Preview: Edinburgh Fringe 2006

The Edinburgh Fringe 2006 features a record 28,014 performances of 1,867 shows in 261 venues during three weeks in August.

musicOMH’s Richard Ings will be starring in one production, and reporting back about his Fringe experience via our very own Fringe Blog.

Here he previews the celebrated event and pinpoints some of the programme’s most intriguing productions…
I have been told by Edinburgh Fringe Festival aficionados that it is one of the great pleasures of June and July to sit in your favourite armchair with a cup of tea and a box of biscuits trawling through the voluminous and, frankly, intimidating Fringe programme circling the shows that catch your eye.

Being a Fringe virgin, making the trip to Auld Reekie in August as critic as well as performer in my own show Parasites (C Central, venue 54), I am willing to listen to every piece of advice, taking all as good coin until experience proves otherwise.

The difficulty in writing a feature on the programme, of course, is trying to not to make it overly personal. Sharing my own “pick of the Fringe” with you will give you only a partial story. Of course I plan to do that – but not without also trying to give you a flavour of what, more generally, the Fringe has to offer the theatre-goer in its sixtieth year.

The Fringe Office, who publish the programme, seem to think that there is a strong religious theme this year, with shows as diverse as new work Petrol Jesus Nightmare #5 at the spiky Traverse Theatre (venue 15), and We Don’t Know Shi’ite (“find out how much the average Briton does not know about Islam”) at the Underbelly (venue 61), held up to justify the claim. I’m not sure. They might rather be stretching a point when they include a revival of Godspell (Sweet ECA, venue 186) to bolster it.

What I can tell you, though, is that there’s a LOT of Shakespeare (and “Shakespeare-inspired”) work. I am aware of the Fringe’s reputation as a forcing house of eccentricity, so was pleased to spot Bouncy Castle Hamlet at the Roxy Art House (venue 115) doing exactly what it says on its inflatable tin. With seven (!) versions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (including one up a tree – “please bring a torch” says the listing), four Tempests (including one with puppets) and a reimagining of The Godfather as a Shakespeare play (Corleone – Blueside, venue 103), it was difficult to choose a pick of the month. However, The Play’s The Thing, and this deconstruction of an audition for Hamlet looks like it has plenty for those who like their theatre self-referential and post-modern (Greyfriar’s Kirk House, venue 28).

One emerging theme this year, I noticed while trawling, seems to be the difficulty of personal relationships. Nothing new there, perhaps. However, with the rise of speed-dating, the fun-sounding Tick My Box! seems to have much that is fresh to offer the modern viewer (Assembly @ George Street, venue 3). Bangers and Mash (Baby Belly, venue 88) asks “Ever squealed your flatmate’s name instead of your lover’s during sex?”, Both Sides of the Bar (Underbelly) claims to be “the best mnage a trois you’ll have all year”, while the much darker The Interview (Pleasance Dome, venue 23) enters a “not-too-far-off world” where the state forces us into dating services in order to promote “healthy marriage”. While the premise of this latter may be a little far-fetched, I do like the idea of a play that “explores a world where the government controls our choices in order to keep us safe and healthy” – a statement with much contemporary relevance.

My personal look-forward in the relationships category is The Mercy Seat, a revival of a Neil LaBute play set on 12 September 2001 (C Central, venue 54). This is a meditation on love in the shadow of the fallen Twin Towers, with the main protagonist wondering whether the fact that his wife thinks he’s dead gives him the right to rebegin his life with his adulterous lover. (Incidentally, surprisingly under-sung so far in the press is the European premiere of a new LaBute play, this time about Tits and Blood, or more specifically, the relationship of theatre to its audience (Greyfriar’s Kirk House). A “don’t miss”, I reckon.)

The Fringe would not be complete without its West-End potentials – notably the excellent Rich Hall’s Levelland and the Stewart Lee-directed Talk Radio

Continuing to peruse, it surprises me that, with the odd exception, the Fringe is otherwise strangely disconnected from many contemporary social and cultural phenomena. There are just one or two shows that draw on the hyper-phenomenon of blogging, for example. One is the none-more-serious-or-contemporary Girl Blog From Iraq (Pleasance Courtyard, venue 33), a theatrical recreation of the Riverbed blog. The other is Bloggers – Real Internet Diaries, billing itself as “verbatim theatre”, a not-too-serious piece that may well be ahead of the curve, theatrically-speaking, when it comes to “user generated content” on stage.

By the same token, the world of celebrity gets relatively overlooked for satire – two strong exceptions being Clinically Famous (Gilded Balloon Teviot, venue 14), where a fictional soap star tells of a life led where “viewers love to hate you” – and Marlon Brando’s Corset (Pleasance Courtyard) – brilliantly tagged thus: “The cult of celebrity requires sacrifices – but how do you dispose of the bodies?”. The latter happens to feature a bona-fide washed-up celebrity in Les Dennis, whose ability to laugh at himself in Ricky Gervais’s Extras, may be the lot of once-wases for the future.

Of course, the Fringe would not be complete without its West-End potentials – notably the excellent Rich Hall’s Levelland (Assembly @ George Street), and the Stewart Lee-directed Talk Radio (Udderbelly, venue 300) – as well as its freak shows. Aside from the aforementioned bouncy castle extravaganza, assorted guests reading from the Phone Book (The Phone Book Live! , Baby Belly), and what appears to be an underwater version of Ovid’s Metamorphoses (Sweet Grassmarket, venue 18), look like a couple of prime Rich Tea-stealers.

Inevitably, the real hit of the Fringe will be the show I haven’t mentioned, that great piece of work that no preview spotted, the one you see and that becomes the surprise success of this extraordinary event. So if you’re in Edinburgh and spot it, feel free to grab me on the Royal Mile and let me know.

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