Plenty to smile about – and to argue over – in Fringe line-up
COMEDY wars, controversy, celebrities, the credit crunch: Fringe 2008 was unveiled yesterday. The line-up ranges from the dark side of a wired world, to the evils of Robert Mugabe's rule in Zimbabwe, to the hottest unsigned Scottish bands.
With more than 2,000 shows, the serious side was on display with productions like Deep Cut, about the deaths of soldiers at Deepcut barracks, or Blue on Blue, about "friendly fire" in Afghanistan. Inflammatory humour was back, with shows like Kiddy-Fiddler on the Roof, a musical comedy about allegations of child abuse against a teacher, from an Oxford student group.
The Fringe director, Jon Morgan, said yesterday that the Fringe was riding out the economic downturn. "In spite of the doom and gloom, over 31,300 artists have come together to give us something to smile about," he said.
"We are welcoming artists from 47 countries," he added. "An incredible 40 per cent are world premieres."
But after a decade in which the Edinburgh Festival Fringe has grown exponentially, more than doubling in size, the figures yesterday suggested that growth may have peaked.
Last year Fringe 2007 featured 31,000 performances of 2,050 shows, up 10 per cent on the previous year. This year those figures have grown only marginally, to 31,320 and 2,088. The number of venues has fallen by three, to 247.
The Fringe's first venue for musical theatre, The George Square Theatre, has opened this year with more than 20 shows, including Big Bruvva: the Musical, and Cannibal: The Musical, based on the cult film by Trey Parker, of South Park.
New venues include Appletown Tower, with Office Party, in which audience members get a job description and a party to go to. A Second World War bomb shelter is re-creating the horrors of Auschwitz in The Factory.
The music festival, T on the Fringe, has been repackaged as The Edge, with headliners Kate Nash and Digitalism.
But Assembly, the biggest operation, has pulled out of two venues. In a sad loss, Aurora Nova, a Stockbridge venue that brought top international dance shows, has closed.
"We've got fewer tickets on sale, about 450,000, when last year it was about 600,000," said Assembly's director, William Burdett-Coutts.
"The reason I have shrunk to a certain extent is to concentrate on venues that work, because these are tough times," he said. From the Melbourne Comedy Festival in Australia, to Ireland's Kilkenny Arts Festival, the message has been the same, he said.
Assembly has handed over St George's Church to a new producer, Toby Gough, bringing international shows.
Dave Corbet, promoter of The Edge, which has taken over music acts from T on the Fringe, also said he has been programming conservatively this year, putting performers in venues where they will sell out. The Edge is not staging concerts in the 25,000-seat Meadowbank Stadium this year, nor in the 6,000 capacity Princes Street Gardens. It's biggest venue is the Corn Exchange.
From sex kitten to grumpy old woman, Britt to tell all
MORE than 30 years after starring opposite Roger Moore in The Man with the Golden Gun, the former Bond girl and 70s sex kitten Britt Ekland is taking to the Fringe stage for the first time.
"It will be all about me, me, me, me. Some people might not be the slightest bit interested, but it's meant to be an entertaining show," Ekland, 67, told The Scotsman, in her first interview for her Edinburgh show, Britt on Britt.
As well as being one of the 20th century's most beautiful screen goddesses, Ekland is an experienced stage actor and has recently been touring with the hit show Grumpy Old Women.
There appears little doubt she will offer an electrifying performance as she has an impressive bank of stories to call upon. Comedian Peter Sellers wooed and married Ekland in 1964 after seeing her photograph in a newspaper. And in 1975 she began a romance with rock star Rod Stewart, although it fizzled out after two years.
She will share the stage with her short-haired chihuahua, Tequila. "He is a very good stage dog,"she said. Tequila is five and paid when he performs with luxury cooked chicken.
For all her public exposure, her Edinburgh appearance at the Assembly Rooms marks Ekland's first solo show. "I know that I am one amongst 2,000 shows and hoping to make it," she said. "I am so scared that I am speechless, basically, I am totally and utterly scared.
"If I was at the beginning of my career, and had to prove myself, it would be different, but I don't feel I have to prove myself now. I can just enjoy myself."
Ekland was speaking from her native Sweden, where she recently appeared in a TV reality show.
She is among a celebrity list at the Fringe that appears a little long in the tooth. It ranges from the Star Trek actor Leonard Nimoy, to the Breaking Glass actress Hazel O'Connor and the television personality Roy Walker. Ekland, O'Connor, and Walker are all Edinburgh newcomers, Jon Morgan, the Fringe director, said yesterday. He added: "I bet they haven't been called newcomers for a while."
Bill Burdett-Coutts, the Assembly director, said: "Britt's a great performer. I saw her in Grumpy Old Women, I thought she was terrific. People of my age remember when she was a sex bomb." Ekland said the show has been an idea for years. "I felt it was time for me to go into something new, and Edinburgh was suggested," she said. A writer, Mark Dooley, is putting the script together.
"I don't think I'm a sex symbol for people now, but I probably was in the James Bond years. Looking at those pictures, I looked pretty tasty."
Ekland was also linked to younger men from Bay City Roller Les McKeown to LA Guns singer Phil Lewis. She also married Stray Cat drummer Slim Jim Phantom in 1984 before divorcing eight years later.
