Dinosaurs at 75

From plays about dinosaurs or smashing rocks, and songs about tricky tooth fairy admin, to a live Q & A with Boris, and a comedy about taking a show to Edinburgh—this could only be the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

In its 75th year, and still recovering from the pandemic, the Fringe boasted in excess of 3,300 shows with stand-up comedy accounting for a huge 1,130 performances. These were presented by artists and companies from 63 countries from the Australian Briefs Bite Club to the Freedom Ballet of Ukraine.

Work covered innumerable topics with re-emergent themes including gender identity, neurodiversity, migration and, inevitably, lockdown, and came from newcomers to the Festival, veterans and national treasure Ian McKellen.

Hope Mill Theatre’s arrival with Classic!, a 60-minute romp through every classic novel you may have heard of, and a pioneering sword-fighting musical funded through NFTs (Blodlina: The Viking Musical) were both new entries this year.

Working in partnership with the Edinburgh Fringe Society, the inaugural Edinburgh Deaf Festival ran for seven days featuring drama, comedy, cabaret and more including a spectacular deaf rave.

Technology played its part in the Festival not just with online shows being made available to global audiences but with the addition of TikTok as a new partner, livecasting performances from the Festival’s 'taster' stages to the world and two screens on the Royal Mile.

Controversially, and with no prior consultation, there was no Fringe App—central to selling on-the-day and short notice tickets—due to budgetary constraints, and there was also protest at the axing of the half-price ticket hut from the Mound, but all of this was overshadowed by other attention-catching events.

Of course the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is no stranger to controversy and there is perhaps something wry about a panel of professionals (at one of more than 35 professional development events) discussing issues around producing theatre under the rising threat of censorship, and less than a week later Jerry Sadowitz’s show being cancelled at a few hours’ notice.

Sadowitz’s piece, Not for Anyone, was said to include “whacky impressions of Greta Thunberg, Frankie Boyle and deep vein thrombosis” but was taken down on grounds of “extreme racism, sexism, homophobia and misogyny” and/or getting his penis out on stage.

Naturally the red tops got overexcited about it so for a cooler-headed view I would recommend an opinion piece in The Guardian which asked Who went too far: Jerry Sadowitz or those who cancelled his Edinburgh fringe show?.

The Stage was also a still small voice of sense saying, “he is not being silenced for ever, he just can’t do this specific show at the Pleasance, which has a pretty good array of inclusive works of all kinds this year. He can do it elsewhere.”

They also made a point close to my heart, that the cancellation was a response to the reaction of witnesses, made up of both audience and staff members, and not the indignant rantings of people who enjoy being offended by something they haven’t seen and have the choice not to. More on that mentality elsewhere on the site.

But the Sadowitz tea-cup storm—which did him no harm at all (see next page)—was not the end of it.

Fringe show Tea Ceremony saw Cypriot performer Marios Ioannouin play a geisha, an act criticised for being "unashamed yellowface" and described as "publicly-licenced racism". The claims are vigorously denied by the play’s producers saying, “its themes are challenging for our audiences, but we refute any suggestion of yellowface or whitewashing—both of which are anathema to the show's message…”

With all this going on, perhaps it is unsurprising that the open letter to The Stage from company Nouveau Riche detailing their experiences of racism at the Festival didn’t get the media milage it deserved.

The Festival has long attracted criticism for lack of diversity and one has to ask oneself if, at 75, it has learnt anything at all in this regard.