Quirky, risk-taking and intimate – the London Fringe theatre scene is packed with gems. TNT takes a look at what’s on offer. WORDS: Erin Miller
Beyond the bright lights of the West End and across the capital’s boroughs, London’s fringe theatre scene encompasses dozens of smaller plays each week.
Director David Brennan, who has been in the London theatre scene for 16 years, says: “People are braver in the fringe” – a name given to alternative theatre at the small venues found tucked at the back of pubs and in community halls.
“On the fringe there’s a lot less money, but people are prepared to be more daring,” Brennan says.
“Of course that doesn’t always work, there is some ropey old nonsense on the fringe. But good theatre is available to all people at a reasonable cost.”
An intimate affair
Brennan, who is directing comedy Alarms And Excursions at the Brockley Jack Theatre, says there are plenty of reasons to choose a fringe play over a bigger budget West End production.
“It’s socially a lot more comfortable, it’s more intimate and you’re part of the experience,” he says.
Australian actress Trudi Ross, who stars in the play, agrees.
“It’s not like when you go to a West End play and you’ve got hundreds of people … When you go and see a fringe play you’re right on top of the action.”
The expat factor
In fact, Ross, 35, is not the only Antipodean working on the fringe.
Fellow Australian Trudi Boatwright, 31, who will also be in Alarms And Excursions, moved to Britain in 2006 to work as an actor.
“There’s a lot more work over here, and it’s such a theatre culture. I’m sure it’s the weather. In Australia people tend to go to the beach, whereas over here the theatre is prominent, ” she says.
New Zealander Kane Bixley, 33, also decided to make a break into acting in London after he did a stint on the set of The Lord Of The Rings.
“I did a little bit of work on Lord Of The Rings and once I put on an Orc mask and ran around, I really understood that it was all about letting yourself go.”
While Bixley admits it’s hard to make a living from acting in London, he says: “Most people learn their trade through the fringe. It’s a great way to get into new writing.”
The write job
South African playwright Lena Farugia is one such writer.
Her play Untitled made its London debut this month at the Finborough Theatre.
It’s based on the life of Wallis, Duchess of Windsor, after the death of her husband (Edward VIII, who abdicated the British throne in 1936 to marry her).
“I wanted it to be in London, because I think the theatre scene here is among the best in the world,” Farugia says.
So with thousands of plays on offer on the fringe each night of the week, there’s no excuse not to get out and get amongst it.
SELECTING WHAT TO SEE
As director David Brennan says, there’s plenty of “ropey old nonsense” on the fringe – so here’s how to ensure the play you choose to see is top notch.
• See plays at well-respected theatres. The Old Red Lion, the Finborough, The King’s Head and the Brockley Jack always manage to pack in the punters.
• Read theatre reviews to see which plays are acclaimed by the critics.
• Seating is unreserved at most of the Fringe theatres, so make sure you turn up early to get good seats.
• Choose a play near to where you live. Plenty of theatres are housed out the back of pubs, and it makes for a cheap and entertaining night out in your neighbourhood.