Contrary to popular belief, there is theatre outside of London. You’ve probably not heard about it, given that some theatre journalists are only just making the discovery.
Mark Shenton recently visited Edinburgh outside of the Fringe. He discovered that the city lives without the Festival, and was so astonished by this fact he wrote an advertisement for the Scottish Tourist Board about what a lovely time he had. Presumably, it was accidentally published by The Stage.
I live in Edinburgh. Having been here two and a half years, I still find myself deeply enamoured with the city. This infatuation does not end over Fringe. Sure, there are posters everywhere and it takes a little longer to get places, but if you walk along the Mile it cannot be that the theatremakers handing out flyers make you miss St Giles, the Tron Kirk or the fuck off massive castle 50 metres away? I find it difficult to imagine how the supposed ‘cheap mascara covering’ the Festival brings could blind you to how stunning Edinburgh is. Fringe Edinburgh is still beautiful, albeit in a different way. Taking a moment out of being angry at the poor flyerer trying to excitedly tell you about their show (in the only way they can, given that the space for ‘hideous, disfiguring flyposting’ is taken up by those ‘same old acts’ who can afford it) and looking around properly will prove it.
Shenton manages to address theatre a little. Taking a trip to the Traverse, he caught Quiz Show. Quiz Show is incredible, and yet so little is said of the show. It is given three adjectives. This is just one adjective more than the number used to describe flyposting in the same article. Quiz Show in itself deserves more than that, but it is one of many shows I’ve witnessed at the Traverse that have been excellent, as it is a venue producing some of the most exciting work in the UK. It deserves to be celebrated. Yet here it is being patronized, congratulated for simply existing beyond the Fringe. It is as though London’s theatre is Caravaggio, Picasso and Seurat, and the Traverse is a shitty drawing of a unicorn using a rainbow as a slide created by a seven year old: Shenton sees the effort of the latter but can never consider it in the same league as the former. He is looking at the Edinburgh theatre scene and going ‘D’awwww’. Even Quiz Show is validated by Shenton only in context of the creator’s success in transferring a show to The National. The National is in London, so we must care more about Drummond’s work when it is on there, obviously.
Edinburgh has a smaller theatre scene than London, but it is also a far smaller city. Shenton hasn’t even begun to scratch at the surface of what is on offer. Although, like a one stand night stand purely for satisfaction and not at all for emotion, there’s no intent to pursue the interest further. We’ve learned theatre happens without London and shall leave the conclusion there, only to return to the city when Fringe is there to be complained about.
But the conclusion should not be left there. Pointing out that ‘Edinburgh is different without the Festival’ is not an adequate exploration of its brilliance. Though at least Edinburgh has the Fringe to bring it yearly attention. Many other regions lack such a gift, and so don’t even get a patronising column in The Stage to remind the rest of the nation culture can be found outside of the M25. Wondrous things are happening in the Arts across the country, but we aren’t dedicating the same coverage to them. This creates the impression that London is the be all and end all of creation, implying that London is the place to be noticed and the place best to build your career, and it is this attitude that allows articles like Shenton’s to be accepted: regional theatre is part of a nice wee holiday but not something to be dwelled upon. Therefore many fledging theatre makers all up and head to London, meaning there’s less regional theatre to write about in the first place, and less means it is less worthwhile to send journalists out to cover it. There’s less coverage and it seems like less of a big deal soon. By inspiring the idea that London is where everything and anything must happen, we force more theatre there and soon London actually is where anything and everything must happen. London’s really very expensive and I’ll be lucky if I can ever afford to live there, so I’d rather this didn’t end up being the case.
To refer to Edinburgh without the Fringe as ‘Out of Season’ in itself implies it is not at its best without the Festival, but Edinburgh has a rich and exciting mix of theatre throughout the year. You’ll find even more if you make the 40 minute journey to Glasgow. If we paid more attention to goings on outside of London, there are beautiful discoveries to be found, and in the process of finding them and sharing them, it might be possible to inspire the generation of more regional theatre. London is a big city with a lot going on, but there’s plenty to find beyond it. Plus, there might be hills to climb or lakes to look at. That’s always nice, too.