Anthony Alderson: Happy Birthday to Pleasance

Picture: contributed
Picture: contributed
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IT’s often said that the best things come in small packages, and whilst the Pleasance has grown to become the largest of the venues on the Fringe, like a microcosm of the whole Fringe, it mainly comprises a collection of small temporary performance spaces where some of the brightest actors and comedians have made their mark.

“A lot of my best jokes came from places like the Pleasance Attic,” said Michael McIntyre, who now regularly fills arenas around the country.

From Caroline Quentin, Janet Suzman, Timothy West, Eleanor Bron and Miriam Margolyes, the lure of those intimate theatre spaces seems irresistible.

Christopher Richardson opened the Pleasance 30 years ago with two theatre spaces and a small programme of ten shows. It was mainly theatre with a couple of comedy shows, the venue made a profit of £200.

Christopher often remarks that it took a further ten years to earn that two hundred pounds again, at which point he turned the Pleasance into a charity and formed the Pleasance Theatre Trust. With determination, and some very brilliant performers the Pleasance started to grow. Every two years another small theatre space opened. Russell Brand, Art Malik, Greg Davies, Steven Berkoff, Catherine Tate and Hugh Dennis, are just some of the celebrated actors and comedians to have played a converted attic or a transformed portacabin.

Graham Norton remembers carrying chairs to the attic his first year, “I guess it’s the Anne Frank memorial space, except more people found her.”

The Pleasance plan is always to create an aspirational environment encouraging the new and untried to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those well known.

In the Pleasance Grand this year Robert Vaughn, Celia Imrie, Robert Powell and Julian Sands are just some of the guest actors who will come to commemorate WW1 in the production of Forgotten Voices. They play alongside new theatre company Bucket Club and their debut play Lorraine and Alan.

Performers come back year after year, playing slightly larger rooms, their popularity increasing like the venues they perform in. Kevin Bridges’ rise to fame came so quickly that he was performing in our 50-seat JokerDome at 8pm and performing extra shows at 11pm in the Grand, a venue where the dressing room is bigger than that of the JokerDome’s performance space.

“The JokerDome holds a special place in my heart,” explains Miranda Hart, “Possibly named the JokerDome because the ceiling was so low I could barely stand up in it.”

Steve Pemberton remembers “The men’s toilet being larger than that of the League of Gentlemen’s first venue.”

As the festival grows bigger and bigger each year, we at the Pleasance are always looking to find venues that are intimate in order to maintain that pioneer spirit. Our aim, to give as many people as possible the best possible chance with their debut show so that they might follow in the footsteps of Harry Hill, Steve Coogan or Jo Brand.

So whilst planning your on the Fringe, aside from those names you might recognise, think of those tiny spaces at the Pleasance, where you never know, you might be fortunate to catch the first performances of someone quite remarkable.