Monthly Archives: July 2013

Making Sense of the Edinburgh Fringe Guide 2013

Choosing what to see at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is a stressful process for a lot of people, particularly my Dad. Throughout August he emails me saying things like: “We want to go and see four- or five-star theatre show at 3.30pm on Sunday 12th August at the Pleasance Dome, or within a five-minute radius, and it can’t be like that dreadful boxing one that won all the prizes you sent us to last year. Do you have any suggestions?”

By this point, I’m usually seeing lots of shows for The Scotsman and, as a result, have lots of recommendations. However, I can’t remember when or where any of them took place because venues, times and titles are a jumbled mass of numbers and letters rolling around my head like lottery balls. So I just email him a single word: the name of my favourite. It has really stuck in my mind and I’m pretty sure will win all the prizes. Why wouldn’t it? It’s by the company who did that wonderful boxing play.

It’s around this time of year that lots of lists come out called things like ‘Top 20 things to see at the Edinburgh Fringe if you can’t be bothered to read the programme’. They predominantly suggest you go and see shows by companies or individuals who have done good stuff in the past, similar to the way banks only lend to people who can already prove they have lots of cash. These shows are ‘a safe bet’. However, safe can mean predictable and, in some cases, disappointing. For instance, you’re unlikely to appreciate a harrowing expose of sex trafficking, no matter how well done, if what you really want to see is a musical starring ex-soap stars.

Reading the Fringe Guide for yourself avoids this. It means you will be more likely to find and see what you want; less likely to have to buy your ticket now (or last week). However, it’s a time consuming process. I know, because I do it every year. It’s boring! Don’t even try and read more than ten pages without a break. But, in the end, it is worth it. Out of the hundred or so shows I see each year most of the ones I choose are good, and the ones I like best are often on few people’s lists except my own.

In 2008, I was one of the first and only critics to see Little Bulb’s debut show Crocosmia, performed in a hotel room. There were two other audience members. Their last show, Orpheus, sold out Battersea Arts Centre. A picture of their current one, Squally Showers, tops the Guardian’s ‘to see’ list. In 2007, I saw one of the first performances of the recently formed 1927’s Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. It went on to win multiple awards and tour the world. The company didn’t have critics at their follow-up show in 2011. They didn’t need them.

Seeing a great show before anyone else is brilliant. You can take your time and choose where to sit, you won’t have someone else’s head blocking your view because there is no someone else, and the cast will probably chat to you at the end because they’ll be so grateful you came. “Why did you come?” they’ll ask, impressed that you’ve managed to find a venue listed 5km off the edge of the festival map. “Oh, I just read about you in the Edinburgh Fringe Guide,” you’ll breezily reply. None of this is going to happen when they’re selling out the National Theatre and appearing on BBC Breakfast.

While you will never again have the chance to see Little Bulb or 1927 in a quiet, unassuming atmosphere uncluttered by expectation in the way I originally did, reading the Fringe Guide will increase the likelihood of you having a similar experience with another currently unknown company.

But be warned, the Fringe Guide is a bewildering place: hidden gems are submerged in a cauldron of false advertising and unsubstantiated claims. In order to find the really good stuff, you’ll need to weed out the really bad stuff. To help, I’ve created a dictionary of the kind of terms you’ll come across here – words and phrases describing shows, and what they really mean:

Edinburgh Fringe Guide Dictionary

Immersive

You will probably end up on stage.

Site-specific

There isn’t a stage

One-on-one

Talk about your life with a strange man.

Interactive

A strange man will try to snog you

A classic dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century

A pointless new setting for a familiar old tale

A rollercoaster ride of emotions

Lots of people crying for no obvious reason

Tackling issues

Talking about issues

Heart wrenching

Self-conscious

Poignant

Slow

Loveable

Annoying

Experienced

Boring

Burlesque

Stripping

Hilarious!

Painful!

America student company

Cheerful, rich teenagers on holiday

Iraq

Play written in 2003

London Riots

Play written in 2011

Ban the Bomb

Play written in 1963

Brechtian

Don’t go if you like Brecht

Beckett-like

Weird and confusing

New writing

Play by someone no older than 25

Monologue

Long

Verbatim

Saying other people’s words for them

Giving people a voice who don’t have one

Writing other people’s words for them

Science meets theatre

Someone like Brian Cox

Theatre meets art

Someone like Tracy Emin

Suitable for under 4s

Don’t go on your own if you’re 43

Suitable for over 14s

Don’t go on your own if you’re under 4

Adults only

Sex

Starts at 1am

Probably good

Free food!

Croissants

Multimedia

A projector

Five stars (audience member)

The critics gave it two

Five stars (unnamed source)

Everyone hates it

Five stars (well-known critic)

You will be left feeling mildly disappointed but predominantly smug

Won a prize in 2002

And hasn’t won one since

The critics loved it

We care what other people think

The critics hated it

Fuck other people

Adapted from a radio play

Was better as a radio play

Is on the telly

And should have stayed there

Anti-establishment

Mainstream

A play about tuition fees

Created by people who don’t want to pay them

A lot of hard work has gone into it

It’s not very good but please be sympathetic

Robert Burns

You will only see this play at the Edinburgh Festival

There will be a Q&A afterwards

No one will ask questions except the director

You will laugh until you cry

You may cry but not in a good way

You will cry until you laugh

Could be interesting

Good luck!

If you still can’t face the idea of reading the Fringe Guide and were really hoping this blog would be another list of recommendations for shows from someone who has yet to see any of them, please continue reading.

