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The Final Countdown [Aug. 28th, 2009|10:14 am]
Life on the Fringe
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By Phil King 

Here comes the end of the Fringe - the final bank holiday weekend, the last chance to see the shows you've been putting off because you can do it later, the last few days of catching that amazing performance.  Catch it while you can because soon it'll be gone.  As Edinburgh waits for the final influx of people there has been a definite slump in audience numbers and ticket sales, across all venues, but this is just the calm before the storm.  Ticket numbers are already up considerably for tomorrow as many people have pre-booked, ready for the predicted scrum.  If you are one of those people, make sure to get your pre-booked tickets as early as you can, as Saturday lunchtime can result in a queue right down to the end of the Royal Mile, which nearly resulted in people missing their shows a few weeks back.  Thankfully though this was nothing like last year's debacle that lost the box office nearly £900,000 in lost commission due to a failed ticketing system.  But a scrum it will be nevertheless.

As a company we're really glad to see this final push in to home.  Getting audience numbers back up to the sell-outs we get on weekends is good for the performers as the energy a packed house gives is always thrilling.  The dip might have been avoided with more printed reviews but publications this year, across the board and again for all venues, have relied on their internet material.  This is frustrating when for example we're still waiting on a great four-star review from Three Weeks when they saw the show seventeen days ago.  But you just smile.  Or at least you try to breath through gritted teeth, calm down and then smile because it's the Fringe and however frustrating it is it still is an amazing thing to be involved in.  And it's not just us who are enjoying a mixture of frustration and joy - it's everyone, and you can feel it from everyone they're looking forward to these final performances, looking to go out on a high.

Even flyering is actually going to be fun from here on in - with only three more performances a pronounced bounce will be put in our jaded steps.  Evenings are now packed with the shows we never got round to but always wanted to see.  I'm particularly looking forward to Hugh Hughs at the Pleasance who has come highly recommended by almost everyone who's seen him, the Time Out comedy night tonight at 23:00, again at the Pleasance and Powerplant, the sound and light spectacular that many a promoter I've spoken to up here would fancy in their own grounds.  So, it's not over yet, although it soon will be, and I'm looking forward to Edinburgh coming fantastically alive one last time as when it's gone we'll have to wait eleven months for the next one.

"Killing Alan" will be performing at the Underbelly's Big Belly, August 6-30 (not 18th) at 16:40. Box Office: Smirnoff Underbelly - 0844 545 8252 / www.underbelly.co.ukwww.roughfiction.com

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All these festivals and so little time [Aug. 27th, 2009|10:14 am]
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By Phil King 

On a budget travel blogging site the question came up: "why pay for an Edinburgh comedy festival when you can catch the Free Fringe instead?"  Now, this idea definitely appeals to my shop-at-Lidl side, so I read on: "the Free Fringe Festival showcases a staggering 465 free performances in 19 venues across the city."  Staggering is perhaps exactly the word, but not just for the free Fringe, but all of it.  The festival, comedy festival, the international festival... I may shop at Lidl but I like seeing good shows and certainly don't mind paying for them, but that doesn't help the confusion.  People I've spoken to up here can be baffled by the plethora of events.  Do they follow the above blog site's suggestion and catch the free Fringe instead of the comedy festival?  As the Fringe is reaching its end and audiences and critics have already voiced their opinions this makes the matter of choice somewhat easier, but these are ultimately only the opinions of others who may have very different tastes from you.  I heard one comedy flyer-er on the Royal Mile yesterday using the pitch 'you get what you pay for' while handing out flyers.  That seems to make sense but I'm not so sure that you do, or that you can say that.  Shows can't be guaranteed to be better because you pay for them.  I've seen some excellent free bits and pieces - check out Lynn Ruth Miller's Cabaret at 21:10 in the Counting House, to enjoy a slightly surreal but genuinely funny selection of musical comedy - and I've seen some dire shows I've had to pay for.

