, playing loud music, drinking a lot and taking all manner of drugs. It’s a wonder they don’t attract any noise complaints for the neighbours, but perhaps they have good taste with their bangin’ choons no-one minds. The drinking and drug-taking is taking its toll though. At least one of this cozy foursome never has the death of his father far away on his minds, and there’s only so far anyone can keep this up.
The first thing I will say about this is how good the sound and lighting plot it. In fact, this applies to lots of fringe shows now, from entry-level to the highest budget. The technological capabilities to have sound and lighting plots this sophisticated have existed for at least ten years now, but expertise has been slow to catch up. I have frequently cursed when I see simple technical problems that could have easily been averted with a little technical know-how. In the last couple of years, however, I’ve seen companies get a lot more ambitious, with people who know what they’re doing, know what can and can’t be achieved, and produce impressive results with what they have. Ultraviolet Theatre have produced one of the best technical plots I’ve seen, covering music, sounds, gorgeous lighting, and – the important thing that’s easy to forget – a production that knows how to work with this.
However, the exquisite staging conceals some weaknesses with the plot. I get that these four friends are presumably close through their shared love of hedonism and debauchery, but apart from that I never really understood why they behaved as they did. In particular, why one of them suddenly turn on the others half-way through and rail against the shallowness of their parties? Okay, he’s got a steady job so maybe he’s seeing things differently, but why change tune so suddenly when he’s been just as drink and drunk-addled as the others up to this point? The root problem, I suspect, is that the characterisation isn’t coming across the way it should do. This company may have very good reasons why each of the four behaves like they do, when they do – but if the audience doesn’t pick this up, it counts for nothing and just confuses people.
The even more root issue? Devised theatre is hard. Individual character arcs created by individual cast members sometimes get confusing and/or contradictory when combined into the same play. It is this sort of situations where it helps to have a dramaturg, but that is a minefield in its own right, for sometimes a good dramaturg has to ditch the favourite story arc created by one of the actors for the play to make sense. All I can suggest is to try to disregard everything you know about the play and its characters and try to imagine what an audience who knows nothing about this story will pick up – and I realise this is easier said than done. But if, as I suspect, there is more to this story than is coming across, there is a lot of potential still to be unlocked. And with the technical plot that is top of its game, there’s a lot to be made of this.
Wednesday 10th August:
Yet another drama school overrun by gropers?
But now, it’s time for a pause from Edinburgh Fringe coverage. This live coverage isn’t just for the fringe, it’s also for any other big news relevant to the theatre I cover. I apologise to those of you who regularly read my blog who will notice me flogging a dead horse and saying the same things over and over again. But my peak readership comes at Edinburgh Fringe so I can’t let this pass.
The big theatre news a few weeks back was the sudden closure of the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts – so sudden that students turned up one day to find the building was locked. At the moment, the majority of complaints in the arts concerning sexual harassment or racism seem to involve drama schools, but this one seemed to be down to crap financial management (albeit something the law looks on very dimly if they were trading whilst insolvent*). Now, according to The Stage, there were allegations of sexual and harassment at this one too, with the management at the time yet again allegedly to not take this seriously. I must stress these are currently only allegations, and the former principal implicated in overseeing this denies wrongdoing. In my experience, these allegations get proven true a lot more than they’re proven false, but I’m not really interested in the merits of the allegations over one particular venue. I’m far more concerned at the sheer number of times these allegations are coming up – and the sheer number of times the rests of the arts industry shrugs their shoulders and does bugger all about it.
* Footnote: I should add that this is the one thing where it now look like management are off the hook. By reporting their financial difficulties to the Office for Students five months before closure, they probably have enough of a defence to say that their financial activities were in line with what the OFS said was okay. Whether the OFS’s guidance was reasonable is another debate, but unless somebody knows something I don’t, it gets them off the most serious charge of concealing the true state of the finances.
These sorts of complaints don’t always involve drama schools, but a hell of a lot of them do. I don’t believe this is a coincidence. There is an old saying that the greatest power an actor has is to say no, and whilst that’s a massive over-simplification, it’s very relevant here. Even when directors and producers with a track record of abuse are never held to account, the actors who used to work with them before won’t work with them again, and – with the exception of the most powerful individuals – word gets round to future actors who think twice before signing. Drama school students do not have that luxury. If you discover what your teachers are really like, you’re stuck with them for months or years. They have the power to mark you down, maybe end your career before it’s started. Furthermore, whilst more experienced actors probably have some idea of what is and isn’t acceptable, it’s far too easy to pass off predatory or bigoted actions to drama students as normal behaviour. The only sort-of comforting news from ALRA is that there’s a distinct possibility that tolerating this sort of behaviour may have let to eventual financial meltdown. If morals isn’t enough to make you stand up to abusers, perhaps the prospect of closure will.
Why are theatres up and down the country not up in arms about this? The moral high ground taken by theatres in the wake of Weinstein gets hollower and hollower every time a scandal such as this goes unacknowledged by them. In retrospect, the stance increasingly looks like the cowardly one used by so many people. Yes, groping and bigotry is a Bad Thing™, but it is done by the Bad People™ who are Over There™, and Nothing To Do With Us™. Sorry, but this isn’t good enough. You fail the victims when you cosy up to organisations when the going’s good and fall silent when the truth comes out. You fail the victims when they fear speaking out will get the kicked out the arts and you say nothing to indicate the opposite. You fail the victims when you go along with the discredited status quo that arts organisations can be trusted to police themselves and needn’t be held to account. And no, commissioning plays to say why the Bad Thing™ is bad is not an acceptable substitute for taking responsibility, and does not in itself put you amongst the Good People™.
I apologise for interrupting Edinburgh Fringe’s coverage with a rant like this, but if you are somebody with the power do to do something about this, I’m begging you to do so. Major theatres would do so much good telling drama students whose side they’re on. Make it clear that no working relationship, however valuable, is worth turning blind eye to things. Give an assurance that you will never refuse to hire an actor for speaking out against another organisation. That’s the easy bit – whether people trust you to practice what you preach is the hard bit, but at least try. Everyone else – if you know people with the power to change things for the better, please talk to them. I can’t do this as a one-man crusade. It’s going to be a lot easier if I’m one of many saying the same thing.
Okay, rant over. Back to news, review, spicy bantz and memes tomorrow.
