Theatre

Diary: Edinburgh Fringe 2006



The Edinburgh Fringe 2006 features a record 28,014 performances of 1,867 shows in 261 venues from 6th – 28th August.

musicOMH’s Richard Ings will be starring in one of those shows, the black comedy Parasites by Ali Muriel, and checking out a daily selection of shows at the Fringe.

He’ll report back on our very own Fringe Blog. And this is it. Check back daily for updates…
31 August 2006, 12:33pm – final blog entry Days 25 and 26
Cigarettes: 23
Food: Scotch eggs
Units: 7
Tickets sold: 637

So this is how it all ends. Bank holiday Monday on 28 August 2006 and no-one’s around. That’s because it’s not a bank holiday in Scotland. Well, of course.

I have to say, I’m homesick now – homesick for a place that, at least for now, allows smoking in bars. The Scottish Parliament banned smoking in all enclosed public spaces from March this year. Admittedly, this is some people’s idea of heaven. Let me just say, if you like your friends disappearing every fifteen minutes to have a cigarette, breaking up the alcoholic bonhomie, welcome to The New Scotland. Why not sit outside? Well, if the weather allows, the licensees will not, since most of them have to pack up their street tables by 9pm. (By the way, if you want to smoke in bus shelters, or the “enclosed space” of Waverley Station with its roof 100 feet in the air, forget that too!)

Hence, the huge success of the trendy Spiegeltent and the arty Pleasance Courtyard during this year’s Fringe can be put down to one simple factor: outdoor drinking and smoking. Even the journo’s haven of the Library Bar of the Gilded Balloon got downgraded in favour of the Loft Bar for this reason.

Rant over. Let’s sign this experience off with ten edifying, flippant, aphoristic Lessons-That-I-Have-Learned from being a first-time producer, performer and reviewer at the Edinburgh Fringe.

1. Whatever else you think you are going to do than perform, forget it. It’s not going to happen. I have spent a month trying to do four different things every day and it’s the closest I have ever come to clinical exhaustion.

2. Everyone you meet will promise to see your show. Few will.

3. Reviewers see what they want to see, literally and metaphorically.

4. Be ambitious but expect nothing – you won’t be disappointed.

5. Do not bring a show to Edinburgh that you do not absolutely love to bits.

6. Do not bring anything to Edinburgh that cannot be summed up in one witty, pithy soundbite, because that’s all the time you’re going to get to pitch it to anyone.

7. Be disciplined – if you won’t do it, no-one else will.

8. Be pushy – faint-heart never won fair punter.

9. Be mad – you’ll fit in fine.

10. Thank all that is holy that there are people who do this for love and not money, or there’d be no Fringe at all.

leave your comments 27 August 2006, 4:31pm Days 16 to 23
Cigarettes: 78
Food: As many baked potatoes as you can eat
Units: 14
Tickets sold: 537

Injury and illness – the twin spectres that haunt the Fringe. When you are trying to put on a show every night, the law of averages says that one or more of those performances will be disrupted by ill health. For this reason, myself and my co-producer, Antonia Windsor, tried to make sure that we had an understudy for each of the four cast members. Unfortunately, the theatre world is not overly blessed with good male actors, and we failed to find an understudy for myself or the other male actor, Damien Warren-Smith.

Fortunately, we had one for the two women in our cast, as for the last two nights, we have had our understudy, Esther, on stage as a result of Antonia’s heavy cold. Thank goodness for that. However, last night, Esther managed to dislocate her knee by jumping off a table on stage. The next two hours were spent in Accident and Emergency at the Royal Infirmary getting her mended.

One small positive – it couldn’t have happened at a better time. We are now hours away from the end of our run and there is not much more that can go wrong. Although, now I am falling ill and if I have what Antonia had – some kind of coughing lurgi – the show will not be able to go on much longer.

However, it almost couldn’t have happened at a worse time for our Fire Escape Friends, Chotto Ookii. [Let me explain. Access to the “stage doors” of C Central are via an 82-step fire escape (yes, I counted them). Chotto Ookii (means something like “big little things” in Japanese) are performing an apparently marvellous show called And Even My Goldfish in the C Central Studio 2 the hour before we go on. All I know about their show is that there are two similar looking women in it who wear bright orange dresses, and one of the cast dresses a bit like a cavewoman. Every night, as they come out, we bid them good-day on the fire escape which takes them back to the dressing room, and us to the performance space.]

Anyway, the point is that the Chotto’s made it into the local Metro Fringe diary as their lead performer, Kathleen Yore, brained herself on the Royal Mile earlier in the week while performing a bit of their show to curious tourists, suffering whiplash. Which, for all practical purposes, meant that our Fire Escape Friends were not there as we made our way down to do our show at 7.30pm, which was a little eerie. As a result of this, and a couple of other minor incidents, C has been dubbed the “venue of death” by the diarist. And I am unhappy to say, there’s some truth in it, since Esther has now joined the growing list of the injured. C for Casualty, perhaps? Or Curse?