The bafflement for audiences goes beyond free Fringe vs comedy festival though as there are other festivals here too: the book festival and the jazz festival for example draw big crowds.  The film festival is now scheduled at a different time to attempt to make Edinburgh 'buzz' for increasingly longer each year.  Will comedy and theatre follow down the same path and take place in the city on different dates?  It would certainly go some way to ease the pressure on the city's hotels which simply can't cope with the demand for the Fringe each year and allow Edinburgh to draw people in over a longer period.  But would that ruin the spirit of the Fringe?  It's a joy being able to mix comedy and theatre and it's certainly of value that both are here but the marketing men, in a bid to nail down a precise audience demographic and sell to them specifically are seeking to push the two apart.

Would there even be much of a festival if comedy and theatre were split?  The comedy festival here this year has done incredibly well but in reality, however great the theatre productions have been this year - and there have been some absolute corkers - in speaking to the general public day after day whilst flyering and in bars afterwards more people are interested in comedy than theatre.  These could just be the people I've come across and could just be my innate theatrical-protectionist impulses kicking in (making me an over-worrying theatre-type) but I would always want to see a mixing and a mingling of audiences for all types of shows as it lends to the festival atmosphere.  Edinburgh always has had so much happening simultaneously and rather than clear up that 'mess' it's here to be enjoyed.  So, although some will want to make life easy by only seeing free Fringe, or others only shows that gain four or more stars in Three Weeks, there will always be an option to kill a spare hour by going and seeing something you wouldn't normally watch and that it might, just might, be amazing.

"Killing Alan" will be performing at the Underbelly's Big Belly, August 6-30 (not 18th) at 16:40. Box Office: Smirnoff Underbelly - 0844 545 8252 / www.underbelly.co.ukwww.roughfiction.com

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Life after the Fringe [Aug. 26th, 2009|11:06 am]
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By Phil King 

The Fringe is fun and it is a world unto itself to some degree, but there is a life outside of it that sometimes feels elusive.  Shows can have an amazing festival, burn brightly, and never be seen again.  Everyone hankers after news that means the show can live on, be that in terms of a direct transfer, extra rehearsal space and time or simply a small gesture of good-will in the direction of improving the show for future audiences.  I fully concede that some shows do come up to Edinburgh as an end in itself - to learn from the experience of running a show for a month and how to 'sell' a show to the general public.  University companies benefit, as we once did, from seeing the wider world outside of University walls and facing the criticism the larger arena has to offer.  However, for the majority of companies, seeking to find a way to keep making and developing work is a key Fringe aim.

Our company, Rough Fiction, have just been made associates of 'The Point' in Eastleigh headed by the vivacious, razor-sharp and friendly Gregory Nash.  On meeting him you're struck by the sense this man knows what he's talking about, yet is also quite content to talk about anything that comes up.  I've always been slightly scared by 'networking' but when it comes down to talking about your piece with someone who is genuinely interested, it feels easy.  Networking is an important part of the Fringe and however strange that may feel at times, those times it does feel right to do, it becomes not only easy but useful.  This may be all due to Gregory's inter-personal skills and I admit it's easy to feel relaxed when things are going your way but we're genuinely chuffed to be involved with the theatre and with him.  He's off to the Young Vic soon to take up a new and exciting role but will keep links with us to help question our work and make it better.  Which is ultimately what it's all about, making things that are genuinely good that inspire an audience.  Growing and improving beyond the Fringe has always been our aim and now we have a route to achieve that, many other pieces here will have already found routes for themselves and others may well find it before the festival's out.  It's one reason the Fringe is as exciting as it is and certainly makes it all worthwhile.

