The Forest Fringe’s old home, the former Forest Cafe, has this year been colonised by Assembly, branded and absorbed into the cacophony of Bristo Square, a jarring but perhaps inevitable shift in the fabric of the fringe.
Hannah Jane Walker and Chris Thorpe in I Wish I was Lonely Photo: Martin Figura
From 2007 to 2011 the Forest Fringe staged an inventive, exciting programme in the building, much of it unconventional, all of it free. In October 2010, Edinburgh University Settlement, who owned the building that the cafe occupied on Bristo Place, was declared bankrupt and forced into administration. The cafe relocated to Toll Cross and the Forest Fringe was left without a base. In response to this in 2012 it produced a book of short plays called Paper Stages, a portable festival, a reaction against their displacement, but it was only a temporary measure and this year Forest Fringe returns in a new home, the Out of the Blue Drill Hall in Leith. The festival within the festival now offers a different sort of alternative, one both geographically and culturally distinct; along with St Stephen’s and Summerhall it feels like the map of the city during the fringe is being reshaped, expanded. The fact that the building is an existing cultural centre, complete with artists’ studios and exhibition spaces also informs the feel of the new Forest Fringe, as does the space itself. Sun streams through the skylights of the canvas-swagged ceiling, filling the large room with light. During the day children play in the cafe area before the space is reconfigured for Action Hero’s energetic exploration of American win-culture, Hoke’s Bluff.
“If the old Forest was Dalston, this is Stoke Newington,” says Andy Field, co-director along with Deborah Pearson and Ira Brand, before running off to attend to something (he spends much of the day running). Though the home is new, the basic tenets of the Forest Fringe remain the same. Performers don’t pay to participate, audience members are invited to donate what they can after each piece and there’s an emphasis on talking about issues that are not ofen discussed elsewhere, such as disabled access to the fringe.
There are smaller more intimate experiences housed within the space, including the Paper Birds phone booth installation, Jo Ballard’s one-on-one piece Exposure, and Brian Lobel’s Mourning Glory trilogy, as well as off-site work at Forest Centre Plus. Of the larger scale pieces, Chris Thorpe and Hannah Jane Walker’s poetic and thought provoking I Wish I was Lonely, a follow-up to the Oh Fuck Moment, invites people to explore their relationships with their mobile phones, the constant promise of connection, the reframing of what it is to be intimate with or, indeed, apart from the one’s you love. Sam Halmarack and the Miserabelites is a generous-spirited hour of sweat and song in which Sam’s band fail to show up and the audience are invited to join with him in a joyous chorus.
The Dictaphone Group’s Nothing to Declare is a three-women performative lecture, a quietly radical piece about border crossing in the Middle East. Mixing video footage with spoken word, live artist Tania El Khoury, architect Abir Saksouk and performer Petra Serhal chart their journey across Lebanon, past refugee camps and the ghosts of old train stations.
Ross Sutherland’s fascinating Stand By for Tape Back-Up also blends video and performance to inventive effect, exploring the idea of synchronicity via Sutherland’s interest in poetic iteration, the looping of words and images thoughts, using Ghostbusters, The Crystal Maze and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air as a spark to memory, a process of revisiting the past, returning and retelling. It’s one of the stand-out shows not just of the Forest but of the fringe as a whole.