Blog | Wales At the Fringe: Week 1

Elin Williams keeps us up-to-date with all the goings on at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

I’ve been to the Edinburgh Fringe several times before. This year feels slightly different; I’m here for a lot longer and came up before the festival had even started. Walking up an empty mile with no flyers being shoved in my face had the feeling of an almost post-apocalyptic landscape. It was a different city. But Day Three feels a lot more familiar; walking at a pace that’s slightly too fast (the steep inclines have already rendered me bedbound this evening), and running to shows in the rain as my phone bounces dangerously in my hand open on google maps. This is the Edinburgh I’m used to.

There are lots of Welsh shows here this year and I aim to cover as many as possible. I’m particularly excited by the companies that I’ve never seen before and of course, looking forward to some familiar faces too.

I saw The Revlon Girl during its original run. I was intrigued to see how the show had been edited at all as it had quite a substantial running time originally. I was pleased to find that the performance lasted an hour and twenty minutes, which made it a lot more succinct and effective than the original.

The play, written by Neil Docking, is a fairly straightforward narrative which tells the tragic story of the Aberfan disaster. Done before in Wales (and badly might I add), Docking’s script is sensitive and poignant and tells the story from the perspective of the mothers who had lost their children. The titular ‘Revlon Girl’ visits the grieving mothers of Aberfan to give them a make-up tutorial, offering them a chance to focus on themselves for the first time in months, but of course, this doesn’t go to plan. The structure is predictable; the mothers each get a monologue to reveal their inner most hurt and overwhelming grief whilst weaving between funny dialogues to anger fuelled outbursts. The ensemble cast is emotionally charged and it would be unfair to say that their performances didn’t elicit a sympathetic emotion in the audience, but at times the predictable structure and over-exposition in the script made these characters feel less real. The story is indeed an important one to tell and this original perspective offers an interesting insight. Although fairly safe in terms of performance and script, The Revlon Girl does offer a piece of Welsh history to Edinburgh audiences, which certainly isn’t a bad thing.

The Other Room is housed this year at Bedlam on Bristo Place. Translated to ‘Grandmother’ in Scottish Gaelic, Seanmhair (pronounced Shen-a-var) is a gothic, harrowing story about a young girl, Jenny, who meets her vagabond husband Tommy on the streets of Edinburgh aged ten. The journey of their tumultuous relationship is revealed to the audience by three different actresses playing Jenny (and multiple other roles) at different stages in her life; Jenny looking after her slightly demented husband in later life, frustrated by the lack of excitement that they once shared as youngsters, and Jenny as a ten-year-old-girl, privately educated and easily influenced by the dark-eyed Tommy Maclaish. There are definite hints of the Heathcliff in Maclaish, with numerous lines from the script echoing Bronte’s iconic novel. The script is well-crafted, keeping the audience guessing and piecing together until the very last moments. The trio of actresses are mesmerising as Jenny, but Jenny Jo Freer stands out in particular. Hywel John’s script intricately weaves the narrative together, jumping seamlessly from one time period to another. It doesn’t shy away from anything and a gothic Edinburgh is masterfully painted for us which effectively coincides with the dark issues that surround Jenny in her youth. The show is absorbing and harrowing. Its links to Edinburgh will certainly draw a crowd as the run continues.

Flying Bridge Theatre is a Welsh theatre company based in Newport. Their Edinburgh production Not About Heroes will shortly be touring the UK. The play dramatizes the friendship between World War One poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. The narrative itself is an interesting one; the poets flit between friendly discussion and poetry. Sassoon was a massive influence on not only Owen as a poet, but also, using his societal connections, was mostly responsible for building his reputation. The narrative also uses real letters between Sassoon and Owen and various other important figures, including Owen’s mother. This gives the narrative the lift it needs and forces the audience to remember that actually, these two men were real.

Most of the play is set at the Craiglockhart Psychiatric Hospital for shell-shocked officers in Edinburgh, making it seem especially relevant for the Fringe. Owen timidly knocks on Sassoon’s door, requesting for him to sign copies of his new book, The Old Huntsman. Sassoon was allegedly the biggest influence on Owen’s poetry, forcing him to become more visceral, less afraid to write the truth. These specific discussions about poetry are amongst the most effective in the play; the banter and humour between the two men feels a little out of place and forced. Both actors (Daniel Llewellyn-Williams and Iestyn Arwel) give emotionally charged performances. The play flags a little at times, but picks back up again when Owen and Sassoon divulge their need to go back to fight, despite their belief that it is futile, because they need to know something about themselves. The play would be a lot more hard-hitting if more narrative like this was included; narrative that probes the conflicted minds of men who write about the true atrocities yet still put themselves back in the midst of it. The play is very conventionally written and depends on the historical significance of the story behind it. Despite this, it is not an unoriginal play by any means; it will definitely draw a crowd during its run due to its subject and links with Scotland’s capital city.


All in all, a good first week of #WalesinEdnburgh. Next week I’ll be seeing Dirty Protest’s Sugar Baby, Volcano’s Seagulls, and Mr and Mrs Clarke’s F.E.A.R.