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Arts correspondent Nick Ahad spent 48 hours at the Edinburgh Festival this week, sampling just some of the delights of the world’s biggest arts celebration.
IT was about four hours in to my Edinburgh Fringe 2011 that I looked around and thought, “this is what this festival is all about”.
I had walked up six flights of stairs, from the room in which York comedian Dan Willis had performed one of the three, hour-long shows, he has taken to Edinburgh this year. Dan Willis: Inspired is a free show, the price likely to be the deciding factor for the audience of a dozen with me on Monday afternoon in a room so far down the building that the term “basement” barely does it justice.
Dan’s charming show over, it was to the Assembly Rooms, to watch the latest show from Dave Gorman.
Both were essentially presenting one-man shows, using PowerPoint and slides to tell their stories, yet Gorman was performing to hundreds at £20 a pop, and York’s Willis to 12, for nothing.
That, is the spirit of the Fringe.
The annual festival, held in what Edinburgh laughingly describes as summer (it rained, heavily, for two of the three days I was there this week), this year has over 3,500 shows and over 20,000 performers.
“You go into the bar after a show and everyone there is performing or working on something, or knows someone in a show or is someone that you’ve worked with. There is an incredible energy about the place, it’s a really manic but fantastic time,” says Jethro Compton. The producer and performer is one of the four people behind Belt Up Theatre, the York-based company that has been labelled, with good reason, “Fringe royalty”.
Belt Up specialises in immersive productions, in which the audience sit in a space around which the actors perform. In Edinburgh this year, the company is tiny – just three members – as opposed to the dozens who brought several shows up in previous years when the company won a number of festival awards. This year’s offering includes The Boy James, a show presented in the attic of C Venue, decked out as an opulent drawing room. The same show in London made Stephen Fry cry – and plenty of others joined him in being moved to tears by the show when I saw it.
A beguiling, very special piece of theatre, it’s easy to see why they are considered one of the must-see companies of the Fringe. Two other companies making their mark this year are The Paper Birds and Rash Dash. Both Leedsbased, both are made up of two women performers who create all their own work. And both were the talk of the Fringe this week, Rash Dash’s Scary Gorgeous, a dark and funny story that examines sex and sexuality, and The Paper Birds’ Thirsty, a show about drinking habits, due to be part of a discussion on tonight’s BBC2 Review Show.
Jemma McDonnell and Kylie Walsh, who make up The Paper Birds, are a little concerned that they don’t have a television in their flat, so when we meet are working out where they can see the panel discussion involving their show. Both say the Fringe is a rollercoaster.
“Every day there are new reviews and if they are bad, you take it really personally – at least we do as our show is so personal,” says Jemma.
“It is going to be terrifying on Friday night when we sit down and watch the panel, live, discussing our show.”
Leeds-based Rash Dash are a perfect example of why the thousands of young hopefuls with dreams in their sights, head to the festival every year. This is their third year at the Fringe, but last year was the one where they cracked it, when Another Someone won a Fringe First.
Abbi Greenland and Helen Goalen set up the company in 2008 when they graduated from Hull University and have since set up home in Leeds, where the company is based at The Hub.
This year, they have returned with a show, Scary Gorgeous, which is dark, sexy and looks at the world of porn. It has been receiving rave reviews.
They received rave reviews last year, but this time is quite a different prospect.
“When we first came up, we had no funding or anything, we put a group together after we graduated from Hull and just decided to bring a show up,” says Abbi.
With the cost of hiring the venues, paying for flyers, accommodation, The Fringe is an expensive business. Then Abbi reveals just what some of these companies are willing to do to make it in Edinburgh.
“My student loan paid for the production, so it was a massive risk, but we felt it was worth it because this is the place where people come to find out what’s happening in the theatre world and this is the place where people will see you,” says Abbi.
Helen adds: “It gives a whole new meaning to selling tickets. We worked really hard to find an audience that year.”
The story has a happy ending. Not only did the show win an award, Rash Dash booked a tour of that show off the back of their Edinburgh experience and their profile increased massively.
A couple of companies at the other end of the scale are Hot Ice Theatre and Penguin Pied.
Edinburgh for me this year, as most years, was a last-minute affair, so I sent a message on Twitter when I confirmed I’d be going up and asked for Yorkshire companies to contact me. Both Hot Ice and Penguin Pied got in touch, and it seems social media is becoming increasingly important for these smaller companies to have their
FRINGE FAVOURITES: Paper Birds’ Thirsty, top, and Julian Sands, above, in his one-man tribute to Pinter, directed by John Malkovich.