So here we are again – almost August, and time to think about what we’re going to see in Edinburgh. I’ve previously posted a guide to the shows in the Dance, Physical Theatre and Circus / Cabaret sections of the Edinburgh Fringe programme – which you can see here.
Meanwhile back in the jungle – aka the yearly growing and ever daunting Theatre section of the brochure – there are some familiar faces back again, and some intriguing-looking new kids on the block. I’ll also give you the pick of the Comedy section, from a Total Theatre perspective (and you damn well better be grateful that it was me not you trawling through pages of stand-up to seek out the TT comedy contenders); the low-down on the Totally Total Children’s Shows; and a flag-up of the fabulous Forest Fringe, now in its tenth edition at Edinburgh.
Also to mention, in case you’d missed the good news, that the Total Theatre Awards are happening, and if you are taking a show to the Ed Fringe that you think might be our cup of tea (physical, visual and/or novel, experimental, playing with form – you know the sort of thing, what Awards producer Jo Crowley calls ‘wonky theatre’) and are reading this before the Fringe opens, there is still time to register your show for consideration.
If, on the other hand, you just want to know what to go and see, read on…
As always, lots to like at Summerhall:
Twice-winner of a Total Theatre Award, Tim Crouch, is back on the Fringe with Adler & Gibb (featured image, top). This innovative play (reviewed here) veers from the from real to unreal, from theatre to film… Inspector Sands, who won a Total Theatre Award with Hysteria, bring The Lounge to Summerhall – a ‘dangerously unstable farce’ about ageing, set in an Axminster carpeted care home lounge. A few more Summerhall plugs (although fair to say you could just go down there and see anything, it would probably not be a wasted hour): Sh!t Theatre, previous winners of the Total Theatre Award for Emerging Artists, return to Summerhall with Letters to Windsor House, which will no doubt be as entertaining and stimulating as their previous shows; Francesca Millican-Slater, whose previous work I’ve enjoyed, presents Stories to Tell in the Middle of the Night, billed as ‘a late-night radio show… spinning stories about lost people’; and acclaimed Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour (White Rabbit Red Rabbit) is back with Blank, in which ‘each night a new performer creates a new story with a new audience’.
Third Angel, a company who never disappoint, bring 600 People to the Northern Stage at Summerhall, promising ’enhanced humans and murderous dolphins’ as stand-up meets astrophysics (opens 18 August). Also under the Northern Stage banner is Sacre Bleu by Zoe Murtagh and Tonry Copeland, which offers us poetry, punk music and popcorn. Another Northern Stage at Summerhall show I’ll be looking forward to seeing is Two Man Show by RashDash, who say: ‘We want to talk about masculinity and patriarchy but the words that exist aren’t good enough, so there’s music and dance too.’ Go girls – dance your politics!
Also a multiple TT Award winner, also at Summerhall: the always interesting and challenging Ontroerend Goed are back with World Without Us, which is about the end of humanity and what comes after. Intriguing! The OGs are presented by Big in Belgium, a small curated season of Belgian theatre artists and companies, showing throughout August at Summerhall. The consortium’s press release points out that for this year’s festival offerings, a theme has emerged: ‘In one way or another, most shows are talking about a sense of homely safety… it feels like Belgian artists feel the need to think about the disappearance of the places where we are most comfortable.’ One Hundred Homes by Yinken Kuitenbrouwer is an intimate show about ‘home’ played in a small wooden cabin. Bildraum is a collaboration between an architect and a photographer, ‘reconstructing spaces in which memories once took place.’ This one opens 16 August. Us/Them’s BRONKS, which looks to be a highly physical piece, takes as its starting point the Beslan school siege and ‘shows with humour the unique way children cope with extreme situations’. Good – I like to see people tackling serious and dangerous subjects with a bold mix of bravado and sensitivity. And then there’s MacBain, a pitch-black comedy about ‘unbridled ambition, hunger for power and an addiction to intoxication and ecstasy – a freaky fast-forward puppet version of Macbeth which results in a merciless symbiosis of the grunge couple Kurt Cobain/Courtney Love and the Thanes of Cawdor’. Yep, I’m there. Note that the Big in Belgium programme has short runs – the shows are not on for the whole month, so do check the dates at www.summerhall.co.uk
So, something at Summerhall I haven’t seen and know nothing about, but like the look of, is Ubu on the Table by Theatre de la Pire Espece – tabletop puppetry with kitchen utensils; a ‘small scale fresco of grandiose buffoonery’. Who could resist? And Flanagan Collective, whose previous music-theatre crossover Beaulah was nominated for a TT Award, bring us Snakes and Giants, made in collaboration with Joanne Hartstone – a mulch of spoken word, dance and soulful music. Another theatre/music crossover: The Paines Plough’s Roundabout at Summerhall will be presenting Ghost Quartet, the hit Off-Broadway song cycle about love, death and whisky (this one is listed in the Musicals and Opera section of the Fringe brochure – one of a few gems in there nestling amongst the Bugsy Malones and high school takes on Godspell).
