Edinburgh Fringe: The Events wins New York award

A NEW Scottish play partly inspired by the impact of the Anders Breivik killings in Norway is set to transfer to New York after winning one of the most prestigious prizes on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Rudi Dharmalingam, one of the stars of The Events, accepting the Carol Tambor Award. Picture: Neil Hanna

David Greig’s show for the Traverse Theatre, which features just two actors and a choir whose members change each performance, won the honour a fortnight after claiming a Scotsman Fringe First award.

The news emerged hours before it was confirmed that Assembly’s drama Nirbhaya, about the impact of the gang-rape of a young woman on a bus in Delhi last year, had won the major human rights prize at this year’s Fringe.

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Amnesty International, which honoured Yaël Farber’s show with its Freedom of Expression Award, said it had been a powerful production about a case that had “shocked the world.”

The Events - described by its Edinburgh-based writer as having a “wholly fictional” storyline - focuses on the aftermath of a mass shooting of a choir in an un-named village and explores what may have triggered the atrocity.

The production, which had its world premiere at the Traverse, was already expected to tour around England before being staged in both Austria and Norway later this year. But it is also now heading the Big Apple after winning the Carol Tambor Award, launched nine years ago by a wealthy Fringe fan from the United States who had been visiting every August for the previous 20 years.

The announcement came at the climax of The Scotsman’s Fringe Awards ceremony at the Assembly Hall, where a string of awards for shows winning further runs were announced, along with the final round of the newspaper’s coveted Fringe First awards.

The audience packed into the venue were treated to exclusive performances by Sadie and the Hotheads, the folk-country band fronted by Downton Abbey star Elizabeth McGovern, who helped present the awards, Blythe Duff, who performed an excerpt from her hit Fringe show Ciara, South African vocal trio The Soil and Japit Kaur, the star of Nirbhaya.

Also shortlisted for the Carol Tambor Award were three other Traverse shows - Ciara, Grounded and Quietly - as well as Stuart: A Life Backwards, at the Underbelly.

Ms Tambor, a philanthropist and portrait artist based in New York, said Greig was now considered as “Scotland’s national playwright.”

She said of The Events: “This work has been so incredible because of the two performances by Neve McIntosh and Rudi Dharmalingam. Creating beauty out of horror is something that many of these plays have done, but none better than The Events.”

Greig told The Scotsman before the Fringe began of his “horrible” experience when news broke that was writing a “musical” about Breivik, which he insisted completely misrepresented the Scottish-set play. A 14-strong choir performs along with the two actors in each show, with more than 500 singers appearing in the production to date, mainly from Edinburgh, but from as far afield as the Outer Hebrides, Connecticut and Soweto.

Greig, who visited Norway during the research, said: “It’s essentially a different choir every night performing along with the actors and it should be the same when the show goes on tour in England, and later with different actors in Austria and Norway. There’s not been very much time for the choir singers to rehearse and they don’t know the full story in advance of performing, unless they’ve already been to see the show. They don’t get to see the script.”

Dharmalingam, who accepted the award, played all but one of the characters in the play, including the killer, with McIntosh playing the local church minister.

He said of the award: “I’m amazed. It really is quite incredible.”

Orla O’Loughlin, artistic director at the Traverse, said: “I was incredibly moved when I saw The Events, which is pretty much the response we’re getting from most of our audience. The involvement of the choir is such a beautiful idea, it has two fantastic performances, with David’s fantastic writing at the centre of it all.”The other big overseas award winner was Charlotte Josephine’s one-woman play Bitch Boxer, at the Pleasance, which looks at a female boxer’s preparations before stepping into the ring at the Olympic Games. It will now be staged at the Adelaide Fringe.

Martha Lott, artistic director of Holden Street Theatre, which runs the annual award, said the production had almost won at the 2012 Fringe, but lost out by a “tiny hair of decision-making”.

She added: “I’m very pleased to have seen this particular piece of work travel for a year, gestate and become one of the most incredible pieces of theatre I’ve seen for a very long time.”

The annual “Spirit of the Fringe” award - set up in memory of theatre critic Jack Tinker - went to one of the few Fringe shows tackling the independence debate.

The Bloody Great Border Ballad Project is being staged by an English theatre company, Northern Stage, at its St Stephen’s Church venue, but is directed by a Scot, Lorne Campbell, the company’s artistic director, and features a changing cast from both sides of the border - and all sides of the debate.

Joyce McMillan, The Scotsman’s chief theatre critic, said: “People may have heard comments that there isn’t much on the Fringe about the independence debate that Scotland will be having next year.

“But Lorne Campbell decided to have a go at it, with an open-ended cabaret every night, a safe sort of space, where a really dazzling range of the most gifted performers and writers around the Fringe could express some of their ideas about the border between Scotland and England, and what is going to become of it. There have been at least two dozen great artists involved in it.”

Campbell said: “For us, the way the people in this room are attempting to help artists to take risks, which are not financial, but are about themselves, their identity and their possibility, is what is still important about the Fringe.

“It’s not a luxury, it’s a necessity. It’s the thing that we all have to fight so very hard to protect.”

The Brighton Fringe’s emerging talent award went to The Bloody Ballad, Gagglebabble’s Assembly Roxy show, set around the Memorial Day celebrations in 1950s America and billed as “part slasher movie, part gig.”

Gagglebabble co-founder Lucy Rivers said: “We’re delighted to have won as this is our first production and the response has been amazing - it’s great to be finishing our run here knowing the show will be going to Brighton.”

The Arches in Glasgow revealed that its two “brick awards” will be going to Bryony Kimmings’ Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model, a play about the sexualisation of teenagers she appears in with her nine-year-old niece Taylor, and Sh!t Theatre’s JSA, a cabaret sketch show about the economic downturn and youth unemployment.

Fringe chief executive Kath Mainland, who also attended the ceremony, said: “Artists and companies often come to Edinburgh to create a life for their work after they’ve been here. The Carol Tambor Award and the others we’ve seen given out are a big part of that.”

Meanwhile Amnesty International, which shortlisted a record seven shows out of 98 contenders for its award this year, said 2013 had been a phenomenal year for theatre about human rights issues at the Fringe.

Mark Bevan, Amnesty International’s Scotland programme director, said: “We were looking for productions which are truly inspiring and have the power to inform and challenge the audience. The directors, writers, performers and producers didn’t disappoint.

“I was delighted to see so many abuses highlighted in a way that only powerful art really can – causing the audience to keep thinking about themes for days and weeks afterwards. We have a worthy winner in Nirbhaya.”