The Questions

Even before the Fringe began this year, there was some questioning. There's nothing "shocking", one criticism said - and then we heard about the walk out from Anthony Neilson's Stitching.

But most of the questions have come afterwards. What, the questioners ask, is the point of the Fringe? We knew before it began, said one critic, which shows would be transferring to London, so what was the point of so many groups coming when it was obvious they wouldn't be going anywhere?

That's not quite true, of course. There are shows which are "discovered" during the Fringe and end up in London. But - in spite of what that critic (and others) may feel - there is theatre outside of London and quite a number of companies get themselves signed up for performances elsewhere in the country, or even for tours. I know of at least one company which got an international tour out of their second Fringe appearance.

If they want to get noticed by the press, one national newspaper writer said, companies would be better appearing at one of the London Fringe venues: the odds of one of the critics from the broadsheets seeing them there are far better than in Edinburgh.

Ah, the good old London-centricity of our press! How can anything outside of London (unless approved, like the Fringe) be of any real value?

Which is better? Doing one night - or even a few - at a London Fringe venue and being noticed by the Guardian, Times et al., or being noticed by a promoter in Edinburgh and getting a national tour? Promoters flock to Edinburgh because it is possible to see so many shows in three weeks there - far more than they could in London, even in three months.

It is true, I think, as Philip Fisher says in his article, that 2002 was not a vintage Fringe, but if we look beyond the haunts of the broadsheet reviewers (who, let us be honest, rarely get beyond the Traverse, the Assembly and the Pleasance), there was much of great value: the National Student Drama Company's 6 Women with Brain Death, Notes from the Underground and I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change; 100 at the Underbelly; Victory at the Dirt Palace at the Garage; Big Boys Don't Cry at the Roman Eagle Lodge; Personal Belongings at the Gilded Balloon Teviot... There are too many to list.

This year, because I give Catherine and Philip their choice of shows first, I spent less time at the Traverse and the Assembly than I ever have (the Pleasance is different: all three of us could have spent a week there and still not seen the same shows!), and it was illuminating. It meant that I got to see some poor shows, which I wouldn't have seen if I had spent more time at the Traverse and the Assembly, but I also saw some superb pieces which would have, at best, made my "see only if you can fit it in" list in previous years.

The 2002 Fringe wasn't quite up to the standard of last year, I concede it. But that's a long way from saying that the event is losing its value or importance. It is still a fantastic indicator of what is happening in theatre in this country and elsewhere, a far better indicator than anything London can provide, or New York, or anywhere else, for that matter.

Of course the Edinburgh Fringe is still one of the major events of the theatre year, and will be for many years to come. I've been back two weeks and I'm already looking forward to next year!