Tuesday 9th August – An Audience with Stuart Bagcliffe:
The companion play to Vermin does not disappoint
Triptych Theatre impressed we the Brighton Fringe with Vermin. That was one of two plays; the other one I couldn’t catch owning to timings, but I was keen to see the other one. One of the first things I noticed as the play begin was that most people in the audience – possibly everyone but me – was seeing this as a comedy, as socially awkward Stuart takes to the stage. In spite of the title, he is possibly the least prepared person for any audience. Nor does it help that the techie seems to miss most of the cues.
I wasn’t laughing though. Not because of the delivery, but because of what I just knew was coming. For a start, with this being the same writer as the dark-as-hell Vermin with its graphic descriptions of animal cruelty (not to mention playing the nutjob-in-chief himself), I knew something bad was coming. Even if I hadn’t know that, though, I probably would have guessed. It’s pretty obvious from the outset that not only is Stuart unsuited the stage and doesn’t really want to do it, there’s no way he should be forced to do this. Instead, it’s his pushy mother making him do this. For another thing, Stuart has a rare medical condition with his blood, but to be honest, that’s not his real problem. Stuart is very naive and trusting. I know from bitter experience what this leads to.
Benny Ainsworth’s writing of both plays shows just how good he is at characterisation. If Vermin writes a believable character guilty of some of the worst things, Stuart is written as the archetypal innocent. He assumes that the correct way to answer a question about density of water is to ask if it’s solid or liquid, not understanding the science teacher is an arrogant egotists who hates anyone putting a foot out of place. Stuart’s mother is a nuanced character, and whilst I can’t quite let her off the hook for keeping her child under her thumb, she still cares for her son and wants what she believes is best for him. Even when things happen that would be dismissed as far-fetched, Ainsworth finds a way to make it plausible.
There is just one thing about the story which doesn’t quite work. Much of the story surrounds his first love Daisy, who understands him the way the rest of the school doesn’t. Trying my hardest to not to do a spoiler, Stuart and Daisy both separately get mixed up in something worse that overbearing parents or arrogant teachers. I can easily see why Stuart would have fallen for it, but I found it hard to believe that level-headed Daisy would have fallen for it too. I can’t see any easy way of making this plot point more believable, but it was a shame to have this weak point amongst such good characterisation.
That’s the only criticism I have amongst two excellent plays though. This is truly is an achievement. I’ve seen groups come out of nowhere with one excellent play, but two excellent pays on the first attempt is very impressive. I highly recommend catching both – this one at 10.55 a.m at Zoo Playground, with Vermin at 1.00 p.m. at Gilded Balloon Teviot. But know what you’re letting yourself in for.
Monday 8th August:
The two fundamental mistakes made by the Festival Fringe Society
First of all, another housekeeping announcement. My next visit to Edinburgh is a day visit on Friday 12th. This is going to be mostly mopping up things that didn’t fit in last week, but there may be opportunities for new reviews. Will draw up a plan tomorrow. Before I write any more reviews though, it’s time for the hot take I promised. Here’s what I think are the two fundamental mistakes the Festival Fringe society made this year. One is uncontentious; the other one might lose me a few friends.
The first mistake I believe was made this year was over management of expectations. I doubt many people will argue over this now. Even the Festival Fringe Society themselves must realise this. With the exception of the silly decision over media support, all of the controversial things attributable to the Festival Fringe Society were down to money. Why is Fringe Central out of the way in a shopping centre? They were giving the space away for free. Why is there no physical half-price ticket hut? The old one is falling to bits, can’t afford to build a new one. Why is there no app? Lack of money (plus a miscalculation on how high the priority was for many people). Most of the bailout money, the festival fringe society said, went into keeping the society afloat (and I don’t believe for a moment they could tell porkies about that without their funders going over the accounts and finding out). It was simply not possible for Edinburgh Fringe 2022 to run on the same level of central fringe services as Edinburgh Fringe 2019.
The problem is, they should have said that months ago. True, no promises have actually been broken – the Festival Fringe Society never said there would be an app, for example. But the fact remains everybody assumed that everything that was part of the fringe in before times would still be there, and many people registered on that assumption. There wouldn’t have been nearly so many arguments if the Festival Fringe Society has been clear from the outset not to expect something in 2022 just because it was around in 2019. One side effect might have been some acts deciding it wasn’t worth taking part after all. Well, good. There’s far too much demand on accommodation playing into the hands of greedy landlords, let’s take the pressure off a bit and get costs down to something saner. The downside? Fewer registrations means less cash flow to keep the Festival Fringe Society afloat. They may have to downsize, maybe even make redundancies. I sympathise – but everyone’s job is in a lot more trouble now. Yes, I’m saying this with the benefit of hindsight, but still, wrong call.
The second mistake might be more controversial. In my opinion, the biggest error of judgement made by the Festival Fringe Society was to bend over backwards for the Big Four. The 2021 fringe happened because of the Festival Fringe Society making a last-ditch bit for financial support, but the lion’s share of the support went to the Big Four. And, okay, that was an emergency, they had to do something quickly, but that excuse doesn’t hold into 2022. Many of the unpopular decisions were optimised to the benefit the Big Four and the acts performing there. As I’ve already said, subsidising national newspaper journalists (who are notorious for never leaving to swankiest venues) suits high-profile acts in high-profile places, but is of little help to the cheap venues. The cuts to Fringe Central and the app disproportionately hit the acts in the smaller venues – the Big Four have their own marketing and performer support and needn’t worry as much. I find it difficult to believe the Big Four didn’t have a hand steering things in their favour.
Which might have been okay if the Festival Fringe Society and Big Four stood shoulder to shoulder to defend their position. Instead, the Big Four have been mostly joining in with the dogpiling. With one honourable exception (The Pleasance on their press launch), the Big Four seemingly want you to believe all the unpopular decisions adversely affect acts mostly at other venues was entirely the Festival Fringe Society’s doing and not in the slightest bit to do with them. Sorry, but I’m not buying this, I don’t believe you can duck all responsibility for this. And after the Festival Fringe Society moving heaven and earth to get the Big Four running in 2021 (and barely anyone else), this comes across as sounding like a bunch of ungrateful tossers.
