Adrian Berry on Edinburgh Fringe
Mon 14 Sep 5PM
So it’s all over for another year – the Edinburgh Fringe festival 2015. And once more (for the 15th year running) I punished my mind, body and possibly my liver trekking across the city, seeing up to 9 shows a day in some cases. From 8.30am Lithuanian Baby Dance (no I haven’t made this up – and it was brilliant) to some of the most astonishing international circus on the planet – my 10 days whizzed by as ever, friendships were rekindled, meetings went on for hours (and hours), awards were dished out – as were millions of flyers – and not much sleep was had.
This year Jacksons Lane supported, for the second year, the prestigious Total Theatre Awards with our own award for circus. The British ensemble Barely Methodical Troupe were last year’s inaugural winners and have gone on to tour the world, also returning to the Fringe this year, so expectations were high. Having seen the shortlist whittled down to just six nominees (on top of all the other nominations for physical theatre, dance and innovation) – we were given the unenviable task of choosing between a ten minute one-on-one immersive aerial encounter, or a high octane acrobatic cabaret, amongst a plethora of other disciplines, styles and approaches. This was going to be tough.
But it wasn’t all circus, circus, circus. Well maybe a bit, but I also had the pleasure to encounter many other unknown, hidden pleasures, from solo confessional monologues about deceased Irish rock stars to Belgian avant-garde musicals. The landscape of theatre has changed dramatically and the Fringe is a literal snapshot of world culture and performance, both at home and beyond. No two shows are alike and one’s senses are heightened and critical faculties sharpened as you head from space to space, up and down the Royal Mile and tripping merrily down Cowgate or across the Meadows. This year the other great thing – aside from the work – was the weather. Almost 10 days of uninterrupted sunshine - apparently my hometown of London was a virtual monsoon. Edinburgh sure knows how to throw a curve-ball sometimes.
But back to the circus. Myself and my good friend and colleague from The Roundhouse Leila Jones were give the heart-warming and slightly scary job of presenting the awards at a swish Swedish bar in town, surrounded by the glitterati and hoipolloi of the performance world. Some of the artists on our shortlist couldn’t be there as they were on stage – damned inconsiderate if you ask me - but a plan soon emerged. We gave the award to not one but two winners - both duets, both unique in their own way – the poetic and moving human stories of The Palestinian Circus Company with B-Orders, juxtaposed against the physical and cerebral intellect of Ricochet Project’s Smoke and Mirrors, all the way from New Mexico. Both worthy winners, and both great examples of how far circus has come and how small and simple can be beautiful. Their producers respectively accepted the awards, and the delightful and excited B-Orders duo of Ashtar and Fadi made it to the end of the party just in time. But then Ricochet’s producer had a great idea – what if we all jumped in a cab with the award and the bouquet and sped across town, high jacking them at their curtain call? And that’s exactly what we did – fuelled on free wine we burst in and invaded the stage, presenting the shell-shocked pair of Cohdi and Laura with their award. This was the show that shouldn’t have even been at the festival - a late replacement and completely unadvertised, and here they were with one of the most prestigious awards on the planet in front of a sold out audience giving them a standing ovation.
That’s Edinburgh for you. Many tears and hugs ensued, and then… and then that was it for another year. The next day I was on the train back to Kings Cross, looking back over my copious notes and wondering how I could articulate this amazing experience that is the Edinburgh Fringe.
Image of Palestinian Circus Company by Veronique Vercheval