This year’s Edinburgh Fringe was a real lesson in captivating audiences. And caging them.
Some acts come out guns a’blazing. They absolutely and unequivocally nail it from the get-go.
My chum Stu recommended Jayde31, a show I would have never bothered with otherwise, simply due to being late a night, stand-up cabaret and in a venue I don’t often frequent. But Jayde hit the audience like an avalanche, giving no time to breathe, question or flinch as she bombarded us with the greasy parts of growing up. Key, she never gave us real pause to consider or think until she allowed such a moment in the beautifully crafted moment of pathos so necessarily on the Fringe, and so rarely given so earnestly.
Mark Thomas blew me away when I stumbled across Bravo Figaro, and only after did I read up on his history in the left movement. Red Shed was expensive on my poor wallet. But the show was full of hilarious and heart-wrenching stories and character from the Yorkshire working class. I was almost tearing up within the first 5 minutes, and was in tears for the final song of Solidarity Forever echoing around the room, and history. But Mark looked like he’d taken a swim in the North Sea by the end of his show, dripping with dark sweat. Because he worked the crowd marvellous. Mark throws himself around, the characters and action are enormous to fill this large space, but also to bulk up our hearts.
Milk Present’s JOAN featured Drag King Louis Cyfer, who portrayed the fumbling frantic and fantastic Joan of Arc Who’d have thought a Saint could be so boisterous as she leapt around in this round space, grabbing audience members onto stage, leading us in a chorus of battle and portraying three men in her life. The final scene was heart-wrenching as Joan (spoiler alert) prays to Saint Catherine, and we couldn’t have got to that point if we didn’t laugh with her and love her for the past 70 minutes.
So this ‘Guns Blazing’ approach makes me think about absolutely confidence, and control, of an audience. Other poets on the Free fringe exhibit this well, Dom Berry and Monkey Poet springing to mind, whereas others, like Harry Bake, favour a more relaxed, welcoming approach.
Guns Blazing is hard to maintain, and harder to make tight and accessible. But Guns Blazing doesn’t mean an intensity that scares, it can also be a friendly intensity. I’ve always thought about the way that punk poetry should try and reflect a full punk band, how can only individual be the equivalent of guitars, drums and shouting?
In theatre, we often say if you aim for as much energy as you can muster, make your character unbelievably big, then you can always tone it down. It’s much harder to work from less.
So whilst I never hit the ground running to the extent of the examples I’ve given, it was fascinating to see three different performers (a stand-up comic, a piece of theatre and a story-teller) all hit the audience hard, keep on pummelling and, inevitably, also make me feel deep emotions I’ll carry with me for a long time.