The complaints from the smaller venues and the acts that perform there are valid. They have perfectly legitimate reasons to be angry. But it seems to me like there’s no pleasing three quarters of the Big Four. It might already be too late for the Festival Fringe Society to change its priorities, but you should be extremely suspicious of venues who should be sharing responsibility leaping on a convenient scapegoat.
Rant over. Let the flame war begin.
Sunday 7th August, 10.45 p.m. – Take It Away, Cheryl:
Kissing booth or agony aunt?
This final review is later than I planned because it’s taken me time to get home. I knew evening buses in Durham were shite, but I’ve just found out the service level on Sunday is even shiter. Anyway, here we are. Time for one last review before bed.
In this play, Cheryl welcome you to her kissing booth. If you are the audience member who’s sitting on a dime, you can place it into the coin slot to activate the booth. But before you get too excited, Cheryl’s kissing booth does not actually offer kisses any more. She inherited the business from her family and now her service is to listen to the problems of men. And she’s pretty good at this. And – just like some men who hire prostitutes discover they’d rather sit and talk rather than have sex – this service is proving very popular.
Actually, this is only half the story. There is another plot thread not advertised anywhere that feeds into this not that far into the play, but I think it is possible to to review this without giving the game away. What I think I can safely say is that, even with the new unexpected theme coming in, the central theme holds, which is that Cheryl spends so much time listening to any trying to solve other people’s problems, she doesn’t take enough time for herself. The one thing she is desperate to do today is lay flowers on the grave of the love of her life who shot himself – one might suspect the reason she’s so invested in solving other people’s problems is to compensate for the man she couldn’t save.
There is one thing I would change about this. For the second time in as many days, I’m going to suggest that a solo play would work better as a two-hander. It’s not crying out for this quite as strongly as Morecambe, but a lot of this story sounds like a visit from someone not like the others. One problem with being an agony aunt in a booth advertised as a kissing booth is that some of these losers mistake listening for feelings, which she normally knows how to deal with. Unfortunately, this particular man is a bit of a nutcase. The problem is that is lengthy conversations she has with a voice makes the play go static. My hunch is that we need to see him on stage to really see him for the unstable man he is. After he departs (people who’ve seen it don’t spoil it), I’m sure the plot at the end could be tweaked to give him a role one way or another.
I’ve refrained from giving away the unexpected direction in the plot and I won’t tell you now, except to say that this may increasingly take over the plot as we reach the climax, but it does not lose sight of the central theme: can Cheryl ever choose herself for a change? Worth a visit, and runs until Saturday 13th at Greenside Infirmary Street, 5.20 p.m.
Sunday 7th August, 6.15 p.m.:
Has signage in venues got worse?
I am on the train home. For those of you familiar with my coverage, you will know that it slows down when I’m away from Edinburgh and I have a day job to do. For this reason, I will be prioritising the plays on short runs next. I want those that finish on the 13th to have a reasonable amount of runs remaining if they wish to make use of my reviews.
Before then, I want to make a brief observations. It’s not a big deal compared to all the other things causing outrage, but no-one else seems to be picking up on this.
For some reason, signage within venues seems to have got particularly bad this year. There was a time where you could turn up to a venue, see what is on today on a board, see which space your chosen show is in, and from there know exactly where to go and which queue to join. This year, most of the venues I’ve seen is missing at least one of those things. I’ve seen listings for evening shows with no idea where listings for afternoon shows are, listings across all of Pleasance when I want to know which venue to go to, and in Underbelly Cowgate not be able to see signs to any of these spaces. Yes, I’m reputed to have a good memory for fringe plays, but my skills to not extend to knowing off by heart the name and location of dozens on individual spaces within major venues. (I’m aware the e-tickets now say which individual space you’re going to, but e-tickets are clumsy to dig out and certainly don’t help you with finding the space you’re after.)
I apologise for getting on my software tester high horse again, but this is something that I think could benefit from usability testing. I’m aware this isn’t software but the principle is the same: just as the Edinburgh Fringe website is designed by people who assume everybody knows how to navigate the website, signs in fringe venues seem to be designed by people who already know their way round the venue and assume everyone else will pick it up just like that.
In this case, testing would entail getting some volunteers who know little about the venue to be sent in with a ticket for a show. Don’t prompt them, don’t guide them, just leave them to their own devices and see if the information you have laid out is enough to get them there. One principle of software usability testing that applies here: if your volunteers are making mildly snarky comments, that is you warning that things aren’t working as well as you hoped. Learn from your mistakes and try again.
Anyway, that’s me passed Morpeth. I am in a rehearsal for another play this evening (yes, I’m a glutton for punishment); I’ll try to get another review in before bed.
Sunday 7th August, 5.45 p.m. – Fabulett 1933:
A solo musical about the Nazi crackdown on gay-friendly clubs in Berlin
Welcome back. That was another three plays seen in quick succession. Scores on the doors: 4 review written so far, 6 pending. Let’s get moving.
So next up is Fabulett 1933, set on the closing night of the Fabulett Nightclub, Berlin. Between the two World Wars, Berlin enjoyed a spell as the hedonistic capital of Europe. Needless to say, the new government in Berlin is not at all keen on This Sort Of Thing and has ordered the closure of all dens that “promote immorality”. For Fabulett’s, there’s no wriggle room, for the emcee Felix is dressed in an outfit that makes The Rocky Horror Show look like Andy Pandy. Which, I must stress, is perfectly fine if you like that sort of thing, but try telling that to the Nazis.
Fabulett 1933 is performed as a one-person musical, somewhat fitting for the host Michael Trauffer) presiding over the defiant closure at 10 p.m. Felix’s own story is of a youth demobbed after the Germany’s defeat; faced with the choice of returning to his authoritarian father or more tolerant Berlin, he opts for the latter. When he loses his more understanding mother – his relationship with her one of the most touching bits of the play – Fabulett’s becomes his only life. As well as the brief period of hedonism in Berlin, the other thing portrayed knowledgeably was the rise of convention defying science from people such as Magnus Hirschfeld, one of the first researchers of transgenderism. We know his work is going to suffer a similar fate to Fabulett’s.
