Edinburgh Fringe Report 2015 Part 2: The Final Reckoning

1143114837LOGO_ORANGE[1]The Edinburgh Fringe is over for another year, but how did our intrepid amateur companies get on performing plays licensed by Nick Hern Books? We hear from three of them as they recount the highs – and the lows – of mounting a production on the Fringe. (If you missed the first instalment, it’s available here).

pp posterPassing Places by Stephen Greenhorn
Great Child Productions

The fringe is an experience like no other.

3,314 shows competing for an audience over the 313 venues. It is a challenge to sell a show, regardless of whether you have a ‘name’ or a recognisable brand. So the process of promoting the show throughout the day to the throngs of potential audience members is tough.

With a show like Passing Places there is no issue with staying motivated. Our team came up with some fantastic ways to promote the show, including going out in character onto the famous Royal Mile to help tourists cross the busy road.

Passing Places cast members Andrew Dart, Ciaran Drysder and Brodie Cummins on the Royal Mile

Passing Places cast members Andrew Dart, Ciaran Drysder and Brodie Cummins on the Royal Mile

The show got respectable audiences each night of our six-night run and a decent 3★ review from the Edinburgh Guide.

We were lucky enough to be warmly welcomed by our wonderful venue, Greenside @ Nicolson Square. The venue’s staff and techs were monumental in helping us deliver every element of our production, particularly the Citroën Saxo which sat on stage throughout the performance. With a 10-minute get-in before each show, and a 20-minute get-out afterwards, it was no mean feat to assemble a car and full set within our slot. Staying to time was key, so it was crucial that everyone played their part to the full.

Director Tom Sergeant and castLiving together for a week, promoting a show and putting it on is an intense and draining experience, but I wouldn’t change anything about it at all. I’d fully recommend it to any theatre group thinking about broadening their horizons and exploring new audiences.

– Tom Sergeant, CEO of Great Child Productions

ff-posterprintresFoxfinder by Dawn King
Master of None

When performing at the Edinburgh Fringe, August can seem like both the longest and shortest month of the year. It’s weird. After the amount of planning that goes into a show (our own preparations for #EdFringe2015 began in 2014), it sometimes feels like you’ll never stop working on it.

However, 1st September sneaks up very quickly; it always seems premature (no matter how exhausted you or your company may be). This was certainly true this year. Despite having spent over a month rehearsing and performing in Scotland’s capital, we felt that we were interrupted mid-stride by the Fringe ending.

Promoting Foxfinder on the Royal Mile

Promoting Foxfinder on the Royal Mile

We’d had a hell of a month, though. Highs included receiving five-star reviews, climbing Arthur’s Seat, and our end-of-run party; lows involved some prop-based mishaps (our dead rabbits went missing in a smoking area one grizzly Wednesday evening), and being told to get a job while pitching the show on the Royal Mile. On a Tuesday morning. At 11am. By a man who wasn’t working either. And anyway, we were working extremely hard!

Foxfinder, with a running time of 90 minutes, is a big beast to perform, and we were competing with over 3,300 other shows for an audience.

Phil Jupitus lends a hand

Phil Jupitus lends a hand

In terms of generating audiences, though, we were fortunate to be working with an award-winning script already known to many; we had a strong base on which to build our production. We’re in no doubt that Foxfinder’s reputation was a great starting point for our marketing campaign, and contributed incalculably to the success of the production – as one reviewer stated, ‘The power of Dawn King’s script has already been recognised’. Putting our own stamp on it was another matter, but I think that,  ultimately, we succeeded.

The same reviewer went on, ‘theatre company Master of None add an exceptionally strong performance, and a haunting visual style. 5★’

– Hugo Nicholson, producer & cast member

Foxfinder Banner

PentagonForever House by Glenn Waldron
Pentagon Theatre

Well, we are all done!

Twelve amazing performances later and we have to say goodbye to this wonderful city and an awesome festival! Both cast and crew have really enjoyed bringing Forever House to life, and the feedback we received, both in person and on social media, was fantastic! All the hours of rehearsals, the workshops, trips and expenses have been more than worth it. And a massive thank you to ‘Phil’ – whoever you are – for our first 5-star audience review!

Transporting the set for Forever House through Edinburgh

Transporting the set for Forever House through Edinburgh

A demanding show like this was bound to have the odd hiccup or two. Our particular favourite is probably having to carry our red sofa along the Royal Mile and across town to complete our get-in on time! It’s fair to say it attracted a few odd glances!

