Monthly Archives: August 2014

Fringe Benefits: What We Loved in this Year’s Edinburgh Festival

As another Edinburgh Festival draws to an end – dreams crushed and made, livers battered, and flyers naught but a mulch underfoot on the Royal Mile – the Albany team shares their experiences and reflections from 2014’s Fringe.

Gavin Barlow

When we go to the Edinburgh Fringe we’re not just looking for shows that we could put on at the Albany, but for new artists we’d like to ongoing working relationships with. Increasingly the Albany forms long term partnerships with companies and artists who work across our programmes, rather than just performing a show.

Although many of the artists we work with are based in SE London, it’s good to cast the net wide. For us the find of this year’s festival was 24-year-old performance artist Selina Thompson from Leeds with her first show Chewing the Fat. Somewhere between theatre, stand up and intimate storytelling, the show is a very personal, open and funny portrayal of our relationship to our bodies. Definitely a name to watch, and we hope to welcome Selina to the Albany sometime in the next year.

Another first show for a new company was Eggs Collective, three women from Manchester, in a free show at midnight in a tiny room, which promised laughs and ‘dark cabaret theatrics’ , but provided so much more. Brilliant, sharp-witted performers with real insight, charm, and something to say, we’ll definitely be hearing from them again.

Not a new company, but one that’s been around for a while, Ridiculusmus had one of the most inventive, intriguing shows at the Fringe, The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland. The audience is split in two, watching one performance and hearing another at the same time. It’s like experiencing an hallucination at times, not always easy to watch, but well worth the effort and a performance that will stay in the imagination for a long time after the show.

Amber Massie-Blomfield

I’m not sure if the quality of work is getting better, or I’m getting better at picking, but either way almost everything I saw had something that made me really glad I’d experienced it.

There were many highlights: Nothing by Barrel Organ was a personal favourite, FURIES by KILN Theatre and Chris Goode’s Men in Cities left me completely exhilarated, and sketch group Beasts were hilarious with their own brand of intelligent, surreal comedy.

After a couple of years of really strong line ups of work by women with a feminist theme, a current ran through many of the shows I saw of men interrogating their relationships with their own gender identity, and some of the most thrilling and important work I saw emerged from this subject matter.

As ever some of the most interesting experiences were at Forest Fringe. Bryony Kimmings, the performance art powerhouse behind Sex Idiot and Credible, Likeable, Superstar Role Model and her partner Tim Grayburn shared the scratch of their new piece Fake It Til You Make It: an exploration of his experience of depression. In the really early stages of its life, this was understandably still finding its form, but there was something really promising at its heart, and hugely touching to see Tim, a non-performer, dealing with his depression in such a frank, brave way.

Christopher Brett Bailey’s This Is How We Die was many people’s Fringe highlight, and it isn’t hard to see why: an absolutely BLINDING (almost literally) Ginsberg-esque, frenetic one man spoken word/storytelling show with lots of brilliantly dissolute interweaving characters in a heightened, absurdist universe woven from beatnik mythology. Brett Bailey ends by declaring the death of language… and leaves his audience speechless.

Peter McMaster’s Wuthering Heights was retelling of one of my favourite novels, focussing on Heathcliff’s story. With great deployment of Kate Bush. It was fragmented, raw, performance-arty, and hugely passionate. Another audience member approached me at the end and said: “I was watching you during that and I feel like I need to give you a hug”. Which is a sign, I think, that I liked it.

Matilda Moors

I managed to catch a fantastic range of work during my time at the Festival.

Here were my highlights:

Merry Christmas, Ms Meadows by Belarus Free Theatre: this made me incredibly excited to have them at the Albany (with the World Premiere of Price of Money in September). The work was really rich and complex. The references to transgender figures in historical communities were original and seemed vital to understanding the piece as a whole rather than coming off like a tool to give weight to the show overall. There were no easy answers and despite the fact it was such a directly political piece it didn’t feely preachy. There was a great balance between personal stories and societal issues. Their work is really direct and relatable, and I’m excited about the prospect of engaging locally based Deptford audiences, because it feels like they will find so much of value.

