Theatre Words and Terms: A Glossary

What theatre do you like? How do you know? What do all the theatre words mean? We demystify some theatrical jargon to help you get the most out of the Fringe

Article by Katie Hawthorne | 03 Aug 2018
  • 7 Sins of Theatre

The Fringe programme’s heavy this year, isn’t it? Hefty. When you hold it in your hands, you can really feel the weight of the thousands of shows you’ll definitely not have time to see. Shows cost money, and time is money, and none of us are rich, so how to choose? What do you want from a show?

On the Fringe’s website is a handy search function; click ‘Filter Results’ and you can tick a load of boxes, specifying exactly how you want to spend five quid and 60 minutes in one of Edinburgh’s sweatiest basements. But wait: what are all these words? How do you know if you want, say, an immersive show rather than an interactive one? What’s the diff? Here’s a quick glossary to speed you on your way.


This is when someone makes a play out of a thing that already exists; perhaps a novel, maybe a film, sometimes even another play (inception!). The catch is that it is always someone else’s favourite novel/film/play, and therefore the adaptation is always Terrible™ for not fulfilling that one other person’s incredibly specific vision. Go and see any Fringe show about Jane Austen, Franz Kafka or Harry Potter if you would like to join in with these fun arguments.


‘Devised’ is a sign that the theatre company does not believe in creative hierarchies and it Very Much wishes you to know that. It means that the performance was made collaboratively, probably with lots of improv and rehearsals, without one single person bossing everyone else around. Ugh, bosses, amirite?


Not to be confused with ‘interactive’, this adjective is usually used to describe a show which tries to make you feel like you’re *inside of its world*. It’s a broad term: maybe someone will (pretend?) to throw poo at you, maybe the show space looks like the inside of the Mars Rover, maybe you’ll have to crawl through a teeny tiny tunnel. We just don’t know.


Now, interactive means you’ll definitely be doing stuff. What kind of stuff? We don’t know that, either. You might just have to scribble an answer to a question, you might end up on a blind date, perhaps you’ll have to bust an international crime network. In short, interactive usually signals… action… so attend with an open heart and a humiliation tolerance set to 11.


‘Multimedia’ is a cover-all way of describing a show that uses tech, beyond, like, lights and stuff. This might manifest in VR headsets, projected screens, handheld video cameras or even an app. Fancy. The main thing to remember is that ‘multimedia’ in itself is not praise, so don’t get too dazzled to forget to check that it’s also a story you actually like the sound of.

Physical theatre

All theatre’s physical though? Right? Wrong! Physical theatre is about BODY TALK, rather than your usual boring mouth words. Sure, there’ll probably be some of those, too, but expect a story communicated mostly through the expressive power of contorted limbs.


Most likely, this means standing up and/or walking. You think theatre should come to you? Think again. A promenade performance lets you roam free and organic within the space, strolling between scenes at your leisure. Perfect for fidgets.


Bored of boring theatre venues? Same. Want a show set in a bespoke space, specifically chosen to enhance the narrative? SAME. For example, imagine if a show about a wedding was set inside a church? Or a show about a café was set in an actual CAFÉ? You get it.


Verbatim theatre uses words spoken by ‘real’ people (i.e. non-actors) who, usually, have been interviewed about the thing that the play is about. Actors then speak these words on stage, with 100% more pizzazz. It’s a kind of documentary-making, and the play could be a collage of ‘real’ conversations and dramatised stagings of events. Think war, politics, the justice system, etc. etc. Generally unlikely to be light-hearted.