Where I think this play could have said more is on the rise of the Nazis. In this production, the Nazis are portrayed as something that people should have seen coming and suddenly they were there. I wonder if that’s all the story though. One thing that I Am a Camera portrayed so well (something that wasn’t in either the stage or film versions of the musical) was that the Nazis didn’t gain a foothold with Jew-hatred just because of what some demagogues on podiums were says – it was when ordinary people going about their lives started saying the same thing. Did a similar thing happen for gay people? Did people who used to ignore them suddenly see them as the root of all immorality? Because that’s too good a chapter of the story to miss if it was.
One small thing I’d say on a technical note is I’d dispense with the headset mic. I’ve seen those little buggers in action often enough to know they’re notoriously unreliable. When your songs are prone to being disrupted this much, they easiest solution is to just not bother and rebalance the piano to work with acoustic vocals – and in a small space like this one it shouldn’t be too hard. On the whole, however, this was an enjoyable and informative performance. Runs to the 13th at The Space Triplex at 8.55 p.m., and then runs for the est the Fringe at Surgeon’s Hall.
Sunday 7th August, 10.15 p.m.:
Press launch at The Space
Now that I have my seven-show day out of the way, I can turn my attention back to The Space’s press launch on Friday, which I was invited to. For those who don’t know how this works, in Edinburgh all the major venues have their own press launches, with most of them having excerpts from shows in their programme.
I only starting getting invited to their launch in 2021 (I have previously been invited to launches but not been there on the right day), so I don’t have any pre-Covid launches to compare this too, but this looks pretty good. This needs to be treated with some caution – it is in the interest of all the venues to pick their absolute best acts to showcase and don’t say much about the rest of the programme – but what I saw seemed impressive. Out of all of these, UK Underdog interested me the most: a story which seems to combine every form of racism with the gladiatorial culture of a rough secondary school. I must try to catch this.
I’ve been wondering for the last couple of years which way The Space will go. Prior to 2020, The Space did have some notoriety. Unlike most venues, that curate to some extent, The Space works on a first come first served basis. The good news is that The Space performs a vital function on keeping the fringe open. The bad news is that there’s a lot of terrible plays that end up at The Space because no-one else will take them.
The standard I saw at The Space last year, however, was pretty decent. Part of the reason, I presume, was that last year, we had the Big Four, The Space, and very little in between, and so The Space took many acts that otherwise would have gone to places such as Greenside and Zoo. This year, Greenside and Zoo are back. However, other mid-tier venues such as Sweet and Bedlam haven’t come back for 2022. C Venues is around, but only on a small scale, having not escaped the spotlight over working conditions.
What I’ve seen so far at The Space seems fairly decent too. Treat my observations with caution, because I am only working on a small sample, but The Space might be emerging as a winner of post-Covid fringe.
Sunday 7th August, 12.15 a.m. – Gulliver:
Box Tale Soup’s best play yet
Sorry about the gap in coverage – it was full-on seeing four more shows back to back, of of which was Dirty Scrabble where I was in Dicktionary Corner assuming the character of a sleazy version of Richard Osman. Oh well, that’s my reputation as a serious theatre maker in tatters.
But I am not going go to bed until we get this exciting announcement out of the way. Here we are. We’ve only had to wait until my second day for this is happen, but for Box Tale Soup it’s been a longer wait. But it’s about time they got my highest accolade, equivalent to five stars,
I expected Jonanthan Swift’s famous story to be ideal for Box Tale Soup to take on – after all, you have to take on the challenge of tiny people in Lilliput and gigantic people in Brobdingnag somehow, and puppetry is the logical way to do it. However, Noel Byrne and Antonia Christophers have had years of practice and several previous productions to hone their craft, and it pays off handsomely.
What you see on stage is a playbook of everything crafted to perfection. The obvious choice of the tiny people of Lilliput is puppets, and as any accomplished puppeteer knows, it is possible to keep the focus on a puppet but still make the puppeteer part for the action. All of the cast of three operate puppets at some point, and it always pays to apply the facial expression of the puppet you’re operating. However, Box Tale Soup are very versatile and masterfully switch between Lilliputians played by puppets and the actors playing the Lilliputians themselves. When the land of giants comes, the obvious choice is to make Gulliver the puppet himself, but not always. When a human-size Gulliver views is first giant – well, I won’t spoil that for you, but let’s just say the set of the doomed ship used at the beginning of the play has all shorts of uses through the hour.
No amount of clever puppetry, though, compensates for a misunderstood story. Here, again, Clarke and Christophers deliver handsomely. In all four of the strange lands visited (for this adaptation does include the lesser-told chapters of the flying island and the land where horses are masters), the politics are reflections of human society, commentating on just about every acts of vanity, cruelty, vindictiveness, prejudice and arrogance known to man. The Lulliputians, for instance, are at war with their neighbours over a stupid dispute on the correct way to open an egg. (We, of course, know the correct thing to fight centuries of war over is who got the details correct in a story of a magic baby and a stable.) It’s not just the shortcomings of these other lands that is brought to bear – Gulliver find the vales of the continent he came from challenged just as much. The common theme brought throughout this is all civilisations thinks they’re better than the others. Even the Houyhnhnms – the horse beings seemingly the most enlightened of all the beings he encountered – always look down on Gulliver is inferior to them.
It’s a challenge to bring four separate stories together in an hour, but the script chooses what matters perfectly. Everything about this production is flawless, from the choreography to the sound, to the pace to the puppetry, and if I was to wax lyrical about every inventive acts I would never finish this review. I am used to Box Tale soup producing high-quality shows in their unique style, but this time they have excelled themselves. I thoroughly recommend this to everyone, and you can catch them at 10.50 a.m. at Underbelly Cowgate from now to the end of the fringe.
And with this exciting news broken, it’s now time for bed.
Saturday 6th August, 5.00 p.m. – The In-Laws:
Top-notch mime comedy
Now we go over to something from the Comedy section. Like a lot of my favourites, though, The In-Laws straddles multiple categories, and could just have been under physical theatre or theatre.
Tim Ogborne plays a may who starts off his day in the office. He starts with multiple failed attempts to log into his computer. A lesser performer would have taken as easier route and said “Come on, take the bloody password,” but his this performance Ogborne keeps in perfect synchronisation to a soundtrack, reacting both to fruitless and fruitless attempt to type a login, and the look of frustration syncs every time we hear the inevitable login failed sounds. The good news is that he finally makes it in, but the bad news is that his girlfriend phones him up to remind him that tonight she’s introducing him to her parents.
