August in Scotland’s capital means one thing: the Fringe. Each year since 1947, Edinburgh has been engulfed with thousands of shows across hundreds of venues and over four million visitors in 2017 – there’s not much you can’t see. Along the Royal Mile and dotted about on street corners, enough flyers to demolish a small forest were thrust in faces and hands. Among the variety, what stood out was the number of one-man performances. No more does theatre require a cast.
One of the best things about the Fringe is the DIY aspect, the sense anybody can be anything they make themselves. One-man performances encapsulate this hopeful and eccentric festival; relying on only yourself lends itself to creativity. The term ‘one-man show’ has an air of excitement that triggers an audience’s curiosity. But how could they pull off a one man performance of Pride and Prejudice, you wonder? Take The Rise And Fall Of Marcus Monroe, in which the American juggler attempts to make juggling famous, and was an hour of acting, filming a Netflix documentary, stand-up, and juggling fire. Seemingly, it was too much for one person to pull off, but that’s the beauty of one-man performances at the Fringe – you don’t quite know what they’re going to do.
Those weirder moments aside, many of these performances take the form of stand-up comedy, tucked away in coffee shops and back rooms. Sat a few feet away from the stage, by the end of the hour you feel like you’re hearing anecdotes from your best friend rather than watching a performance. Ellyn Daniels, in her show Emotional Terrorism, might have kicked things off with her legs in the air as she pre tended to be her Romanian ex, but after the autobiographical show you just want to give her a hug and take her out for coffee. Having one performer is a positive; you don’t have to remember character names and get invested in a winding, complicated story. There’s a rare intimacy you can’t get in any other type of performance; it might take you near three hours to get to know the entire cast of Les Miserables, but you’re sorted within 20 minutes with a single performer.
As a reviewer at a one-man show, there’s a sense of kindred spirit with the performer. Both of you are there alone and trying to do something creative. At the end of his performance, Marcus Monroe saw I had a notebook and bounded up to me to ask if I was going to the party later that night. He presumed I too was part of the gang of performers, artists and writers who dominate the Fringe. I hadn’t been invited, but the encounter showed what the Fringe is all about: people. Not just the shows themselves but the people who create them, who watch them and who write about them. You might go to the Fringe alone as a reviewer or alone as a one-man performer, but at the world’s largest arts festival, you’re never by yourself.