THE FRINGE Paul Allen by akt14893


									                                                                                                                 November 1983   Marxism Today   39

Clifton Hall in Rotherham is an oldish
building trying to look older, as chill and            THE FRINGE
cheerless inside as the wet autumn night                        Paul Allen
outside, despite the bar. In the main hall
the 7:84 England company is performing,
for one night only, the show that has just                                                            ingly. For a political dimension you had to
won an award at the Edinburgh Festival                                                                look to companies like the black South
Fringe, Spike in the First World War. The                                                             Africans, Soyikwa Theatre Company,
stage is slightly raised, the audience is all on                                                      whose political messages literally stopped
one level, which means those at the back                                                              the show and must detonate like grenades
can't see. We arrive to find the company                                                              in a Soweto audience and whose performing
still setting up, the start is late, lighting and                                                     skills put those of the British theatre,
technical aspects of a show with a very full,                                                         mainstream or fringe, to shame.
episodic story are sometimes muffed, and                                                                 The audiences include an identifiable
so is some of the acting .But the show itself,                                                        strand of potential bookers, the local
an engaging adaptation of Jaroslav Hasek by                                                           authority community arts officers finding
Jim Sheridan, which turns Svejk into a                                                                material for the nation's arts centres, the
gormless Irishman whose idiot logic re-                                                               left-ish Arts Association staff who are
duces the British army to tatters, is                                                                 looking for suitable material for Trades
indulgently received by a large house.                                                                Clubs and the like. All good, but all
Laughter is usually around the corner, and                                                            relatively safe, all part of the corporatism
good humour abounds.                                                                                  for which, if Mrs Thatcher's right, Joe
   A typical night out at the Fringe. What it                                                         Public has not much sympathy left.
only half conceals is the fact that the Fringe                                                           Spike in the First World War is on its way,
as it was known, loved and hated in its                                                               at the time of writing, to the West
heyday, has changed. It has been beaten                                                               Midlands, the South and West, London
smooth between the hammer of the                                                                      and Merseyside before a run in Dublin
entrepreneurs and the anvil of the culture-                                                           later this month. A Black Theatre season
politics bureaucrats whose jobs were quite                             Spike in the First World War   is about to open at the Arts Theatre in
properly created to counter the arbitrary                                                             London and run through December.
effects of market forces.                           involving performance art and dance                  The Medieval Players, a minor hit at
   At the Edinburgh Fringe this year there          companies from America and the astonish-          Edinburgh with a bawdy, skilful account of
were hundreds of shows on offer, perhaps a          ing but wholly unreliable company from            Rabelais' Gargantua, are opening a tour of a
thousand. I saw about 30, 3%. James                 Berlin whose Ubu was delayed three days           15th century French farce, Master Peter
Fenton of the Sunday Times and Michael              and then never ran its course anyway. The         Pathelin. I hope to see them all. I also
Billington of the Guardian went on record           three directors were unlucky, but their           believe we shouldn't hope for too much
as saying the Fringe was too big, unre-             programme was based, again, on selection,         from the Fringe, shouldn't rely on it to do
viewable.                                           not on the Fringe principle of access to the      work we somehow can't get done in the
   If only that were the problem. One of the        public for any company whatever their             resourceful (comparatively speaking) main
strengths of the Fringe is that it cannot be        skills or their track record.                     houses; after all, the great Fringe success
'managed' by critics. Unfortunately it is              The real Fringe, in contrast, is forced        story, Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and
becoming managed by other people. There             further and further away from the centre of       Guildenstern Are Dead, was never other
were two mega-venues on the Fringe, the             the city, from the audience, from serious         than a middle-brow hit — it didn't change
Assembly Rooms, and Circuit, who opera-             attention, and from any serious chance of         anything.
ted in a series of tents in a large hole in the     real fun. The point is not that there are no         I am reminded that back in 1975
ground that was once earmarked for an               good shows on the Fringe any more; there          Howard Brenton was telling readers of
opera house in more free-spending days.             are. But the emphasis is on a guarantee of        Theatre Quarterly that the Fringe was dead,
The Assembly Rooms is run by an offshoot            quality, and that in turn makes it likelier       because talented people wanted to get into
of the Coutts banking family. Nobody                that the type of entertainment which              the big new theatres where the audience
should be surprised at the way the                  succeeds will be of a variety rather than a       was. He is currently back at the Royal
commercial interests have moved in on the           dramatic nature. Thus at the Assembly             Court Theatre with The Genius, a theatre
Fringe: there's money to be made, as                Rooms you couldn't get into the Tom               which isn't Fringe exactly but prides itself
off-Broadway discovered, as the West End            Robinson Band's cabaret, or Stand-Up              on being 'alternative.' His play hinges partly
discovered with Accidental Death of An              Comedy with Andy de la Tour (a bit                on the independent life of pure thought, in
Anarchist and Trafford Tanzi and Blood              predictable), Ben Elton (funny and chal-          this case mathematical knowledge, with
Brothers, and as popular music — which              lenging, but he should try a few old-             deadly possibilities which cannot be un-
invariably begins as 'alternative music' —          fashioned comedy audiences) and Rik               thought or lost. I like to believe that the
invariably discovers.                               Mayall (the alternative superstar). Victoria      spirit of the Fringe, similarly anarchic and
   Circuit didn't intend to make money and          Wood sold out early on. Jugglers, mime            potentially frightening, is merely dormant;
has made a loss. It may not happen at all           artists, the art-rock of The Flying Pickets       drugged by big money and officialdom but
next year. A more adventurous policy,               — all performed excellently and undisturb-        not dead.

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