Throughout the month of August, the area of Camden and several locations beyond it, play host to a variety of shows that form the Camden Fringe Festival. I’ll admit that the timing of Camden Fringe this year couldn’t be worse for me. August was my promotional month for Empty Nights and as a result there were some performances that I bought tickets for but never attended. It’s also the reason I’m reviewing the shows so long after their performance date.
The first show I attended was perhaps the most… peculiar. I’d made a point of booking the more obscure shows and to step outside my comfort zone rather than watching just traditional plays. It wasn’t clear from the leaflet what this show actually was but the venue was on the same road where I worked so I thought I’d give it a shot.
After I had understood why my work colleagues liked the pub and had taken a seat in the rather small audience, the show began. The stage had been peppered with bamboo shavings and leaves. When the performer arrived, he walked and crawled around the stage for the ten minutes, the crunching sound of the leaves and bamboo amplified by his microphone. I began to wonder if this was some form of surrealistic art that I didn’t understand and questioned if I had made a mistake buying a ticket. Eventually the performer put on a bamboo outfit, each piece of clothing had been made out of or incorporated bamboo and also served as an instrument. He was, quite literally, a one man band.
After playing an old TV aerial as a violin and using other props as instruments, the musician began to take off his clothes. (Quick note, he was wearing shorts and a T shirt underneath his bamboo outfit. This wasn’t some form of strip tease.) He then handed out his clothing to the audience. One girl was given his trousers to wear and shimmied around the stage. A man was given his boots and stomped on the spot. I was given his bamboo belt which I played like a…. I don’t know. I just stood there and banged it until it rattled. Eventually everyone was on stage and jamming out.
I was finally able to fulfil my secret fantasy of playing in band. It was great fun, we must have played for a good twenty minutes together. I normally despise audience participation (more on that later) but this was great fun!
Eight bamboo poles out of ten.
The play Coercive was written by Paul Bridger who also starred as the protagonist Joseph. Joseph is an elderly man who suffers from Alzheimers and is cared for by his son and daughter. They hire a nurse who coaxes the one memory out of Joseph he would like to forget…
The play is based around the true and tragic story of the sinking of the TSMS Lakonia. The Lakonia was a former World War Two battle ship, turned into a cruise ship. On the night of 22th December at 11PM, as the ship was passing Portugal, a crew member noticed smoke drifting out under the door of the ship’s salon. There was a meal taking place that evening and most of the passengers were attending. The band that was playing drowned out the sound of the alarms and the fire destroyed the ships’ intercom meaning the crew couldn’t give out announcements. The passengers smelt smoke but assumed that someone was smoking a strong cigar nearby. When they realised what was happening it was too late.
Only half of the lifeboats deployed correctly and none of them were holding their maximum capacity of passengers. It was reported that some crew members began to loot passengers belongings before fleeing the stricken vessel. The nearest ship took four hours to arrive and by that time the Lakonia had drifted for several miles, littering the sea with burning debris and bodies. It was a truly horrific event and I’m glad the play was able to shine light upon it as well as portray a startling and accurate portrayal of Alzheimers.
Seven ship wrecks out of ten.
Chaos is a Friend of Mine
Chaos is a Friend of Mine is a, what I would call, a serious comedy play about a boy being saved by and then spending the night with a girl during a zombie outbreak. The two characters bond over their experience and discuss their backstories until a deadly secret is revealed…
It was a fantastic play. There was one moment, near the start of the performance, where the male lead pukes by spitting out baked beans he was previously holding in his mouth causing the audience to scream. The play also discussed how a zombie outbreak would affect our modern world in a realistic way. This was my second favourite play of the fringe.
I only have one negative point of the play and that isn’t anybody’s fault. The female lead looked and sounded exactly like my ex-girlfriend. It took me out of the play several times where I just thought, whoa… She even had the same accent and mannerisms.
Nine zombies out of ten.
This was my favourite show of the Fringe. Like Bamboo Mustard, I didn’t fully understand what the show was when I arrived. I choose the show because it had a musical theme and I like classical music plus the name was similar to my own novel, Empty Nights which served to be a good omen.
Empty Rooms was a one woman show by Miriam Gould who tells the story of her fourteen year old self, her mother and her father and how music both made and broke them. Miriam moved around the stage with different outfits for different characters as she told their stories. As her younger self, her hair was back in pigtails and she tried to express her love of music and composers to a school audience while battling her shyness and awkwardness. As her Mother she wore high heels and a silk scarf and ranted about her husband while praising her daughter. As her Father she wore a chequered shirt and portrayed the effects of drugs and the life of a down and out musician. Miriam wasn’t just a musician she is also a fantastic actress. The girl sitting in the row behind me was crying at the end of the performance. Bravo!