At the live art end of the Summerhall spectrum: Mamoru Iriguchi turns himself into a mobile cinema in 4D Cinema; Cuncrete by Rachael Clerke and the Great White Males is a ‘drag king satire about concrete architecture and the Man’ that looks to be an interesting and entertaining live music and performance hybrid; and in The Dwelling Place installation, Jamie and Lewis Wardrop recreate an abandoned cottage on a remote Scottish island in the basement of Summerhall (ends 19th). Counting Sheep by Lemon Bucket Orkestra (presented by Aurora Nova), ‘a rousing call-to-arms from 15 guerilla-folk party-punks’ is presented by Summerhall off-site atThe King’s Hall.
One more thing to flag up at Summerhall. Well, actually – numerous things, all by the legendary Workcenter Jerzy Grotowski, who present a programme of film and performance from 18 to 27 August, in collaboration with Rose Bruford College. This includes L’Heure Fugitive (in French, for one day only on 25 August); The Living Room, which runs 18th to 21st. The Underground: a Response to Dostoevsky is on the 25th and 26th; and Thirty Years of the Workcenter: a Retrospective on 27 August.
For more information on this and on all shows at this enterprising venue, see www.summerhall.co.uk
So, dragging myself away from Summerhall, and over to the Pleasance:
Bucket List by Theatre Ad Infinitum, is the powerful story of one Mexican woman’s fight for justice. Here’s a company that is always inventive, entertaining and thought-provoking. They’ve previously brought many radically different shows to the Fringe, including the heart-wrenching and beautiful word-free Translunar Paradise; the politically hard-hitting (and immensely funny) Ballad of the Burning Star; and the extraordinary theatre-in-the-(almost)-dark piece Light. What all these shows have in common is a true understanding of what makes a good physical & visual theatre show – regardless of how many words there are or aren’t in the piece. Bucket List is on my bucket list for shows to catch in the opening days of the Fringe – and, as with all previous work, it will be presented at Pleasance (Dome).
Also at the Pleasance Dome, the fabulous Figs in Wigs are Often Onstage in a show made entirely of entrances and exits, no doubt deconstructing dance and performance mores along the way. Another Dome one to consider: Breach’s follow-up to the Total Theatre Emerging Artists Award winning The Beanfield is Tank, which will tell us what happens when dolphins take LSD (Pleasance Dome, ends 20th). So that’s the second show in this round-up to reference dolphins. Nel, by Scratchworks Theatre Company, looks interesting – a show about a Foley artist that is ‘bursting with live sound effects, theatrical trickery, and physical comedy’. And Theatre Temoin (creators of The Fantasist) are back with The Marked, exploring homelessness with mask, puppetry and physical theatre
There’s always plenty of interesting Total-ish theatre at Pleasance Courtyard. Trick of the Light Theatre’s puppetry show The Bookbinder comes highly recommended, much loved when seen by TT at Ed Fringe 2015 and at Brighton Fringe 2016. Familia de la Noche, who can be relied on for some good solid festival fun, return with a puppetry/clown take on Gulliver’s Travels. The Human Zoo’s Giant promises ‘an explosive, absurd coming-of-age adventure’ using live music, puppetry and music as its tools. Worklight’s Labels, a ‘true story of migration, family and prejudice’ leads us to expect paper planes, racist romances, and lots of sticky labels.
The Forest by Frozen Light is ‘the first ever Fringe show for created specifically for audiences with profound and multiple learning disabilities. Part love story, part mythical quest, The Forest ‘places audiences at the heart of the action in a mysterious wooded glade, allowing them to experience the smell of the forest before a storm, the feel of raindrops on their palms and the sounds of birds singing overhead and twigs cracking underfoot’. The show is performed for to up to 12 people – six people with disabilities, each supported by a companion – and there is also space for up to 12 ‘observers’. It runs for four days only, 22 – 25 August.