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Wimbledon: Marion Bartoli

Today, Marion Bartoli has 16,377 Twitter followers. Sabine Lisicki has 137, 043. Marion Bartoli is a Wimbledon Champion. Sabine Lisicki isn’t. I like Bartoli. I like Lisicki. In fact, I pretty much like all professional tennis players. They’re professional tennis players! What’s not to like? But yesterday, in the Wimbledon women’s finals, I wanted Bartoli to win. Why? Firstly, she’s a great tennis player. Secondly, until recently she didn’t have any sponsorship. Thirdly, because I knew that it would piss off stupid people – and it’s important to piss off stupid people.

A few years ago Bartoli was asked by an interviewer why she didn’t have any sponsors. “I’m probably not blonde enough, not tall enough, and not thin enough,” she replied. This was despite being the number 11 seed and having a higher IQ than Einstein. In women’s tennis, the best players often don’t make the most money. Here’s why:

For some reason, a lot of people still seem to think women’s tennis is an X-factor-style hunt for a Nuts magazine cover star and get pretty angry when they’re given someone who’s simply brilliant at sport. While Bartoli’s Wimbledon win was unpredictable (given that Serena Williams was the favourite), the tirade of abuse that followed it on Twitter wasn’t.

Along with plenty of talk of rape and violence, that boring phrase tagged on to so many supposedly acceptable conversations about the Williams sisters was also wheeled out: “She looks like a man.” Not that it’s relevant, but neither Bartoli nor the Williams sisters look anything like men: athletes, yes; men, no. The Williams sisters’ colourful fashion, hairstyles and nail art are not what I’d imagine the people behind the tweets would describe as masculine (although, you never know…).

Bartoli looks like she’s just thrown on a white T-shirt, but then so does Andy Murray. I like the fact she has a grey headband that could have come out of my sock drawer in the same way I like the fact that Murray’s bedroom, as a teenager, looked like a bombsite. It makes me feel like we have something in common, even though we don’t.

Despite being the acceptable face of tennis for internet trolls, Sabine Lisicki isn’t referred to any more pleasantly. Rape and violence seem to be a reoccurring theme whether those advocating them love or hate the sportswoman they’re referring to – not that, I’m sure, Lisicki or Bartoli give a shit what a load of repressed losers furiously pounding their computers have to say.

I show The Other One a list of some of the Bartoli tweets. He is surprised that they are all by young men, rather than older people stuck in a bygone era – people like BBC commentators John Inverdale and Simon Reed, who have been criticised for making derogatory remarks about female players. I’m not surprised. Young people can be idiots too. At least there’s the hope the one day they’ll grow up – or that everyone will harass them on Twitter until they explode in a ball of bitter, all-consuming women hating rage. Their usernames are up there. Why not drop them a line.

Wimbledon: Andy Murray

Whenever any of my family manages to get tickets to Wimbledon, the rest of us spend the entire day trying to spot them in the audience on television. “Who are you seeing?” is a less important question than “What are you wearing?” Why, a giant blue flag and a red plastic hat with ‘Murray’ painted on it, thanks for asking. Only, of course, we aren’t because then we’d look like everyone else.

The Other One and I have got tickets to this year’s men’s quarter finals. We’re watching Andy Murray play Fernando Verdasco and Jean Martin del Potro play David Ferrer. Whatever we’re wearing, you won’t be seeing it because we’re sitting right at the back of Centre Court, twenty rows behind the TV cameras. Mamar sends a frustrated text from Newcastle: “They just keep showing the Royal Box.” Yeah, why aren’t they doing a three-hour panning shot of all our faces?

It sometimes seems like tennis players are also expected to spend all of their time watching the audience – perhaps more so than we’re expected to watch them. “Did it help when the crowd got behind you?” is a common question from BBC commentators like Sue Barker or Gary Richardson. Yes, Andy Murray invariably answers. He likes the crowd, as we discovered when he tearfully thanked us all after losing last year’s Wimbledon final to Roger Federer. In post-match interviews Murray might be more comfortable with a dry step-by-step analysis of his game (“I was serving well in the first set, I lost the second, then I won the third”), but what we really want to know is whether he can hear the applause on Henman Hill.

Tennis, like most things, isn’t really about the logistics of a game; it’s about emotional drama. Hence, the great British hope is always The Underdog, opponents who don’t show emotion are “robots crushing him” and female players have “a lovely personality” unless they’re Serena Williams who is “arrogant” or this year’s Wimbledon women’s champion Marion Bartoli who is “eccentric.”

Murray was criticised in the past for having no personality at all in the same way snooker player Steve Davis was. Now that’s become his personality – a down-to-earth bloke from Dunblane to contrast the gold monogrammed style of Federer. The Evening Standard even claims Murray’s a sex symbol and that TV presenter Tess Daly giving him 7 out of 10 somehow helps prove this.

Like many people, I’ve been waiting for a British winner at Wimbledon for years. Professional tennis players start training at six-years-old. When I was six-years-old I started watching them on TV. My sisters and I used to line up small wooden men (Solitaire pieces) on top of the television and knock one on the floor every time a player got knocked out: Greg Rusedski, Stefan Edberg, Michael Stich – the names you don’t realise have disappeared until they pop up in Invitation Seniors matches. Every year, tiny wooden Tim Henman hit the carpet.

At the 2013 men’s quarter finals there are the familiar shouts. “Come on Tim” has become “Come on Andy” and will no doubt become “Come On Someone Else” in the future. At one point Murray looks to the crowd. He was “asking us to support him” we later hear a commentator explain. Luckily we do, and he goes on to win. “If they [the crowd] can be like that from the first shot to the last it makes a real difference,” Murray says afterwards. Basically, he can’t win unless we help him. Which is great, because that means we can all be sports champions without doing very much – even the woman sitting next to us on her own and half of The Other One’s seat, who says “I can do better than that” every time he misses a shot. If Murray can beat Novak Djokovic in tomorrow’s men’s finals, we can all feel like winners – or, at least, that he couldn’t have done it without our help.