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.uk, www.roughfiction.com
"Life on the Fringe" index; Official Fringe site