It’s nearly June. The Edinburgh Fringe is creeping closer by the minute, and I CANNOT WAIT.
Actually, I’m not waiting. I’ve been diving into the action a bit early this year, by talking to some of the fantastic creatives who will be bringing their pieces of theatre to Edinburgh this August. I’m starting today with five shows that explore what’s it means to be human.
- Bobby & Amy takes us back to the nineties, and the changes that the foot-and-mouth catastrophe brought to rural England.
- Fishbowl tells of the misadventures of three neighbours, separated by paper-thin walls.
- Madame Ovary follows the true story of a woman in her twenties who is diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
- Rust follows the story of a married couple pushing against societal pressures, and seizing their chance to start again.
- And Superstar, written by Coldplay’s Chris Martin’s little sister, explores the relationships that we have with family, and with fame.
“We live in such binary times. There is so little thought of the grey that resides between.”
Rust writer, Kenny Emson
It’s tempting in life and in theatre to separate people into two groups: heroes, and villains, but we know that that’s not how life really works. Emson describes the protagonists of Rust as: “Good people, who are forced into a situation where they do bad things. But doesn’t that reflect all of us as human beings?”
Rust isn’t the only show to play in that grey area. Fishbowl writer, director and actor, Pierre Guillois, explains that the play’s characters are “definitely anti-heroes!”, whilst Emily Jenkins says that the characters in Bobby & Amy are “accidental heroes”.
Guillois goes onto say that: “What I find beautiful in these characters is their strength to fight against all the little daily frustrations” and that “despite their struggles and limitations, they are still full of hopes and dreams.”
Jenkins’ explains that the characters in Bobby & Amy “don’t intend to do anything heroic” but that “together they are able to stand up for others – which is what true heroes really do, right?”
Superstar and Madame Ovary are both true stories. Rosa Hesmondhalgh, writer and performer or Madame Ovary, comments that: “It’d be easy to assume that I was the ‘hero’ and my nemesis is the cancer that’s trying to kill me throughout the play – however, a lot of us really reject the idea that we are heroes for what we go through.” Hesmondhalgh adds that “the real heroes of this story are the doctors and nurses.”
Superstar writer and performer, Nicola Wren, explains that: “I wanted to create a production that was honest and authentic about who I am.” Wren goes onto say that: “The writing explores both the heroic, honest and determined aspects of my personality, alongside a healthy dollop of antiheroic traits”.
“They are not going to save lives; they are not going to diffuse the bomb in a crowd, instead for them it is the small daily struggles … trying to cry silently through the night, or carrying out a risk-assessment before letting out a fart on the toilet the other side of the hall-way …”
Fishbowl writer, director and actor, Pierre Guillois
The characters in Fishbowl tackle “modest missions that everybody can relate to”. And, just as we can identify with Guillois’ characters because “at some point we’ve all experienced being in cramped spaces”, Kenny Emson explains that audiences will identify with the characters in Rust because: “We have all been in love.”
If you didn’t live through the foot-and-mouth outbreak, and if you don’t happen to have a very famous sibling, you might wonder whether Bobby and Amy and Superstar can be quite so relatable.
But Bobby and Amy’s Emily Jenkins explains that the production “is a story of a friendship between two 13 year olds who don’t feel like they fit in – I’m sure most of us felt like that at that age.”
And, similarly, Nicola Wren explains that Superstar is “a universal story told in a very personal way”, and that “anyone who has siblings, who has ever felt in the shadow of another person, or struggled to figure out who they really are and what they really love, will relate hugely.”
Sadly, many will be able to relate directly to Rosa Hesmondhalgh’s Madame Ovary. Hesmondhalgh commented that: “With 1 in 2 people being affected by the disease, it’s something that may resonate with audience members. But aside from that, I think the audiences will relate to the typical struggles that my character goes through before diagnosis.”
“The day the cows started burning my community was changed forever.”
Bobby & Amy writer and director, Emily Jenkins
If anyone ever needed proof that theatre really can handle any topic, here we have five shows that tackle everything from foot-and-mouth disease, to social pressures, and even cancer.
It gets pretty intense!
In fact, Jenkins describes foot-and-mouth disease as “the catalyst for the destruction of a way of life centuries in the making”.
