Fringe players are thrust into the spotlight
Having never been to the Fringe, and never in fact having set foot in Scotland, the novelty of Scottish radio and the breath-taking scenery as we crossed the border got our trip off to a buoyant start. But, with no idea what to expect from the festival, and not a clue where we were going, we were soon lost. Obviously fresh to the Fringe we headed out of the city rather than in, ending up floundering in the mountains and wondering how this apparently thriving festival could have passed us by. Fortunately the Scots are a friendly bunch, and, though looking at us strangely, pointed us in the (obvious) direction of the city, and once more we commenced our voyage, spirits far from dampened despite the rain.
Entering Edinburgh we wondered where it was all happening, but up a set of steps and on to the Mile, Edinburgh Fringe exploded before us. As the streets, the scenery and the buzz unfolded we were completely overwhelmed and the atmosphere was instantly invigorating after a long journey. The Fringe boasted a wonderfully juxtapositional vibe that feels both relaxed and restless; the city teems with people, creativity and energy. Anything goes and nothing is a surprise; from acrobats performing spinning handstands atop fifteen foot poles to wholly tattooed ladies and a dragon cradling a Chihuahua. With theatre, comedy, street performance, market stalls, hawkers and musicians, every turn provides constant engagement with the city and its plethora of performance; the whole place is a veritable stage and every pub, club, garden, cobbled street and castle’s a venue.
The first performance we came across after a stop off at the Half Price Hut (amazing for impoverished artists and students) was the poignant The City and Iris. This beautifully simplistic work of physical theatre offered a vividly illuminated world created by nine unique and highly talented players, one red rope, and buckets of creativity. Centred around Iris, the endearing and trapped symbol of a society that proves unrelenting, unchanging and all too fast paced. This piece was thoroughly well observed and expressed, and touched a nerve with every audience member in the tiny Roxy Theatre; every one a member of the same looming world that eventually Iris overcomes and embraces. I could really see the ducks, coat hangers and Tube carriage that the actors embodied and feel Iris’ rush as she is finally set free from her regimented existence and runs through the city, once more absorbing her surroundings. Both she and the audience end up utterly revitalised. Stunning.
That night we headed out for some free comedy and came across A Nifty History of Evil, an intelligent, dark and wide-reaching social and political commentary by a lone Australian comedian come song writer and puppeteer. With an echo of Tim Minchin, this comedian achieved many a gasp and guilty chuckle. With a first experience of free comedy under our belt, we braved another, and were told by a comedian, who soon after stormed off the stage after telling a range of homophobic jokes, to ‘leave or shut the f*** up.’ We chose the former.
After a few more impressive free theatre pieces, haggis breakfasts and lady magicians we ended our Fringe experience with one of the most controversial shows of the festival, Teenage Riot. Loud, crude and stimulating to say the least, this extremely emotive and uncomfortable, though often clichéd, depiction of teenage ‘angst’ split opinions wide apart. A group of Scandinavian fourteen-year-olds lock themselves in an on-stage shed and use an impressive range of multi-media techniques from film, cartoon, monologues, distorted perspectives and overpowering lighting and music to explore ‘teenagedom’, though I do hope a note of irony was intended. That would rescue the more clichéd, cringe worthy moments. Form over substance? Unnecessarily vulgar or transforming theatre? I’m still undecided as to whether I missed the point, or rather if there ever was one.
The stunning beauty of Edinburgh, cuddled up next to the ocean, surrounded by mountains and overlooked by the formidable Edinburgh Castle, provided a spectacular back drop to a festival that surpassed all expectations. No longer a first timer at the Fringe I returned home to recommend it to my friends, parents, boss, neighbours and anyone who would listen, regardless of age or interests. Go for a day or go for the month, but just don’t miss it. You’re only a Fringe first timer once, but its addictive allure ensures your first visit will be just the