JOYCE MCMILLAN on GREAT SCOTTISH-MADE SHOWS ON THE FRINGE for Scotsman Arts, 4.8.11
AT ST. GEORGE’S WEST, you can luxuriate in the sheer beauty and fabulous lighting of Cryptic’s Orlando, one of the most ravishingly sensual solo shows ever to emerge from Scottish theatre. At the Pleasance, you can laugh your head off at Morag Fullarton’s Casablanca-The Gin Joint Cut, a hilarious and heartfelt tribute to one of the greatest movies of all time; or you can brood over Paddy Cunneen’s Fleeto, an intense and beautiful verse drama that tells you more in an hour about the tragedy of Glasgow knife crime, than any crime report could tell you in a week.
At the Traverse, you can both laugh and cry with Duck MacAtarsaney, the dauntless young heroine of David Greig’s Monster In The Hall, based on the real-life experience of young carers in Fife; or you can marvel at the sheer brilliance of David Harrower’s writing in his new double monologue A Slow Air, about a middle-aged brother and sister trying to reconnect with one another in the bruised landscape of central Scotland, now. And at the new Assembly headquarters in George Square, you can watch Tonight Sandy Grierson Will Lecture Box And Dance, a piece of absurdist theatre by Grierson and Lorna Campbell that mind-blowingly recounts the life-story of one Arthur Cravan, a 128-year-old seeker after truth who semi-accidentally witnesses many of the great cultural moments of the 20th century, and is still working as a disc-jockey in the 21st.
What all of these shows have in common, of course, is that they were made and first performed in Scotland, and have already been celebrated in the pages of the Scotsman and elsewhere. For if there was ever a time when Scottish artists and performers felt the Fringe was not for them – too expensive, and too full of stars from elsewhere – there now seems to have been a decisive shift, towards an intense Scottish engagement with the Fringe and the opportunities it offers. The change of mood is partly to do with the emergence of Made In Scotland, the Scottish Government-sponsored fund which supports around fifteen Scottish-based companies a year in remounting their shows for the Fringe, or creating new ones; Orlando, Monster In The Hall and Fleeto are part of this year’s Made In Scotland programme.
There’s plenty of evidence, though, that Made In Scotland is not the only factor in play; and National Theatre of Scotland director Vicky Featherstone argues that the sheer range of Scottish theatre on view in this year’s Fringe – combined with the fact that at least half of it seems designed to push at the boundaries of conventional theatre, by shifting location, breaking up conventional forms, or bringing professional theatre-makers into collision with “real-life” performers – suggests a theatre scene in exceptionally rude health.
“Every time new kinds of work emerge in theatre,” says Featherstone, “there’s a temptation to say that it’s because the old ways aren’t working any more, but I would never say that. I mean here I am, this Festival, directing a big mainstage play at the Traverse, Zinnie Harris’s The Wheel, and absolutely loving it. What I do think, though, is that there’s a huge inventive energy around in Scottish theatre at the moment, and that the imagination just knows no bounds. Scottish theatre has always been demotic, with this huge demand that audience feel some ownership of the shows, and know that their presence is important. Audiences don’t just want to sit in the dark behaving themselves; and artists based here are bound to keep exploring ways of renewing that connection. And of course, the Fringe can often be the ideal arena for that, with this terrific explosion of venues and spaces, and possibilities.”
Which is perhaps why, of the thirty or so Fringe shows already seen in Scotland, such a high proportion take the audience into slightly unfamiliar territory, either literally or metaphorically. Poorboy’s Blood And Roses, at St. George’s West, is an audio play accompanied by a rich female landscape of locations and artworks covering three female generation of the same Scottish family; this time, audiences will be wandering as far as St. Mary’s Cathedrail, in Palmerston Place. The NTS’s own Strange Undoing Of Prudencia Hart is a pub show, a brilliant 21st century reworking by David Greig of the Border Ballads tradition, featuring the songs of Kylie Minogue; this festival, it plays at the Ghillie Dhu bar, beside the Caledonian Hotel.
And Junction 25’s I Hope My Heart Goes First – from the Tramway in Glasgow, and now at St. George’s West – is one of the most acclaimed and moving youth theatre shows of recent years, wholly created and owned by an astonishing team from the Tramway’s youth theatre group, under the gentle guidance of Jess Thorpe and Tashi Gore of the Glasgow company Glas(s) Performance. “The point about this kind of theatre is that we don’t present fiction,” says Jess Thorpe. “We don’t need people to be experts in anything except being themselves, and we don’t ask the performers to do anything except honestly bring their own experience to the table.
“In the case of Junction 25, the company members provide all the content; Tashi and I are just there to facilitate, and to make suggestions about shaping and structuring the show. It’s a democratic model of making theatre, if you like, where the performers create their own show and explore their own experience, rather than serving someone else’s work; and I guess the growing interest in it does suggests that the dialogue between audiences and performers is changing in some way.
“It’s not about devaluing real professionalism in the theatre, though, far from it; I’m excited by the extent to which we’re now talking about the craft of this, and how this work can evolve into really great theatre from an audience point of view. And I guess the response to some of our shows suggests that there really is something here that speaks to people, and that audiences want. So we’re just delighted to be part of a scene where so much is happening, and where so many of these great possibilities can really be explored.”
For more details of the Made In Scotland programme, go to http://www.madeinscotland2011.com. All other shows can be found in the Fringe Programme, and run in Edinburgh until 27-29 August.