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The Edinburgh Fringe Festival the biggest arts festival in the world! With 3,314 shows being put on in 313 venues, this year seemed like the right year to be there. So this is exactly what Lancaster University Theatre Group’s (LUTG) very own Lancaster Offshoots did, taking their show Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit and Other Tales to the last week of the Festival. I was lucky enough to be a producer for this show, and overall the experience was incredible. I’d never realised how much hard work and passion is needed to put on a show at the Fringe, but also how much fun you can have doing it.
Preparations for the show started back in January as our director and writer Callum Berridge, lover of Beatrix Potter novels, proposed the adaptation to LUTG, who instantly fell in love with the idea. Along with Callum a production team was brought together and after extensive auditions we assembled a stellar cast. What followed were weeks of long rehearsals as we attempted to create an adaptation combining shortened versions of the beloved characters novels. Meanwhile our Stage Managers, led by Holly Gardner and backed by Danielle Ash, Sandy Lee and Adam Hughes were set their own challenge. Pooling their efforts they were able to create an elaborate set of washing lines and water coloured sheets in a maze like format that would be pulled in certain directions to create different settings for the audience. We returned to Lancaster over the summer, and after adding finishing touches to the stories, and going through songs with our talented musical director Andy Ainscough, we were ready for Edinburgh.
My role as producer working alongside David Callanan taught me a lot about both The Fringe, and working as part of a team. We were responsible for finding a venue, registering the show to the Fringe itself, publicising the show, finding the group a house to live, as well as ensuring the journey and show ran as smoothly as possible. I would have never have got the chance to gain these skills on such a large playing field, anywhere else!
The journeys to and from Edinburgh certainly were one of the most difficult parts of the experience. Not only did we have to get 16 of us on a train, we also had to commute a huge wooden box, 36 water coloured sheets, a bucket, a wooden stool, 2 large sheets of cardboard, 15 face paint palettes and a partridge in a pear tree. As if this marathon wasn’t strenuous enough, on our way there we could be seen running across the platform as we were waiting at the wrong side of the train for our reserved carriage. Whilst on the way back, after waiting with our set at the station all day, our train was delayed an extra hour meaning we didn’t get back into Lancaster until midnight. But all these quirks only enriched our unique adventure.
One of the highlights of the experience was working on the Royal Mile, the heart and soul of the festival. Most of the promotion work for shows took place here, with mini-stages and leaflets galore. Here you could find street performers, busker’s d our production manager Luke Morgan drinking his daily litre of Irn Bru, this all added to the truly electric atmosphere. We took to the mile before and after every show, entertaining passers-bys with performances of original songs Hill Top Farm and Samuel Whiskers as well as old classic Run Rabbit Run in which our own Mr McGregor (Callum Berridge) would chase Peter Rabbit (Chiara Wakely) and Benjamin Bunny (Jamie Steele) through the crowds. We also added in some modern songs by asking the cunning gentlemen Mr Tod (Michael Dodds) ‘What Does The Fox Say’. The mile was extremely exciting with our own Tom Kitten (Molly Hirst) unknowingly giving one of our flyers to Jeremy Vine too, it sure was a fantastic place to be.
Then of course there was the show itself, which came with its own unique challenges, further emphasised by the family nature of the show, and the fact it was a promenade performance. For example, our technical run slot was the latest meaning we didn’t finish until 1am. Our get ins and outs were also a bit of a struggle. This is the time allocated to erect your set and take it down, we had 10 minute slots which, with the complexity of the set, really turned the time into a running race. But with practice by the end of our run we were on the nose with our get in’s and our show only improved.
We had younger children than expected in our audience but that only brought greater character and a more vibrant atmosphere to the piece. The children joined in with an egg and spoon race in Squirrel Nutkin’s (Lucy Unsworth) story, aided Mr Tod in a plot to wake up Mr Brock (William Dean), clapped along excitedly as Jemima Puddle-duck (Charlotte Davey) made her flight and helped Mrs Tiggy-winkle (Anna West) hang up her washing. However hectic the show became, it was always so uplifting to see the finished piece come to life, and see the smiles on children’s faces. After leaving our great venue at Greenside @ Nicolson Square we were often faced with very happy audience members waiting for photographs with the characters. In the end our hard work paid off as we were given a 4-star review by Broadway Baby.
However it wasn’t all work and no play at the festival. In the evenings once the show and mile work was over we would all come together for a home cooked meal. We would then go off and see a multitude of shows. Stand outs for me included Showstoppers: The Improvised Musical, featuring an extremely talented group of performers, who are taking their hugely entertaining show to the West End this September. An animal cabaret using roadkill animal skin puppets called Sing For Your Life was an interesting piece which made for a hard hitting stance on animal cruelty. Another stand out performance was the one man show Wojtek the Bear, in which a man simply played a polish bear. But, my personal favourite, was a musical adaptation of the cult hit, The Room. With such a range of shows on at the festival, it was impossible to be bored, even for a second.
Personally I learnt so much during the trip, and getting the opportunity to produce a show at the Fringe was an unbelievable experience. The decision to get involved with the show was undoubtedly one of the best I’ve ever made. I gained a huge amount of skills, saw so many amazing shows and had a lot of fun too. I would definitely encourage anyone to go through the process of putting on a show at the Fringe Festival. It’s easy to do here at the university, I thoroughly recommend getting involved with Lancaster University Theatre Group and joining in their adventures to the Fringe as it is an experience you don’t want to miss. If not putting on a show, just go to see some shows, take in the sites of Edinburgh, you never know what fun you will have. This was just my unique experience, now go and have yours.