Summer in the city
Written for Everything Theatre
Summer is here! Birds are whistling, the sun is (occasionally) shining and tourists are frolicking merrily around M&M’s World. But for theatre enthusiasts, the season also means something else entirely: the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Many self-respecting theatre blogs will now turn their attention up north to give you every detail of the latest immersive Hamlet meets Great British Bake Off crossover. So what are you to do if, for whatever reason, you’ll be spending your summer in London? Who are you going to turn to for advice? Well, to us of course! Because we’ve made a small selection of what’s an offer in the capital this August. And for your convenience, it’s all categorised by the qualities we love most about Edinburgh.
You like: not spending any money
Let’s be honest, one of the great things about Edinburgh is that there’s so much free stuff to see. And while usually you’d be hard-pressed to find as much as a free public toilet in London, this August you’re in luck: for the twelfth year in a row, More London has kindly given over the Scoop (you know, the man-made crater just outside City Hall) to Gods and Monsters Theatre to put on one of their classical spectacles. This year, artistic director Phil Willmot has chosen a set of shows that guarantee there’s something to enjoy for everyone. Captain Show-Off! will provide fun for all the family, while the Women of Troy trilogy is going to hit a more serious note.
Of course, the classics are going through a bit of a resurgence at the moment, most notably with the Greeks season at the Almeida. So why does Willmot think they’re so popular right now? ‘The media make it seem like the Almeida discovered classical plays, but we’ve been doing them for twelve years! We always choose plays that are relevant to modern London. At the moment there’s so much in the news about women being brutalised in war, but also about women, young women, being radicalised. The papers are full of wondering why and how that happens. And Women of Troy is about that, about how women get caught up in war and about how they get even. But we also have Captain Show-Off!, which is based on work by Plautus. It’s the first time we’re doing a Roman comedy, and it’s very funny: it’s about two identical twins who turn up in the same town at the same time, so it’s full of mistaken identity and slapstick, but we’ve also added songs and puppetry.’
When I ask Willmot why he thinks London in August is a good place to be for theatre lovers rather than Edinburgh, he’s very clear: ‘I don’t know about other theatres or shows, but what we do is very accessible for everyone. Going to Edinburgh is expensive, and it can be a bit intimidating as well, because there’s so much going on. We make democratic theatre, so we have a very diverse audience: locals, homeless people, people who’ve never been to a theatre show before. But we also get a lot of returners. We’ve been doing it for twelve years now, so we also have people were kids when they came the first time and are now bringing their own children. I think it’s very important for parents to have the chance to take their kids to see professional theatre for free. With a show like Matilda, it’s hundreds of pounds to go with the whole family, so not everyone can afford that. Besides, with our shows you have a chance to sit in an audience that’s truly diverse: statistically speaking, we have the widest age range and the most first time theatregoers in London.’
And are there any other shows in August he would recommend for London theatre lovers? ‘Grand Hotel at Southwark Playhouse. It’s one in a line of musical rediscoveries they’ve been doing there, so I’m really looking forward to that. But if I can also make a recommendation for our own show: if the weather is good people should get there half an hour before we start to make sure they get a good seat.’ You heard it here first, folks.
Captain Show-Off! and Women of Troy play at The Scoop at More London from 5 August to 30 August on Wednesdays to Sundays.
You like: that holiday feeling
As much as we all love London, one of the upsides of travelling up north is getting away from the herds of annoying tourists and becoming one yourself instead. If that’s not an option for you this year, the good news is that you don’t need to go far to feel like you’ve been for a mini-vacation. The Puppet Theatre Barge, moored in the lovely, green surroundings of Richmond, has several shows on that will delight the kids. Best combined with a swim in the river and an ice cream for optimal holiday ambience.
The Puppet Theatre Barge has daily matinees: The Three Pigs and the Wolf plays until 9 August, Fowl Play from 12 August onwards.
If even Richmond is a bit far or kids aren’t really your thing, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre might be more up your alley. Their current production, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, revives the classical fifties musical film in the theatre’s fairy light-studded surroundings. You can even have a picnic before the show to complete the ‘country get-away’ experience. Don’t go into holiday mode too deeply though: you’re still in England, so bring a jumper and a rain coat.
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers plays at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre until 29 August.
Should you be looking for something with a bit more of a ‘holiday abroad’ type of feel, why not have a crack at Macbeth at the Globe? And before you say anything about that sounding suspiciously Scottish… it’s in Cantonese. And no, you don’t get surtitles with that. After all, Will had to make do without those in his day as well.
Macbeth, performed in Cantonese with scene synopses in English, plays at Shakespeare’s Globe from 17 August to 23 August.
You like: actual Edinburgh
For some people, replacements aren’t going to cut it. They want real Edinburgh, but conveniently located in London. And even that we’ve managed to find for you: after selling out at the Edinburgh Fringe for seven years in a row, the Faulty Towers Dining Experiencehas landed on the Strand. It’s got everything you could possibly want from a real Edinburgh show, including the opportunity to awkwardly look away and pray not to be chosen for audience participation. And if that doesn’t test your courage quite enough, the show also includes a seventies style three course meal. Bring out the deviled eggs, I say!
Faulty Towers Dining Experience has an open-ended run at the Torquay Suite Theatre at the Amba Hotel Charing Cross. Performances are on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
You like: suffering for your art
Of course, while a visit to Edinburgh can be as comfortable as any all-inclusive resort holiday, it’s just as likely it’ll be a week of stale peanut butter sandwiches, freezing half to death in your tent every night and nearly being shot at point-blank range with a stage gun. (Fun fact: this is an actual description of my Edinburgh trip last year.) So if you want to feel like you’ve properly suffered and bled for your theatre experience, you could attempt to get your paws on one of the precious few remaining tickets for Hamlet at the Barbican. A mere 30 day tickets at £10 will be available for every show, so come prepared with a sleeping bag and be ready to fight off any members of the Cumber Collective who try to kill you in your sleep.