Furniture seemed to be a recurring issue throughout the process: the production team had to stop itself laughing when our cupboard decided to fall apart during one of the performances! So huge thanks must go to our production team – I honestly don’t know what we would have done without Roisin and Claire. Staying up until 3am every night, sticking reviews to flyers, cleaning the apartment, fixing cupboard doors… there was an endless list of jobs, and our team always had it covered.

Cast and crew with author Glenn Waldron

Cast and crew with author Glenn Waldron (centre)

Forever House is such a clever play, both in that it maintains a simple structure, and yet says a lot about what identity means to people and the importance of ‘belonging’. All the actors worked incredibly hard to bring something fresh and new to each performance, always coming to myself or Freddie (my co-director) to ask how they could improve or what they could work on individually. The beauty of this play is that the awkwardness of its characters comes across so naturally, and a lot of our audience feedback reflected how much work had been put in by all of our cast.

The playwright, Glenn Waldron, who was incredibly helpful throughout the process, was kind enough to come and see our final performance in Edinburgh. It was lovely to hear how much he enjoyed our interpretation of his play, and he took the time to congratulate everyone involved. Forever House is a play we remain very attached to, and we will be keeping our eyes peeled for Glenn’s upcoming work. Working with Pentagon Theatre has been an absolute joy, and it has been a pleasure to direct this little gem of a piece.

– James Bowen, co-director

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The writers discuss all aspects of playwriting, from the first moment of inspiration to the inevitable struggles with the blank page and, finally, to the moment it all takes shape on the stage. Presenter Tim Bano asks what it means to be a writer, and discusses the state of new writing in the UK.

The podcast features interviews with: Tom Basden, David Edgar, Tim Foley, Catriona Kerridge, Rebecca Lenkiewicz, Dan Rebellato, Stef Smith, Jack Thorne and Steve Waters.

And don’t miss out on this special offer on books by some of the playwrights featured in the episode.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe special: with Lynda Radley

Lynda Radley

Lynda Radley, author of Futureproof (photo: Simon Conlon)

In part two of our Edinburgh Fringe special, in which a handful of our authors involved in some way in this year’s Festival Fringe frenzy tell us what it all means to them, we hear from ‘rising star in Scottish theatre’ (Scotsman) Lynda Radley, whose latest play Futureproof premieres at the Traverse Theatre this week.

I started coming to the festival as a student. When I was nineteen I saved up the pennies I had made from my summer job in Cork and volunteered at The Quaker Meeting House Theatre. The venue was run as a charity and they gave me bed and board in exchange for four hours of front-of-house duties a day. It was a wonderful system, though I think the elderly couple who put me up might have been shocked by the late hours I kept.

The following year I returned as a performer with a group from my drama society. We had devised a play named after a Tom Waits’ song and it featured a whole section lit by torches; very cutting edge. I had a monologue entitled ‘Attack of the Five Foot Woman’. There were about eight of us in the cast and often less than that in the audience. Some foolish person allowed us to rent their beautiful New Town apartment, and between the cast, crew and various hangers-on there were as many as twenty of us sleeping in a three-bedroomed space. Needless to say, I don’t think we left it as we found it. I saw as much work as possible. I remember an epic day of seeing seven shows with a friend. We started with Shakespeare for Breakfast and criss-crossed the city till one in the morning. Every year I learned more; both about myself and about theatre. I associate the festival with growing up. I can vividly recall, during those years, seeing a one-woman show at the Traverse called The Gimmick and the profound effect it had on me. I remember thinking how wonderful it would be to write and perform for that stage.

By 2007 I had moved to Scotland, and spent two wonderful weeks at the festival performing my play The Art of Swimming in Traverse Two. I tried not to think about where I was and what I was doing – for fear of jinxing it – but I enjoyed every second of performing that year. A festival audience is something special; people who care about theatre, who want to know what you have to say, who are excited by the possibilities of performance and willing to engage with whatever you might throw at them. Speaking to them, and with them, every day was a pleasure. Again, I learned a great deal.

Futureproof playscript (9.99)

Futureproof by Lynda Radley (9.99)

And here I am now, three years later, about to have my first main-stage production premiere at the Edinburgh Fringe; in a co-production between Dundee Rep Ensemble and the Traverse itself. Futureproof, and its peculiar cast of side-show characters, has been with me for some time and as I write this I am in the process of handing everything over to the wonderful cast and production team. The festival has taught me the myriad possibilities of what theatre can be, and that it is at core a collaborative art form. I can’t wait for opening morning (ten o’clock? on a Sunday?) when I can sit among the audience and see what unfolds.

Lynda Radley’s new play, Futureproof, will premiere at the Traverse Theatre, 6–29 August, part of this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, click here to book tickets or call 0131 228 1404. NHB proudly publish the playscript alongside this production – to order your copy with free UK P&P click here and add ‘Blog Offer’ in the comments field at checkout (to ensure your discount is applied when the order is processed).

