Leith theatre to become the Fringe of the Fringe

NOW well into its third year, the Leith-based Village Pub Theatre is a year-round institution on the Edinburgh theatre scene, which is this month making its first foray into staging a programme to coincide with the Edinburgh Festival. Home to some of Scotland’s finest playwrights, with Morna Pearson and Catherine Grosvenor two of the names who have been involved since the early days, it will cash in on much of the deserved goodwill it’s built up over this festival run.

The Village Pub Theatre. Picture: submitted

In 12 themed nights, short pieces by Scots playwrights David Greig, Davey Anderson and Linda McLean will be aired, as well as pieces by Pearson and Grosvenor. One substantial coup is the securing of Tim Crouch’s little-heard short The Consecration of the Bishop (it will be heard on 16 August, opening night, and on 27 August), while there will be ‘‘guest director” evenings from outgoing Royal Lyceum artistic director Mark Thomson and Dundee Rep head, formerly the Traverse Theatre’s longest-serving AD, Philip Howard. Some representatives of the Traverse 50 new writing programme will also be involved.

“I think we’ve tried to innovate what a short play is and fight the corner of it as being as legitimate as a longer play,” says James Ley, founder of Village Pub Theatre and one of its core group of playwrights.

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“There isn’t much that even established playwrights can do with short plays, so we want to create a kind of repository for them. It’s gone down really well, people seem to be happy to be a part of it. The 10th anniversary production of An Oak Tree is on at the Traverse, so it’s really nice that we have a little five-minute short play by Tim too.”

The Village Pub Theatre. Picture: submitted

The staging is simple and informal. The programme is held in the compact but homely back room of unprepossessing local pub the Village, just off Ferry Road, whose long, narrow dimensions lend it to performance. The pieces are read script-in-hand by professional actors offering their time, under the direction of Village Pub Theatre’s artistic director Caitlin Skinner.

Fringe First-winning performer and director Jenna Watt has also previously been involved, and she will be once more this month.

“The reason we haven’t done the Fringe before is that the whole point of Village Pub Theatre has been to create fringe theatre outside of the Fringe,” says Ley. “We’re a grassroots theatre company, but now we want to showcase what we’ve been doing and see if we can entice a Fringe audience down to Leith to be part of that. I think that feels like a bit of a risk, we’re well aware that it might be a bit hard to find us. Our flyer has every single bus route to the pub, because we know we’re off the beaten track.

“We want to be a kind of fringe to the Fringe,” he continues, “we want to be something a bit different. The venues in the city centre are well established, but there’s no reason why the Fringe can’t spread out over Edinburgh, and Leith would be the perfect place.”

Leith might as well be Glasgow to your average Fringe-goer, but it’s rapidly growing as a centre for bar and café culture in Edinburgh, and it’s where many of the city’s artists live. Besides, there is a precedent. Forest Fringe at the Out of the Blue Drill Hall off Leith Walk is a success, and lest we forget, that was also the building which held the first run of Black Watch.

“If there was more in Leith, a Fringe-goer could make a whole evening of it there,” says Ley. “This year we’re slightly out on a limb, although there are a few things dotted about. There’s the Forest Fringe and Hardeep Singh Kohli has a comedy show on down here (Set Menu, at his excellent curry bar on the Shore, VDeep). So it’s good that there are more things going on, but it would be good to have even more.

“We aim to create a different vibe, a place where you can chill out a bit more.”

He knows that by their nature these shows might have an industry vibe, and he welcomes that.

For an event which has tapped into the heart of Edinburgh’s theatre community, Village Pub Theatre stands outside of the industry to a certain degree. Defiantly self-starting, it has tried for public funding but has never received it, instead funding the £5,000 cost of this run with ticket sales. “And we bake cakes, too,” says Ley. It’s a social as much as a creative event.

“It’s a chance for playwrights to hear their work that’s at an early stage,” Ley says, “but we accept that some work will never get a full production. If we put it on as a reading and semi-stage it and do everything we can for it within the short rehearsal time, though, with no budget to spend on sets or anything, then that’s an end in itself.

“That’s been the nice thing about the Pub Theatre, there hasn’t been commissioning writers and long periods of development. It’s about throwing plays up on their feet.”

• Village Pub Theatre, the Village, 16 South Fort St. 16 to 29 August 8pm.