Having seen twenty-four shows during a four-day visit to last year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I’m fully aware of the electric atmosphere that engulfs Scotland’s capital every August. What I failed to comprehend was the motivation behind the performers, who make the annual pilgrimage in the knowledge that three weeks of the daily ritual of performing and fliering will leave them exhausted and penniless. In order to understand this personal enigma, I caught up with the directors of the two shows that will be flying the flag for York University’s dramatic excellence at this year’s Edinburgh extravaganza.
Hannah Clifford, the mastermind behind the 2002 Central Hall Musical ‘Crazy for You’, seems a competant pair of hands between which to place the undoubtedly more ambitious of the two shows. As director, co-producer, costume mistress and make-up lady, Hannah heads a strong production team for Leonard Bernstein’s musical interpretation of Voltaire’s Candide. Recalling the tale of Candide (to be played by Peter Rodger), who is expelled from the ideal, castle-based world which he inhabits with his Uncle for falling in love with his cousin, it promises to be a “semi-operatic” journey around a world where a philosophy of optimism is continually challenged. Whilst a Broadway hit, Hannah is quick to affirm that this is “not a Broadway musical”. With only two dance numbers, both of which are very much part of the narrative and not simply gratuitous displays of pizzazz, such a prognosis is further supported by the “strong music…well strung together”. The foundations for this to be an exceptionally accomplised show appear in place, however Hannah is quick to acknowledge the extreme challenges that remain for, in particular, “the director’s imagination”. With Candide being “very visual and physical”, focussing on the “physicality of character and the representation of space”, the actors are set to be similarly taxed. Indeed, Richard Stilgoe, Countdown ‘Dictionary Corner’ regular and musical supreme has advised the team that they’ve ‘chosen the most difficult show they could have chosen’. A fair challenge, but as Hannah says, it’s “part of the fun”. With a cast of 12, playing a total of over 40 parts, a crew of four and a ten-piece band, Candide promises not only to hold its own amongst the 1,500 shows competing for audiences at this year’s festival, but also looks set to be a force to be reckoned with.
In comparison, ‘This is Us’, set to be performed in the prestigous venue for student theatre, ‘The Bedlam’, is a student-written piece directed and devised by second year English student Clare Slater. Having received its premier in the Drama Barn last term, this formulation of responses given by a variety of individuals to thirty questions with the aim of painting an authentic picture of attitudes to topics ranging from films to beauty, love and religion. Further condensed and distilled from the individual version, making it “a lot, lot tighter”, three men now complement the female perspectives. A strong cast and tried and successful formula makes ‘This is Us’ an exciting and innovative production that deserves to be well received when taken out of the University to a more varied audience.
Financially, a trip to the Edinburgh Fringe festival is potentially crippling. Candide already have an extensive programme of fundraising events planned, including a jazz evening in the City Screen on 23rd June, helping them on the way to the several thousand pounds needed to cover costs.
However, for both teams the Edinburgh experience promises to be more important than money. By becoming part of one of the most vibrant theatrical environments in the world, it seems conceivable that the adrenaline rush that Hannah talks about experiencing on a daily feedback is a viable motivation. Furthermore, the excitement that Clare has for the feedback that will be garnered, both positive and negative, promises to draw such valuable experience and knowledge. Personally, I’ve been persuaded as to the real truth behind what makes Edinburgh performers tick. I only wish I was performing myself.
Candide: Performed at The Zoo, 140 Pleasance between 3rd & 16th August. 12.20pm daily. £7.50/concessions. Contact [email protected]
This is Us: Performed at the Bedlam Theatre, 11th to 23rd August (excluding17th), 3.30pm. £7/£5. Contact: [email protected]
General Information: www.edfringe.com