Theatre Critic and Journalist

Slow-burning Stars

Slow-burning Stars

Published in The Stage, 16.08.2009

On Wednesday night, those not staring into their plastic pint glass might have spotted the Perseid meteor shower blazing its way over Edinburgh. For the majority of the UK, clouds obscured the view, but the Scottish capital was blessed with clear skies ready to be streaked with light. I didn’t catch it myself, but it feels entirely appropriate that observant festival-goers were privy to the starry spectacle.

Already the city itself is becoming a constellation. The posters that cover it’s every surface have sprouted star-spangled banners. Flyers are growing heavy with stellar press clippings. Even the whispers on the street seem to have a one to five rating.

With such density of competition, the Fringe becomes a peacocking culture. In order to attract an audience, shows must stand out and, to do so, they must display their wares for all to see. Criticism becomes commoditised. Reviews are reduced to their component parts, dissected and endlessly regurgitated. Critical writing at the Fringe is shrunk down to its general sentiment, as embodied by a part of the whole. For a readership confronted by a chatter of opinions, there is little time for careful, constructed analysis.

The same, I suppose, is true of the shows themselves. Fringe audiences are a busy bunch. Most take in several shows a day, but seeing a plenitude of shows can easily become an overdose. As productions begin to merge together in the memory, individual moments become hazy and one’s experience of a show quickly boils down to a general impression of it. Furthermore, an audience that flits from venue to venue must quickly discard the show it has just seen so as to approach the next with a clear(ish) head. The result of this is that punchy, bold and explosive work rises in stock, while slower, softer, quieter work flies under the radar. In general fringe audiences tend towards immediate gratification over more ponderous work.

Already this year, I have seen several shows that I have grown to like increasingly over time: Lucy Foster’s Oh, My Green Soap Box at the Pleasance Courtyard, Zemblanity by explosive buffoons Le Navet Bete.

Prime among them so far is 6.0: How Heap and Pebble Took on the World and Won at the Pleasance Dome: a clown show about ice-dancers in a world without ice. In it, young Lecoq-trained company Dancing Brick deliberately steer away from a rounded, satisfying structure in favour of something more stuttering and fragile. The result is to sacrifice some of the comic momentum for an unexpected and unhurried poignancy. It took me two days to fully appreciate 6.0… on its own terms and, amidst the clamour and screaming of the Fringe, it feels an unusual luxury.

So keep an eye out for those slow-burning stars. They’re often the ones that burn brightest.

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