The largest Arts Festival in the World has just celebrated its 70th anniversary. The first came shortly after the devastation of the 2nd World war in 1947, a concept conceived by the Austrian Artistic director, Rudolf Bing who with his colleagues set out to create an International festival of Arts that would be a statement of reconciliation, “a platform for the flowering of the human spirit”; a concept that 70 years on feels as important as ever.
The ‘Fringe’ unofficially started life the same year when eight uninvited theatre companies turned up to the inaugural International Festival and took over the smaller, alternative venues for their own productions. The companies seized the opportunity to showcase their new-fangled and unconventional work to the amassed public.
This years Fringe is over for another year, many will be relieved, but the enthusiastic consumers among us feel the loss of those few days we spend in that place; revelling in all that is high and low culture within the handsome, damp, gothic city. Where entertainment of every persuasion is quite literally on tap, along with craft beer and as many pulled pork baps as you can handle.
Somehow, this year felt different, whether it’s the strain felt by the bizarre events of our recent history: Trump, Brexit – we’ve lost Bowie, Prince, Rickman, to name a few of those that had formed a big part of our cultural consciousness. Then there are the human tragedies, the acts of unfathomable evil that we’ve witnessed on a scale that isn’t the norm for most of us advantaged Westerners: Syria, Manchester, Grenfell, London, Barcelona, the list goes on and on and shows no sign of stopping: Charlottesville, Myramar, North Korea, North Korea, North Korea.
We’re weary and more fragile than we were. The usual political satire & stand-up rant can’t be enjoyed with the usual smug liberal abandon; the laughs are now followed by a very real sense of panic for a future we don’t recognise or know how to quantify.
The shows we saw this year definitely made us laugh, they succeeded in their primary role, but they also made us contemplative, sad and you guessed it, emotional.