Pictured above right: The Point, Eastleigh

"Killing Alan" will be performing at the Underbelly's Big Belly, August 6-30 (not 18th) at 16:40. Box Office: Smirnoff Underbelly - 0844 545 8252 / www.underbelly.co.ukwww.roughfiction.com

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The Big Clean [Aug. 25th, 2009|10:38 am]
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By Phil King 

Edinburgh moves into its final week and although for many visitors these final few days will be their first days at this year's Fringe, companies are already meticulously planning their exits.  Living in a house designed for five or six people with fourteen has been fun.  In addition to obvious toilet and shower queues other things have been piling up.  The phrase 'many hands make light work' may be true in some circumstances such as a regimented army exercise or a punch line about people working in an Osram factory but when it comes to cramped communal living - less so.  The belief that 'someone else will do it' may or may not be an innately human trait but evidence of it can be seen throughout our abode, just out of central Edinburgh.  I had a good friend I went travelling round Australia with whose mother was excellent at tidying up around him, to the point where he waltzed through this world, believing the 'magic chair fairy' would remove his circular detritus pattern round his television-watching position every night.  Now our cast, all professionals and grown adults to boot, aren't quite this bad but the theory seems similarly founded.

When you magnify this thinking for all of the Edinburgh venues from the Assembly to Zoo you get an idea of the clean-up required.  A host of shows have to remove their set, props and costumes into their respective vans, the venues cleaned from top to bottom after the veritable army of audiences who have marched through these past weeks and will march through this coming week.  The Underbelly will return to being an empty vault, storing only the damp, unmoving air that it hosts the other eleven months of the year.  So the clean-ups will be planned, the return journeys double-checked and if necessary booked but the Fringe lives in its full glory for another week.  The big finish and the big clean up just round the corner but the big bang for the end of the festival is yet to come and for everyone that's still here or has chosen to arrive on those last days it'll no doubt sparkle in its brilliance.

"Killing Alan" will be performing at the Underbelly's Big Belly, August 6-30 (not 18th) at 16:40. Box Office: Smirnoff Underbelly - 0844 545 8252 / www.underbelly.co.ukwww.roughfiction.com

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Is it that hard? [Aug. 24th, 2009|11:22 am]
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By Phil King 

At the end of last week someone commented on this blog with the above question, suggesting that one hour of 'work' a day wasn't that taxing.  Firstly I'd like to concede that sometimes theatre-types do get caught up in a spiral of damming their profession, especially about now in Edinburgh when you'll find a sizeable proportion of people who are glad to see the end in sight and don't mind letting people know how difficult it's all been.  I fully admit that to the outside world working in theatre looks like people gallivanting around doing something they love, and as the vast majority of people in this country neither gallivant nor love their profession, theatrical whinging can just seem annoying.  Unsurprising though the show you see in front of you in the theatre is the culmination of months of deliberation and development. Even in the shorter-term in Edinburgh it means flyering time on top of get-in, get-out and warm-up time. Theatre in particular is often many years of training and 'paying ones dues'.  Nothing just happens spontaneously.  Even improvised performance requires a hefty period of training, development and skill.

This whole defence can seem moot when the play in front of the audience is not worth their time.  Ill-considered performances abound and the reputation I have faced amongst many of my friends of simply 'being a tree' is founded in the harrowing theatrical part-truths of the past.  However, when you come across a genuinely belting performance you feel enthused again, and certainly enough to want to snap at the question with 'of course it's hard, it's a job and it's definitely worth it'.  Last night I came across just such a performance in 'Kursk'.  The audience were gently ushered into a purpose-built industrial enclosed space, clad in black and decked out as a British submarine.  A submarine on a covert mission to photograph the Kursk.  An exceptionally enveloping and jaw-droppingly adroit sound design catapults you from the Drill Hall to right under the Arctic ice as the fated story of the Kursk incident of 2000 is played out in front of you.  The cast and audience move about the belly of the submarine as the events and lives of these characters unfold.  Gripping throughout and with an attention to detail that shows the cast ducking and squeezing through the imaginary tight spaces of the sub the play is truly brilliant.  The work that has gone into this piece, over years of development, clearly shows and it has a fine sense of polish alongside the structure's industrially sparse set.  It may only be an hour and a half of 'work' a day that's presented to an audience but very clearly very much more than this goes on behind the scenes. 

