This article has been edited: I went a little overboard with the ranting…
Is it me? I’ve spend the last couple of days really looking deep into my soul, making sure I’m not taking out that Daddy never bought me a 15th birthday present (don’t worry, he did: it was Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3, for the wrong console… oh Dad!) on some recent fringe shows that I’ve seen, but I’ve been finding them a little… lacklustre. That certainly doesn’t mean that all Fringe shows are, nor that any particular Fringe Festival is, it’s just a trend I’ve noticed in fringe theatre over the last couple of years.
I think it has to do with the collusion of mediocrity: a neat little phrase coined by the inimitable Paul Levy. If you are in a mileu that doesn’t strive for excellence at all times, you will start to congratulate each other for something that, outside of that mileu, would not be regarded in as favourable a light. Once this cycle starts, the bar where excellence is registered slips lower and lower as more and more work that is barely average outside of this mileu is applauded and graded highly within it.
What does this mean for fringe theatre? Well, it’s all too easy to see the parallel: shows that are well-reviewed and attended by audiences within a fringe environment may not be rated so highly outside of it. Still, within their own context, it seems fine for fringe theatre comapanies to not spend a fortune on costumes and props, to not get involved, passionate and excited about their work, to not aim for the highest standards of excellence as, within their mileu, even the slightest effort is treated with the highest accolades.
My point? I’ve seen quite a bit of this recently. The efforts, to the outsider, seem a little lacklustre, and it’s disappointing. I’m not pointing any fingers here, just noting something that fringe theatre is going to have to deal with at some point. And I’m not saying I know what the answer is, just that it’s a shame that it exists.
PS: On a more up-note: I’m dead chuffed that Brighton-based comedy collective, Casual Violence!, are having an amazing Edinburgh Fringe, with 4 sell-out shows in as many nights and one 4 star review already! Read the review here, and book tickets here to see their brilliant show, Dildon’t.