Malaysian publishing house FIXI sent The Daily Seni over to Scotland to scope out the Edinburgh International Book Festival and other happenings which have traditionally taken place throughout August in the capital city. This is part of a series of reports on culture in Edinburgh.
A good idea should be replicated. Regardless of whether it inspires imitation or further innovation, that replication alone could create a ripple effect and catalyse the formation of other good ideas.
While rushing off in between breaks at the Edinburgh International Book Festival to head to Summerhall (a former veterinary college turned visual arts, theatre, dance, music and education), I saw many excellent shows in various rooms around the building. These were relatively mobile displays catered to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Rarely exceeding an hour, each had the sense of poignancy that makes shows like PH7‘s recent staging of The Language Archive a must.
Arriving from the United Kingdom and the rest of the world, thousands of theatre productions gather at the Fringe each year. This year, the figure stands at 50,266 performances of 3,269 shows across the span of 24 days. Nevermind it’s an uncurated festival, with such a large number of happenings there’s always something brilliant within walking distance.
But to really put things in perspective, there are 294 venues participating in the Fringe but the award-winning five-year old Summerhall alone offers enough visual arts and performing arts programming to keep theatre fans satiated through August.
This year we have brought together an incredible collection of companies and artists, and whilst some will ask how many, how big, or how much more… we want to focus on celebrating the quality of the work. We’ll also remember the incredible collaborations and friendships that have been made in a space that is relatively new – but now feels so established at the heart of the biggest arts festival in the world.
— Sam Gough, General Manager
While at Summerhall, I snapped up tickets to Pianomorphosis because Will Pickvance was the most familiar face in town and that curbed my anxiety. I saw Tim Crouch and the Royal Court Theatre‘s idiosyncratic, stunning actor’s story Adler & Gibb and immediately regretted not attending I, Pleaseblossom last year. One show I even watched twice despite the extent of Summerhall’s festival programming: The Flanagan Collective‘s Snakes and Giants cleaved hearts with its wistful, confessional narrative accented by spoken word, dance and vocal performances.
In this latest, long-overdue entry I wish to revisit some of the magic created within the walls of Summerhall during the Fringe. Having observed how effective tricks and techniques can and will be reused in the Malaysian indie/boutique theatre scene, I hope at the very least this could get some cogs turning. Here are five impressive theatre things seen in Summerhall to inspire local theatre-makers.
Live photography + scale models + audio manipulation
Bildraum is a multi-disciplinary collaboration which lets architect Steve Salembier and photographer Charlotte Bouckaert play with scale models of buildings in the performance space.
Steve navigates around the performance space to manipulate tiny furniture and wreak havoc with sand, salt and styrofoam beads, while Charlotte takes close-up photos of the aftermath. Charlotte’s photos are projected onto a screen, creating a live backdrop supported by Duncan Speakman on sound and technical producer Christoph Donse on lights.
When the dust settles, nature, as it surely will, takes hold. Our civilisation will fall and it will be buried. The photos, now use sand and grit to magically transport us to marshlands, grey still beaches at low tide, glaciers and clouds. Hence Wordsworth. Lyrical work. Astounding.
The result? A sequence of images dictated by its two “performers” which tell a different story to each audience member, and an award-winning show. No words necessary.
Follow Atelier Bildraum on Facebook for more updates on when you can watch their shows!
Don’t Panic! It’s Challenge Anneka
Solo performer + video recordings + reality game show format
Anneka Rice is a British television personality and household name who rose to prominence in the early 90s. She is best known for Challenge Anneka, a television program which made her do things like find 100,000 blood donors in a single day, or build and equip an inshore rescue boat station in 72 hours.
Cue theatre practitioner Sophie Winter who uses Anneka as inspiration behind her interactive one-woman play on anxiety. Brought to the Fringe by On The Button, Don’t Panic! It’s Challenge Anneka follows Holly, a teacher who suffers from anxiety. When Holly begins retreating from the world and her responsibilities, Anneka makes Holly her latest challenge and together they try to overcome Holly’s anxiety.
Sophie’s combination of character, theme and Anneka’s television show format is definitely worth attempting. But its the way she brings it all together that showcases what a solo performer can achieve with video, costume and a good stage manager. Playing opposite video recordings of herself, Sophie goes through a myriad of characters in and out of the onstage television with perfect timing.
Follow On The Button on Facebook for more updates on when you can watch their shows!
Strictly no rehearsals + blank spaces + audience participation
Iranian playwright Nassim Souleimanpour‘s experimental plays have earned him coverage in publications like The Guardian. His best-known, White Rabbit Red Rabbit, travelled the world after debuting in 2011 to strong acclaim for its unconventional intelligence. Since then, his network has grown to includes prize-winning Canadian theatre-maker Daniel Brooks and British genius Tim Crouch.
Like White Rabbit Red Rabbit, Blank is performed by an actor who isn’t allowed to look at the script until the show has begun. Although written in the author’s voice, Nassim provides a story riddled with blank spaces. These blanks are filled by the audience from their own seats. But these suggestions also have to be based on the protagonist of the story: another audience member picked in the second part of the show.
By the end of it all, Blank punches out as an impactful and insightful look at storytelling and identity. And to think that it got there with a script comprising instructions and blank fields — very clever indeed.
Follow Nassim Souleimanpour on Facebook for more updates on when you can watch his shows!
Documentary theatre + awareness campaign + youth activism
How much do you care about a particular cause? If you choose B) as much as award-winning Scottish playwright Jenna Watt does, then welcome to your new career in theatre as activism.
One of the most talked-about productions at the Fringe this year was Faslane. In the one-hour presentation, Jenna goes through her thoughts and findings on Trident, the United Kingdom’s nuclear missile program. Audiences listen as she conjures her interview subjects and their understanding of Trident, presented through a solo tour de force, accompanied only by audio recordings and large rocks laid out on the floor. Reviewers dub it “documentary theatre” and rightly so; by the end of Faslane one feels enriched.
It was an unusually exciting journey in understanding a global issue I knew nothing of until Jenna was in front of the room, arguing from both sides of the fence by herself. Buzzing around the narrow performing space, mimicking multiple characters and directly addressing audience members, it’s difficult not to be inspired by the young woman to make a change. Now imagine what you could change with this tried-and-tested format.
Follow Showroom on Facebook for more updates on when you can watch their shows!
Live performance recording + reversed playback + alternate narrative
When audience members walk into the Cairns Lecture Theatre for 4D Cinema, they’re greeted by a bespectacled Japanese man in nothing but his boxers. This is Mamoru Iriguchi, a trained zoologist turned performance maker based in Edinburgh.
Twenty minutes later he’s wearing heels, possessed by the spirit of screen and stage legend Marlene Dietrich, with a screen around his face and a projector on top of his head. Marlene goes through her glorious, fictionalised existence, and when we arrive at her peaceful death alongside family and friends, the first part of the performance has ended. Mamoru then takes a seat and projects a recording of the first half of the performance in reverse onto a screen at the front of the room.
He also works his way through subtitles which reveal Marlene’s real-life story. All of a sudden everything from the weird sounds in the first half and unusual blocking sequences makes sense in reverse. Mamoru’s exploration of “what is live and what is recorded and fixed eternally on film” also earned him Best Director at the Asian Arts Award, and the Autopsy Award from Summerhall and Feral Arts.
Follow Mamoru Iriguchi on Facebook for more updates on when you can catch his shows!