So, in the case of 'Kursk' and all the other amazing shows I've seen up here I'm nothing but glad for all the hard work people have put into preparing Edinburgh for me, the humble audience member.  Although also as someone up here creating work I must remember never to moan about that work, but take it on willingly, enjoy the fact I'm doing something I genuinely love.  An hour of 'work' a day can be as taxing, or as un-taxing as we let it be. Looking around us and judging ourselves by what people get out of the work they put in will always be divisive. Is it wrong some people, for example those working in the city with large compensation packages, are judged to be 'worth' thousands of pounds for their work and that even with a runaway success theatre is never that lucrative?  So in honest answer to the question - yes, it can be very hard indeed, but when it all comes together then there's nothing easier.

Pictured above right: An image from the show 'Kursk' on at the Drill Hall 22:30, tickets available through the Pleasance Dome.

"Killing Alan" will be performing at the Underbelly's Big Belly, August 6-30 (not 18th) at 16:40. Box Office: Smirnoff Underbelly - 0844 545 8252 / www.underbelly.co.ukwww.roughfiction.com

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Where have all the good (wo)men gone? [Aug. 21st, 2009|11:24 am]
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By Phil King 

Today The Independent focussed on 48 eight hours of comedy watching, finding it to be dominated by males and misogynist joke-telling that isn't in keeping with the Fringe spirit.  I agree that this year's sense of 'Fringe spirit' seems to be less developed than any other year I've been up here.  It's about box office takings and comedy, comedy and more comedy.  However that 'Fringe spirit' can be found.  The 'Forest Fringe' an artist-lead initiative in association with the BAC is producing exciting and innovative work, The Arches have been putting on work here at St Stephens and there's a wealth of minor outfits to be found in all venues that genuinely want to engage with their audiences on an intelligent and open footing.  The comedy may be over-sized and gender unaware at times but what about all the theatre that people seem to be side-lining at this year's Fringe?

Australian Van Badham's play critiquing feminine roles within an over-charged pop music industry may have a violent title in 'Snatch Paradise' and may split audiences as to whether her grotesque carnival of life actually makes us question it, but the play's Marxist routes are laudable and the point decently put.  Analogue's 'Beachy Head' tells of a woman's grief at losing her husband after he commits suicide and both the interrogation of his life and her reaction to events is gently and openly played without recourse to simplistic gender roles.  Ultimately though the Fringe's main response to the paper's lack of feminine 'Fringe Spirit' is to be found in 'Trilogy' which I interrogated in a previous blog and found to be a generous and open gift of a play directly looking at the female form and what it means to be female.  So the paper may find the comedy it's viewed lacking but if it looks hard at all the theatre that's up here I'm sure it'll find genuinely open-minded and inclusive pieces.

At times it's tempting to fall into the gender traps.  Our play, based on 'Gawain and the Green Knight', an old Arthurian poem had to update and question the ingrained misogyny that's rife in the original.  Altering the ending to give the central female more of a mission and reason throughout the play and making her exist in her own right and not simply as a commodified being was a central aim.  Theatre responds to the equality of the sexes though, audiences far less willing to accept uneven treatment in the shows they watch than perhaps comedy, if the paper's thesis holds.  Hopefully in the following 48 hours the paper will find the open and involving theatre it's looking for.

