Star rating: Abigail Conway’s Time Lab ****
Celebration Florida ***
Watch Me Fall ****
Cock And Bull ****
Venue: Out Of The Blue Drill Hall (Venue 195)
Ever since 2007, when the group first set up shop in Bristo Place, Forest Fringe has been right on the cutting edge of all that’s new in British theatre, working with the Arches in Glasgow, Battersea Arts Centre and other organisations to encourage artists who want to experiment in the borderlands of theatre, dance, movement, circus and installation.
The Forest Fringe’s proud boast is that they have never asked anyone to pay to see a show, and have never asked any artist to pay to take part; and they remain proudly and emphatically part of the Free Fringe, whether they’re in Edinburgh or at other festivals across the UK.
This year, though, there’s a change of tone. For their tenth edition, the three artists who co-organise Forest Fringe – Andy Field, Deborah Pearson and Ira Brand – have put together a retrospective programme, with just a few new shows thrown in and the effect is strangely moving, as some fine work is dusted down and re-examined, in new and troubling times.
The first weekend of the ten-day event included the launch of a new book about Forest Fringe, and The Reunion, billed as a “pan-European post-referendum art party” aiming at a determined and hopeful response to recent events.
Despite the mood of reflection, though, the focus is still firmly on the work, and on its sheer variety and vividness.
My day at Forest Fringe began with the extraordinary experience of Abigail Conway’s Time Lab, not so much a show or an installation as a well-shaped workshop, in which you’re invited to spend a contemplative hour taking apart an old broken watch, and then making it into something else, while considering the idea of time; “only when the clocks stop does time come to life,” says the William Faulkner quote tucked inside the little jewellery bag of our work that we take away with us.
After that, there was a brief chance to re-experience Jo Bannon’s short one-to-one piece Exposure, about looking and being looked at, and then a plunge into performance with Greg Wohead’s Celebration Florida, a piece of movement theatre with words presented by two unrehearsed performers, who receive instructions and words via slightly clumsy and distracting headphones, while a story of loneliness, alienation and wonder is told against a backdrop of images from a strange new ideal American small-town, built in Florida.
The evening ended with a re-run of Action Hero’s much-admired 2009 piece Watch Me Fall, a ridiculous and troubling mainstage event in which a strutting, bullying action hero – a combination of winning sportsman and global stunt star – is reduced to absurdity by performing Drill Hall-sized tasks like trying to hit ping-pong balls into a bucket with a golf club.
And for me, the thrill of the day was to have a chance, at last, to see Nic Green’s astonishing Cock And Bull, one of the last pieces produced at the Arches before its sad closure last year.
Made in advance of last-year’s UK general election, Cock And Bull features three female performers in suits – hands and lips smeared in gold – in a fierce 50-minute meditation on the actions, words and sounds of posh male politicians, gradually filtered through an ever more desperate and extreme physical reality. The sound and movement are brilliantly shaped, and Rosana Cade, Laura Bradshaw and Nic Green give unforgettable performances, in a show that offers a profound insight into all that has gone wrong with our political life, and into the depth of change that might now be needed.
This week, Forest Fringe continues with more work from the past and present, including Richard Dedomenici’s Trainspotting Redux, and the finished version of Deborah Pearson’s beautiful History History History, about old movies, her family, and the Hungarian revolt of 1956, presented at the Cameo Cinema. And if the passing of the Arches has sadly weakened Scotland’s link with Forest Fringe, it’s good to see Out Of The Blue stepping in to keep those relationships alive, and to help ensure that Scottish-based artists will continue to be part of one of the most exciting creative families in the UK, as it looks back over its first decade, and on to the future.
Forest Fringe continues until 20 August.