Once the performance had ended we were handed a slip of paper to write our contribution of Miriam’s survival playlist. The idea behind this is for Miriam to compose a playlist of songs that you don’t simply enjoy but songs that mean something to you or got you through a rough patch in your life. For example I entered Non-Stop by Hamilton because the song perfectly captures how I feel as a writer, particularly as I was approaching my publication deadline.
10 violins out of 10!
How to be a Londoner in an hour
The plot of how to be a Londoner in an hour, if you can call it a plot, was our host Paul Cockney showing Alex the drama student from the north of England her future self after living in London for several years. Alex witnesses her transformation into a true Londoner. The play goes through several modules educating the audience on London food, travelling in London and how to find love in the city. The show reminded me of a more adult version of Harry Hill’s TV burp.
The acting was flawless. At the very start of the show one of the actors said:
Actor: ‘Hello I’m Paul Cockney and I’m… no that’s not right is it. Hello I’m Paul Cockney and I’m… fuck. Sorry I need my line. I’m so sorry. On the first night as well. What’s my line… please?’
Stagehand: Hello my name’s Tim and I’m a desperate actor seeking employment.
Actor: Oh yeah…
Most of the jokes landed and I was reminded of a students laughing at the class clown as he made a fool of himself. There was one part of the show that I disliked. At three different points during the performance they called up a man in the front row to join them on stage. First he had to shout cock whenever an actor said poppy (as in the British saying poppycock, meaning rubbish) while wearing a red clown wig to resemble Prince Harry. Then during the sexual education segment they brought him on stage and started dry humping him. Yes, you read that right. You could tell the poor man was uncomfortable. At the end of the show he had to go on stage and collect his baby that he’d had with the character Alex. Of course the baby was a doll with a mini red wig.
That soured the show for me. There is a thin line between banter and bullying and I am very uncomfortable with the latter. The play reminded me of a famous quote I’m fond of.
“I paid to be entertained, not to be the entertainment.”
5 London buses out of 10.
A Comedy of Errors
A Comedy of Errors is Shakespeare’s shortest play and arguably the funniest, even by our modern standards. The plot reminds me of a Carry On film, two twin brothers, separated at birth are reunited but after several cases of mistaken identity, hilarity ensues. The play was performed by the King’s Shakespeare Company, “a student-led society dedicated to performing the works of Shakespeare and his contemporaries” to quote their website.
This group, was fantastic. Although I couldn’t fully understand the plot (not because of the actors, because it’s spoken in Shakespearean English) I had a good grasp of what was going on and found myself laughing at the jokes. I didn’t realise they were all students until afterwards when I searched their website. They were very creative in their approach to Shakespeare, even using one actor as a door with a sign that simply read, I’m a door, on his chest.
7 I’m a door signs out of 10.
The concept for Love Lab is very interesting. Two strangers are locked in a lab together, a giant glass cube, for one week and have to bond together by taking part in activities. At the end of the week they have to choose love or leave. Love Lab is a mixture of the British TV programmes Big Brother, Take Me Out, The Cube and Golden Balls. The female character is a Love Lab addict while the male contestant signed up three years ago on a lonely night without reading the terms and conditions. As the play continues, the host of the show, Lucy, extracts secrets out of each player until they crumble.
Interestingly Love Lab is based off a scientific experiment. In 1967 Professor Arthur Aron made two strangers fall in love with each other by having them answer thirty six questions. These questions are now the blueprint for most modern dating shows.
Love Lab was terrifying, funny and saddening to see how far some people will go to feel loved.
8 kisses out of 10.
The Bench at the Edge
The Bench at the Edge is about a homeless man who has lived at a hospital near a cliff for twenty five years. He watches people commit suiside and speaks to them before they jump. They play follows the story of a man who is in the middle of a messy divorce and the watcher as they discuss their lives and what brought them to this moment.
I’ve made the play sound dark it was actually a comedy filled with gallows humour. The cliff was portrayed as a white tape that ran across the stage and any “jumpers” simply sprinted across the stage, jumped over the line and ran out the fire exit.
7 benches out of 10.
I hope you enjoyed reading and I’ll see you next time. Take care.