SCOTLAND’S independence debate is to be brought to the stage of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year – in an indie-rock musical.
As the world’s biggest arts festival revealed another record number of shows will be part of this year’s event, up 6.5 per cent on 2012, it emerged that real-life musicians are set to tackle the potential break-up of Britain – with a story about their fictional group dissolving.
A tale about a Scotsman, an Englishman, a Welshman and a Northern Irishman might sound like the most hackneyed of stand-up jokes, but it is one of the Traverse Theatre’s flagship new productions this August.
Perhaps ironically, the show – I’m With The Band - has been written by a Welshman, Tim Price, who admits he is “heartbroken” at the prospect of a diminished relationship with Scotland if the country votes for independence.
I’m With The Band, the first major theatrical production to tackle the ongoing independence debate, was commissioned by the Traverse’s artistic director Orla O’Loughlin, who bemoaned the lack of new plays from Scottish writers on the issue. The show is co-producing the show with the Wales Millennium Centre.
The band at the heart of the story are known as The Union, but they are threatened with break-up following a financial disaster, when their Scottish guitarist says he wants to walk out on the rest of the group.
To add a further twist, I’m With The Band is to head off on tour around the UK after its world premiere in Edinburgh in August, which will be part of the British Council’s showcase in the capital this summer. The show has not even been cast yet, with auditions being held across the country.
Price, who is also bringing a play about Wikileaks accused Bradley Manning to the Fringe, said: “I’m With the Band is my response to the Scottish Independence question. I love Scotland. Part of me is delighted with the idea that a country I love might become autonomous.
“But, as a Welshman I am heartbroken at the prospect of a diminished relationship. I wanted to find a way to explore the complicated relationships between the home countries.
“I’m With the Band explores the Independence question, through a rock band losing their guitarist. It asks, could the Union survive without Scotland? And could Scotland survive without the Union?
“Theatre is in a unique position to respond rapidly to national questions, and it is a privilege to contribute to this debate at the home of new writing in Scotland.”
Other Fringe highlights
It has already emerged that the Traverse will be staging The Events, Scottish playwright David Greig’s new play, which has been partly inspired by the Anders Breivik massacre in Norway.
Other new shows include Have I No Mouth, which will feature real-life Irish mother and son Ann Cannon and Feidlim Cannon depicting how they have coped with tragic deaths of close family.
Fight Night will see Belgian theatre company Ontroerend Goed return to the festival with a show which will see the audience vote on which of five performers will be despatched from the stage in a production which promises to turn elections into “a theatrical game.”
The Traverse programme features in around 1000 new Fringe shows going on sale today, to coincide with the full festival programme being released.
Organisers revealed 2871 shows and events are in the final programme – 176 more than last year and an increase of more than 329 on 2011.
However, despite the advent of several high-profile new venues, and the return of one of the biggest, the McEwan Hall, to the programme, the overall number of venues taking part has fallen, from 279 last year to 273 this year.
The number of free shows in the Fringe programme – whose audiences are generally not counted as part of the final box office tally – has also dropped by more than 100, from 814 last year to 713.
Comedy’s influence on the Fringe is only marginally diluted this year, still representing a third of all shows at the festival, down from 36 per cent in 2012, while theatre was the second-most popular art form, at 29 per cent.
Among the major new venues will be Paterson’s Land, part of Edinburgh University’s teacher training campus in the Holyrood area.
It will become a major new artistic hub for the Fringe, with Scottish Opera, the National Theatre of Scotland, Glasgow’s Tron Theatre Company and the city’s Royal Conservatoire of Scotland among those staging productions.
Scottish Opera invited other groups to use the venue - which is part of the complex which housed the Bongo Club until the end of last year - after securing it for five of its own productions.
Scottish Opera’s general director Alex Reedijk said “Fringe venues are notoriously hard to find, and we wanted somewhere flexible enough that we could showcase a range of work, so when this opportunity for a partnership with the university came up we were pleased.
“Once we’d programmed our own work, we realised we had a bit of spare capacity and invited some of our friends in other leading Scottish companies to join us. We’re delighted to have such a high quality programme and to be working alongside so many of our talented peers.”
Summerhall’s programme, which has also just gone on sale, is around 50 per cent bigger than in 2012, when it is thought to have won around a quarter of the main awards on the festival in what was only its second year.
Highlights of this year’s programme include the first exhibition in Scotland devoted to the work of maverick composer and film-maker Michael Nyman.
Internationally-renowned German artist Gregor Schneider will be creating a hard-hitting new installation tackling issues of racism and slavery for the lower basement rooms of the venue, a former vet school.
Another new venue taking part in this year’s Fringe is the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Centre, in the west end, which is normally home to meeting of spiritualists, but will instead by playing host to productions in its lavish drawing room.
Fringe chief executive Kath Mainland said: “The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is not just important for being the largest arts festival in the world, or for being completely open access – although those things are profoundly important, but more important for being the most wonderful event, created by the spontaneous freedom of expression of tens of thousands of creative souls, from all over the world, from all walks of life, at all stages of their careers, and representing all artforms.”
• Details of all shows at this year’s Fringe – which runs from 2-26 August, can be found at www.edfringe.com