The fringe avoids the city’s darker realityby Michael Coveney / August 24, 2011 / Leave a comment
Published in September 2011 issue of Prospect Magazine
Performers on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. Is the fringe too cut off from the world?
While the riots raged in London, Manchester and Liverpool, the Edinburgh festival fringe discussed such pressing matters as the record contracts of Doris Day, the history of freak shows in American vaudeville and the private life of Liberace.
For several weeks each August, the festival blooms in a bubble as comedians peddle their wares, the Traverse theatre becomes an epicentre for new British playwriting and the International Festival brings the world’s greatest musicians and theatre and dance companies to the city’s major venues.
There’s barely time to eat a sandwich, let alone absorb what’s going on in the world outside. And yet there is a paradox about festivals which can justify this self-absorption: the madness is always part of a defiant assertion that life goes on and will improve. Like many great European festivals, Edinburgh’s first festival, in 1947, was conceived as a postwar sign of hope: “to provide a platform for the flowering of the human spirit.”
Even plays about Doris Day can fit this bill, but you probably have to sit down and think about it. This year, the Edinburgh fringe underwent a geographical upheaval as the busiest labyrinth of activity, the Assembly Rooms, relocated from George Street in New Town to George Square in the bustling university area by the Meadows. Here, it joined the other three heartbeat fringe operations that also operate out of unlovely academic headquarters and improvised art deco and plastic tents: the Pleasance, the Underbelly and the Gilded Balloon. This area has now been termed “a fringe village”; it turns its back not only on the world outside, but also on the rest of the fringe.
And yet. One play, Sold, presented by recent graduates of London’s Central School of Speech and Drama, really shook things up. Well, it shook me up. Most reviewers were too busy deconstructing Russell Ka…