New tal­ent that

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.

Yorkshire Post - Culture & The Guide - - STAGE -

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.

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