Shakespeare on the Fringe

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The Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) starts on 12th August and its upstart younger sibling, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, kicks off a week earlier on 5th August. Both festivals, the official, curated EIF and the unofficial, unmoderated Fringe, feature Shakespeare in a variety of forms.

The EIF is mainly a music festival but it includes some theatre too. This year there are four plays in the schedule, two of which are new interpretations of Shakespeare, a Korean production of The Tempest and a one-man, Taiwanese King Lear based on the performance conventions of Chinese opera.

But if you want to see new takes on old favourites, the Fringe is the place to be. With over 21,000 performers in 2,542 shows it’s the biggest arts festival in the world. You can order the programme online or download it here and in it you’ll find Shakespeare productions in the children’s section, dance and physical theatre section, comedy and conventional theatre sections.

The Fringe is where many of the current theatre establishment launched their careers. Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead opened on the Fringe in 1966 before transferring to London, Deborah Warner’s 1985 King Lear followed the same route as did The Reduced Shakespeare Company’s Complete Works Of William Shakespeare (abridged). The festival is a much more crowded and chaotic field these days, even the Fringe has its own fringe now, but it still has a reputation as the place to get noticed. So who might we all be talking about by the end of August?

Both The Merchant Of Venice and Twelfth Night get the one man show treatment. Fringe veteran, Guy Masterson, is there with his one-man Shylock (playing, not Shylock, but Tubal) but my money’s on Tim Crouch’s I, Malvolio. Tim is directing the RSC’s Young People’s Shakespeare’s The Taming Of The Shrew in Stratford this year and I, Malvolio is the fourth in his series of one-man Shakespeare shows devised nominally for young people. I haven’t seen the show but I’ve read the script and it fully deserves an adult audience, if you miss it in Edinburgh you get another chance in Stratford in October.

Goossun Art-illery’s HamletZar is just the kind of genre-defying performance art project the Fringe is made for. Hamlet – House Of Horrors looks fun, in a Rocky Horror Show, Shockheaded Peter sort of way but if they don’t appeal to you there are five Macbeths, four Midsummer Night’s Dreams, three Tituses and an assortment of Measure For Measures, Love’s Labours Losts, Caesars, Much Ados and others to choose from. Enjoy!

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Author:Andrew Cowie

Andrew Cowie is an actor, director and freelance drama facilitator living in Birmingham, England

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