Superstar and Rust look more at social issues, with Nicola Wren explaining that “we live in a time of TV talent shows, [and] Instagram fame.” In Superstar, Wren uses her own story “to explore the reasons why we feel this need to be superstars in the first place.”
Rust’s Kenny Emson explains that his play “is about the roles we are forced to take on in our lives and how they stifle us. Mother. Wife. Husband. Father. Lover. Adulteress. Heartbreaker. Slag …”
But Pierre Guillois comments that Fishbowl is “more about life than society – even if we know the two exist together.”
A more specific issue confronted within Madame Ovary is “the discussion in society about causes of cancer”. Rosa Hesmondhalgh explains that: “There’s a big blame game in cancer – did we smoke too much, did we drink too much, did we sit out in the sun for too long?”
“The relationships and friendships I had throughout my diagnosis and treatment, and the people I met in hospital, were all the reasons that I wanted to turn the story into a play.”
Madame Ovary writer and performer, Rosa Hesmondhalgh
Relationships are integral to all five of these productions, not least in Madame Ovary, where, Hesmondhalgh describes: “Relationships play a huge part. From the Tinder date I was on when I discovered my first symptom, to the conversations I had to have with close friends and family when I was diagnosed, to the friend who died whilst I was in treatment.”
Superstar is also based on real relationships, and Nicola Wren explains that: “My relationships with my family have always been at the core of everything that I do.”
Kemmy Emson observes that, even within a fictional story like Rust, “it’s impossible to not let some of yourself into your writing”, and that the play is “all my relationships smashed together in collage.”
Pierre Guillois explains that he actually did live in a room “not dissimilar to the rooms you will see in Fishbowl” and that “there was a link to living in this tiny room and the loneliness I felt – even if I loved my time there. It is no coincidence that in the ten years I lived there I remained single!”
And Emily Jenkins says that the friendship in Bobby and Amy “is one I would have loved to have had growing up. It is based on loyalty, acceptance and unconditional platonic love.”
“I want anyone who takes the time to come to my shows to leave feeling that they’re not alone in the world.”
Superstar writer and performer, Nicola Wren
There is a lot to see at this year’s Fringe, but what makes these shows stand out is their ability to delve into some really big issues, and still make you laugh.
Nicola Wren describes Superstar as “above all, a fun and full of heart production”, and Pierre Guillois urges audiences to see Fisbowl for a similar reason: “Because it’s funny!” Rust’s Kemmy Emson echoes this sentiment, observing that: “In these trying times we need to laugh”.
Bobby and Amy also promises to entertain; Emily Jenkins comments that audiences will be “taken on an exhilarating 60-minute journey where you will split your sides laughing and even shed a tear or two” as ” two incredible actors play 22 different characters without a single prop or costume”.
Whilst Rosa Hesmondhalgh explains that her aims for Madame Ovary are to:
“1) Help people understand why we must take early ovarian cancer symptoms seriously, and
2) Not take myself too seriously ever again.”
But Hesmondhalgh goes onto say that: “Equally, I want people to come and laugh with me at something they may not feel they can laugh about. Madame Ovary shows that sometimes the way that you get through a situation that’s completely out of your control is to just laugh at it and make jokes about how your wig is definitely going to fall off during sex.”
As Fishbowl’s Guillois puts it, “laughter is the only escapism given to us poor humans to cope with reality”.
I’m really excited about the theatre coming to the Fringe this year – these five plays sound so good! And if you’re keen to see them, you can catch them on the following dates:
Fishbowl: 31st July – 26th August (not 14th), at 13:00
Superstar: 1st – 25th August (not 12th), at 17:30
Rust: 31st July – 25th August (not 13th), at 12:40
Madame Ovary: 31st July – 26th August (not 13th), at 12:10
Bobby & Amy: 31st July – 26th August (not 12th), at 12:45
Have you booked to see any of these productions? Let me know, by tweeting @Harri_Wilson1 or by leaving a comment below.
“Even the darkest night will end, and the sun will rise” – Les Misérables
We are living in a difficult time, but it will pass, and I look forward to enjoying the theatre with you when it does. Stay safe, and remember to sing La Vie Bohème to yourself every time you wash your hands. Start to finish, please.
Fishbowl (Fabienne Rappeneau and Pascal Perennec)
Madame Ovary (The Other Richard and Rebecca Pitt)
Rust by Kenny Emson (Claire Pepper)
Nicola Wren’s Superstar
Bobby and Amy