Behind the scenes

Oxford’s summer at the Edinburgh Fringe

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Brad Fergie

For many students August was an exuberant month spent at the sprawling Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Oxford brought fifteen shows to the Fringe, and with them around 120 students who held their own against seasoned professionals — showing the range of dramatic and musical talent that the university has to offer.

The Oxford Student talked to some of the people that helped to make it happen.

Kaiya Stone & Jessy Parker Humphreys- Writers: Not Your Nice Girl

What was it like to be a part of the Free Fringe?

We loved it! It’s such an important part of Edinburgh and politically we really agree that theatre/comedy has to be accessible. ‘Pay what you can’ is a great system and enables people who don’t have over a tenner to spend to still see great shows. It’s so important to remember that price doesn’t equal quality. Also we were given an incredible little space below a gay bar and it suited us perfectly.

Given the Edinburgh Fringe’s established tradition of cabaret, how did Not Your Nice Girl place itself amongst the scene?

Honestly, we didn’t know what cabaret really was when we picked our genre. We just knew that we couldn’t say comedy because our show had points that were too sad and lots of what we were saying wasn’t just about making people laugh. We needed a box that said ‘queer sketch theatre that’ll make you cry’! We chose cabaret because that seemed closest and we wanted to replicate the underground political theatre that cabaret provided for so many queers of the past. But when we were in Edinburgh lots of the other cabaret we saw appeared to be mainly light entertainment variety shows and that’s not what we were interested in creating. We did however see a great queer cabaret, Pollyanna, and it was our best night of the fringe — if we got to bring about a fraction of the radical fun we had there in our show we’d feel like we earned our right to call ourselves cabaret.

Were there any differences between your Edinburgh audiences’ response to your work and previous Oxford audiences?

Well the show was better by the time we got to Edinburgh, we had performed together more, but generally we got the sort of reactions we wanted from both locations. Because of the nature of doing such an intimate gig in Edinburgh we got to speak to people we didn’t know after the show and when there was only a handful of people we had a drink with the audience after.

It’s such a privilege to be able to do that and hear that we’re doing something where people want to engage with us afterwards. We had people coming back twice, we had people who left and we had people that hadn’t realised it was queer/didn’t know what non-binary meant and said they’d learnt something. Not Your Nice Girl couldn’t have asked for more.

You’re surrounded by the most beautiful architecture and landscape and meeting such interesting people left, right, and centre.

Amelia Gabriel- Singer: Blame it on the Belles

What were your first impressions of the Fringe festival?

It was utterly overwhelming in a really good way! You’re surrounded by the most beautiful architecture and landscape and meeting such interesting people left, right, and centre. One minute you’re seeing a show that is making you cry with laughter and the next, thought-provoking new writing and then you’re flyering for a few hours before dashing off to get ready for your own show. Unfortunately I was only there for ten days; it’s impossible to fully appreciate the explosion of creativity that the Fringe is in such a short period of time.

Oxford brought a lot of a capella to the Fringe. Was there any rivalry between the different groups?

It did indeed! Actually there was more camaraderie than rivalry: when we were performing on The Royal Mile, The Oxford Gargoyles or Out of the Blue would flyer for us which was so kind. Instead of gathering to have Pitch Perfect-esque riff offs, we watched The Great British Bake Off and went to the pub together and apparently there was also an a capella football match.

What was the competition like for the Derek Award?

A team of judges saw and ranked every acapella group’s show at the Fringe and we happened to be their favourite. It was a real shock to us as it was the first time performing at the Fringe for every member of the group. There were some fantastic groups and arrangements. We were even up against The Techtonics from Imperial who, earlier this year, were crowned world champions of collegiate a capella. All of us Belles love what we do and had a lot of fun performing. We were so pleased that the judges and audience also enjoyed the set that we’d worked hard to put together over the year.

Gwenno Jones- Actor: The Master and Margarita

The location of the Michaelmas production in St John’s gardens was central to its promenade staging. What was it like to perform the play in a new setting?

Well the play was completely different from the Michaelmas run, new script and everything. But performing it in a new setting was challenging because it’s such a site specific piece and we didn’t get to be in St Cuthbert’s church (the venue) until the day before opening night. The first few performances were different to the rest of the run because we had to re-block and change a lot of the lighting, the script, and where the scenes were set in the church. We also played around with how much we were moving the audience during the show, we had to get the balance right between not taking too long, but still moving them enough to make them feel involved — the immersive aspect of the performance was really important.

Did you see any other plays by Oxford students at the Fringe that you enjoyed?

Yes I tried to go and support as many as I could — Circleville, Foxtrot, XX, Canon Warriors. I also saw Callisto which had a lot of past students involved.

What was it like working with students from different universities?

Working with students from other universities was such a good idea. Performing at Oxford for a while you get to know most of the people who do this kind of thing, so it was nice to meet some completely new people! And they took us to see some great shows by students from Manchester that I would never have thought to see otherwise. The only problem is now we all miss each other… a lot.

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