It was a huge gamble. The last announcement on the lifting of Scotland’s lockdown restrictions came just days before the festival began in earnest. For small semi-professional arts companies up and down the country, putting a show on in Edinburgh this August it was a risk that had to pay off.
For those of us who take shows to the Fringe and those of us who come to report on it, there’s a huge financial investment. This can be from your life savings, your overdraft, your windfall or your profits. The truth is that companies who bring shows to Edinburgh each year do so off their own back and come from all walks of life.
It’s so important that we have a diversity of performance on offer – money should never be a barrier and I’m immensely glad that the global pandemic hasn’t been either. As punters, we’re incredibly lucky to have the selection that we do this year and it’s been an absolute belter so far.
While an international outlook is always an essential part of a festival, I’m so proud that the festival I love has produced the opportunity for so many brilliant homegrown shows to take flight this year. The limited (but awesome) choices have meant that audiences have flocked to shows which usually would be unfairly overlooked due to the massive programme.
To start, we’ve had an unbelievable programme of Scottish theatre. Part of this is credit to the work of New Celts Productions, who have helped bring graduate work from Edinburgh Napier & Queen Margaret universities to the fore of TheSpaceUK’s new writing programme. There’s been excellent farces like Corpsing, centred on Greenock and the industry of death. Also the bombastic Afterparty, a working class Scottish Feminist story with a bite. Let’s not forget Moonlight on Leith, a stunning patchwork of the neighbourhood’s people and story.
On top of this, University theatre from across the isles has flooded North of the border to bring us some punchy variety. Cambridge University Musical Theatre Society have put on another masterful success in On Your Bike, while hailing from the same city we’ve seen some British nostalgia and humour in the hysterical Doctor Whom. Nottingham New Theatre, England’s only fully student-run theatre, put together the verbatim piece It’s Not Rocket Science and student life synecdoche Madhouse.
Feminist theatre has been on the agenda like never before, and it’s about bloody time. Patricia Gets Ready (for a Date with the Man That Used to Hit Her) is undoubtedly one of the best Fringe debuts in recent times. Across the board however, female-led new writing has triumphed this August and I’ve been so honoured to witness it. Alongside it verbatim pieces like Screen 9, receipient of this year’s Charlie Hartill Special Theatre Reserve, have given us so much to think about and question.
Hilarious spoofs like Radio 69 from the Counterminers and Drown Your Sorrows! by Balderdash Theatre Company have woken up their audiences with belly laughs and banter. While the more thoughtful and contemplative For All The Love You Lost and Saving Mr Ultimate have given us ponderance with a light and delicate touch.
The boundless energy of the companies this year no doubt comes from a generous offering of pre-sales. The message is clear; Buy tickets for independent shows and the stories we love will prosper.
While I’ve loved every Fringe I’ve attended, I’ve loved this one like no other. It’s a glimpse at what the pioneers of our festival set out to achieve at it’s outset, all without the fear of our performers finding themselves 5k deeper in debt. If there’s a message to take away from this year, performer or punter, it’s be brave. Bring your story and the people will come.
The future of the Fringe is bright if we can only maintain the momentum this festival has offered. It will not be a light task, as rampant commercial forces seek their return as the curtains fall on restrictions on our freedoms here in Scotland. Tread lightly corporations, for independent voices have had a year where they’ve proved themselves worthy.