In performer Tim Ogborne’s own words “This one-man show breathes new life into the form of mime, blending tightly rehearsed choreography with a meticulously created soundscape.” I wouldn’t normally quote a blurb verbatim, but I couldn’t have done it better myself. It’s becoming increasingly common to craft action round soundscape, but it’s obvious from the outset he does this much better than most of his peers. The battle with the login prompt is just the beginning, with the rest of the action from the day in the office to an awkward meeting with the overbearing parents to the death-defying chase and showdown with future father-in-law.
The only flaw I have to pick out is the transition I’ve just mentioned. One moment we’ve got a relatable awkward meet-the-parents moment, the next moment future father-in-law is trying to kill him, reason unclear. As far as I can tell, our hero went to the bathroom and discovered a secret passage and saw something he wasn’t supposed to see, but I fear there is an important detail there I didn’t pick up. But it doesn’t matter too much. This story isn’t supposed to be taken too seriously, and it’s a lot of fun to watch with a lot of skill needed to put this together. At 30 minutes this is on the short side for fringe performances, but it’s the ideal length for this. This runs until the 13th at Greenside Infirmary at 11.05 p.m. with extra performances at 11.40 on Friday and Saturday. Recommended as you’ll see nothing like this.
Saturday 6th August, 3.00 p.m.:
Why subsidising the national press is a mistake
Right now meet the media is going on. I’m not at this, and, to be honest, I probably wouldn’t be much use there (with almost all my reviews decided on press releases in advance), but I didn’t miss the drama about Broadway Baby pulling out in advance. This is in protest over the Festival Fringe society’s decision to provide accommodation to high-profile publications (namely The Times, The Guardian, The Daily Mail, The Evening Standard, I-newspaper, Beyond the Joke, The Stage, The Observer and The Sunday Times), but not the smaller publications. Cue outrage from the bespoke ones who do nothing but review fringe. Whilst Broadway Baby is the only one to make a gesture this noisy, other publications have backed up the reason they’re protesting.
I think the decision to support the larger media publications is a mistake, but for nuanced reasons.
First of all, apologies if this annoys any colleagues, but Edinburgh Fringe owes the media nothing. Yes, The Wee Review and Broadway Baby and many other publications do the fringe a favour by working for free and at their own expense, but the same can be said of most performance, many of whom invest a lot more for even less reward. There is one reason and one reason only that the Festival Fringe Society should consider any form of help to the media, and that’s if it benefits the acts who are registered with them.
The smaller publications and the bigger newspapers perform different functions. For the smaller publications such as Broadway Baby, this gives countless smaller groups the chance to get a review that they wouldn’t have a hope in hell of getting from the big players. Reviews are not the be an and end all, but the difference between zero reviews and one reviews for many acts is a significant one. It may be your only chance at constructive feedback for the future. It may be your only way of being taken seriously back home. If you start the fringe in a strong position, however, that’s when newspapers such as The Times and Guardian come into play. That might get you into the big time. So there is a case to support all of these.
At this moment in time, however, this is the wrong priority. Subsidy for the big publications is a great deal of help, but only for the small number of acts in a position to get their attention. At this moment in time, I think we should be prioritising what helps the most acts. In other words, it is comes to a choice between The Guardian or Broadway Baby, pick Broadway Baby. If you want to support the big acts, that seems like something the Big Four should consider – they, after all, have a lot more at stake supporting the top-flight acts.
The other reason I think this is a mistake at this particular moment, however, is more obscure. I have been saying for several years now that it would be better for the Edinburgh Fringe to lose its status of “holy grail”. Focusing on the big publications at the expense of the small ones does the opposite. We do not want to be entrenching the idea that Edinburgh Fringe is the place to be discovered (a place, yes, but not the only place). If anything, we should be encouraging The Times, The Guardian et all to be spending less to in Edinburgh Fringe and more time in small festivals such as Brighton Fringe. So many problems at Edinburgh could be avoided if other fringes shared the load, but as it standing the national media is doing everything to entrench the unhealthy status quo.
Finally, just a small issue, but why the fuck is the Daily Mail on this list. I can see a case for any of the others, but the Daily Mail, particularly Quentin Letts, is quite open in its contempt for theatre makers. Quentin Letts can come along and spout his attention-seeking drivel because he has free speech, but why encourage this?
So a black mark for the festival fringe society – but are they really the only ones at fault? I will be addressing this later.
Saturday 6th August, 9.30 a.m. – Morecambe:
A solo show crying out to be a two-hander
Phew. The problem with jam-packed schedules is that there isn’t much time to write up these reviews. One written, three pending, so let’s use the quiet morning to get another out of the way.
Morecambe is about the comedian and not the town, although we do learn that Eric Bartholomew did adopt his home town as his stage name. Out of the two of Morecambe and Wise, the former is probably the better of the two to make a solo play about, mainly because of the build-up to the premature final curtain. Like many beloved entertainers, he literally worked himself to death, with the sensible option to call it day overruled by the pleasure of giving millions what they want. The story most of us know is the rise and rise and rise with their famous television shows. As with most success stories, however, what you seldom hear is what happened before then. The story from the beginning covers the numerous failures before the big time including, somehow counter-intuitively, their first TV appearance. (Note: never trust a TV executive who insists on writing the gags for you.)
Judging by the age of the audience, I think I can safely say this play has a particular appeal to the Morecambe and Wise generation. A lot of the play includes the most famous jokes of Eric and Ernie, both on stage to their audiences and within the story. My knowledge of their routines is largely limited to the Andre Previn skit, but it looks like this was a sufficiently faithful reproduction to earn the approval of the fans. Speaking of Andre Previn, the appearance of the stars is a good marker of the peak of their fame – as the play observes, appearing on their show was the sig the nation consider you a good egg.
We didn’t always get Eric Morecambe as a person though. His brushes with mortality were done well, especially the applause following his first stage appearance after his first heart attack. However, we didn’t always pick up how he felt in his earlier career. Saying “I got depression” after the first TV flop is all very well, but writing this into what he says would be stronger. What I think is missing, however, is Ernie Wise. He is represented by a puppet throughout the play, but with his partnership with Ernest Wiseman making up at least 80% of the story, it get a bit clumsy for Ernie to say all of his lines. But, more to the point, Ernie isn’t just his co-star, he’s also his closest friend who supports him throughout the ups and downs. I could see the camaraderie between the two being very movie if done right – also, on a practical note, this adds a lot of flexibility to allow two-sided conversations (Tom McGrath’s Laurel and Hardy and Brain Mitchell’s Big Daddy versus Giant Haystacks are good examples of how to do this.)