Pictured above right: Snatch Paradise's poster image

"Killing Alan" will be performing at the Underbelly's Big Belly, August 6-30 (not 18th) at 16:40. Box Office: Smirnoff Underbelly - 0844 545 8252 / www.underbelly.co.ukwww.roughfiction.com

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Small plays in big venues? [Aug. 20th, 2009|11:13 am]
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By Phil King 

As my girlfriend and I queued in line yesterday evening at the Traverse to get into the sell-out 'Orphans' we were surrounded by all the trappings of a professional theatre.  Clean toilets, plastered walls, polite chatter.  As I mused through the brochure advertising other shows, I was politely informed by the neatly-attired box-office staff that almost all had completely sold out.  Big shows in big theatres sell well.  I shared two interesting and lengthy conversations with intelligent and engaging middle aged couples and a few Fringe stories were swapped.  But there we were, standing the in the well-healed Traverse to watch a show so full that an extra ten minutes had to be spent budging people up to fit everyone in.  I think this is fantastic for the Traverse, it clearly generates a lot of revenue from this time of year.  I've been out of Fringe season to see excellent shows here and if the seats were half full then they were doing well.  There was an overwhelming sense from the audience, and certainly those I took time to speak to and took time to speak to me, that shows at the Traverse are a guarantee.  That shows elsewhere in other grimy Fringe venues are hit and miss and the toilets don't always have loo-roll.

But 'Orphans' wasn't the five-star Fringe First winning belter I expected it to be.  It was solid, as you'd expect from a script that thanks Mel Kenyon, one of the country's top literary agents, for her help in the development phase.  It was solidly acted by the three people involved.  The one set it required was well-designed and in-keeping with the plays themes and atmospheric content.  It didn't make many mistakes, it was, well, solid and that was all. 

Apart from the central premise that is, that requires you to believe that there is a position in which a person would commit unspeakable acts of terror against someone of another race if the situation is dire enough.  This to me is completely alien, but as the play first taps into people's racist, then sadistic tendencies we are lead to believe, as the playwright must do otherwise the internal logic of the script fails, that there is a position in which we can bring our values into balance with this act.  I can't.  The play then accuses people who can't understand this of being middle-class and overly privileged.  In an overt yelling of writerly voice, we are then told we are having our eyes opened to reality.  If your reality is racism and sadism then you can go along with these ideas.  Again I can't and the script, the whole point of attending and my night of 'guaranteed quality theatre' is ruined.  Dennis Kelly may believe that he is tapping into some of the audience's deepest prejudices and fears but unless you have these prejudices and fears you are left wondering why you didn't just spend your time in a venue that might not have perfect sanitary equipment but where even if a show is awful it's unlikely to so wholly underestimate the moral code of its audience.  I'm ashamed that this play will do fantastically well and will no doubt be performed for many years, as many three-hander single-set plays are, but I'm not a racist or a sadist and neither is my girlfriend and as such we will continue to search for shows with a more wide-ranging and important message in the grimier of this year's Fringe venues. 

Pictured above right: Dennis Kelly

"Killing Alan" will be performing at the Underbelly's Big Belly, August 6-30 (not 18th) at 16:40. Box Office: Smirnoff Underbelly - 0844 545 8252 / www.underbelly.co.ukwww.roughfiction.com

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Struck-down but still going [Aug. 19th, 2009|11:27 am]
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By Phil King 

Rest up for a second and it hits you - anything that is you've been putting off dealing with because you've been too busy.  From sniffles to full-scale flu, have a day off and relax and you can bet your life savings something'll hit you.  Research shows this is why most teachers get some form of flu during the summer holidays.  Because they can.  Well, after yesterday's wonderful day off the crew are wandering round like zombies.  As the rubbish bags pile up high in our apartment (bin day tomorrow) and the plentiful supply of toilet roll we're armed with is used to create little piles of illness the apartment looks a little like a siege-hospital might - but the show, it goes on.

Of course there is the other type of Fringe illness that seems to have its origin in late nights, bars and enough sambuca to drown a pitbull.  Although this type of illness, that requires bed rest and mockery, will be the most prevalent form of illness on the Fringe, more so than the so-far non-existent worry of swine flu, I fear there may be no cure.   Apart from common sense of course, and this has very little in keeping with traditional Fringe values.  So let's embrace the sniffles and the hangovers as part of the whole thing and get on with Fringe 2009.

