Blog by Alexander Knott (Co-Director, Resident playwright)
Fringe is brilliant.
“You know – maybe this is Theatre of Symbolism”, I said to the cast of LOOP in rehearsals one day last week. And, naturally, I was met with a bunch of blank stares, and James saying “What are you on about now?” in that dry, blank, Northern ragamuffin intellectual way he has about him.
Now don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t trying to be some big arty type, sat there with my play about music and family, thinking that I’d coined a brand new term, and invented a new type of theatre (though let’s be honest, we’ve all thought that at one time or another, right? Right? Only me? Fair enough. Moving on.)
But it got me thinking about Fringe. Not just Edinburgh, the whole fringe side of theatre. Now I love fringe – I think, at it’s best, it is infinitely more exciting, experimental, brave, bold, collaborative and satisfying for both audience and performers than the West End can ever really be.
And that’s not just because the West End shows have to be big, certain hit, gold-plated money spinners (although often they do); it’s because, in the fringes, above the pubs, and inside the black box studios, there is a real ‘throw everything at the wall, see what sticks, let’s do it anyway, even though we have no budget and no set and no actors’ attitude that resonates more powerfully, more immediately with people.
And, while we’re here, that’s what theatre has that film doesn’t.
You’re in the same room as the people you’re telling the story to. There’s no getting away. You have them there, they’re not leaving (hopefully) and you can talk right to them, there and then, in that small dark space in Camden or Dalston or Camberwell. Or Stratford, in our case.
The reason that fringe can be so exciting and experimental is because, although everyone always wants to break even, there’s often no producer demanding that the show makes thousands upon thousands, although that’s always going to be the long term aim.
So you will see people down the Vaults, or at the Camden or Clapham Fringe, taking risks and creating shows that no one in an office with a chequebook would consider a goer. But that’s what makes the fringe scene the most diverse, and the most engaging.
So when you see a set that’s using black cubes as a living room, as a nightclub, as a bus, and a tube carriage, and a hospital, or come across a company that’s decided that instead of shelling out on a particularly tricky or cumbersome prop, they’d just mime the bugger – then that’s the Theatre of Symbolism.
Conjure it in the audience’s imagination, and they’ll buy it. And you didn’t have to buy that prop.
Make do and mend. Because a bare stage, with a light pointing at it and a few bodies walking and talking at the same time, that’ll hold the audience’s attention. Then the words just have to be the right ones.
Props that come out of nowhere. Props that don’t actually exist, but with that flourish the actor just did, you think for a second you saw something that wasn’t there. That’s it. That’s the one. That’s why huge fancy sets are never going to be as good as something you’ve had to make do and mend with.
That’s why Fringe is brilliant. And if, one day, we’re sat on a big expensive, fully realised, bells and whistles set, I’d like to think we’d be able to go “We did this with four black cubes once.”
That’s why Fringe is brilliant.