So there lies the paradox. Morecambe won’t disappoint the faithful, and for a small group is Soham it’s impressive. But this one-hander is, I think, crying out to be made into a two-hander. A decent play could be a fantastic one. Does Viva Arts have a suitable Ernie Wise look-a-like amongst their number. If so, I say go for it.
Friday 5th August, 6.00 p.m. – Ghost Therapy:
An impressive debut from an 18-year-old
Here we go. It’s time for the first review and it’s a decent start. Ghost Therapy is advertised as written by an 18-year-old writer and that was a quite impressive standard. You are invited so drop in on a series of encounters with a variety of ghostly characters. From looking at the title, you might be think that you’re having a therapy session using ghosts – but you’d be wrong. The therapy session is FOR ghosts, and we find this out in the first minutes when an unusually white clad Dr. Soul apologises for the dodgy lights – her technician only died last week.
Much of the play works as a series of character comedy skits of various ghosts. The fictional universe seems to encompass all fictional ghosts. One client desperately wants to be liked by the family who lives in her house, and has been taking inspiration from Caspar the Friendly Ghost. In fact, she’s Caspar’s number on fan and has the T-shirt to prove it – sadly, she is also even more annoying than Caspar ever was. The Ghost of Christmas Past is also a client – he’s having trouble with his wife because he just can’t help bringing up the past. The grim reaper also has a stroppy goth daughter who has no real interest in following her father’s footsteps, instead doing a funny routine of helping herself to all the ghost cookies she obviously has no room to eat.
There is some room for improvement. Dr. Soul herself has her own issues – her fear of chickens and her controlling relationship with her aforementioned recently-deceased assistant. However, these don’t really get developed until the end of the story. The pace seems to fall a little flat between the visit of clients, so perhaps this could be used as an opportunity to build up her controlling behaviour and/or chikenophobia. However, Trenetta Jones is excellent as Dr. Soul and really makes the character her own.
What is interesting about this is that this went into the Edinburgh Fringe too late to make it into the paper programme. That can be the kiss of death for getting an audience. Writer Jaz Skringle, however, seems to have got a decent audience anyway with some good social media marketing. An enjoyable 40 minutes, and whilst there are some things that could be better that is an excellent standard for a fringe debut.
Friday 5th August, 3.00 p.m.:
My full list of picks
So, a pleasing start to my Edfringe viewing, but I clean forgot – it’s day 1 and I haven’t listed my picks. Most of these are now written up on myWhat’s worth watching: Edinburgh Fringe 2022 page, and I will be writing up the rest shortly. In the meantime, here’s the full list. Bold are running in weeks 0-1; italics are coming later:
The Ballad of Mulan
Call Mr. Robeson
Watson: the Final Problem
Jekyll & Hyde: A One-Woman Show
You Might Like:
Charlotte Johnson: My Dad and Other Lies
The Glummer Twins: The Beat Goes On
The Grandmothers Grimm
The Importance of Being … Earnest?
Room – A Room of one’s own
Shelton on Sinatra
Famous Puppet Death Scenes
1972: The Future of Sex
From the Comedy:
Aidan Goatley: Tenacious
Alasdair Beckett-King: Nevermore
Crime Scene Improvisation
Eleanor Morton has peaked
How to Live a Jellicle Life
John Robertson: The Dark Room
Michael Spicer: The Room Next Door
Nathan Cassidy: Observational
Late Night Dirty Scrabble with Rob Rouse
Rosie Holt: The Woman’s Hour
Yasmine Day: Songs in the Key of Me
And one from the online programme:
The Little Glass Slipper performed by the Queen of France and her friends
So quite a lot to still write up. But bear with my, I have three more plays and a press launch coming up shortly.
Friday 5th August, 10.00 a.m.:
About the app
A lot to do today. Four press tickets plus a play I’m seeing again. Whilst I have a calm moment, however, let’s talk about the app. Boy, this is a shitstorm.
So, in before times, one way of getting around was to use the Edfringe app with its “Nearby and now” feature. If you are looking for something to do next, the app will show you what’s coming up in what venue, and how far away it is. Experienced fringegoers, as far as I can tell, tend to make less use of this, as they have a pretty good idea of who they want to see, and where they are and how to get there, but if you’re a beginner is a handy tool. This, I suspect, was the first part of the problem, with the people in charge and the people with influence underestimating how much use this tool gets.
However, the factor I overlooked – and I suspect many other people overlooked too – is how valuable this is seen by some performers. I don’t know if there is data to back this up, but there is a perception that a lot of smaller acts get their business from people just turning up having seen on the app they’re on in five minutes. This is especially pronounced if you’re a Free Fringe show registered with the Edinburgh Fringe – there’s a high chance you registered specifically to be on the app. It’s not clear what benefit the rest of their services to for a small act. Whatever the reason, this has provoked a lot of anger.
Edinburgh Fringe says that although there wasn’t the money to develop an app, there is a “nearby now” feature on the website that does the same thing. That would have been good solution, delivering the benefit without the expense of a separate app platform. There’s just one problem: it doesn’t work. On my laptop it says there’s no matches; on my mobile I can’t even find the option. The one thing I will say in the festival fringe society’s defence is that they’ve made the same mistake almost everyone makes: they got someone to make the website and assumed it would just work. Take it from me: web developers are not to be trusted when you hand them the money and they say it’s all going to work fine. They either run the website in a demo environment without the complication of running in the real world, or they watch things go wrong and just assume it won’t happen in live. Get some people to test in properly, people who understand what’s liable to go wrong and find the problems before it goes to give, people who understand that what’s intuitive to a web designer isn’t always intuitive in the real world. This is not the first time we’ve had problems with the Edfringe website, but the festival fringe society really needs to wise up to this and get some proper testers in. Guys, I’ll volunteer for this.