Edinburgh Festival Fringe special: with Hywel John

Hywel John

Hywel John, author of Rose

To celebrate NHB’s involvement in this year’s vibrant Edinburgh Festival Fringe programme, we’ve asked a handful of our writers who have either performed, written, directed or produced work for the Festival Fringe to tell us what it means to them. First up is Hywel John, whose latest work Rose, a heartfelt study of heritage, grief and family, opens at the Pleasance Courtyard on 3rd August.

It’s been six years since I was last in Edinburgh for the Fringe. The Festival in 2005 has turned into a bit of a personal and professional benchmark: I’d recently left drama school and the theatre company I co-ran, MahWaff, took two shows up, Guardians by Peter Morris (which won a Fringe First) and Angry Young Man by Ben Woolf, both of which played to packed houses at the Pleasance. Before that heady summer, I’d performed or visited the Fringe every year since 2001, and my memories are the usual intoxicating Edinburgh brew of rain, battered haggis, all-night drinking, performing through sweaty hangovers, and wild uncontrollable euphoria at getting a three-star review or for having more than twenty people in the audience.

My first year in 2001 was a peculiar introduction to the Fringe. I was acting in a Bristol University production of Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters at C Venues. We had stoically prepared for our month-long run by regularly reminding ourselves that the average Fringe audience was about ten people, so if we did better than that we’d be doing okay. Our vigorously ambitious director had chosen a 250-seater theatre, so our stoicism seemed particularly necessary. Come first preview though, we were collectively a little unsettled when we were faced with a healthy crowd of twenty-five. None of whom we knew personally. Perhaps our four hours of flyering in the rain dressed in our homemade Discworld costumes had done the trick? The warm lager of the C Venues bar tasted sweet that evening. But then come show number two, we had a house of around forty. Show three, seventy people. By the end of the week, we were pretty much sold out to cheering crowds. Without a single review. It was extremely odd, but as we were all mostly drunk ninety per cent of the time, we didn’t give much time to consider why this might be. Our collective greatness, no doubt. Next stop the West End, obviously. It was only after someone mentioned that this was the first time that a Pratchett play had graced an Edinburgh stage and that Terry Pratchett was at the time the UK’s bestselling author, that the winning formula really became clear to us. I think the director had selected Wyrd Sisters because she thought it would be a bit of a laugh. And she was right, it was. But as for three weeks of sell-out crowds, it was an accident, and a glorious one. We all ended the run a few hundred quid better off. We felt like we had conquered the world.

Each year thereafter was wildly different from the last, but in some respects I look back at those initial years as unsteady, mostly drunken, but consistently determined steps towards working professionally. The Fringe is like an unholy theatrical Petri dish where anything can flourish, but for me by the end of August 2005 I felt like a proper actor for the first time, whatever that means.

Rose play script

Rose by Hywel John (£9.99)

The irony is that despite attempts to get myself cast in an Edinburgh-bound show several times since, I haven’t been back for six years, and now I’m returning as a playwright. I don’t really know what to expect, but I predict some fairly heavy doses of nostalgia. Certain aspects feels oddly aligned: the producers of my new play, Rose, Alex Waldmann and Jess Malik, are both friends and colleagues from 2005; and again we’ll be at the Pleasance, this time in the new Pleasance Forth venue. A homecoming of sorts then.

It’s impossible to predict how a play will go down at the Fringe, but we’re all hopeful we’ve got something good on our hands. I’m certainly lucky enough to have two amazing actors in Art Malik and Keira Malik, and an excellent production team led by the wonderful director Abbey Wright. Unbelievably, none of them have worked or performed in Edinburgh before, so I’ve been busy prepping them for the bear pit of the Festival, to lessen the shock. Taking a show to Edinburgh always feels like a big deal, a bigger deal I think than a more traditional run of a show in a ‘proper’ theatre, and I know we all feel like that in our team.

But I think if you treat the Fringe like you have nothing to lose, it will repay you handsomely. Although it’s true that the payback could possibly be penury, a two-week hangover, and in the case of 2003 for me, a hefty bout of non-specific urethritis.

Good times.

Hywel John’s latest play, Rose, will premiere at the Pleasance Courtyard, 3–29 August, part of this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, click here to book tickets or call 0131 556 6550. NHB proudly publish the playscript alongside this production, as well as the author’s debut play Pieces. To order your copy with free UK P&P click here and add ‘Blog Offer’ in the comments field at checkout (to ensure your discount is applied when the order is processed).