Homegrown Theatre Talent At The Edinburgh Festivals

Welcome to Edinburgh. This year, we've decided to eschew the traditional preview of the transplanted excitements of the South and offer our guests some local flavour with the Scottish performance highlights of the Festivals. Alba gu bràth

Feature by Gareth K Vile | 03 Aug 2011

It's tedious to write an annual Fringe preview. Too simple: for assured quality, go to the Traverse, for dance, check Dance Base or Zoo. Remarkable Arts is the cool young venue, with a programme that veers towards the good old days when Aurora Nova brought international experimentation to St Stephen's Church. Greenside is growing, The Space is diverse, and there are a thousand and one dreams to be crushed, and the landlords make the money.

This year, The Skinny is proud to support the Scots who are heading to Edinburgh. It is an international showcase, and it is vital that Scottish audiences get to see what else in going on. However, it is a Scottish city and it seems fair to remind our guests that there is a powerful indigenous performance scene.

The Tron showcased A Slow Air as part of Mayfesto, Cryptic’s Orlando got its premiere at Glasgay!, in the same week as Fish and Game heralded a new use for the iPad through Alma Mater. Even these three demonstrate how Scottish performance has diversified beyond the simple script as template. A Slow Air is a reassuringly intimate two-hander by Glasgow’s master of linguistic detail, David Harrower; Orlando follows Cryptic’s distinctive passion for music and technological experiment; Alma Mater is am ambiguous reflection on education and childhood that uses film to evoke ghostly presence. All of these shows share a fascination with the possibilities of self-conscious performance, tapping away at the inherent unreality of theatre.

Harrower deliberately disconnects his two actors, letting them describe their mutual love and hate directly to the audience. Although the two characters, a brother and sister, seem to be dwelling on a family argument, Harrower subtly weaves larger themes – the split between generations, the rivalry between East and West coasts, the mixed blessings of personal history, the redemptive power of absurd conflicts – into their homely, defensive chatter. Without making huge statements, and capturing the nuance of sibling compassion, Harrower champions the traditional script as the blueprint for a moving, intimate performance.

Orlando is a far more expansive work, even if it is a solo for one actor. Originally staged with live music, it mixes Virginia Woolf’s magical realist story of an immortal transsexual, cutting edge computer graphics and an electronica soundtrack to remystify the text, revealing fragments of passion, beauty and insight within the century-spanning narrative. It is exceptionally hi-tech for the Fringe, intensely serious and blinding in its neon beauty: Cryptic are as fascinated by the image as the word as the music, and while Orlando is familiar from the superb Sally Potter film, this version’s transformative, hallucinatory rhythms cuts to a mystical heart.

Fish and Game are “Scotland’s Live Art supergroup”: Alma Mater, ironically, is a video performance. Originally a site-specific “guide” to Glasgow’s Scotland Street School museum, it has been displaced to Remarkable Arts’ Edinburgh church venue. Refusing to fall for either clichés about the greatest days of your life, or school as bullying hell, Alma Mater is beautifully balanced between celebration and critique and uses the iPad as a tool to layer reality with a supernatural resonance. Witty and moving, it is a reminder that experimental theatre can bypass theatrical artifice for an immediate, compassionate, emotional hit.

Scottish theatre has reacted energetically to the political shifts of recent years: ironically, two of the strongest responses have come from plays that have roots in the past. Wee Andy, a short play that emerged from the Greek-style tragedy of Fleeto and King of Scotland, re-engineered from a previous Fringe success, and now with added celebrity satirist Watson, both grapple with the hard realities of financial and social depravation.

While Fleeto has a rough-hewn poetry, Wee Andy is a savage blast of frustration. The victimised hero hardly speaks, and much of the script consists of angry lectures, political diatribes and coarse social analysis: author Paddy Cuneen is clearly frustrated by the lack of political will to clean up knife crime and the society that perpetuates it. A grim piece of gritty realism, it is a direct, simple polemic.

The King of Scotland dwells in no less a deprived estate, but the hero’s madness slips into a magic realist world of talking dogs and flying taxis. Watson is confident in the monologue: he lends the descent into an insanity a friendly familiarity, and failed romance and social exclusion combine to describe a life lived without purpose and false hope. If the final delusion of royalty is a hackneyed stereotype  – madness is rarely recognisable once it reaches the stage as anything more than a blunt metaphor – The King of Scotland takes a wry glance at Scotland’s self-image and the empty rhetoric of social improvement.

Far from being just another youth company, Junction 25 are a rare example of radical performance art accommodating a community based process. Led by Jess Thorpe and Tashi Gore, also known as Glas(s) Performance, J25 made their name through a bracing combination of emotional honesty and imaginative theatricality.

“Junction 25 is our collaboration with young people, explains Thorpe. “It means a collective. It means young people trying out new ideas. They need to and can speak for themselves.” After successful tours across Europe, a supportive home crowd in Glasgow and a hit at the IETM last October, J25 take on the Fringe with their provocative look at love: I Hope My Heart Goes First.

“When the concept of the show was first announced as love I was a little unsure what to expect.” Performer Scott Ramage continues the story. “I knew straight away it wasn't just going to be about romantic love.” The inclusive nature of their creativity is reflected by the process, Ramage explains. “We had a large sheet of paper spread across a wall and we all wrote ideas and feelings on it for the performance: none were refused or removed.” Fellow performer Megan adds “One of the challenges was trying to connect all the different stories together and make sure it was fluid.” The final product is a challenging journey into love as it is understood by a vibrant, imaginative group of Glaswegian young people.


Orlando: 5 – 29 Aug (excluding Weds), 4pm?Venue 157: St George’s West, Shandwick Place, Edinburgh EH2 4RT

Box office: 0131 225 7001 (from 2 Aug)?0131 226 0000 (Fringe)

5 – 29 Aug (excluding Weds), 4pm?Venue 157: St George’s West, Shandwick Place, Edinburgh EH2 4RT
Box office: 0131 225 7001 (from 2 Aug)?0131 226 0000 (Fringe)


Alma Mater: 5-29 Aug, Remarkable Arts, St George’s West (Venue 157)

Entry for individual audience member every ten minutes, piece lasts 20 minutes.

Tickets £5 Booking: 0131 226 0000 www.edfringe.com


Junction 25: 5-16 Aug, Remarkable Arts, 2pm