The other point is that the Festival Fringe society never said there would be an app – it was something everyone assumed would be there. I take Edinburgh Fringe’s point that they’re struggling for cash and most of the bailout money has gone into clearing expenses after the disaster of 2020. However, this is a prime example of where management of expectations would have gone a long way. I will talk more about that later. This is also possible related to the hot take I have coming. But if you want to know what they hot take is, you’re going to have to wait.
Friday 5th August, 12.00 a.m.:
A regrettable announcement
And I leave you with the breaking news. I regret to inform you that tonight I was a guest of Dirty Scrabble. Here I am trying to make a name for myself as a writer and performer of serious theatre, and my first appearance on an Edinburgh Fringe stage is on the back of my immature toilet humour.
Anyway, night night. The serious business starts tomorrow.
Thursday 4th August, 9.30 p.m.:
Thursday 4th August, 8.00 p.m. – Nyctophilia:
From Buxton, a play set in the dark
All right, that’s enough promotion of my own venue, it’s back to impartial honest theatre journalism. I just need to change out of my venue manager trousers into my theatre blogger trousers. Would you mind turning round a moment? And no peeping … Right, where were we?
Yes, I have a review for you already. No, I haven’t seen anything at Edinburgh yet, but I have yet to publish my reviews of Buxton Fringe where, as some of you are aware, I was there for quite a long time. Since a couple were on their way to Buxton, I should cover them now. Nyctophilia is in my list of safe choices which is a giveaway that I liked it. Now I can go into a bit more detail.
The unique selling point of this play was performing the entire play in the dark. The challenge for all plays with a wild idea is what you make out of it? Can you achieve a good execution of an eye-catching idea, or does it simply come across as novelty that fizzles out after five minute. More specifically, there’s a challenge here of what the point of this is? Why go through all of the trouble of a pitch black stage? Why not just do radio play?
Haywire Theatre’s answer is to use the darkness to support the story. This is a series of shorts, all of which are set in the darkness on the same hillside, with individual stories separated by decades or centuries. One moment it’s a couple out on a hillside looking for either a lost mobile phone or a first kiss; a woman says goodbye to her fiance signing up to fight in the trenches; later a medieval mother giving birth seeks the help of a stranger in a life-or-death situation. Sometimes the stories are naturalistic, sometimes they are tinged with the supernatural.
Now for the surprise observation. Although the performance was billed as being in pitch black, they still act out the scenes on stage, and I could just about make out what was happening. I gather there were some nerves over whether this was spoiling the play – should they reinforce the darkness with blindfolds? Actually, I thought it was quite effective as it was – just enough visibility to give an idea of what’s happening, but only just, with the partial ambiguity doing its job. There are moments in the play when there’s a brief moment of light, be it a found phone or the sunrise at the end. Apparently that was put in at the last moment to break up the continuous dark, but I though this was one of the best touches. Potentially more could be made of this – I could see a shock moment when something is lit up that you weren’t expecting to see.
If there’s one thing I would ask, I wish the play would make up its mind whether or not these stories are supposed to be interlinked. I’m personally leaning towards yes – the introduction of a faerie spirit sets the scene rather well for all these tales having some sort of link to the faerie folk who inhabit this spot. Other than that, I can recommend this – a good concept executed well. The Buxton dates have come and gone, but the Edinburgh dates have just begun. On tomorrow and Saturday, then Tuesday to Saturday next week, all at Greenside Infirmary street, at the fitting time of 10.10 p.m.
Thursday 4th August, 6.00 p.m.:
Durham Fringe, and what’s coming from there
All right you lot. Here I come. Sitting in Durham station, boarding the next train shortly.
Before I do that, a break from my theatre reviewer capacity to switch to my venue manager capacity. Last week it was Durham Fringe, and the timing is no coincidence – it was specifically scehduled to be the week before week zero of Edinburgh, in the hope that groups going to Edinburgh might use Durham as a final stop in preparation for the big one. That seems to be working, because a good number of the plays on at Durham are indeed on their way to Edinburgh.
Obviously, I can’t give my usual commentary of pros and cons of a festival I am actively working to make a success. What I think I can say, without falling foul of conflict of interest rules, is that the mood surrounding Durham Fringe has been very upbeat. Clearly a good job’s been done making the fringe visible in the city centre, and anecdotally they managed to get a fair amount of audience coming to shows off the street. I even hear a pair of people sitting behind me in the pub discussing that they’d just found about it, and what they should see. I realise this is doubling up as a sales pitch, but I’m genuinely hopeful for the outlook next year. [I may even have put in the groundwork for something very exciting in 2023, but I’m keeping quiet about this until and if it happens.]
Anyway, there are six acts I was looking after in the City Theatre who have come to Edinburgh. I’m leaving them out of recommendations and reviews as I have a different responsibility towards these acts. But I will give a quick mention of what I had the pleasure to preview:
Experiment Human: The clear winner for the weirdest and craziest show, sisters Rosa and Maya from Hooky Productions have kidnapped a mystery celebrity to study what is it like to be human. Laughing Horse Dragonfly, 5.45 p.m., Laughing Horse Dragonfly, thought fringe except Monday.
Battle Cry: Then it’s stright to the other end of the scale, with a superb performance from Steven Cowley as a veteran who’s seen one too many bad things on the battlefield to cope with a return to civvie life. The Merlin, 8.45, 11th-17th, 20th-28th. (This one is with PBH Free Fringe but not Edinburgh Fringe itself.)
Cottage: A promising script from a student production set in the days when homosexuality in public toilets carried severe consequences – I also really liked the performance of a character who appears and the end, which I won’t mention as that’s a spoiler. 22nd-27th August, 10.10 p.m. Greenside Infirmary Street.
Delivery: Another student play, not so much about the pizza delivery business but the loneliness of the various people who get these takeaways. 5th-13th August (not Sun), Greenside Nicholson Square, 11.40 a.m.
The Single Lady: Four-hander musical about Elizabeth I and her doomed relationship to the probably loverat the Earl of Leicester, somewhat in the style of Hamilton. Really liked the musical score to this. 5th-13th August, The Space on North Bridge, 2.05 p.m.
Sascha LO and friends: And the City Theatre closed with this comedian. She is on with new support acts at Just the Tonic at the Mash House throughout the fringe (not 15th).
Plug over. Back to impartial commentary now.
Wednesday 3rd August:
A summary of the things we’re arguing over
Although Edinburgh fringe doesn’t officially start until Friday, performances start in earnest today, with many full-length runs looking on today and tomorrow as preview days.
