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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me on Twitter at MarkFFisher, WriteAboutTheat and LimelightXTC I am a freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers. I am also editor of The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls: A Limelight Anthology. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide.
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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2010 preview

Published in Scotland on Sunday

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2010 preview

LIVING in Scotland, it is easy to take the Edinburgh Fringe for granted. Veterans of the world's biggest arts jamboree flick through the programme and think they know it all. Others observe it is too big – as they have been doing since the whole event was the size of just one of today's bigger venues – and consider this a justification to ignore it altogether.
Yet name any other city on the planet where, in the space of three weeks, it would be anything less than extraordinary to see shows in the back of a campervan (Running on Air), on the swings of a play park (Decky Does a Bronco) and in a real apartment done up like the home of a woman sex-trafficked to Scotland from Nigeria (Roadkill).

That is in addition to two shows – yes, two – in which the audience roams the streets taking directions from an iPod. Suspicious Package is an "iPod noir" that leads you up and down the closes off the Royal Mile, while En Route equips you with a mobile phone and an iPod and sends you out to discover the "choreography of Edinburgh".

Did I mention the meal you can eat while dangling from a crane 100ft above West Princes Street Gardens? How about a site-specific Dracula? Or a Japanese show, Continent, described as a mime-based adventure inspired by the Coen Brothers' Barton Fink? There are 2,453 shows where these came from.

For anyone with a taste for cultural excitement, this is Christmas come early – although it is a shame so many of the presents were unwrapped ahead of time. Feeling the pressure to sell large numbers of tickets, several venues broke the traditional silence to open their box offices ahead of Thursday's launch. The Underbelly blinked first, announcing its headline McEwan Hall acts in March. Assembly followed suit by putting some of its bigger acts on sale early and going public with its programme for West Princes Street Gardens at the start of this week. Sensitive to the competition, the Stand Comedy Club put its entire programme online early.

The promoters are hoping people will snap up the bigger name tickets in advance and, come August, find new money in their pockets for the smaller acts.

Let's hope they're right, because breaking embargos and using the competitive tactics of big business sits uncomfortably with the age-old Fringe ethos of hand-knitted artistry. A sense of surprise and discovery plays a big part in the mythology of the Fringe and you won't get that by taking a safe bet on a well-known act.

The good thing, still, about this vast festival is it has room for both ends of the spectrum. You can go to Forest Fringe and pay nothing to see off-beat theatrical experiments.

And you can pay £22 to see Dizzee Rascal play the Corn Exchange. A show such as Hull Truck's Up 'n' Under ticks several boxes: on the one hand, it stars Abi Titmuss, whose glamour-model-turned-actor credentials are as mainstream as they get; on the other, it is by John Godber, whose plays, such as Bouncers, have been popular Fringe draws for decades.

Likewise, the plays put on by comedians in recent years exemplify the Fringe's capacity to be at once popular and enterprising. This year, you can see Gutted: A Revenger's Musical, a Rocky Horror-style romp in which well-known stand-ups reveal their hitherto unknown vocal prowess; Itch, in which the Comedians Theatre Company gives a first airing to new plays; and Duality, in which ventriloquist David Strassman combines high-tech puppetry with psychiatric theory. If Daniel Kitson maintains the form of recent years, his early morning storytelling session, It's Always Right Now, Until It's Later, will be sublime.

For the purist there is no shortage of unadulterated comedy (Stewart Lee, Emo Philips, Jennifer Coolidge) pop music (Beirut, Eels, Mika), and theatre (Simon Callow, Clark Peters, anything at the Traverse), as well as more dance, classical music and kids shows than most people see in a lifetime. This alone should be reason enough not to take the Fringe for granted. It is a magnificent cultural flowering which, despite the commercial pressures, continues to surprise even the most seasoned spectator.

On Thursday, I spoke to David Bates, the impresario behind the much-loved Spiegel Garden, returning to George Square after a year away. He said people had been asking him if he was concerned about Assembly's plans for a similar tent in Princes Street Gardens, but he was sanguine about it.

From his perspective, the Fringe is a great free market economy and if someone is doing something well, the challenge is for him to do his thing even better. As long as promoters have that attitude, the punters will continue to get an experience unmatched anywhere on the planet.

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe runs from 6-30 August; tickets are on sale now.

© Mark Fisher 2010

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1 comment:

Eric Liddell Centre said...

I work for a charity in Edinburgh and we have a number of halls free over the summer and festival period which we can rent out for rehearsal space at reduced prices (because they are emnpty anyway). We are not a venue, but it might be a help for keeping rehearsal costs down.

See this page for details:

Hall Hire Edinburgh