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.
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.
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.
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.