Whatever it is called, I extend my heartfelt congratulations to the Ookii’s on what I can only assume is a well-deserved Total Theatre Best Newcomer award, which they might not have got if the panel had not been able to finish watching it as a result of Kathleen’s fall. It’s a strange life on the Fringe.

leave your comments 20 August 2006, 1:35pm Days 14 and 15
Cigarettes: 27
Food: More pizza and curry
Units: 4
Tickets sold: 400

We are now over halfway through the Edinburgh Fringe proper.Personally, I have been here for three weeks, and it is astonishinghow quickly time goes by. I am beginning to find some balance to mydays, but there is constant pressure from all sources to do more,particularly when so much of the burden of making a show a successrests with you.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to see two plays, after beingrefused entry to see Talk Radio as a reviewer the previous day- odd, given that they are on at the Half-Price Hut every day, you’dthink they could do with the publicity. Both plays included largeamounts of “expressive dance” which usually sends me screaming for mygun. However, in both cases, I found these elements more enchantingthan the substance of the plays themselves. This is often the case -without a great idea, the writing and the performance can be strong,but there will always be something lacking in the end result.

I am pleased to say that, despite the disruption to my personallife – who ever heard of relaxation while you were up here? – I amcoping better than expected with the pressures. I think there comes apoint when you realise that there really are only so many hours in theday, and as busy as you are, there is only so much you canrealistically do with them. However, one little caveat about that -never think you’re invulnerable.

We are performing our show with a single female understudy, whichmeans myself and the other male actor, played by Damien Warren-Smith,absolutely have to be in tip-top form. No bout of ‘flu will keep usdown. Well, maybe it would, but we are very much relying on our greathealth to keep things on track. So rather a foolish thing, then, todecide at the beginning of the play to change the way I wake up bysitting bolt upright while lying under a desk. The inevitablehappened, and I smashed my head – causing some laughs, and me to endup with a cut on my head. And a sore neck for the last couple of days.

Of course, had things gone to plan, we could have had a great newsstory. “Lead actor knocks himself out in first 30 seconds of play”would have been a lovely diary story for all the journalists up here.Well if the rain can make it into the news…

leave your comments 17 August 2006, 3:15pm Days: 12 and 13
Cigarettes: 42
Food: A very nice three-course meal at B’Est on Drummond Street
Units: 10
Tickets sold: 313

After the debacle of Fringe Sunday, we were delighted last night tohave our first full house! Claiming a full house can be deceptive,though. If there are only 30 seats in your venue, it is rather anidle boast. If you’re playing the Pleasance Courtyard Grand, a 700seat venue, you’d be justified in shouting it from the very top ofArthur’s Seat.

Depending on which folk tale you prefer, the average audience of aFringe show hovers somewhere between three and seven people. I have yet to seea show that has had less than 20, but the impression of having less(which creates the “there were only about four people there” urban myth)is a given when the venues have such large capacities.

It also seemsto inspire performers on to greater heights, the fear of having no-oneto play to being an important part of motivating actors to finally dosome promotional work. This is something actors are loath to do on thewhole, failing to see that people will not just turn up on thestrength of their aura of potential stardom, but through sheer hardgraft of pitching the show to them.

On the strength of this, I think we are fully justified in puffingour chests out to claim we had 60 people in. It beats the mythical”audience of seven” experience by some way, and, frankly, makes a comedylike ours so much better when you have a packed theatre rolling in theaisles. We even had a three year old with his mother explaining allthe coarse jokes to him. Only at the Fringe…

I always think our show is easy to sell. “Think Shaun of theDead meets Teachers“, I say, and people seem to get it. Isaw a flyer yesterday for a show called “Meslier” at the Sweet ECA,which I can’t imagine anyone being able to sell very easily. “Meslier,a dutiful 17th century Catholic priest, was a secret atheist,” readsthe Fringe programme. “His testament, admired by Voltaire, sowed seedsof revolution.” “Think The Da Vinci Code meets The ThornBirds, perhaps?

leave your comments 16 August 2006, 1:07pm Days 9,10 and 11
Cigarettes: 38
Food: (Cold) steak and ale pie in Clever Dick’s pub
Units: 8
Tickets sold: 187

Our hard work publicising Parasites may be paying off – weare finally receiving reviews, and decent ones at that. UKtheatre.netdescribed the show as “an hilarious and gruesome horror comedy”, whilean ITV reviewer summed it up as a “wonderful farce”.

