The message is simple and clear: ‘One Festival, Three Weeks, Eighty Shows’. It almost sounds like the real thing, except we know that the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is in lockdown for 2020 and for once the streets of the capital will be deserted in August. Undaunted, theSpaceUK, renowned for hosting an array of theatrical experiences, has come up with its own survival strategy to provide opportunities for frustrated artists and audiences alike.
[email protected] will launch its free programme on Saturady 8 August where audiences will be able to view a range of performances that run from ten to forty-five minutes. In addition, every Saturday evenings at 7pm is a live 90 minute show featuring a selection of different shows - all performed live to your living room. Online availability will last until 30 August for all productions. Nick Abrams, Head of Press at theSpaceUK says, “The programme is ordered in such a way that viewers can dip in and out of it whenever they want; from seeing an individual performance to organising a binge watching session of multiple shows or even holding a Fringe party with friends in their lockdown bubble”.
A glance at the programme suggests it should have widespread appeal. Many shows have taken inspiration from current events. Those who saw Christopher Tajah last year in the debut of his critically acclaimed solo-play, Dream of a King, can enjoy his new work, Under Heaven's Eyes, which wonders whether George Floyd’s killing will mark a turning point for change or become just another chapter in the battle against systemic racism.
Taking up the popular theme of caring, Ronnie Dorsey Productions, winner of the Scotsman Fringe First Award, explores the subject in a double-bill of different domestic settings. It Doesn't Seem Like Home features Gillie, who is trapped in lockdown with her brother as his dementia worsens. Frustrated and confused, they long to return to the carefree days of their past. Bye Mum reveals the moving story of a lonely young man as he says his last goodbye to his mother at her care home, where she is lost in a haze of dementia unaware of the surrounding virus.
A contrasting double bill comes from The Nottingham New Theatre. Splitting the famous musical’s title in two, Spring ‘tells the story of a group of teenagers as they rebel against their controlling parents, struggle to navigate love, and deal with tragedies around them’. Awakening moves on to explore the disastrous consequences of children struggling to grow up in a world of ignorance and deception.
Still rooted in the lockdown scenario, The Poetical Cellist, unsurprisingly, has been writing poems and playing the cello, the outcome of which he’ll share in A Well-Versed Cello, a show of ‘rhythm and incision’. Changing instrument, award winning guitarist Geoff Robb will perform The Music of Trees; a collection of original pieces inspired by nature that blend his classical training and love of Spanish and Celtic music. Thus, neatly, are we brought to a change of tempo with Alegrías, a new work from the all-female international group of performers, Brujas Flamenco, who provide a modern online presentation filmed around the world. After that you might be inclined to watch something a little more subdued with the ‘acoustic bluesy style’ and tight harmonies of the Irish duo Brothers Broke who perform When Judas Met John, their adaptations of songs by Dylan and Lennon. Alternatively, if you are looking for a quick fix in the form of a musical, Hollow is a brand new work from the pen of Fringe favourite David Kent (Uglies Do Edinburgh, Liberty Rides Forth). It’s a poignant love story with a supernatural twist, featuring stunning original songs all fitted into a twenty-minute slot.
If you are looking to get more personally involved, there’s also material for sleuths. The Murder(ed) Musketeers compiled by the ‘mystery maestros’ Highly Suspect provides ‘a fiendish plot, evidence to examine and cryptic clues to crack’. All that’s left for you to do is ‘catch the killer and deduce whodunnit’ in a maze of hilarious online interactivity. Further armchair detective work is presented in Front Window by Owl & Pussycat Theatre Company. This time, an ever-watchful (I guess otherwise, nosey) neighbour, complete with bag of chips in hand, conducts a farcical investigation into the possible disappearance of a man, which will prove that her vigilance can save lives.
More mystery lurks, not least in the descriptions of two other shows. The vividly titled Grubby Gnome Productions has Coronavirus Underwood’s New Taskforce, which features a group of seemingly worthy volunteers intent upon helping the aged and infirm but who have ‘ulterior motives more to do with helping themselves rather than others. Apart from Felicity of course’. If that appeals, they have a second show, Glad & Min, the tale of ‘two friends holed up together’ whose dull lockdown existence is enlivened by observing their neighbour’s food deliveries. ‘She doesn’t have a dog? And what links her to a pair of marigolds and a turkey baster?’ Only one way to find out! If by now you are hooked on this company’s material then you’ll want to see the risqué comedy Harry and Megan. Harry has requested a NHS volunteer, allegedly to assist with his poorly mother while he’s involved in filming a TV documentary, but is it that straightforward?
It’s not all about the darker side of the current situation. Taking a classic comedic opener, furloughed comedian Jacob Hulland in his show So, this Virus walks into a Bar…shares ‘gaffs, jokes and foibles of COVID-19’ from his kitchen table. At the even more bizarre end of the spectrum, Play in Your Bathtub is billed as ‘An Immersive Audio Spa for Physical Distancing’. This particular take on the genre comes courtesy of This is Not a Theatre Company, acclaimed as one of the top five immersive companies in New York City who advise that you ‘may substitute a foot bath or bucket of water if desired’.
There are also clowns, spoken word, more music, drama, LGBTQ+ material and many other attractions. An open invitation was sent out to companies and creatives who planned to be part of theSpaceUK's Fringe 2020 programme to submit material. A huge number of companies and individuals took up the offer and submissions were whittled down to create the breadth of material desired for an international festival.
Charles Pamment, Artistic Director of theSpaceUK is hoping for widespread support of the initiative, which continues the organisation’s tradition of presenting a diverse programme across a range of genres. This year, as he points out, has “the added dimension that it's all been directed, written and performed in the midst of lockdown”.
All shows can be accessed at www.theSpaceUK.com. There is no charge to watch, but there will be an opportunity to donate to the company providing the show. The organisation wants to do all it can in these difficult times to assist people in the industry and is itself taking no money.