A PLAY about the London riots will be taking centre-stage in the Scottish Government’s major showcase at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Award-winning Glasgow playwright Kieran Hurley’s “explosive” new drama, which is said to explore the culture of blame and retribution around the 2011 disorder, has been funded under the £550,000 “Made in Scotland” programme at the festival.
The story of Chalk Farm, set in a tower-block in the north London area, will be told through the eyes of a single mother and her 14-year-old son.
Its Fringe run will coincide with the second anniversary of the riots, which involved more than 3000 crimes across London and more 1000 charges across England. It is hoped to be staged in London and then overseas after being staged at the Underbelly this August.
Other highlights of the fifth annual showcase, which has been expanded to include music acts for the first time, unveiled today include a Victorian pub opera stage in an art club, a play about the woman who unwittingly donated the most famous human cell in medical history, and a tribute concert to the celebrated late sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi.
The Scottish Arts Club, in the city’s west end, will be playing host to The Sloans Project, which is billed as a “promenade opera” which will celebrate the “emotional life of a pub.” Saxophonist and composer Martin Kershaw’s tribute to Leith-born Paolozzi, who rose to become one of Britain’s leading figures in the “pop art” movement, will be staged at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, which has a vast collection devoted to the artist.
Adura Onashile’s play HeLA will explore the true story of Henrietta Lacks and the cell sample taken without her permission that was used as the raw material for some of the most important scientific discoveries of the last century.
Chalk Farm, named after one of the areas badly affected by the riots, has been jointly written by Hurley - who was behind the award-winning “rave culture” play Beats, winner of the best new play at last year’s Scottish theatre awards - and Julia Taudevin, who also stars in the show.
Hurley told The Scotsman: “I can remember sitting on twitter, reading people’s response to the riots.
“It was hard, because it was in the heat of the moment, but there were people who you think you share your politics with coming out with things like ‘water cannons now’ and ‘scum.’
“There was a very reactionary finger-pointing blame culture that seemed to be an extension of the villainisation of working-class people that we get in government policy and media narratives around that time. It really reared its head in quite a big way.
“Our initial impetus was to try to unpack some of that stuff in the writing. It wasn’t like we were sitting watching the riots unfolding thinking ‘this is material’. It was more like months afterwards we were still thinking about this issues.
“We’d love to take it to London, and beyond, and we’re already involved in some conservations with some places at the moment, we’re trying to be really pro-active about making that happen.
“The play is about that culture of blame, but it is also a love story between a mother and her son, as much as anything.”
Taudevin, who also appeared in the show’s brief run at Oran Mor in Glasgow last year, added: “It was a response to the riots, but also a response to the response to the riots, not just from the media, but also on social networks. We wanted to look for a personal story and look at the impact of the riots on the individuals who were affected by it.”
Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond found himself at the centre of a political row in the wake of the riots, which spread to several English cities, after criticising broadcasters for describing the disorder as “UK riots” and insisting Scotland had a different society. Opposition parties accused him of presenting the “worst face of nationalism” by taking satisfaction from problems in other parts of Britain.
Lindsay Paterson, Conservative councillor in Edinburgh, said: “While we might not agree with some of the politics in this play, freedom of expression is obviously an important principle.”
Scottish culture secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “Made in Scotland is now providing a stamp of credibility at the Fringe.
“People know if they come to the festival and see something with that on it they will see a quality production. It is putting Scottish artists right at the heart of the Fringe.
“It provides a platform which allows artists to showcase their arts and talents, a system of supporting and mentoring, and also a launchpad for international touring.”
Other shows in the programme include an exploration of storytelling and death, by the Glasgow-Skye outfit Dead Man’s Waltz, a collaboration between Scottish Dance Theatre and the Los Angeles choreographer Victor Quijada, and a dark comedy by Fringe favourite David Leddy about “forgery, castration and blind drunkenness.”
Whatever Gets You Through The Night, a multi-media project which saw musicians and writers join forces to write new material inspired by the early hours of the morning is being revived at the Queen’s Hall, with Ricky Ross, Rachel Sermanni, Withered Hand and Emma Pollock among those performing.
The National Theatre of Scotland, Scottish Dance Theatre, the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra and Glasgow venue Oran Mor’s A Play, A Pie and A Pint are also included in this year’s Made in Scotland showcase.
The initiative was instigated under the Edinburgh Festivals Expo Fund, which sees more than £2 million ploughed by the Scottish Government into the capital’s main cultural events to promote home-grown work.
Fringe chief executive Kath Mainland said: “The Made in Scotland showcase is a vital platform for Scottish artists at the world’s largest arts festival.
“Being part of the Fringe is of huge value to Scottish companies in terms of raising their profile, accessing contacts from the media and arts industry as well as presenting their work alongside many international counterparts.
“As the most significant international arts market in the UK, the Fringe opens up opportunities to have this work seen by promoters from around the globe.
“Made In Scotland has been a great addition to the Fringe landscape in recent years, providing great benefits to the companies who have taken part, so it’s great that in 2013, for the fifth showcase, music will take centre stage alongside theatre and dance.”