It is very important for morale, when you’re up and down the Mileflyering, to know that someone up there likes you. Three Weeks and TheScotsman are particularly important targets for companies as theybecome the real tastemakers during the Fringe. However, I have heardthat, now the Edinburgh Fringe has become such a behemoth, people aresuspicious of star-ratings and out-of-context quotations stuck onposters. Instead, that ole devil word-of-mouth is playing anincreasingly important role in the decision-making of many Fringeaudiences. With a bewildering number of shows claiming four or fivestars, deserved or not, this is perhaps no surprise. And, in someways, relying on reviewers to like you, while it is helpful if itworks, is a disastrous publicity strategy if it doesn’t…

The other thing that is quite important promotionally is FringeSunday. This usually takes place at the end of week one, and is a nicelittle showcase for performers, with various marquees spread over TheMeadows, to the south of the city centre. We decided to take fulladvantage of this and use the allocated 15 minutes to promoteParasites. To this end, the writer, Ali Muriel, penned a piecespecially for the occasion, a variation on the opening of the play,with my character, who is supposed to be preparing a lecture, insteadpreparing to pitch the show to the reviewer from the New Scientist.Very funny on paper, we rather made a pig’s ear of it. So much so infact, that our morale dropped off the scale and we all sloped off hometo hang our heads in shame.

Interestingly, the next day, while flyering, I was talking tosomeone who had come along to Fringe Sunday specifically to find outwhat Parasites was all about and whether it was worth seeing.And he had decided that it wasn’t. So that old chestnut about allpublicity being good may need some modification…

leave your comments 13 August 2006, 12:07am Day 6, 7 and 8
Cigarettes: 36
Food: Fish, tomato soup and mixed grills
Units: 6
Tickets sold: 187

Yay! I finally get to see some shows at the Fringe! This was, ofcourse, always the intention of being here, (as well, of course, asacting in a sell-out show) and you will be able to read reviews of afew of them elsewhere on the site.

A sense of adventure permeates the Fringe theatre-going experience,one where the possibility of seeing a terrible show is balanced withseeing something truly brilliant (the odds, however, are firmly fixedin favour of the former). So far, a week in to the Fringe for me, andstill wearing the shackles of the producer trying to make his own showa success (while also performing in it!), I have only just had theopportunity to venture out and explore the Fringe jungle formyself.

So far, sadly, all I have found is flightless butterflies,promising much and delivering little. Yet, all around me, great showsappear to be going on, with word of mouth building for Bat Boy themusical, Black Watch and Talk Radio. This is thereviewer’s dilemma – go with your first instincts about what might beworth seeing, usually decided a few weeks before the Fringe, or try tomake sure you “make your mark” on a show that could soon be the talkof the town. Editors and their reviewers may disagree on thisfundamental point. Personally, I’m still trying to go with myinstincts.

Unfortunately, as I say, I appear to be out of luck so far. Of thethree shows I have been to see with my reviewer’s hat on, none seem tobe setting the world alight, and I can see why. Not to say anything istruly dreadful – actually, scrub that, there was one thing. It is morethat it is startlingly ordinary, afraid of taking risks, or evenconfident of its own ability to entertain.

Of course, we are now impatiently waiting for our own reviews.Companies are full of cocky self-confidence until the two-star reviewappears. And ours did, albeit in a “personal” capacity, on theedfringe.com website. Rumour has it that The List didn’t like iteither. Meanwhile, everyone I meet flyering seems to have had TheScotsman in, apart from us! Ah, the lot of the Edinburgh show… to willopprobrium on itself in the slight hope that it might bring in enoughpeople to make a financial difference.

leave your comments 8 August 2006, 4:24pm Day 3, 4 and 5
Cigarettes: 33
Food: Stew, pizza and curry
Units: 4 (and none last night!)
Tickets sold: 86

The Edinburgh Fringe is nothing if not all about the weird and the slightly upsetting. As I waited in the ante-room for the C Venues press launch, it was invaded by men in bowler hats with flyers sticking out of them. Wearing skin-tight orange Lycra jump-suits. Promoting a show called The Tempest, of course.

You may already have heard of it: written in the early 17th century by a Stratford-based playwright; tells the story of some shipwrecked nobles on an enchanted island; features a lot of orange Lycra. Written in Shakespeare’s breathable fabric period, I understand. I do generally shrink from men wearing anything skin-tight, and where it becomes unavoidable (such as on the Fringe), try to maintain eye contact at all times.

The show I was actually waiting to see was an intelligently written, exquisitely performed cabaret called Dusty Limits is heartless. Dusty has been running a night in London for a few years now and, on the strength of this performance, I would recommend tracking it down. Cabaret is really not my thing normally, but this combined the best of stand-up with some very cleverly rewritten (and beautifully sung) standards. Some considerable distance from self-indulgence, my only observation would be that Dusty’s celebration of his own hedonism might be a little tiring for a “straight” crowd. His anti-“Alpha Course” routine was, however, a masterpiece of composition and delivery.