"Killing Alan" will be performing at the Underbelly's Big Belly, August 6-30 (not 18th) at 16:40. Box Office: Smirnoff Underbelly - 0844 545 8252 / www.underbelly.co.ukwww.roughfiction.com

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The glorious mid-run day off [Aug. 18th, 2009|12:06 pm]
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By Phil King 

We're more or less half way through, and whether you're the sort that takes that as being half empty or half full the reality remains the same.  Most shows that run the whole festival take their days off about now and its a liberating experience to find a free twenty-four hours in the midst of a month's worth of performances.  For one of our cast members the joy is two-fold because it's his birthday.  The question he and others face, though, is whether to spend a day of relaxing or to cram in all the shows you normally can't see because you're performing...

My cramming-in of shows began last night with the Guardian five-starred 'Trilogy', a wonderfully generous and thoughtful production on the female form, and female presence.  Although the first part left me, as male, feeling slightly pushed back into my wooden pew in the St Stephen's Church, the piece is warm; it's a gift, and more importantly a thoughtful one.  The movement work is precise and engaging and the themes are delivered with passion.  The rousing sung ending is inclusive and as the audience's voice raises into the beautiful high ceiling of the old building, so to do our expectations for the future.

I went on from there to the customary late-night Underbelly comedy experience that is Spank.  Apart from the fact that one comic's opener was to deride theatre, suggesting that 'it's not what Edinburgh's about, is it', the night was its usual high-octane hit-and-miss self.  Simon Munnery turned up late, very late, and his anti-comedy comedy left most of the drunken crowd that still remained in the sweaty black little box confused and encouraged the exits of many.  Maybe they had really understood what he was aiming to do and had simply left to try and get to bed early, in time for enjoying their lazy and hard-earned day off.  You never know.


Pictured above right: Nic Green and Laura Bradshaw

"Killing Alan" will be performing at the Underbelly's Big Belly, August 6-30 (not 18th) at 16:40. Box Office: Smirnoff Underbelly - 0844 545 8252 / www.underbelly.co.ukwww.roughfiction.com

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Fringed-out? [Aug. 17th, 2009|11:55 am]
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By Phil King 

'I'm Fringed-out and can't take any more.'  People on the Royal Mile and in the general Edinburgh scrum may feel some sympathy with the passer-by who explained to me why he couldn't keep going at the manic pace the Fringe seems to be running at.  As the raindrops dribbled down his face and hundreds of people pushed and pulled past him in a mad throng of show-selling excitement he looked apologetic, forlorn.  It has been a mad festival, more shows, more people and for the people who control this festival - the marketing men and accountants - more money than ever before.  Whether or not the Guardian are right in their belief that more people are 'staycationing' (their word, not mine, for holidaying in one's backyard) there are a great number of people up here enjoying, and in some cases not enjoying the Fringe.

It can be utterly bewildering.  The review system with its handy stars is one way round the festival but with so many publications and so many different reviewer opinions who can you trust?  Also, in the case of many shows many reviews are yet to come out, seeing shows based only on those that already have can be limiting.  But you've got to find a way through the Fringe mire.

One interesting baby-holding middle-aged man's way through was to yell at the top of his lungs about two and a half centimetres away from our director's face.  He informed him that flyering should not replace life and knocked our promotional material out of his hands whilst spraying him with his own saliva.  This incident provoked the sympathy of all those standing around him, and hopefully anyone who wants to see decency prevail in this world.  Whether people are Fringed-out or buzzing with love for this event as it hits the half-way point let's remember we're up here to enjoy the festival, not to get upset by it.

"Killing Alan" will be performing at the Underbelly's Big Belly, August 6-30 (not 18th) at 16:40. Box Office: Smirnoff Underbelly - 0844 545 8252 / www.underbelly.co.ukwww.roughfiction.com

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