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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