Arts: No drama without a crisis
THE Fringe will always fuel a debate or two, and this year is no different. But one thing that can't be disputed is the wealth of talent on offer.
The age-old battle cries about the Edinburgh Festival Fringe being too risqu (from bestiality to bible bashing, take your pick) have been joined in recent years by growing fears that the once spontaneous has become too commercial. Competition from Manchester, Brighton and other global counterparts has caused alarm. This year's anxiety has been prompted by the launch of the inaugural Edinburgh Comedy Festival by the Fringe's four biggest venues. Assembly, the Gilded Balloon, the Pleasance and the Underbelly have decided to brand all their comedy acts under the banner of this new festival, while remaining within the Fringe programme. Critics of the new event fear this will confuse audiences, deny smaller venues and acts a share of the action, and untimately dilute the ethos of the Fringe itself, perhaps even becoming a festival ioutwith a festival eventually.
While the debate will rumble on until the last juggler packs up his unicycle come the end of August, the Fringe's loyal ticket-buying public will find little to disappoint in this year's programme. Bigger than ever before, the line-up – though lacking in A-grade celebrity credentials – provides ample scope for those in search of some old Fringe magic.
Michael Barrymore takes headlining duties in the theatre show Surviving Spike, the tale of troubled entertainer Spike Milligan, based on the memoirs of his long-suffering manager, while Star Trek's Mr Spock, Leonard Nimoy, stars in Vincent, the story of Van Gogh's brother after the artist's suicide.
Irvine Welsh's Ecstasy comes to the stage, while old school talent arrives courtesy of former Bond girl Britt Ekland and Catchphrase king Roy Walker; Fringe stalwart Steven Berkoff directs On The Waterfront, a stage version of the Marlon Brando movie.
Always reflective of the idiocies of pop culture, this year's programme showcases the Noughties' growing obsession with digital communication. Funnyman Dan Marsh bemoans his online love affair, and subsequent offspring, in My Myspace Baby, while Disco Feeling ponders the wonders of fame via YouTube. A more sinister interpretation of the boom trend of online social networking is found in Penn Theatre Ensemble's About Face(book).
The devastation of war and terror gets a sizeable platform with Deep Cut, an exploration into soldiers' deaths at Deepcut Barracks, using dialogue based on testimonies from the actual investigation. Charlie Victor Romeo, courtesy of Scamp Theatre, similarly uses transcripts of real-life black box flight recordings to set its scene. Pornography, meanwhile, will look at the seismic social shift in the hours between London's successful 2012 Olympic bid and the devastation of the 7/7 bombings.
THE comedy element of this year's programme has plenty to boast about, both in volume – it's the biggest it's ever been – and in household names on the programme. Bill Bailey, Ruby Wax, Joan Rivers – who also stars in the self-penned autobiographical play of her life, A Work In Progress By A Life In Progress – Clive James, Jason Byrne, Stewart Lee and Daniel Kitson get top billing.
Whether sweating it out in the front row, or looking over your shoulder in the back row, audience interaction is part of the Fringe experience. This year is no different, with Scavengers, an incentive-based show which sees members of the public contribute to an art exhibition, following a scavenger hunt around the city. Winning teams will not only vie to have their findings shown at the end of this year's Fringe but can also compete for a 2,000 cash prize. Across town, The Liar Show will encourage its audience to trust their instincts as they listen to four storytellers and decide which is telling the truth.
Several new spaces keep the creativity flowing, with audiences experiencing a claustrophobic cellar space in The Factory, as Badac Theatre Company try to convey the experience of the Auschwitz/Birkenau gas chambers, while in The Caravan, Look Left Look Right theatre company will perform in a tiny caravan as they highlight the plight of the thousands of British people still living in temporary housing after the floods of 2007.
The highlights of the dance and physical theatre programme include the return of Russia's pioneering group, Derevo, who present the world premiere of The Gospel Of Anton, while the city's Dancebase studio showcases In Enclosure 44, in which performers play the caged attraction at Edinburgh Zoo.
Elsewhere, following the success of their 2007 Tony Blair musical, White Rose Theatre return with Tony Of Arabia, while Scottish Opera make their much-anticipated Fringe debut with Rossini's Cinderella. The Edge Festival rocks up to replace T in the Fringe with a line-up that includes Tricky, Maximo Park and Kate Nash; Fringe favourites Soweto Gospel Choir and last year's smash hit Silent Disco complete the mix.
The Fringe, August 3-25, at various venues throughout Edinburgh. Scotland on Sunday is proud to be media sponsor of the Gilded Balloon and Underbelly venues www.gildedballoon.co.uk, www.underbelly.co.uk, www.edfringe.com
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Sunday 26 May 2013
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