Lyn Gardner: 14 things I took away from Edinburgh 2019
1. It was the year of guerrilla marketing
Demi Nandhra’s heartfelt blog about needing a payday loan to come to Edinburgh blossomed into something a little different, with companies regularly announcing their daily lack of ticket sales online and, in some cases, how much money they were on course to lose. This transparency may not have always translated into sales, but it was a keen reminder that for many this fringe has felt particularly hard going and every ticket sold has felt like a minor miracle.
2. Size mattered
It is hard to have any conversation about the fringe with any theatremaker without them saying: “It’s too big”. What they are really saying is that there is not enough of a theatregoing audience to go around. It would be good if the Fringe Society could provide ticket sales data by genre.
3. A snappy debut
Not since Peter Pan has a crocodile taken centre-stage quite the way it does in Meghan Tyler’s Crocodile Fever at the Traverse. I think we can safely say a debut with real teeth.
4. Dogs had their day
It was the year in which dogs replaced babies as the must-have theatrical prop. Although there was one delightful baby in Arthur made by Daniel Bye. Otherwise dogs were everywhere, particularly at Summerhall where they were both on and off stage, and on one occasion running loose in the toilets. The other on-stage fad was referencing Tamagotchis with a regularity that suggests that those born from 1990 onwards are now firmly in the ascendant on the fringe.
5. Tech troubles
The ripple of nervousness that ran through the queue for Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Iran when told we would need to download Instagram on our phones. “What is that?” asked one woman.
6. Loo rolls
If you were spending an entire day at the fringe, it was wise to take your own toilet paper.
7. Silent disco
It was everywhere. All the time, and roundly derided and complained about as a disfiguring nuisance by theatre professionals. But look at the joy on those people’s faces. When I asked those serving me in cafes and shops if they had seen anything on the fringe, most said no, but if they had it was often silent disco. And they had loved it. Perhaps rather than jeering the arts could learn from that. People like to do, not just watch.
8. Sob stories
It was all right to cry in 2019, and shows that had me welling up included Bertram Lesca and Nasi Voutsas’s The End, Dael Orlandersmith’s Until the Flood, Emily Jenkins’ Bobby and Amy, Superfan’s Like Animals, Emma Frankland’s Hearty and Lung’s Who Cares.
9. The International Festival was patchy
There were misfires such as Red Dust Road, which should have been in a studio space, not the Lyceum, but there was world-class theatre and dance most notably with Milo Rau’s La Reprise, Robert Icke’s Oedipus (the best Oedipus I’ve ever seen), Scottish Ballet’s The Crucible (not better than Miller’s play but different from the original and in a good way) and Oona Doherty’s Hard to be Soft: A Belfast Prayer.
10. The spectre of Fleabag
In a festival in which relationships between artists and reviewers often felt particularly strained (perhaps a sign of the conditions under which both operate) and artists felt good reviews were more necessary than ever and harder to get, any use of Fleabag as journalistic shorthand for a one-woman show was jumped on. But I saw three one-woman shows that referenced Fleabag themselves. Shorthand is just that, shorthand.
11. Form fitting
There was a lot more experimentation with form this year, and it was done with confidence and sometimes élan – in shows such as Antler’s Civilisation, Ontroerend Goed’s Are We Not Drawn Onward to New Era, Emergency Chorus’ Landscape (1989) and Julia Croft’s Working on my Night Moves.
12. Crowd control
The audiences were up for anything and up on their feet only when they really liked a show, whereas in London it often feels as though people are up on their feet at the end to persuade themselves they really did have a good time for the price of a £145 premium seat. In Edinburgh the audience is often passionate and informed. Also surprising. There were so many elderly people – and I include myself – in Lucy McCormick’s Post Popular, which would play to a predominantly young, queer, knowing audience in London, that I wondered if there was a care home outing. There wasn’t a single walkout, which is a tribute to both them and McCormick.
13. Step up to the streets
Walking is the best way to appreciate the city, process what you’ve just seen and take the stress out of the fringe. Twenty thousand-plus steps a day is an unexpected bonus of the festival.
14. Everything was connected
Once you’ve seen about 20 shows, everything starts bouncing off everything else. You start to spot unexpected connections, and themes start to emerge. Most notably this year were end-of-the-world anxiety, personal trauma, the legacy of colonialism, climate emergency and the difficulties of knowing whether something is true. Expect more on these themes over the next couple of years as theatremakers come of age and move on to other stages.
Lyn Gardner is associate editor of The Stage. Read her latest Edinburgh Fringe column every weekday morning at: thestage.co.uk/columns/gardner
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