The Edinburgh Fringe festival is quite possibly my favourite time of the year. It’s essentially Christmas for pretentious, artsy-fartsy student-y types. The only thing it is lacking is Richard DeMarco bedecked in red with a strap-on beard. Much like Christmas, 90% of everything on offer will rot, discarded and forgotten, as the accumulative hangover sets in and not another thought will be paid to that novelty owl-whistle or that all-mime, sock-puppet rendition of Waiting for Godot (of which you have received three). My point is, among the mire there will always be something truly special that will stay with you forever. So, in the fashion of a spoilt child showing off his new toys, I’m going to take this opportunity to talk about the most inspiring shows of this year’s Fringe.
Political theatre is back with a vengeance. Theatre Ad Infinitum’s Ballad of The Burning Star was a masterful piece on the horrors of conflict in the Middle East and could well be the new gold standard in savage satirical drama. Drag Queen Star and her team of Starlettes pull their audience through a musical cabaret focused on young Israel growing up amid the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The level of irony is never quite clear until the very end. I shan’t say any more for fear of spoilers. What I can say is keep an eye on this one. If and when it transfers: see it. Fresh, vibrant and, most importantly, relevant, it shows us that political theatre is, once more, on the rise.
Continuing along these lines, special mention must go to Knaïve Theatre’s Bin Laden: The One-Man Show. No, this is not a musical comedy. Look past its off-putting title and what you have is a phenomenal, thought-provoking show that shines new light on our closeted perspectives. Cut from the same cloth as Pip Utton’s Adolf, Bin Laden is an excellent platform for provoking debate. Sensitive, powerful and humorous, it has already transferred to Courtyard Theatre in London (ends 23rd). If you are in London before then, be sure not to miss out.
As a final point on ‘current affairs’ productions, no list of this kind would be complete without Nirbhaya, arguably the most viciously uncompromising show to hit the Fringe in recent years. Part verbatim, part physical theatre, real rape victims tell their stories in an intense blast of truth surrounding the perpetration of violence against women in India. I must confess that I did not have the opportunity to see this myself: by the time I got myself ready, the entire run had sold out. Who says theatre is a dying medium? New work, important work, will draw crowds. The success of all the shows I have mentioned so far really highlights how the market is present for something beyond tired rehashes and film adaptations. The word really does have to be spread.
Speaking of rehashes, I need to say that I am not proselytising against storytelling theatre. In fact, the final two shows I want to discuss – Track 3 and The Bunker Trilogy: Agamemnon – are precisely that: storytelling rehashes. Rehashes in the best possible way. I’m sick of slavish, academic productions of classics. Many people have a horrible habit of considering certain texts (particularly of Shakespeare) to be gospel. Both these shows take the original versions (Chekhov’s Three Sisters and Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, respectively) and toss them, unceremoniously, out the window. The result is glorious. Track 3 is like watching a group of people descend into cabin fever: stilted, sharp and totally anti-naturalistic, it is as funny as the original but for very different reasons. Agamemnon twists the grandiloquent, heavy tragedy into an intensely intimate, personal drama, staged inside a studio which has been transformed into a WWI bunker.
Think new, think fresh. This is the mantra to take away from the Fringe. Theatre is constantly reinventing itself and is far from dead. Get involved and let the revolution begin!