Monday, 28 August 2017

Edinburgh Festival 2017

Sweat, alcohol, vomit, food, bars, haggis, Royal Mile, friends, headaches, Alka Seltzer.
And shows.
Lots of shows.
Plays, musicals, comedians, monologues, duologues, orgies, drag queens, transvestites, nudity, singing, lactating, posing, gurning, dancing, shouting, crying, and a little bit of acting.

Yes – The Edinburgh Festival 2017. 

And what a marvellous few days it was.

I always think the best way to approach the festival is not to have a plan. Choose a couple of shows you fancy, and then see what gets recommended and which performer buys you a drink. It’s as much about socialising as it is about sitting and staring.

However, my time was limited – and with only 3 days there was only so much I could squeeze in. So I attempted a broad selection that covered lots of genres – and most of it new material. And of course, I tracked down the odd bit of nudity and nipple tassel action as well (it is the fringe after all, dear).

Before going I tweeted that I wanted to see not only hit theatre but shit theatre. And indeed I did. Some shits were so shitty they didn’t even deserve the term shitty-shits. But in their own way they offered something different and fun – (and squirming and embarrassing). For me part of the joy of the Edinburgh festival is seeing the bad as well as the good (it also gives a valid excuse to start drinking at 11am).  

Anyway – to the hits:

The first hit I saw was the new musical SIX. A rip roaring, Tudor celebration of girl power, where Henry VIII’s unfortunate wives state their case  - through song – about why they were the most poorly treated wife. Feistily performed by a group of six young pop-starlets with the attitude and power of the Spice Girls. Brilliant performances by all. Written by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss. Bravo.
Sweet Grassmarket - Venue 18. Then ADC Theatre, Cambridge (11-14 October)

The next hit was THE TOXIC AVENGER. Already seen by London audiences at the Southwark Playhouse - this shortened version is a brilliant pastiche musical based on the eighties B-Movie - where a man falls into a vat of toxic waste and becomes a green hero monster. Nodding a firm head to shows like Rocky Horror and Little Shop of Horrors this wonderfully silly, brilliantly funny show is spot on. Naughty, rude, un-PC – with possibly the best vocals in Edinburgh. Don’t bother with Elphaba and Shrek – this toxic monster is the best green character around. Soon to be transferring to the Arts Theatre in London. Sure to be a cult hit.
Pleasance Courtyard (venue 33). Then Arts Theatre London from 28 September to 3 December.

STOP the musical – the Oxford University drama society’s show – deserves a huge future. Dealing with the normality and reality of mental health; four strangers confront stories of their struggles and success. Each character’s personal experience is cleverly intertwined throughout the show – I was moved to tears. Solid, natural, touching performances– with the most wonderful new musical writing voice I have heard in a long time – Annabel Mutale Reed and Leo Munby. I found the whole thing thrillingly moving, particularly the song where a lawyer sings about her depressed husband and unborn child. A powerful piece. This show needs a future.
C South. Then 30 August to 2nd September at the Cockpit Theatre, London.

MENTAL– in this moving one-man show, Kane Power explores his mother’s experience of Bipolar Disorder. Using voice messages we hear Kane’s mother throughout – interspersed with live music in this impressive, conversational performance. Kane underscores his story with looped keyboard and guitar music – his distorting voice echoing the medications and trials his mother has undergone. With a luminous graph we see the extremes of Bipolar Disorder, aiding the touching memories Kane shares so personally.  A brave, personal solo piece charting one man and his mother’s journey through a misunderstood illness. Compelling.
Assembly Roxy.

Finally, THE REVLON GIRL. Looking at the tragedy in 1966 when 116 children and 28 adults in the welsh village of Aberfan were buried beneath colliery spill. I am still recovering. The delicate subject is dealt with such pace and warmth – sudden hilarity dwarfed by moments of extreme emotional pain. Masterfully written and performed – the show has already enjoyed success in Wales and is going to The Park Theatre in London soon for a limited run. This show is a must-see.
The plot is based on the true story of some bereaved Aberfan mothers who secretly invited a Revlon sales rep to one of their weekly meetings. The play deals with suffering, grief, and friendship  - and is so cleverly structured, laying histories of the events with brilliant comic moments before hitting with one hell of an emotional punch. The best play I have seen in years. I do hope a more permanent home in London is found for it. Theatre like this doesn’t come around very often. Unmissable.
Assembly Roxy. Then the Park Theatre London – 19th Sep to 14th Oct.

And they were my hits. I thought about writing about the shits as well – but after consideration found it not to anyone’s advantage. Yes, some work didn’t really work, but so what? –I can only share my heartfelt admiration to all who took a show to Edinburgh. The festival is difficult. Some people only see the popular shows, or hear the success stories. But Edinburgh is far more than that. Most artists find it difficult. Desperately trying to get an audience into their venue – competing with those with bigger marketing budgets and well-known performers and companies. It is not for the faint hearted.  And this year I noticed some changes. Not as many people were flyering – I think it may have become something of a pointless exercise now. Social media seems to be the new calling card. So instead of spending time flyering, spend more time designing show posters and merchandise. They’re the things that get people in to begin with. Then it is all word of mouth. It is worth mentioning that The Revlon Girl only had two posters up around Edinburgh – but after the first couple of shows audiences talked, reviewers hyped, and it quickly became a sell out. So the work speaks for itself.

However, if you found yourself in a smaller venue, with a bad time slot, and were badly reviewed, all is not lost. You are an artist after all – simply trying to spread your work and putting yourself out there is success enough. I applaud each and every one of you. It takes guts and determination to get a show on at the fringe – so please don’t be downhearted if your experience was not what you envisaged. You have learnt. You’ll not make the same mistakes again – you’ll make new ones. And all the shows you did will have made you grow as a performer, and indeed your show will change as a result. Be proud of the fact that you didn’t sit at home and moan about your lack of opportunities, or lack of castings – you went out there and did something. You achieved something, and made contacts, friends, and maybe lost a bit of money – but who cares? You’ve got stories, experiences, and memories  - and if that’s not what art and the festival is all about then I don’t know what is, dear.

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