Hamlet plays at the Barbican from 5 August to 31 October.
You like: a festival atmosphere
Maybe you like Edinburgh because timetables make your heart beat faster and you enjoy running from one venue to the next while frantically trying to load Google Maps. Well, in that case we’ve got you covered as well, because London has a number of festivals going on over the summer period. London Wonderground on the Southbank, for example, can see to all your jazz, circus and burlesque needs. You know, if you have those. The one you can’t miss, however, is the Camden Fringe. Celebrating its tenth birthday this year, it’s London’s smaller, fringier answer to Edinburgh and features a healthy mix of comedy, theatre, dance and music.
To find out more, I spoke co-founder and co-director Michelle Flower. Of course, I was very curious about how the Camden Fringe differs from Edinburgh. ‘The biggest difference between the two fringes is the scale of things. The Edinburgh Fringe is very well established and enormous. We have over 220 productions happening, which are great numbers for us but nothing compared to what’s happening in Scotland. To compare the two is a bit like comparing Glastonbury with a village fete! Like in Edinburgh, there’s a huge variation in the style and quality of shows. But we don't have lots of massive names and large venues taking part, so there is a slightly more level playing field for the artists, and there isn't a bit scramble of tickets and exodus of punters for a big TV comedian playing in a 5000-seat theatre every night.’
With over 200 productions we’re still talking about a big festival. Does Flower have any advice on how to choose which shows to see? ‘If people find the programme a little overwhelming, then they could start by narrowing it down to a certain day they are available or to a venue that they are interested in visiting. Maybe because they like it, or because they've never been there before. Our website is always the best place to start as it lists everything, including changes to the programme - there are always last minute additions and cancellations. Personally, I am excited about Ladylogue at the Tristan Bates Theatre. It was a big hit last year and returns with six all new one-woman short plays. It’s a great way to see some emerging female writers. I also like the look of She Ain't Heavy, She's My Mother by Spit and Sawdust Theatre at Etcetera Theatre. This is based almost entirely on the title, which is just brilliant for a one man show about growing up with an anorexic mother.’
So why should theatre folks stay in London this August? ‘London is a great place year round for theatre lovers! All the good stuff from Edinburgh ends up transferring to London after the fringe anyway, so why not stay down south and see some proper fringey stuff on your doorstep? And most of our venues have proper seats and actual air-conditioning as well!’ Take that, Edinburgh.
The Camden Fringe is on from 3 August to 30 August at various theatres across Camden.
London Wonderground is on throughout August on the Southbank, next to the London Eye.
You like: laughing
Of course, one Edinburgh’s main staples is comedy. In fact, anyone who’s ever taken the briefest of looks at its programme might well be wondering if, come August, there will be any comedians left in the rest of the country. Fortunately, the answer is yes. Quite a number of them can actually be found at the Camden Fringe, and one of them is Joe Bor. Bor will be playing his show Joe Bor and Jasper Cromwell Jones (‘featuring the critically acclaimed character Jasper Cromwell Jones, the posh climber’) at Camden Comedy Club.
Since he’s an Edinburgh veteran, I wondered what made him choose to play the Camden Fringe this year. ‘I think the Edinburgh Fringe has become so saturated, there are just too many shows at the moment. I really enjoy the process of writing a new show though, and developing an hour of material helps you develop as a comedian, so I did want to do a show somewhere. I did the Camden Fringe once before and it sold really well. I also grew up in Camden and I live in London, and I wanted to give friends and family a chance to see my show without them having to go up to Scotland. It's a big commitment going to Edinburgh, being away from your family for a month. And my wife is pregnant, so I wanted to be around for her as well.
Does Bor feel the Camden Fringe is like Edinburgh, or is it something else entirely? ‘I think it is slightly different. In Edinburgh most audiences will have seen a few shows before they get to yours and they’re a little bit comedy'd out. There are so many comedians at the Edinburgh Fringe that you have to do something really unusual to stand out. Just doing a funny show isn't enough. The Camden Fringe is obviously a lot smaller. There are fewer venues, so the venues that are actually being used for the Camden Fringe are mostly purpose built theatre venues. It also means there are less issues with sound bleed and such, whereas in Edinburgh every room and storage space and bus is a venue for a show.
Are you going to see anything yourself here in London this August? ‘There are quite a few great comedians performing at the Camden Fringe. I would recommend going to see Matt Green and Andrew Bird. And I've heard the Comedian's Cinema Club is a lot of fun as well.’
And why should we all come and see Bor’s show? ‘I'm obviously biased, but this show makes me laugh a lot and it's made audiences laugh a lot. I'm told it's the best show I've done in the ten years I've been doing this. It's also the first time I've combined my stand up and my character comedy in one show, which I really enjoy doing. And the character that I'm performing is currently being developed for a TV show!’ So come and meet Jasper Cromwell Jones before he makes it big. You can start practicing your best ‘I knew him before he was cool’ hipster impression now.
Joe Bor and Jasper Cromwell Jones plays at Camden Comedy Club on 11 and 12 August.
There you are, enough theatre to keep you occupied for a whole month! So give London theatre a go this August and see how you like it. Who knows, maybe in a few years, it’ll be the next Edinburgh.