Also at the Courtyard, TT Award winning company, Hoipolloi, present The Duke, which is written and performed by the company’s co-founder and artistic director Shon Dale-Jones, who I believe has dropped the Hugh Hughes persona, for now. It will gently ‘challenge us to consider our priorities in a world full of crisis.’
For details of all the above, and for the full Pleasance programme, see www.pleasance.co.uk
If you fancy something equally challenging, but rather less gentle, then try CHRISTEENE: CUM CHIRUWI aka Trigger (Underbelly Cowgate opens 17th), which, if it’s anything like their previous work, will sit somewhere between punk rock, queer cabaret, and performance art action, offering ’ferocious visions and mind-altering jams’. Also bending gender in Cowgate is Joan, by Milk Presents, which gives us Joan of Arc as ‘the world’s first drag king’. There you are, another theme emerges – drag kings.
A few shows to look out for at Underbelly that all explore the myriad possibilities offered by contemporary puppetry: In Our Hands by Smoking Apples brings us the story of Alf, a trawler fisherman faced with the challenges of a changing world to Cowgate; Bunk Puppets (creators of the wonderful, award-winning Swamp Juice) bring two shoes, Tink Tank and the returning Sticks Stones Broken Bones to Underbelly Potterow; and also at Potterow, Ada/Ava by Manuel Cinema promises shadow puppets, OHP, and live music exploring ‘mourning and melancholy’.
For more on the Underbelly programme across all their venues see www.underbelly.co.uk
Showing us that Zoo Venues are not just about dance and physical theatre: Kriya Arts bring us Hip, which will recreate an empty flat above a shop in Brighton, in which a woman’s long-forgotten possessions are the key to her life story. This one was seen and loved by TT at the Brighton Fringe, reviewed here. (23–27 August only). Also at Zoo: Machina by Italian company Malcostume Compagnia Teatrale will combine video projection with Commedia dell’Arte. Can’t vouch for it, but it looks interesting, don’t you think? Lecoq trained ensemble Bric a Brac can also be found at Zoo with Ash which ‘uses live music to underscore a lifelong love affair with smoking’. Zoo have also programmed a ‘site-specific, immersive and utterly devilish’ version of The Master and Margarita, by Sleepless Theatre Company, at St Cuthbert’s church graveyard.
For the full Zoo programme, see www.zoofestival.co.uk
What else? Where else? A few Assembly Venues shows to flag up from what appears to be a good strong programme this year: Vamos Theatre are a UK mask theatre who have found success at the London International Mime Festival and beyond. Their show Finding Joy is at Assembly Hall, but only until 14 August. The inimitable Penny Arcade returns to Edinburgh with her hit show Longing Lasts Longer at Assembly Checkpoint (also only until the 14th). Blending music and theatre, Les Enfants Terrible continue their pursuit of vaudevillian Victoriana and murder most foul in The Vaudevillains. Veteran London International Mime Festival performer Gavin Robertson has moved on from ‘pure’ mime to embrace a plurality of forms. His perennial favourite The Six-Sided Man, inspired by Luke Rheinhart’s cult novel The Dice Man, is at Assembly Roxy, as is a second (seemingly more clownish) show by his company, Escape from the Planet of the Day That Time Forgot. Flabberghast Theatre’s Tatterdermalion at Assembly George Square is apparently a ‘poetic and surreal journey’ featuring puppetry, clown and Victorian aesthetics. I’ve been reprimanded for missing out Assembly’s flagship circus show from my recently published Physical Fringe round-up (well, at least that’s proof that someone reads these posts): so I’ll mention here that Attrape Moi by Flip Fabrique is ‘the new face of Quebec circus’ and features performers from the unavoidable (if you come from Momtreal) Cirque du Soleil, and the renowned (and far more interesting) Cirque Eloize.
Details of all Assembly shows at www.assemblyvenues.com
Aurora Nova’s AniMOtion Show, a live art (literally) and music hybrid, presented outdoors in 2015, comes indoors in 2016, programmed by the Gilded Balloon at the Museum; and I may well take a chance on Plague of Idiots’ Waltzing Matilda, a clown show at Just the Tonic at The Caves. Twisted Tales’ The Company of Wolves offers an imaginative retelling of the Angela Carter classic, using puppetry and physical theatre (at theSpace on the Mile, but just for four days, 8–12 August). Bedlam Theatre have Le Bossu by withWings, a devised physical theatre show based on a Victor Hugo classic.
