State of the Art
If you want to get a sense of the mood of the times, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is a great place to do it. There is such a profusion of work in this, the world's largest arts festival, that you quickly notice common themes as the latest generation of comedians and theatremakers try to make sense of their world.
One such theme emerging this year is to do with the dark side of pop stardom. A number of performers are considering the strange case of the 27 Club, that unfortunate group of musicians who have died at the age of 27.
Irish musician Jack Lukeman, theatre director Toby Gough and musical double-act Frisky and Mannish are all staging shows about the group of live-fast-die-young stars that includes Robert Johnson, Janice Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones and Kurt Cobain.
In part, they have gravitated to this topic because of the premature death of Amy Winehouse in July 2011. She too failed to get past the fateful age of 27 and, given the number of people who watched her every move, she left behind a sense of guilt as well as grief.
And perhaps all these 27 Club shows tell us something about our era of austerity. Maybe we're living through times in which we're less interested in hedonism than hangovers. In this context, it'll be interesting to check out a show called Rock, an oral history of punk haunted by Jim Morrison (again), Patti Smith, Allen Ginsberg and Iggy Pop.
Another theme emerging is about attitudes towards the human body. Students from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland are staging a musical called Active Virgin in which the quest for the body beautiful becomes a disease; actor Pete Edwards is performing Fat, about his love of a larger man; and Caroline Horton stars in Mess, a play with songs based on her own experiences of anorexia nervosa.
As the Edinburgh Festival Fringe comes around, many other themes will emerge, each reflecting a different aspect of the times we live in. Perhaps the most fruitful place to look will be at the Traverse Theatre where a series of daily rehearsed readings called Dream Plays (Scenes from a Play I'll Never Write) will give voice to the wildest imaginings of a dozen playwrights.
Edinburgh Festival Fringe, 3–27 August, www.edfringe.com