Returning to the weirdness, it does not, of course, stop with performers and their stunts to get you to cough-up to see their shows. It also extends to coincidences, such as the one that saw our show, Parasites, taking place at the same time as the International Congress of Parasitology in Glasgow. And the story of how our little dog-and-pony show got to be featured on the main stage of the 3,500-seat auditorium at the SECC is one I shall recount for many years to come. Enough to say for the moment that, aside from getting the much sought-after press column inches that every show yearns for to tip the balance between being a hit and a flop, the experience of playing a drunken university lecturer in parasitology in front of 500 perfectly sober parasitologists is one that will stay with me for a long time to come. And performing on a stage that big really makes me think of what it might be like to do it in the West End…

leave your comments 5 August 2006, 2:29pm Day 2
Cigarettes: 7
Food: Mozarella salad and lasagne
Units: 2
Tickets sold: 27

Opening nights at the Edinburgh Fringe are nothing like opening nights anywhere else, I’m sure. This may have something to do with 1,400 other shows having their own opening nights within a couple of square miles, but there is always, always the very real possibility of there being absolutely no audience whatsoever at your opening night (actually, this is not limited just to the opening nights at the Fringe, but can happen at any moment during the run).

An hour before the curtain went up on Parasites last night, we had sold one ticket. So emergency measures are taken – we grab 40 complimentary tickets and start giving them out to anyone who looks like they want to see a show. And it worked, funnily enough. Forty people came and had a thoroughly good time. Hopefully, they’ll tell others.

For me, my opening night was unlike any other I have had. For example, I have never sat in a queue of traffic a mile long an hour before curtain up having the very real thought that I might actually not make it to the venue in time. I was on my way back from Glasgow, a mere hour away in good traffic, potentially two when it’s lousy.

Being from London, I know you have to calculate the time it is supposed to take you and double it for any car journey you want to make. But this is Edinburgh, and surely one does not have to do the same? Apparently so. I believe they are looking at introducing a congestion charge in the city. They might do better just to change the phasing on most of the city centre traffic lights, particularly when half the central streets have been shut down to cars.

The reason I was in Glasgow was because I needed to drop off 2,500 flyers for Parasites to the organisers of the International Congress of Parasitology at the SECC for distribution in delegate packs. Yes, that’s right – of all the times to hold a conference that brings together the world’s leading minds in the field of parasitology, they chose to have it in our opening week.

We are also, on Monday, performing part of the show to them in the huge 3,500-seat auditorium which normally holds Kylie Minogue concerts and the like. The play will become, overnight, the biggest show on the Fringe. Albeit, not in Edinburgh.

leave your comments 4 August 2006, 10:31am Day 1
Cigarettes: 8
Food: Two bananas and a pizza
Units: 2
Tickets sold: 24

Flyerers: the locusts of the Edinburgh Fringe. People flyering on the Royal Mile are, in many cases, treated by the Edinburgh public the same way as the “chuggers” (=”charity muggers”) who line the streets of big cities in the UK. You know, the people you cross the road to avoid, whose unnatural jolliness while raising money for causes as diverse as environmental disastrism, torture in countries where tour operators fear to tread, and vilification of the great unwashed who use their children as dartboards, makes them more dodgable even than the Scientologists (and whatever happened to them and their low-IQ personality tests?).

Flyerers (no the word’s not in the OED yet) will try any means at their disposal to get you to take one away in the hope that you will not simply drop it with the others on the ground. Thus the High Street is choc-a-bloc with overweight men dragging up, women dressed only in skimpy underwear, and students in pirate costumes going “arrr, Jim lad”. Unlike their poorer cousin, the leafleter, who will stand optimistically with cards for language schools held out in quiet, dignified desperation, the flyerer’s desperation is more vivid and pungent, the scent of fear at the thought of playing to an empty venue pushing them to ever more ludicrous heights in the pursuit of acceptance.

Wearing the hat of a punter and a performer, I can see both sides. My biggest worry of the last couple of days has been that our own flyers would not arrive in time for our first performance. They finally did yesterday morning – or, at least, one third of them did. When I called the printer, it turned out that the courier had simply “forgotten” to pick up two other boxes. At the other end of a telephone line, desperately trying to be nice to a supplier who basically has you by the gonads, it is difficult to know what to believe. Since I need to deliver 2500 of them to a parasitology conference in Glasgow before Saturday (our show’s called Parasites, we thought they might be interested), I have to believe that they will come. There is, after all, only hope.

As we look at the sales for opening night (zero), we wonder how far we will have to stoop to make the necessary impact. Maybe we could attach ourselves to people and not let go …?

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