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London 2014: Fringe Theatre

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Fringe Theatre: The Financial Crisis

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Fringe Theatre: The Financial Crisis
Ballad of the Burning Star
I Wish I Was Lonely
UrineTown The Musical
Lost Boy


The centenary of the start of World War I has prompted three fascinatingly different responses on London's fringe this year, says Rachel Halliburton.


Fringe Theatre: World War I

Lost Boy

Lost Boy


The first response, Lost Boy is a musical at the Finborough Theatre by fringe stalwart Phil Willmott. A dark sequel to Peter Pan, it brings together J M Barrie's characters on the eve of World War I and asks how their extraordinary childhood has equipped them for reality. Southwark Playhouse presents an assembly of three short plays (including, interestingly, one by Barrie) called What The Women Did. Directed by the talented Tricia Thorns, it looks at the way women's lives were changed as they worked in munitions factories and held life together at home.

Over at Theatre Royal Stratford East, the big daddy of First World War musicals Oh What A Lovely War is being revived. Famously developed by former artistic director Joan Littlewood with her ensemble at Theatre Workshop, it's a savagely comic excoriation of the waste of young life.


Fringe Theatre: Conflict

Ballad of the Burning Star - Photo by Alex Brenner

Ballad of the Burning Star

Photo by Alex Brenner


Maybe it's the centenary, maybe it's the nature of the world we live in that has made conflict a dominant theme for 2014. As part of its American season, the Gate Theatre stages The Body of an American, Dan O'Brien's acclaimed work about war and war reporting in which two actors take on more than 30 roles. Over at the Bush, We Are Proud to Present... tells the rarely recounted story of the first genocide of the twentieth century in Jack Sibblies' prize-winning play about the Herero of Namibia rising up against the German colonists. Ongoing troubles in the Middle East are dealt with in two productions. In The Ballad of the Burning Star at the ever-pioneering BAC the rarely less than exciting Theatre ad Infinitum has put together a cabaret to recount the conflicted story of Israel. Music, killer heels and 'a lethal troupe of divas' are all promised.

Over at Finsbury Park's gleaming new venue Park Theatre, The Keepers of Infinite Space serves up the Palestinian perspective as it ponders on the fact that since the 1967 Israeli occupation 40% of the Palestinian male population has been detained under military orders.


Fringe Theatre: Communication

I Wish I Was Lonely - (c) Martin Figura

I Wish I Was Lonely

(c) Martin Figura


The topic of communication - or the lack of it - is another point of obsession. Back at the BAC I Wish I Was Lonely makes the audience commit to leaving their mobile phones ON when they visit. This show asks the key question, how much of ourselves have we given up to the Gods in our pockets? The flipside of being eternally connected is the knowledge that sometimes even when we are closely observed we are utterly alone. Carthage at the Finborough Theatre looks at the story of a man whose death is recorded on CCTV because he is in prison. Despite this, no-one can say whose fault it is in this tragedy which pieces together an individual's life and death in the care system.

Our illusion that we are always in touch with the rest of the world perhaps accounts for two more plays examining what happens when all communication is cut off. The enterprising Wardrobe Ensemble - whose first show at the National Theatre's Shed was a huge success - now presents '33', the tale of the men stranded half a mile underground during the Chilean miner crisis. A more existential form of isolation is examined in the Bush Theatre's Ciphers in which a young female British spy is found dead. Her sister decides to play detective, and as a result finds herself in a world where the truth collapses in on itself, finally posing the question 'How well can you know anyone who lies for a living?'


Fringe Theatre: Radical Productions

Rapture Blister Burn \ Vault Festival

Rapture Blister Burn \ Vault Festival


As in mainstream theatre, 'strong women' is a dominant theme. The Ugly Sisters at Soho Theatre is a spirited, bolshy reponse to Cinderella, described by one critic as an "anarchic, cabaret-style dash through the worst excesses of today's celebrity culture".

Rapture, Blister and Burn at Hampstead Theatre stars Emilia Fox and Emma Fielding as a rock-star academic and a mother, who both inevitably covet each others' lives.

The resurrection of the Old Vic Tunnels as the Leake Street Tunnels beneath Waterloo Station comes as welcome news. Lou Stein, an old friend of Hunter S Thompson, adapts and directs Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as part of the Vault 2014 season, while later FallOut Theatre presents its interpretation of Ian McEwan's disturbing The Cement Garden.

Radical theatre in a more traditional venue is on offer in the form of The Believers at the Tricycle Theatre. Playwright Bryony Lavery and the never less than exciting movement-based ensemble Frantic Assembly examine what happens when two families are trapped together on the night of a cataclysmic storm. The free-flow of alcohol ensures that the turbulence of the elements is reflected indoors right up to the moment when 'the unthinkable happens'.


Fringe Theatre: The Financial Crisis

Fringe Theatre: The Financial Crisis

Fringe Theatre: The Financial Crisis


It's inevitable that the financial crisis - even though we are officially in recovery - continues to inspire new work. Rodrigo Garcia's I'd Rather Goya robbed me of my sleep than some other arsehole at the Gate Theatre is a dark comedy about a man who suffers a financial and philosophical crisis and hits the road with his sons. In Madrid they break into the Prado and stare at the Black Paintings of Goya all night, even though the boys are begging to go to Disneyland instead.

At Hampstead Theatre, Jonathan Kent directs the legendary Imelda Staunton in Good People, a story about a sharp-tongued, single mother who desperately needs to pay her bills, and enlists the help of an old boyfriend with unexpected results.


Fringe Theatre: Light Entertainment

UrineTown The Musical - Photo by Johan Persson

UrineTown The Musical

Photo by Johan Persson


For those just wanting entertainment there's plenty of that around too. Michael Frayn's farce Donkeys' Years at the Rose Theatre Kingston promises plenty of laughs, while St James's Theatre welcomes Tony Award-winning UrineTown - the musical, a comedy about corruption and loos. All in all, a fascinating six months loom. The pulse of London's fringe is still beating strong.

Sophie Wallace


Sophie Wallace

26th April 2015



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