Previous TT Award winners Res a Res are back this year with a collaboration with Christina Gavel and En Blanc, Foehn Effect, which promises ‘hard hitting social commentary from Spain, and can be found a C Venues’ C Nova. It is hard to determine the form of this piece from the brochure entry, but their last work was highly physical and a very intense immersive experience…
A one-man show by George Orange that I saw and enjoyed as a work-in-progress at Brighton Fringe (reviewed here) is now launched under the name First Lady (opens 15 August, Serenity Cafe). Running with the tag line ‘This is a true story. In the early 90s in Chicago, I fell in love with a man who was running for president – in a dress’, the show circles around George’s affair with Joan Jett Blakk – the man who who was the candidate for the Queer Nation Party against George Bush in the 1992 presidential contest, fighting on the ‘Lick Bush in 92’ ticket.
Not previously seen, but looking interesting is In Fidelity (High Tide in association with Traverse Theatre), described as ‘part TED talk and part theatrical experiment’. Also at the Traverse, the ‘Queen of Ireland’, PANTI, invites you into a ‘gender discombobulating, stiletto-shaped world, exposing the stories behind the make-up – from performance giant to accidental activist…’ This one is listed in the Comedy section of the brochure, the pages of which are oft likened to a deep dark forest from which timid travellers sometimes never return, losing the will to live after ploughing through the Aaaaargh! and Aaaaaah! and AAA listings (what, I’m still on the letter A?) and realising that it is going to be a long haul.
Aaaaaaaanyway, never fear – help is at hand. This is what I’ve unearthed:
Gaullier graduates Piff Paff present All of the Things at Laughing Horse (free, unticketed, 7 – 11 August only). ‘Superstar clown’ Angela Wand’s Wounded Animals at Gilded Balloon Teviot features comedy (well I should think so – it’s in the Comedy section), roller skating, rap, and jazz hands. Andrew Carlberg, under the auspices of Aurora Nova, presents The Blind Date Project at Zoo Southside – in which a guest performer is invited in nightly to be the blind date. Bourgeois and Maurice are back at Underbelly Cowgate with How to Save the World Without Really Trying. Dan Lees and Neil Frost, instigators of the recently launched London Clown Festival, bring The Establishment, a tale of two English gents desperately trying to hang on in there, to Heroes @ Dragonfly. I missed it at the Brighton Fringe but I hear great things and am determined to make it to one of their shows in Edinburgh!
Character comedy doyenne Joanna Neary Does Animals and Men at The Stand comedy club (but only from 16 August), and another feisty female performer, Nina Conti will be In Your Face at Pleasance Courtyard – no doubt with Monkey and a handful of masks in tow. And the much-admired Sleeping Trees are back: first came Mafia? then Western? Now, the final chapter in the trilogy, Sci-Fi? Also at the Courtyard (11–21 August) is Paul Merton’s Impro Chums, which isn’t, I suppose, usual TT territory – but I just want to flag up that Lee Simpson from Improbable was been one of the Chums for so long that it is practically his day job…
I have no idea who or what Puppet Fiction is, but it is described as ‘Pulp Fiction with strings attached’ so might be worth a look (Laughing Horse @ The Newsroom). If stupid puppetry is your thing, there’s also the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppets Do Shakespeare at Gilded Balloon Teviot,
Puddles Pity Party was well received by TT at Ed Fringe 2015 – the ‘golden-voiced clown’ is back with Let’s Go! at Assembly George Square
And so, from clowns to kids. Disclaimer: I raised three children, ergo I don’t like children’s theatre. There are theatrical experiences aplenty that traumatised me and the kids alike, and at least one of my sons has never forgiven me. But of course there are exceptions – people like Shona Reppe and Puppet State Theatre have won Total Theatre Awards in the past with thoughtful, elegant and entertaining shows aimed at young uns.
