Fringe stories

This week has been a week of fringes, two to be precise. That located on my forehead and that to be found in Edinburgh. I’ll admit, it’s probably going to be more interesting to focus on the latter of the two but, just so you can all rest easier at night, I did get my fringe cut so it’s no longer bothering my eyes.

What is also no longer bothering me is never having been to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I’m actually now bothered by the fact that I’m no longer there. My visit was short and wet, but very sweet.

Many of the stories from the 16 shows I managed to see were very sweet in nature, exploring love and loss, and even storytelling itself. I noticed a profusion of puppetry (and can’t resist the desire to alliterate), a penchant for folk-style storytelling, and something I wish I’d seen more of was the brilliance of simple storytelling skillfully demonstrated by Belt Up theatre company.

The three shows on offer from this company who took over an entire venue definitely have to be my fringe favourites. All thematically linked through ideas of childhood and its – on the surface – polar opposite growing old; Outland, Twenty Minutes to Nine and The Boy James are stunningly performed and an emotional tour-de-force.

Another, less emotionally exhausting, favourite has to be Tim Watts’ The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik – although for a tiny puppet Alvin still packs a pretty hefty punch to the emotions. This solo show is a charming little story centred around the very big issue of global warming. It’s cleverly thought out, and performed with such adorable skill from ukulele playing puppeteer Watts that it fully deserved the standing ovation it received for the joy and heartbreak it doled out to the audience.

More skilled puppetry was on offer from Blind Summit Theatre in their new fringe show The Table. The show certainly verged towards the avant-garde side of events, and there was no real sustained plot to speak of. But the work was clever in new and different ways, playful and generally fun to watch – albeit with the occasional loss of attention.

I found it to be the case with most of the shows that something was lacking in the story department, that I couldn’t totally connect with what the show was offering. What seems clear to me is that shows at the fringe are to be taken more as developmental; not that every show is a work in progress – some are quite clearly close to perfection – but that everything is a development of a company’s, or individual’s, particular language.

If you go to the fringe seeking perfection then I imagine you’ll be sorely disappointed, equally if you offer perfection you are most likely disillusioned. Perfection is not what the fringe is about, it seems to me that it’s more about play and those that I saw certainly did this.

What Edinburgh did for me is to emphasise the importance of story and playful – but careful – storytelling. As Blind Summit point out on their website, puppetry is an ancient form of theatre and to be able to create new and engaging work – to tell stories with this form – in an era where new technology seems to be taking over the stage is something quite special.

To be able to transport someone into an entirely different world purely by sitting them on the floor and acting your socks off, as Belt Up did, is also extremely impressive and special. With the predominance of story in Edinburgh – possibly a happy side effect of working on a minimal budget – I was reminded of what theatre is, what it can be and what it does that’s so magical.

Curious Directive’s Your Last Breath was a show that I didn’t enjoy so much. Odd, because it’s won a host of glowing reviews and a Fringe First award. Why didn’t I like it? Because the story didn’t grab me, didn’t seem to offer enough – merely scraping the surface of what it could be. And because technology was used sometimes arbitrarily which is, I think, a serious point to think about.

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