Published in The Orbital Magazine
17th September 2013
The most vivacious and exciting arts festival on the planet, The Edinburgh Fringe is a place like no other. More than tripling the Scottish capital’s population and brining performers, directors, journalists and audience members together in one place for twenty-five days of the year is a remarkable spectacle to witness first hand. From full blown musicals to small scale poetry readings the fringe really does have it all. However, amongst all the hubbub and excitement an event like this brings, there are a massive number of students who, every year for whatever reason, make their way up to this cultural bubble and begin their journey as performance makers and theatre connoisseurs. This year was certainly no different with many having travelled hundreds of miles to show off their productions to the paying festival goer…with one of them being me.
Through third term last year, while most were studiously working their way through their exam timetables, myself and twelve other Royal Holloway Students were putting all our efforts into an entirely different ball game. We were busy auditioning, rehearsing and polishing the play Chatroom by Enda Walsh to take up to the Edinburgh Fringe through our theatre company Out of Town Productions. The number of man hours and hard graft that preparing a show for the fringe took up was definitely an eye opener. Yet, once we got there the number of other students from around the world that had gone through the same trials and tribulations from venue hire to performance rights rental was even more amazing. It doesn’t matter at what stage in your performance career you are in, if you are a student trying to break into the industry or even just wanting to show off your own production to a wider audience the Edinburgh Fringe really is the place to be.
Once our run in Edinburgh had come to an end and the final bows were taken I switched sides and became a theatre reviewer for the British Theatre Guide, giving me a whole new perspective to this massive display of talent (or at times lack of it) right on my doorstep. It was during this half of the festival that it suddenly dawned on me just how diverse student theatre and all it encompasses can be. From tiny little one act plays written purely for Edinburgh to big budget reprises of well known musicals. Some were good but some were cringe-worthy to watch at the best of times. The difference between a good production and a terrible production is a very thin, blurred line however this outlet that many universities choose to encompass is exciting and often captivating to be part of.
Sussex University chose to take Dennis Kelly’s DNA to the festival (a contemporary piece encapsulating the death of a young man by his peers) whereas the Royal Conservatoire created a well thought through rendition of Avenue Q, a puppet musical with choice language but hilarious dialogue. Both performances were to a well above average standard but it can easily be questioned whether their choice of performance and their execution of it acts as publicity for the institution that produced it. My answer to this is undeniably yes. Should potential school leavers head into the festival and witness spectacular theatre from a possible university choice, it will definitely aid them in their decisions of where to study. However it could of course bring educational establishments into disrepute as one bad review could harm the way people around the world view them.
The content is another thing that differs from one student production to another. Where some like Sussex choose to take a hard-hitting classic others like Kings College London took their improvisation group The Improverts (and although certainly not polished) they did advertise the university to many people who may not have known about it before. However just like a bad review, questionable content could easily affect people’s view of where it came from. Take for example Avenue Q. To a conservative parent, not wanting their dearest child to go somewhere that consents to foul language, the show could easily offend and put the barriers down where entrance for their offspring to the Conservatoire is concerned.
It’s also extremely refreshing to see theatre created at the festival by companies that began as a student endeavour and has grown into fully fledged companies staging jaw-dropping spectacles. Mischief Theatre is a returning company who’s cast and creative team all started out at London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and after 5 star reviews across the board for their show The Play That Goes Wrong their performances at the Edinburgh Fringe have become an annual event in many theatre goers calendars.
The Edinburgh Fringe is a fabulous arena for student theatre and if anything, this year has proved beyond all reasonable doubt that student theatre is as strong as it ever was. Through both directing a student piece to reviewing many others there are definitely exciting student productions out there. Let’s hope that Royal Holloway can continue to top the list where Student Dramatic Art is concerned.