You Are Not Alone by Kim Noble is about a lot of things, but I left feeling like I’d watched something that genuinely tapped into how weird and difficult forming relationships is. It was dark, hilarious, invasive and tender.

Burger Van by Sh!t Theatre is a hugely entertaining show, and Sh!t Theatre are a great company – the chemistry between them on stage is great to watch, the whole style was really endearing. Without directly dealing with it they really concisely communicated something about being anxious about how that will turn out when you’re in your twenties. Definitely made me laugh. A LOT.

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Why We Aren’t Signing the Theatre Charter

Head of Communications Amber Massie-Blomfield reflects on the Albany’s decision not to sign up to the Theatre Charter. 

Last week we were invited to sign up to the Theatre Charter, a new ‘Code of Conduct’ for theatre goers (specifically ‘casual and future audience members’), which outlines expectations of behaviour during theatre performances.

We have taken the decision not to sign up to the Theatre Charter. Of course we hope those that attend performances at the Albany will behave in a fashion that respects our artists and our fellow audience members. But we believe that to formalise this expectation in this way would damage our relationship with our audiences.

The Theatre Charter singles out ‘new’ audiences. For the Albany, these audiences are perhaps more important than any other. We work hard to reach those that might not typically experience the arts. This is because we believe in the transformational impact that the arts can have in all contexts and communities, and that access should not be limited to those with an established artistic literacy.

Much of our work revolves around removing barriers to entry, whether that be staging performances at unusual times to make it easier for certain groups to attend, placing arts in libraries, or selling tickets on a market stall in Deptford Market.

We know that for many the biggest barrier to entry is feeling that theatre is ‘not for them’; they worry that they won’t know what to wear, or how to behave.

But the truth is that they do know how to behave. I’ve sat with several rambunctious groups of teenagers, and been amazed by how quickly they have become transfixed by the performance. Sometimes they interact in a far more vocal way than a ‘regular’ audience would, and it is joyous, for actors and other audience members, to experience such an immediate and real response. When a mobile phone has gone off, the group has policed itself – far more mortifying to incur the wrath of a bunch of your school mates than a uniformed theatre usher brandishing a set of rules.

The best theatre rests on an unwritten compact between the audience and the artist. It is implicit in the theatrical format that a performance can only take place if the audience buys into the conditions necessary for its creation. This means subscribing to the idea that the stage is a castle in Denmark just as much as it means switching off your mobile phone. The magic lies in the fact we are in this together, and it couldn’t happen if we weren’t. The Charter not only ignores the importance of this faith; it actively undermines it.

Much of the joy of theatre is the result of its ‘liveness’. Chris Goode talks about The Cat Test:

“The Cat Test can perhaps best be thought of as a development of the old miners’ practice of using a canary to test for the presence of carbon monoxide. (Not to be confused with the ‘pop’ test for carbon dioxide, for which you insert a lit canary into a test tube, etc.) The Cat Test discloses liveness: an ordinary domestic cat is released into the midst of a theatre event, and if the event can refer to and/or accommodate the cat without its supporting structures breaking down — the structures of the event, not of the cat — then the event is said to be ‘live’.”

For Cat, read rustling sweet paper, mobile phone ring tone, or whispered conversation. The point is that as theatre is a live event, it already preconceives the possibility of interruptions and, at its best, is prepared to embrace them. This posits a counter challenge to the theatre community, which there isn’t scope to explore here: but if the manner in which audiences are engaging with live experiences is changing so profoundly, isn’t it better for the future health of the art form to respond to and embrace that change, rather than attempting to regulate it?

This isn’t to say there isn’t a need for a conversation about how we behave in public spaces. It’s an issue that has been addressed brilliantly, for example, by Chris Thorpe and Hannah Jane Walker’s I Wish I Was Lonely, a poignant show that explores how the prevalence of mobile phones is impacting upon human interactions. It worked because it made its audience members assess their own relationship with their mobile phones, and draw their own conclusions.

But ultimately, we like our audiences. We like being close to them in the dark, in all their shuffling, wrapper crinkling, throat clearing immediacy. And we like it best in those moments when you can hear a pin drop, when what’s happening on stage is so completely and utterly transfixing that everyone holds their breath.

Amber Massie-Blomfield, Head of Communications, The Albany

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