« Anna Paquin and Kristen Bell Join 'Scre4m' Cast | Main | Academy Selects Coppola as Thalberg Recipient »

Notes from the Edinburgh Fringe

Flesh and Blood - Fish and Fowl A mother who kills her only child, the "comfort women" in Japan during World War II, a victim of incest who has kept her secret for years, and a showdown between nature and the last humans on earth. These are only some of the themes of plays and musicals that I saw during my trip to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe last week.

And what a manic three and a half days it was!

The Festival Fringe is the largest arts festival in the world and has been going on since 1947. There are shows from all over the world represented here, the largest portion of which are from the U.K., but the U.S. representation has been gaining ground; this year, according to the Fringe press office, there are more shows from the States than ever before.

This year's record-breaking 2,453 shows that are going on in 259 venues in and around the city of Edinburgh, are a mix of theatre (29% of the Fringe program), musicals and operas (5%), dance and physical theatre (4.5%), comedy (the biggest part of the Edinburgh pie: 35%), and kids' shows (4%), with exhibitions making up the final 2% of the fest. These are high school and university students presenting shows, but most productions come from professional troupes and season veterans alike. According to stats from the Fringe press office, the shows feature some 40,254 performances by an estimated 21,148 performers. All in all, the festival generates around £75 million for the Edinburgh and Scottish economy. (The festival runs from August 4 through 30.)

Cactus01 This was my 21st year in a row attending the festival. Why do I choose to keep coming back? Probably because it's the largest and most important marketplace for live theatre in the world with shows happening all over town, mostly in venues that have not been designed as theatre spaces (churches, meeting halls, pubs, restaurants, or simply on the streets of the city). It's also the folks that I get to meet, the unique experiences I get to share with the performers on stage, and new theatre trends and ideas that I might be able to discover. It's a real adrenaline rush to be able to open the 344-page program and figure out all the shows that there are to see.

Out of the more than dozen shows that I did get to see, easily the most successful were two one-woman shows: "Face," written and performed by Harry Kim, and "Jordan," written by Anna Reynolds and performed by Moira Buffini.

Kim wrote "Face" based on the testimonies of the some 200 surviving women from Korea, China, the Philippines, and other Japanese-occupied countries that were either lured away from their native lands by promises of jobs and education, or abducted from their homes by the Japanese military during the second World War and used as "comfort women," repeatedly raped and physically tortured and abused. Kim manages to magically transform herself from one character to another, and it's an emotional and often devastating journey that she takes us through, making this little-known truth be heard and showing us how resilient the human spirit can be.

Same can be said of Buffini in Reynolds' "Jordan." One wonders how a mother can do harm to her own child, but from watching and listening to the emotional turmoil and abuse that the main character in "Jordan" is living and experiencing, one begins to slowly understand her mental process and, I can truthfully admit, empathize with her.

MichaelMcKenzie What attracted me to see "Cactus: The Seduction" was that it was being directed by Mark Chavez, who directed "Pajama Men," one of my favourites at last year's festival. A comedic physical theatre tour de force, written and performed by Jonno Katz playing a number of outlandish characters, is a hilarious and outlandish romp through the desert of life.

I first came across the Philadelphia-based Pig Iron Theatre Company at the Festival Fringe quite a number of years ago, and I loved their uniqueness and physical approach to telling stories. "Flesh and Blood & Fish and Fowl" by Pig Iron members Geoff Sobelle and Charlotte Ford and being presented by NY's Barrow Street Theatre, is in keeping with the troupe's philosophy. This time the focus is on the survival of the fittest as its title implies, and with its comic buffoonery comments on everyday life, relationships, and what just might happen to the last two people on earth.

"The House of Mirrors and Hearts", about a young woman whose long-kept secret of being molested by her father who was then killed in an accident—certainly not the most uplifting of topics, and a musical nonetheless—was a disappointment. A repetitious melody, undistinguishable songs, and characters lacking depth so that it was hard to feel anything for them despite the circumstances, made me think that the piece has a long way to go before it's ready to be seen again.

Because I love storytelling, "The Silver Darlings," a staged work based on a 1941 Scottish classic novel, appealed to me but, as good as its production values were, the constant telling of the story rather than the showing of the action prevented this piece from hitting its dramatic mark. Still, a bold attempt by this Aberdeen theatre troupe.

And "Imperial Fizz" by Brian Parks with Issy Van Randwyck and David Calvitto starts off as a Noel Coward-esque comedy but swirls into a surreal and witty story of a high society couple gone awry.

Along with "Jest Like Danny Kaye" with Russell Fletcher who gave us his take on the musical comedian but doesn't quite share Kaye's enthusiasm and energy, there were a number of other shows which were part of my festival outings:

–  "Meow Meow," a fantastic performer who surely knows how to hook her audiences but doesn't quite get beneath her superficial layer for me;
–  "Tony Tanner's Charlatan, a Memoir of the Ballets Russes," made me wanting Mr. Tanner to offer more of his perspective of the famous impresario rather than just what I could read in a bio;
–  "Soap," a Le Clique-type of extravaganza but lacking the sexiness, daring, and variety of this unique troupe;
–  "The Crack," a variety show with silly comic routines and lacklustre performances from all except the Hula Hoop lady; and
–  "Jack the Knife" with actor Jack Klaff whose pure self-indulgence and lack of focus in his "pent-up fury," left me wondering how I might be able to walk out of the theatre without attracting his attention. (I stayed through the very end.)

Though two or three out of a dozen or so shows is a pretty low statistic, remember that these were only the shows that I chose to see. Will I be back next year and take another gamble? Probably!

-- Sherry Eaker, Editor at Large
Dig This


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Notes from the Edinburgh Fringe:


The comments to this entry are closed.