In our annual Edinburgh Fringe Report, we take a look at how amateur theatre companies fare on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where they’re in competition for audiences and ratings with more than 50,000 other performances taking place across the city over the month of August. And this year, the 70th anniversary of the Festival Fringe, the competion was fiercer than ever. How did four intrepid amateur companies get on performing plays licensed by Nick Hern Books – and what are their Top Tips for companies wanting to follow in their footsteps?
Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, in a version by Stuart Paterson
Performed by Aquila (Eagle House School, Berkshire, and Cargilfield School, Edinburgh) at SpaceTriplex
We chose Stuart Paterson’s adaptation of The Jungle Book because it had all the right elements for us. It’s an ensemble piece that allowed our cast of twenty (age 11-14) to take on various roles. The show can be staged simply, is well known (important as it helps to get a few extra people through the door!) and uses a lot of Kipling’s beautiful, resonant language.
We decided to set the piece in an urban jungle, using lots of ladders as the basis of the set. We opted for simple costumes, with performers wearing T-shirts printed with animal symbols denoting their characters.
We’ve taken shows to the Fringe before, but 2017 was a special year for us as we combined with Cargilfield School in Edinburgh to put the show on. It meant that rehearsing it was logistically challenging, but it could not have gone better. We were delighted with its reception. We sold more than 500 tickets and our last performance was a sellout. The audiences were very appreciative and we got a good review as well. Edinburgh was buzzing, and as well as performing the show six times, we got to see a lot of other shows too. The kids loved it.
Aquila performing The Jungle Book adapted by Stuart Paterson at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017
Our Top Tips…
Timing is so important in Edinburgh. Be very good with time keeping, and don’t let your show overrun! Also, make sure you can set your show up in five minutes or less, as that may be all you’re allowed. Rehearse the get-in and get-out so that everyone knows exactly what they’re doing.
Aim for a distinctive look that marks you out, especially when you’re out and about in Edinburgh and on the Royal Mile – it gets you noticed. We were lucky as there are not that many youth groups performing at Edinburgh, so people noticed us. We also had a fairly slick Royal Mile routine that involved one of our actors flipping his way down the Mile to draw attention to the show!
Promoting the show on the Royal Mile
Above all, have fun with whatever show you choose. Make sure it’s a good one. This is the third show licensed by Nick Hern Book that we’ve taken to the Fringe (after The Wolves of Willoughby Chase in 2015, and Jack Thorne’s Burying Your Brother in the Pavement last year), and we’ve loved bringing each of them to the Fringe – they’re all great shows.
– Matthew Edwards, Eagle House School
About a Goth by Tom Wells
Performed by Gritty Theatre at theSpace @ Surgeons Hall
We chose Tom Wells’ About a Goth, a one-man show about a gay 17-year-old goth who is obsessed with his straight mate and hates his family for refusing to reject him because of his sexuality. It’s a raucous, rather rude comedy about the trials and tribulations of being a gay teenager.
We had a late-night slot (10.30pm), and the play was ideal as it’s only 45 minutes long and the perfect material for a late-night audience. The main character, Nick, goes on a real, substantial journey – but the story isn’t too heavy for that time of the evening.
We were over the moon with the reaction to the show. We got three 5-star reviews and five 4-stars: ‘A wonderfully unconventional coming of age story, full of tongue in cheek drama that fits perfectly into a Saturday night at the fringe’ (A Younger Theatre); ‘A joy from start to finish’ (edfringereview.com).
Even more importantly, the audience feedback was immense. Audiences at Edinburgh used to give their feedback via the EdFringe website, but more and more they are turning to social media, which means that we’re able to spread the good word more easily too!
Clement Charles in About a Goth by Tom Wells at the Edinburgh Fringe 2017 (photo by Sorrel Price Photography)
Our Top Tips…
Be at the top of your game. Don’t take a new production: make sure you’ve performed it elsewhere first.
Be prepared for anything to happen. You can’t prepare for every eventuality, but you must stay alert and respond quickly when the unexpected happens, good or bad. Because it will, and you’ll have to take it in your stride.
Bring doughnuts for the tech team at your venue. Ok, yes, some of them get paid, and you probably don’t; but they work even longer hours than you, and have to deal with hugely varying degrees of competence. Make sure they’re on your side!
– Ian Robert Moule, Artistic Director of Gritty Theatre
Girls Like That by Evan Placey
Performed by The Theatre School, Tunbridge Wells, at Greenside @ Nicolson Square
We chose Evan Placey’s Girls Like That, a play about what happens after a naked photo of a schoolgirl goes viral. We wanted a contemporary script that reflected the landscape the members of our youth theatre are growing up in. The script was highly approachable, relevant and – in places – challenging for our cast of 15-17 year olds. Also the script’s flexibility (lines are not assigned to specific characters, so it can easily be tailored to the requirements of your particular cast) allowed performance time for every member of our large cast, all of whom were girls.