Puzzle by Dance Theatre Dansema is described thus: ‘Pure colourful joy from Lithuania for babies (0-3 years). Three dancers emerge from brightly coloured shapes to create the perfect playful mood for the youngest audiences.’ Puzzle is one of a group of four Lithuanian dance shows at Zoo this August. Also dancey, also at Zoo, is Colourful Games by Dansema Dance Theatre, which invites young audiences to ‘explore the world around them with the help of a dancer’. Yep, I need that in my life. Another dance-theatre show for young audiences is Chiffonade by Carre Blanc Company, presented at Institut Francais d’Ecosse, which looks like it is going to help us all progress from childhood to adulthood.
I mentioned Upswing’s gentle circus show Bedtime Stories in my first round-up –but as it is listed in the Children’s Show section, I’ll mention it here again. Other, more boisterous, circus for kids is Trash Test Dummies, a ‘dump truck of hilarity’, also at Circus Hub.
The brilliant Bootworks (winners of a Total Theatre Award for The Spaceman at Forest Fringe a few years ago) this year bring their second children’s theatre show The Many Doors of Frank Feelbad to Pleasance Kids at ECC (which I think is a new outpost for Pleasance). You may recall Bootworks’ previous hit, The Incredible Book Eating Boy, which was a delight.
A couple more to flag up:
The Bremen Town Musicians by Cizqi Puppet Theatre of Turkey, using black-light puppetry, looks lovely – it’s at C Scala (St Stephen’s Church). Anatomy of the Piano for Beginners, byWill Pickvance, was a success at this year’s Brighton Festival, and can be seen in Edinburgh at the Scottish Storytelling Centre.
Back to the grown up stuff. No Edinburgh Fringe round-up would be complete without the Forest Fringe – even if it is not an official part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, set up to provide an alternative model to the usual bank-breaking ‘rent a venue for a month’ scenario. Not that they were the first. Let’s hear it for Aurora Nova, who for years brought artists from all over the world to their dedicated festival-within-a-festival at St Stephen’s Church, allowing them the opportunity to play for a short run rather than a full month.
Anyway, it’s Forest Fringe we’re talking about here, and it is ten years old – yep, really it is! Having started life in the year-round much-loved and now-lamented Forest Cafe in central Brighton (hence the name) they are now to be found at Out of the Blue Drill Hall just off Leith Walk. For 10 days, 11-20 August, the Drill Hall will hum and buzz with the sound of live art and experimental theatre exploding out of the doors day and night.
Central to this year’s programme will be revivals of ten pieces from Forest Fringe’s first decade by a range of artists who have played a crucial part in making it what it is. Those ten artists have also helped curate an accompanying programme of new work that reflects on ‘questions of memory, history and re-enactment’. The artists involved will include Action Hero, Active Inquiry, Jo Bannon, Ira Brand, Season Butler, Rosana Cade, Dan Canham, Abigail Conway, Richard DeDomenici, Nic Green, Brian Lobel, Daniel Oliver, Paper Cinema, Deborah Pearson, Search Party, Ryan Van Winkle and Greg Wohead.
At the time of writing, there isn’t a full timetable available, but it will be up on the Forest Fringe website soon. Or you could just go there and see whatever is on on any given day – you are unlikely to be disappointed.
Some things are firmly in the diary: I’ve booked myself into Walking Women on 11 August, a day exploring the female perspective on radical walking as artform.
I’m also booked to see Deborah Pearson’s History History History which is off-site at one of my favourite Edinburgh locations, the Cameo cinema at Tollcross, 17 August. It is is a show about ‘the complicated and knotty narratives of history, told through a loose ‘translation’ of a 1956 Hungarian Football Comedy’. No, I’ve no idea what that means, but it is by Deborah Pearson, with dramaturgy be Daniel Kitson, and it is at the Cameo. That is more than enough to get me there.
OK, so that’s me done with the Ed Fringe previewing. Look out for my Blog posts throughout the month of August, Reviews from our team of writers, and news of the Awards assessment process and – of course – the announcement of the nominated shows.
Good luck, comrades. See you on the frontline. If you see me nodding off, give me a nudge. Unless I’m in Bedtime Stories…
All Edinburgh Fringe shows (i.e. anything listed in the brochure) can be booked at www.edfringe.com or in person at the venue or at various other outlets in Edinburgh.
Unless otherwise specified, shows run 5–29 August 2016, although some will preview earlier and some have days off, so check dates/times on the website, in the print brochure, or using the Ed Fringe app.
For Forest Fringe artists/shows, see http://forestfringe.co.uk/edinburgh2016/artists/