JUGGLING. That’s the secret to a long and interesting life. Especially at Fringe time. I was reminded of this at the weekend while watching a rehearsal for Princess Pumpalot: The Farting Princess, which I’m directing.
Two of the actors - Arron Usher and Edward Cory - are also in Killers, by Taggart creator Glenn Chandler, which premiered at the Brighton Fringe earlier this year and is reprised at the Assembly Rooms this August.
In Killers, based on real-life letters written by Moors Murderer Ian Brady, Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe and serial killer Dennis Nilsen, Edward plays Brady and Arron, Nilsen. In Princess Pumpalot, Eddie is a bumbling king, and Arron, a silly court jester called Guffy, who just happens to be Princess Pumpalot’s best friend.
The roles could not be more different and throughout the Festival they will alternate between them, screwy and silly in the morning and serious and sinister in the afternoon - it’s quite a challenge, especially when working over a very tight rehearsal period.
Normally, the productions you see at the King’s, Playhouse or Lyceum have between three and six weeks to get the piece up and running. For the Festival, that can be slashed to 12 days, occasionally less. It’s the nature of the beast.
With more than 2000 a day all vying for a finite audience, few Fringe productions can afford long rehearsal periods - let’s not include grant-funded or sponsored productions here, as their risks are mitigated by the public purse or depth of the sponsor’s pockets.
Indeed, a couple of years ago it was revealed the average cost of bringing a show to Edinburgh was £8000. Very few recoup that outlay, and every year there are tales of producers who, having put their mortgage on their dream, find themselves in a nightmare as they loose their homes and play to four people a day.
Not that a short rehearsal period is a bad thing. I never cease to be amazed by the energy and integrity most actors invest in their work and a 12-day rehearsal certainly focuses the mind. But it’s the adrenalin (and often sheer fear) an actor experiences as they wait in the wings on opening night that produces the best theatre - far better than watching a show that’s been rehearsed within an inch of its life .
And that’s what makes the Fringe the most exciting place in the world.