The Theatre School, Tunbridge Wells, rehearsing Girls Like That by Evan Placey for their 2017 Edinburgh Fringe production
The production was a massive success. The students performed well, we had great audiences, and although this year we didn’t get any reviews, we received lots of great feedback from audience members as we left the venue. We now can’t wait to go back next year and do it all over again! In the meantime, we’ve just started rehearsing Amanda Whittington’s Be My Baby.
Our Top Tips…
1) Preparation. There are so many things you need to get ready in order to take a production to the fringe that it can seem daunting. However, if you put in the time to prepare everything well in advance, you’ll be ready when those all-important deadlines loom. A ‘To-Do List’ is of immeasurable benefit – create one by using the edfringe.com guide to ‘Putting on a Show‘.
2) Timings. Ensure you know exactly how long your production takes to get in, perform and get out. Why? Most venues you go to will have someone else performing after your time slot and it’s not uncommon for venues to simply turn on the house lights of shows that are running over their time slot. Best to avoid this by getting your timings right.
3) See other shows. When you’re at the Fringe, you’ll spend a lot of time promoting your own show, performing, eating and sleeping (you’ll need a lot of sleep). But it would be criminal to miss out on the other theatre that’s on offer. You can see world-class theatre at the Fringe for £10 or less, and the range is unparalleled. Not sure what to see? Don’t be afraid to ask anyone at the Fringe what they’ve seen and what can they recommend – most people will be only too happy to help!
– Colin Armour, The Theatre School, Tunbridge Wells
Ladies’ Day by Amanda Whittington
Performed by Saughtonhall Drama Group, Edinburgh, at Saughtonhall United Reformed Church
We performed Amanda Whittington’s Ladies’ Day, a laugh-out-loud comedy about four women on a day trip to the races. It was a great fit for our company. The four female characters are all strongly defined and great fun to perform. There are six smaller male roles, which are often doubled by a single male performer, but we cast each of the roles separately so that more of the group could participate.
It’s a real ‘feel-good’ play. We all enjoyed the humour, the various tensions between characters and the way that their individual stories are revealed. In Amanda Whittington’s original script, the four women work in the fish docks in Hull, but we sought special permission from Nick Hern Books (the play’s publisher, who also license the play for amateur performance) to set the play in Scotland and have the women work in a fish factory in Musselburgh. This made it work even better for audiences at the Fringe.
We went for a minimalist stage set that made use of projection and film clips. This was quite a challenge for our tech team, but it proved a great success and went down well with our audiences.
Saughtonhall Drama Group performing Ladies’ Day by Amanda Whittington at the Edinburgh Fringe 2017: Linda (Candice Sullivan), Jan (Chris Mitchell), Shelley (Louise Starkey) and Pearl (Eleanor Watson). Photo: E. Wilson
Out of the seven performances, four were sold out and the other three were 75% sold. So overall we were able to keep our Treasurer happy! Audiences left with big smiles, humming along to ‘(Is This the Way to) Amarillo?’ and arguing about whether or not one of the male characters, Barry, was a ghost. We got a 4-star review from the Edinburgh News too. Can’t wait to tackle the sequel, Ladies Down Under!
Our Top Tips…
We’re an Edinburgh-based group, so our experience of putting on a show at the Fringe is probably quite different to that of most companies, for whom the costs of travel and accommodation are so significant, not to mention the logistical headache…
However, one piece of advice above all: make sure you get enough sleep!
– Elizabeth Wilson, Director
A round of applause to the fifteen brilliant, brave companies who took NHB-licensed shows to Edinburgh this year!
Are you looking for a show to take to the Fringe next year? Take a look at our dedicated Plays to Perform site, where you can search for plays by genre, theme and/or cast size, and sign up for our Plays to Perform newsletter.
Or get in touch with our Performing Rights team – we’re always happy to help you find the perfect play to perform. Call us on 020 8749 4953, or email PerformingRights@nickhernbooks.co.uk.
Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter, @NHBPerforming.
Our previous Edinburgh Fringe Reports are still available here:
Edinburgh Fringe Report 2016 Part 1: Final Preparations
Edinburgh Fringe Report 2016 Part 2: The Reckoning
Edinburgh Fringe Report 2015 Part 1: Cutting it at the Fringe
Edinburgh Fringe Report 2015 Part 2: The Final Reckoning