Anyway, I am arriving tomorrow, so before things get too frantic, now is a good time to summarise what everybody’s arguing over. There have been broadly five different things I’ve heard talk about. Two of them are unfair, as they are things that are not really within the Fringe’s control.
Accommodation costs: It does seem that some landlord who buy up properties specifically to charge through the nose in August are chasing their losses by charging through the this year. Anecdotally I have heard a lot of complaints from people who have chosen not to go, or shortened runs, or commuted from other Scottish cities. Unfortunately, the latter option is being compounded by …
Rail strikes: There are a couple of rail strikes being scheduled in week two on the fringe. Might stop people going to the fringe, also might make it difficult for those commuting into Edinburgh from outside. Have to say, though, I really don’t see why this is being raised with the Festival Fringe society. It’s not like their influence extends to Grant Shapps or Mick Lynch.
One issue was raised earlier but has since gone quiet:
Working conditions: At the start of the year, there were concerns that C Venues – pilloried in 2018-2019 for alleged poor conditions for volunteers – were up to their bad old tricks. The Festival Fringe Society responded with an action plan that stated, amongst other things, than anyone breaking the law would be kicked out. I am sceptical this is going to be enough, but so far this has been enough to keep complaints quiet.
The final two, though, were areas inside the Festival Fringe Society[‘s control and where, in my opinion, they made the wrong call.
Fringe app: There is no fringe app this year – and, to be fair, they never said there would be an app this year. Nevertheless, this has upset a lot of people, particularly smaller acts who count on the “nearby now” feature to get business. Apparently there is a “nearby now” feature that can be used on the website instead – I will check this out in due course.
Media presence: There were complaints over Edinburgh Fringe not doing enough to get a media presence. However, when they said who they were brining, that caused even more upset: support heavily focused on national newspapers, with little support for fringe-specific publications – hence the protest from Broadway Baby yesterday.
Personally, I think the Festival Fringe Society has made two fundamental mistakes. One is a failure to manage expectations – had they been clearer over what they could and can’t deliver this year sooner, I think there would have been fewer arguments. The other mistake … well, that’s a bit more of a hot take. Don’t go away, I will be expanding on both of these later.
However, Underbelly made a good point at their launch event today. Do we want the next three and a half weeks to be about the organisation of the festival, or the multitude of the acts who have come to perform. They suggest the latter. And I intend to keep my focus on that too.
Tuesday 2nd August:
Broadway Baby pulls out of Meet the Media
And what do you know? The shit has hit the fan already. One of the many rows taking place at the moment is over support for Edinburgh Fringe media. The short version is that the small fringe-specific publications are upset that support has been given to the bigger publications, and now Broadway Baby has pulled out of Meet the Media in protest. But I’m going to have to come back to this later.
Right now, I need to give some housekeeping information about how reviews work. There is a long-standing rule that I review plays I see at fringes whether or not I was on a press ticket, but I give priority to review requests. This time, it looks like I am going to be going almost entirely on press tickets. My first visit to Edinburgh will be the 5th – 7th August (that’s this Friday to Sunday), so if you’re only running in week 1 the the fringe and you want a review off me, you’d better get a move on. Contact me if that’s what you want to do. I will probably start scheduling reviews tonight.
Now, to cover an oft-discussed question: what should you put in a press release. For me, to be honest, it makes very little difference. I’m not the only person who does this, but my first port of call for deciding what I want to see is to scan through all thousand theatre entries in the fringe programme. All I really pick up from a press release is the fact that I’m being offered a press ticket. Next, at both Edinburgh and Brighton I usually discard stand-up comedy, dance and and classic theatre – I don’t where to start reviewing those. After that, what I see broadly comes down to scheduling – quite simply, who is on at the right time. And that comes down to luck more than anything. I might have a better look at press releases if it comes down to one or the other at a particular time, but it’s rare to come down to that sort of tie-breaker.
Where I do look at press releases, I tend to be interested in whether I have something useful to offer. I’m happy to review a new play that turns out to be below average if I am in a position to say something constructive. However, quite often I see press releases for plays with huge amounts of pre-existing public acclaim on things I know I’m unlikely to enjoy – a frequent offender at the moment is plays whose number one selling point is to spoon-feed their target audience’s pre-existing opinions back to them. They know what audience they want, they may even get praise from reviewers amongst their target audience – what do I have to offer?
What counts in your favour is I think you want a review off me, as opposed to just a review. I get it, for many people an Edinburgh Fringe run comes to nothing if you get no reviews, so it’s a scattergun tactic asking every reviewer and his dog. And I’m happy to be part of this. But it’s even better when people specifically value what I have to say. I notice some people put something in their press release to show you’ve read my blog – that’s fine, my fragile ego is easy to message. However, the people who stick in my mind the most are the people who are determined to get me to review them, who ask at previous festivals, and if I can’t make it then, ask again at the next one.
Anyway, hope that helps. If all goes to plan, first press ticket requests will be going out tonight.
Monday 1st August:
Welcome to a wild ride
Welcome to my coverage of Edinburgh Fringe 2022. Edinburgh Fringe does not officially begin until Friday, but this is known as week zero. Plenty of acts have already travelled to Edinburgh, and from Wednesday we will have a good number of preview performances going on. So the build-up begins now.
This time last year, Edinburgh Fringe was in survival mode. There were even worries that the Scottish Government’s strange decision to single out performing arts for prohibitive Covid restrictions might push this fringe into terminal decline. In the end, however, the tiny fringe cobbled together at the last moment was a big success. Buoyed with confident with show after show close to selling out, 2022 was envisaged as the relaunch. And with Edinburgh Fringe 2022 around 80% the size of 2019, it’s the big welcome back party, right?
Perhaps not. If 2021 was the big party, 2022 is the big hangover. The journey back to business as usual has been far from smooth. Expect to hear a lot in the new few weeks over the absence of the Edinburgh Fringe app, but that’s really a symptom of some much deeper problems. Don’t expect any easy solutions to come in the next few weeks, because there aren’t any. You can, however, expect a lot of recriminations and blame games. I will be going over some of the higher-profile controversies later, and considering them individually on their merits, but expect things to get very very messy.
Hold on tight folks. This is going to be a wild ride.