Film, TV and the Arts

Film, TV and the Arts

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The Edinburgh Festval: A thoroughly subjective preview

A preview of three productions which should be sought out

The Edinburgh Festivals get underway next week, with the most famous, the Fringe, officially starting on Friday, 5th August. As ever, it promises to be a smorgasbord of comedic and acting talents playing to packed houses and exhausting themselves across a month of endless performing. Frankly, though, that is not what the Fringe is about.
I have had the great pleasure of doing Edinburgh twice (I’m at that age you see – the age which Richard Herring (thankfully) has never left behind). Though this is nothing in comparison to many, it has still given me a very good taste of what the festival is all about, and the Fringe is about absolutely tireless young performers getting up at 10 in the morning, getting a few more blisters as they flier again and again on the Royal Mile, before performing their socks off, and then heading out to prepare the next day’s hangover, finally heading to bed at about 4, ready to do it all over again in a few hours time.

In the midst of all this are some of the best pieces of performance you are likely to see all year. They do, however, take some finding. It is impossible to give you the very best of the Fringe now, or indeed to not be subjective. In Edinburgh, you go to see your friends and then you go to see what’s making some noise, and maybe take a punt on a few things. (At this point I should say that some of the suggestions I will give you are produced by people with whom I have personal connections, but I assure you that I have selected only the best in my experience.)

You will have bad times, but the good ones are more frequent, and some of them are diamonds in the rough, and there can be no rougher venue than C SOCO on Chambers Street and Cowgate. I have never investigated what the SOCO building is outside of the festival because it would spoil it. It is a dilapidated place at first viewing which looks like it may have been demolished by the time of the next festival, but it looks fantastic, finding a certain grandeur in its crumbling masonry, and providing numerous great spaces for performances.

It is always a place to go for decent entertainment and, although I’m not heading to Edinburgh this year, if I were, here are a few C SOCO shows I would seek out straight away.

101 (11:00, 12:00 & 13:00, 3–21 August)
101 started at Oxford University a few years ago. Director Asia Osborne, known for her bold productions as a student director, took famous stories and whittled them down into semi-improvised, 40 minute long pieces where the audience are a part of the action.

I went to see their version of “Othello” last year and was blown away. It was as much a play as any other I had ever seen, but it was as exhilarating as a rollercoaster. At its heart is the removal of distance. One could not simply stand by and watch Othello move toward murdering Desdemona without feeling compelled to do something about it.

The audience are affected and swayed by the actors, but they are not controlled by them. The actors are completely at the mercy of the audience. Perhaps it was the inherent tension in this which provided a certain thrill. However, there can be no doubt that the greater thrill was from the quality of the acting and the intimacy of the storytelling. It is an absolute must see.

Belt-Up Theatre presents Outland (20:30, 3-29 August), The Boy James (22:50, 3-29 August), Twenty Minutes to Nine (17:45, 3-29 August)
Belt-Up are receiving more and more attention, and rightly so. Their website now proudly boasts a quotation from Stephen Fry, who was deeply moved by their production of The Boy James.

I can only tell you of the version of Antigone they did last year. The audience were ushered in to sit on the floor, and the most entrancing experience ensued as the story unfolded. It was not as interactive as 101, other than being greeted solemnly, ushered out in even graver style, and one moment of singing, all of which were most effective. The majority ran along as a play normally would in a wonderful and extraordinary setting.

The acting, the occasional singing and the music were all of an excellent standard, and the play was immensely engaging and moving. I was close to tears by the end and, as we were led out (without the chance to applaud), we were left merely to feel the sadness which we carried with us from the play and reflect on the excellence of what we had just seen.

One never hears a bad word about Belt-Up and any of their productions will be well worth seeking out.

The Little Prince (15:45, 3-29 August) 
I have had the good fortune to see this before it heads up to Edinburgh next week. It is an adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupery's story of a pilot who crashes in the desert and encounters a strange child who tells him fantastic stories of his travels from planet to planet.

It is a story about childish wonder and the value of beauty and time, and how adulthood can dim much of that, but at its heart is the relationship between the Pilot and the Little Prince. The ensemble (all bar the Pilot playing children) were excellent, but I must highlight those two leads. Ziad Samaha (the Pilot) and Lucy Fyffe (the Little Prince) are two of the best actors I had the privilege to work with as a student, and they are as-near-as-damn-it the finished articles. In this, they are at full strength and well worth watching.

Those two, together with that excellent ensemble, and under the direction of Rafaella Marcus (another name which will be worth remembering), conjure up a charming production which is amusing and moving – an utterly satisfying treat which is bursting with talent.

One thing which the mega-comics and the lowly performers who sell a ticket a night have in common at Edinburgh is that they both came there with their talent and sought to make their name. That talent is permanent, and I guarantee you that if you seek these out you will not just glimpse it but see it in full bloom, and you will have as good a time in the murky rooms of C SOCO as you would in the comfy chairs of sold out theatres.

And, all jokes aside, such intimate and excellent moments are what the Fringe is all about.

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