Monday, 2 August 2010

Scotland Has Talent!

Image by Dora Petherbridge

So we’re gearing up for the largest arts festival in the world this week, with the Edinburgh Festival Fringe officially opening on August 6th. During this month long festival the hoards will descend upon the historic capital, happenings will abound, colourful street theatre will make traversing the city at a steady pace impossible and bright young (and old) things will thrust flyers into your hands enthusiastically promoting their shows. The fringe is a competitive business with over 2400 shows going on in the one relatively small city.

Over the years the festival has grown hugely and has become as much commercial as it is creative, artistic and a showcase for up and coming talent. Major players in the world of entertainment, comedy and theatre will perform alongside lesser known names and tomorrow’s big stars. I do believe I once read that Emily Blunt was discovered here. And many of our most celebrated actors have graced the boards of the fringe venues at one time or another. And as much as the locals might grumble about the city often coming to a standstill, the price of beer in their favourite pubs increasing and snap-happy tourists taking up space on the pavement, one has to marvel at how the capital of Scotland becomes something of a cultural epicentre for a few weeks. For all its frenetic pace and the overwhelming choice of shows on offer, one must yield to the buzz of the fringe. Go with the flow and you’ll discover the gems in the rough.

As a seasoned fringe reviewer I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly. I have stories that abound with tales of nauseating comedy (Mr Methane was a low point), to wonderful comedic discoveries such as Jon Richardson – one to watch out for and a hot ticket if you’re heading up north in August. At times it is even emotional, for as a reviewer you experience both the highs and the lows, the shocking four seasons in one day and the harsh realities that many young performers face as they begin their careers in entertainment.

I remember reviewing a one-woman show in my rookie year where there were only two of us in the audience - one look at each other and we knew we were both reviewers as we stuffed our fringe passes inside our coats. In a venue that could be effectively described as a vault, under pounding rain and the throb of the feet from the revellers above this woman delivered a powerful performance, which included the story of a woman with a crush on David Tennant. I couldn’t help but be moved by her brave determination to carry on under difficult circumstances, to lay bare a part of her soul few of us could contemplate, for there is surely something very exposing about performing in a one person-show.

I bumped into her a few days later in another fringe venue and felt obliged to talk to her about her performance. She said she’d remembered me and recounted her disappointment upon realising we were both reviewers. She admitted that my fellow reviewer (unfairly in my opinion) had given her a woeful review – such is often the cut-throat nature of the business. Still I do wonder if we’ve forgotten the art of fringe theatre, its rawness being part of its potential. I told her I’d given her a good review and we laughed about the crushes we’d had on celebrities over the years.

That’s another thing about the fringe, the crowd is good, particularly those who go out mid-week, for these are the old timers, the ones who barely miss a year and schedule their summer holidays around August. Indeed the festival is a hugely friendly, celebratory and positive experience, an open show case where for a month the fourth wall is literally torn down and performers, artists, writers and ordinary folk come together.

Princes Street Gardens bandstand 'Scotland Has Talent' , Image by Dora Petherbridge

First snapshot of the Fringe

One of the main venues at the fringe, Assembly has taken over the old bandstand in Princes Square Gardens in the heart of the city centre this year. On Saturday we stumbled across this fringe oasis where they were warming up with a showcase of Scottish performers on the stage, under the rather amusing and not entirely misleading ‘Scotland Has Talent!’. That afternoon there was a young chap playing guitar and singing songs about his fiancé, who was in the crowd nursing a Yorkshire terrier puppy. With songs such ‘I fall in love with you over and over’, this guy had something of the Paolo Nutini about him. And such is the beauty of the festival, you might never know, he could be the next big thing ...

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