She added:"I don't consider that I have had any painful moments in my life. There have been a few dramas, but nothing I couldn't handle."
"There are no nos in this show. I hope this will be my pension plan because I don't have one."
Brit winner is headline act
SINGER-SONGWRITER Kate Nash is a headline act at The Edge, the music strand at this year's Fringe. Nash, named best female solo artist at the Brit awards and by the NME this year, will play the Corn Exchange.
Other highlights include Scouting for Girls, the opening act, whose top ten hits include She's So Lovely and Elvis Ain't Dead.
The new Scottish talent picked out by promoter Dave Corbet yesterday, included Isosceles in Cabaret Voltaire. "I really rate them, they are a great new act," he said.
Scottish band Broken Records are also "slowly building up a good following", he said. They are playing the Liquid Room, with a capacity of 600.
The "Your Sound" initiative in the Liquid Room for new acts will also include four unsigned Scottish artists, he said.
There are some 50 gigs in three venues, the 2,800 capacity Corn Exchange, the Liquid Room and Cabaret Voltaire.
A major highlight will be the ex-Throwing Muses front-woman Kristin Hersh, with a seven-night run in St Cecilia's Hall. The show, Paradoxical Undressing, incorporates film, music, and readings from her forthcoming memoir.
There are no concerts in Princes Street Gardens this year. The limited capacity of 6,000 means it does not add up financially, said Mr Corbet.
Shows pushing the envelope
WEIRD and wonderful productions continue to appear at the Fringe this year.
Among them are Scavengers – where the audience will contribute to a collection of 100 objects over nine hours from which the cast will create an exhibition.
Death by Chocolate will see festival-goers drawn into an interactive chocolate-tasting murder mystery.
In the Office Party will blur the line between audience and performer, while in the Liar Show four storytellers each recount funny, harrowing tales, one of which is untrue.
Fighting over the laughs
THE big four venues have combined their Fringe comedy line-up this year in the "Edinburgh Comedy Festival". But it has brought accusations that the Assembly, the Pleasance, the Underbelly and the Gilded Balloon are splitting the festival to boost their own profits.
Big comedy names this year include Bill Bailey, Jimmy Carr, Jason Byrne, Ruby Wax and Stewart Lee. Shows like Eco-Friendly Jihad mix the war on terrorism with the war on carbon emissions.
The comedy festival staged its own launch at Home House, an Edinburgh eatery, but the Fringe director, Jon Morgan, skipped the event. The Stand comedy venue owner, Tommy Sheppard, has also kept his distance, boasting a strong line-up of his own this year with new stages.
"I had a lot to do today," Mr Morgan said. "With 247 venues I can't attend every single Fringe launch." The festival included "some of the best-known names in the comedy world," he said, but was one of several "mini- festivals" at Fringe 08.
The Pleasance's Anthony Alderson, and other comedy festival supporters, argue it will increase the Festival Fringe's profile in London and overseas.
Bomb shelter in limelight
A BOMB shelter from the Second World War, newly rediscovered beneath Edinburgh University's sports centre, could be one of the most evocative venues of this year's Fringe.
The Pleasance is using it to stage The Factory, a show which will recreate for audiences the experience of discovering the gas chambers of the Auschwitz/Birkenau concentration camps.
Six metres underground, the shelter is about 40 metres long, with breeze-block toilets running along the middle. The original stencilled signs are still in place.
Anthony Alderson, the Pleasance venue director, said it may have been used for brewery workers and could have sheltered up to 300 people. Recently rediscovered, the shelter is set to be converted to a rifle or archery range, but will become a Fringe venue for one year.
Just 35 people at a time will see e show, run by the Badac Theatre Company, a Fringe First winner. There are no seats, but audiences will move through the space.
"It's a most extraordinary play," Mr Alderson said.
The space will also be used for two other productions, including Plastic, about the use of plastic surgery in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Transient, meanwhile, is set in Germany at the end of the Second World War, when people faced reading long lists of the missing to find lost relatives.
Looking on the dark side
A NUMBER of shows at the Fringe this year probe the dark side of communication – or miscommunication – in online social networking and internet chatrooms.
Free Outgoing, a production fostered by the Royal Court Theatre in London's playwrighting programme, explores the fall-out when a mobile phone clip of a girl having sex in her classroom is spread across the country.
Communications is also fodder for humour. The comedian Dan Marsh, in My Myspace Baby, explores his My Space love affair and subsequent offspring.
In Justin Moorhouse's Ever Decreasing Circle, the comedian purges his electronic address book, while About Face(book) takes four young women into a world where they don't know who their so-called friends actually are.
Jon Morgan, the Fringe director, said: "It's to do with society, fracturing in some ways, that people feel unable to talk to each other face to face. I always wonder why people don't just talk to each other, rather than text each other.
"There are dangers involved in using the internet which some of the shows flag up."
Democracy and dictatorship
THERE will be a number of shows focusing on heavyweight political issues.
The situation in Zimbabwe and its president, are explored in I Am Robert Mugabe and Requiem for Robert Mugabe, both by Exit Theatre. The former explores the possible trial of the dictator, while the latter is a satire tracing his rise.
The Burma Play – A Comedy of Terror, by Northern International Theatre, looks at the country's 20-year struggle for democracy.
American campus massacres are examined in The Boy from Centreville and Columbinus.
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Thursday 20 June 2013
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