Wednesday, 11 August 2010

An insight into the festival

Edinburgh Festival Fringe Programme 2010, with Edward Petherbridge's flyer for his 2005 fringe one-man show 'Pillar Talk/Slapdash'. Image by Dora Petherbridge

The first time I saw Edward Petherbridge perform on stage was at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2005 when he brought his one man show ‘Pillar Talk/Slapdash’ to the Pleasance Dome. To say it was an experience would be an understatement. This was my first proper insight into the world of fringe theatre, the stripped back nature of which allows the actor to perform freed of the trappings of distracting props and other such trickery. Luckily we were in the capable hands of Mr Petherbridge, who is nothing if not a consummate professional. However in lesser company I’ve seen this style of theatre go horribly wrong. And this always puts you in an unfortunate position as a critic at the festival, for many companies rely on a good review to attract people to their shows. A little known fact, but apparently ThreeWeeks (the festival reviewing publication) and the Scotsman are the only reviews that really translate into tickets sold off the back of what the critics have to say.

So when Edward emailed me this: ‘I know it is a testing discipline to review sometimes 2 or 3 shows a day, each of them in 120 words: it seems everyone is in it together in Edinburgh - August is a cruel but exciting month’, he’s not kidding. There’s an art to this business whether you are a writer, reviewer or performer. Most of the time it seems like the fringe is one of the most culturally invigorating places to be, at others mainly when you are traversing a city made of hills, alleyways and secret stairways on foot, just as the heavens open a torrential down pour, you are on the verge of an existential crisis. I suppose what I am trying to say is that you can’t come here and have an authentic experience if you don’t at least live a little bit by your emotions. It is after all impossible to be indifferent to the world’s largest arts festival.

In response to my previous post ‘Scotland Has Talent!’ Edward took the time to write these words about his experience of the festival as an actor. As you will read there is more to the fringe than turning up on stage and performing your piece. Indeed one becomes their own PR and promoter, as well as fitting in the time to watch other performers embarking on their own fringe experience.

Edward Petherbridge as Pierrot. Image by Arthur Petherbridge.

‘Your vivid Fringe piece takes me back; you and another critic made up the entire audience of a one woman show! Last time I performed on the fringe a journalist from the Guardian who was going to interview me came to see my one man play about Saint Simeon Stylites. I was up my pillar and he was in his seat on the front row - end seat on the left. Nichola McCauliffe, a fan of the play, had come to see it a second time and sat on the back row near the exit, but had to leave early for her own performance, so for the last three quarters of an hour it was just the journalist and me - worse - in the last 15 minutes I did a separate piece, a stand up comedy routine. He did not laugh. I remember stapling the good review from ThreeWeeks to my attractive flyers and trying to tout for trade with charisma and dignity - and still finding time to see 22 shows on the Fringe or in the main festival between times.

I finished my run with a sudden heady rush of punters coming to see me - at least twenty for the last performance! But I remember their laughs still and pin drop silences, their cheers and whoops at the end, and felt vindicated. I know it is a testing discipline to review sometimes 2 or 3 shows a day, each of them in 120 words: it seems everyone is in it together in Edinburgh - August is a cruel but exciting month.
Edward P’


  1. Me too - its a fantastic picture. Its taken by Edward's son, he's a very talented photographer xx