This is not about Alex. To give you an idea of what The Fringe is - and it really is THE fringe although there’s also Fringe Adelaide etc. but if you look at size, THE fringe always wins. I start with a few stats and facts about this 64th fringe festival, and these numbers are just about 2011:
- 21,192 performers
- 2,542 shows and events
- 258 venues
- 607 free shows
- 75m £ income a year for economy and tourism in Edinburgh
- 1 million visitors approximately
I focused on theatre as I work as a promoter for the Arena of Young Arts festival in Erlangen, Germany. So I was looking for shows focusing not just on language but also on images and physical forms of expressions or dance elements, but as the graph shows there’s a lot of other stuff going on as well, biggest are comedy shows and music gigs. Hundreds of people gain for attention, if you take them all you have dozens of flyers in a minute, Come to see this show It starts in 15 minutes” “Mention this word and you get 20% discount at the door”, Free Comedy!”. Very often the people in the show do the flyering themselves like the two white guys of Siro-A (look at the pic), who did an impressional technical introduction revue of light entertaining body projections, beats, visual effects and movement, that leave you jaw dropping but why did they not make a piece of theatre instead of all these unconnected effects in a row? The poster walls and columns grow a belly, every poster tries to be louder, funnier, more in your face than the other, visual and real noise and people everywhere. In the first weeks of the Fringe nobody knows yet what is “good”. To skip most of the crappy shows (and you have to skip a lot as you cannot see 2500 shows in one week) we went to Edinburgh in the last week of the festival to get inspired (or controlled) by dozens of journalists and their 4 or 5 star reviews, who do nothing but watching shows and write about them. Furthermore you still meet many random people who tell you: You have to see this show!, and then you go – or depending on the person, you know for sure that you definitely WON’T go.
I mostly relied on my friend Claudia who works at the Fringe and Arena for years, so she knows what we’re looking for. Like last time when I went in 2008 after a short while it was clear we would go to see shows mainly at just 3 venues, C Venues, one of the biggest venues (and Claudia works there), Zoo Venues and Bedlam Theatre. We also went to see shows at other venues but they were more like s…chool theatre. You never really know what you get anyway – this year I mainly saw and liked shows with too much focus on language, they were great, but just a view are suitable for Arena, as for instance “Shutterland”, a cruelly-funny, political, physical masterpiece making you feel uncomfortable and entertained at the same time with great actors, who managed to be both good at impersonating their characters and also in a formal and physical way. Our second favorite for Arena was “Flynch, looking.” Although recalling very common stereotypical habits of people (the nerd for instance) and having no real end this dream or nightmare like show combines speech and body in a wonderful interacting way that makes you love and hate the madly overdrawn characters at the same time. Another show I will contact to apply for the Arena festival is Fool’s Proof Theatre’s piece “It’s Uniformation Day”, a funny kitsch future version of casting shows in space with magnificent soundtrack and a performance celebrating trash and the fragile side behind the caricature characters looking for love, power and happiness. One of my Fringe 2011 favorites, but way too expensive for Arena I suppose would be Theatre Movement Bazaar. If a piece of theatre can be perfect it would be “Anton’s Uncles”, written, directed and choreographed by Tina Kronis. It’s rare to see 4 characters (and they were real characters) who all have the same strong presence when they speak or dance or drink tea or are in love with a beautiful woman that is not there – but you see her! Feel her! Great movement that moves body, soul and heart and makes you laugh and cry. Real theatre, round, perfect, fragile but in love with itself, tragically, funny, inspirering quotes you wanna write down all the time. A feast based on Anton Thechow’s Uncle Vanya. Another Russian text, this time very conventional directed was “A hero of our Time” about a man playing with his live and love facing duels all the time written by an poet (Lermontov) who died at 26 - in a duel. Well acted, not perfect, but real well put in scene by a director (Alex McSweeney) who lets the text take over the viewer and just concentrates on the characters. I’d love to read the play, it really moved me, which is rare for me with classical theatre.
Three more! Two of them were written by Simon Stephens, “Motortown” and “Bluebird”, both had a dominant male main character, a taxi driver and a traumatized soldier which try to deal with their problems. Both play occasionally let space for supporting characters like the soldiers semi autist brother or the simple, nearly stupid yet fragile and human bouncer in Bluebird. But Motortown is often too loud, too stereotypical (we know soldiers come back dramatized, and then they buy a gun, right?) and does not surprise you, “bluebird” instead does not give you too much to expect at first but gives you everything which you did not expect. Both actors manage to cry for real a some point, but the soldier just works with his speech, he is not physical enough, the Bluebird taxi driver on the other hand is real, you don’t see any theatre any more although it is not a conventional directed show and stage. I lived in London for a while and met all these people he drives in his taxi with their different accents, visual stereotypes and backgrounds, you really get a feeling for what it’s like to be an individual in a big moloch like London.
In between the shows go and see the fabulous charity shops of Edinburgh. You will find most of them in Nicholson Street, High Street and a bit more outside Raeburn Place (look at the map). For cheap and good lunch and dinner I recommend South Bridge between Chambers street and before Nicholson Street or a pub, look out, all you can eat is very often cheap but crap, if it’s not Indian food. Finally I wanna tell you about “Clockwork Orange” and a little bit about “Titus Antronicus”, both shows by the group Action To The World. Usually I don’t like it when a group uses famous names like Shakespeare and the Kubrick film to gain attention. Furthermore I have problems with old plays with difficult language as I’m not a native speaker and do not live in 16th century. If you cut down the text to one hour and still let the text live you’re not bad. If you can do this to a text you are familiar with as its plot is very close to you and your present time, you know what you’re dealing with, but with an old text, you are first and foremost fighting the text and your interpretation of it. To make it short, Clockwork was absolute fantastic, sexy, well acted, well choreographed, a round piece that avoids to copy the film, finds new ways of showing the famous scenes AND manages to transfer the present day in a highly psychological and political way. This fantastic piece of theatre tells you more about the to the London riots and its’ roots in British society as all the newspaper articles you read. Alex never becomes a caricature but Titus does, you never get lost despite of all the surrounding excellent type casted roles of stereotypes.
The problem with the Shakespeare play was, Titus supporting characters ARE characters in fact, not figures that help to characterize the main character like in Burgess book. There is no real time for characters in Titus, you lose them, you get lost, they get lost and don’t know why they say what they say. So stay within your time or take your time to let the text live or the show will go down with it, Alex never lost it. When I got home to my hostel called Bedford Hostel which is located in an old former church, the Spanish reception girl asked me “Arrrrre you Alex?!” and I wasn’t sure any more. Hours later I had the best answers to that question: “No, you?” “Do I look like I’m called Alex?” “Are you Nancy?” “Sometimes I got the feeling – Yes! – I’m Alex!” “Who wants to know that?!” “How dare you asking me this question!”