Friday, August 8, 2014

#Unbored at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

To say that Summer 2014 has been a busy time is one of the biggest understatements I have ever uttered.

Between prepping our house to sell, going through the paperwork to close the sale, getting the house packed and moving in temporarily with family, we traveled to Vancouver to get our French Visas, I went to Las Vegas to celebrate my cousin’s wedding and now, we’re in Scotland on vacation. Next week, we move to France.

I counted and between July 6 and August 16, I will take 10 different flights. Yes, it’s a bit of a busy time.

But it’s also been an incredibly fun and unforgettable time. We spent the first week of our holiday in the town of Oban, on the northwest coast of Scotland, where we hiked the islands and explored the town’s local culture. We’ve spent the last seven days in Edinburgh, the beautiful capital of this rugged and friendly country, and we’ve been immersed in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival!

Definitely #unbored! This is High Street during the Fringe.
It’s the largest arts festival in the world and for three weeks in August, Edinburgh plays host to hundreds of theatre productions, dance, visual art, music, street performances and comedy from around the world. No wonder the official hashtag of the 2014 festival is unbored. I’ve wanted to go since I was a drama student in university and this summer, we made it happen!

I’m proud to report that my husband and I went to 14 shows in six days. I made sure there was a mix of styles and content – some dance, some family, some drama, some comedy, some R-rated – because what better place to get out of your comfort-zone than at the Fringe!

I scribbled down my key thoughts on the backs of my tickets after each show and added to them when we discussed them later, usually over a pint of Edinburgh’s finest stout or ale. I’ve always believed a successful theatrical experience is one that provokes further thought and discussion among audience members long after the applause dies down. Based on that and the thoughts I’m about to share on the first seven of our 14 shows, I declare our Fringe experience a complete and total success!

Volcano Theatre: 147 Questions About Love
147 Questions About Love (Dance/Spoken Word)
This was our first show at the festival. Put on by Volcano Theatre out of Wales, it was a short piece of spoken-word and dance based on the questions that are asked whenever starting a new relationship. We sat on cushions directly on the stage and there were no stage lights or sound cues to indicate the show had started, just the audience’s shared, somewhat-awkward silence while watching the two performers adjust their props and stare each other down. He asked, she danced. Each person’s actions, whether it was words or movements, seemed to be a truthful and authentic response to the situation. There was even some audience interaction. The main question explored was should people pre-emptively apologize for their mistakes at the start of any relationship? Worth considering.

This Theatre Company: Cafe Ruse
CafĂ© Ruse (Comedy/Musical) 
This Theatre Company’s production was a caffeinated mix of musical, physical and dark comedy. The energy level was just ridiculous from start to finish, as was the absolute commitment and comedic timing from the cast of four, who played 50 characters between them. The premise is simple enough: a group of loyal, slightly deranged customers stage an elaborate heist to save their beloved coffee shop, but the stakes get more and more outrageous as more characters, their voices and physicalities join the mix. It was a great romp in a sweltering venue and thanks to an especially unpredictable bit of physical comedy involving a bottle and a ‘statue’s’ sculpted rear, I will never feel the same way about a bottle opener.

Nottingham New Theatre: 18b

18b (Drama)
This original script from Nottingham New Theatre is an excellent piece of historical drama. Based on true events, 18b is the story of the detention and interrogation of three women in Britain on suspicion of espionage and enemy leanings. The three women delivered strong, enigmatic performances and their interrogators certainly held their own. I wasn't ever quite sure what to believe or who to root for because the characters are very well crafted and everything they said was slightly ambiguous. There were some issues with the pacing of some transitions but overall, this was a solid, compelling production with a script that, in my opinion, has the potential to be produced outside of the festival.

21 Things You Should Know About Toronto’s Crack-Smoking Mayor (Comedy)
DeCo: 21 Things You Should Know...
You know Rob Ford has reached a significant level of notoriety if he’s inspiring Fringe shows at international festivals, so when I saw this show’s title, I knew we had to see it. This Canadian production from DeCo of the Toronto Fringe Festival takes the viewer on a recap through the farcical public mishaps of Toronto’s mayor. Playing the facts through an indignant sense of humor, it’s a ridiculous yet sobering (no pun intended) look at politics and public persona. While we laughed at the absurdity of the situations, the actor playing a political consultant called us on it, making us aware of how easily we could be led to make light of a politician’s dangerous and illegal behavior when “isn’t a mayor supposed to be role model, a leader”? Good point, strong show.  

Theatre with Teeth: Dirty Decadence

Dirty Decadence (Dance)
Theatre with Teeth put on this Modern Ballet about a group of friends who travel to the countryside and find their relationships unraveling as lines are crossed and betrayals are revealed. It’s danced to remixes of well-known classical pieces and has a promising premise for drama and some ambitious choreography, however, the dancing fell short in some basic and very important technical principles. Turn-out was lacking in the female dancers, especially in their extensions. When the ladies danced in their pointe shoes, I felt them to be tense, their movements to be shaky and ungrounded, and I felt worried for them as they didn’t seem to be fully confident in their technique. The dancing improved when the pointe shoes came off in the later portion of the show, which makes me ask, were they really necessary in the first place? Pointe needs the technique to back it up, so I think this show would have been better without it. The male dancers were strong and well-characterized and there were some dramatic moments but overall, I felt more polish and attention to the technique would go a long way to improving this show.   

BarelyMethodical: Bromance
Bromance (Circus/Physical Theatre)
The guys of BarelyMethodical, an “experimental acrobatic circus company” were outstanding in this show that had them out-standing on each other’s heads and shoulders, tossed in the air and caught by their hands or waists. The precision and control they had with their movements showcased their amazing feats of strength and balance. The three performers drew collective gasps from the sold-out crowd as they balanced and flipped high in the air. The ‘Boy-Band’ moment of a dance to Tone Loc’s Wild Thing brought a moment of levity where we could exhale and laugh before holding our collective breath once again. This piece was a stunning showcase of strength and ensemble and worth every gasp of awe.

Dragon Literature: So What If I Dance?
So What if I Dance? (Exotic Dance/Drama)
Dragon Literature is the brain behind the exotic dancer tell-all So What if I Dance?. The character Jade is a club dancer who is paying for her education to be a statistician. She uses her affinity for numbers, as well as her humor and extreme flexibility to shed some light on the real stats of club dancers, aka strippers. The very intimate setting of a meeting room in the Apex International Hotel left no room to hide as she locked eyes with the audience and told us what it’s really like to stretch, gyrate and straddle onstage for a living. She made no apologies and the title suggests a metaphorical middle finger to all those who would balk at her choice of work. A bold and provocative show.

Part Two of my Edinburgh Fringe adventure is coming soon, so keep watching A DANCER ABROAD.  In the meantime, the Edmonton International Fringe Festival is coming Aug. 14 - 24! This is one of Edmonton's most prized festivals, so check out what's playing and get your tickets! 



  1. HI Erin - Enjoying a glass of wine and your very fine writing this Friday night from the comforts of my couch in Edmonton. I love your Fringe posts and with your permission, I'd love to re-post them on Curious Arts once we launch our redesigned site in our new series called "On the map" where we will feature stories of UAlberta creatives working and traveling abroad.

    1. Absolutely - I would love the opportunity to contribute to Curious Arts! Thank you!