The Camden Fringe is back for its 11th year! Launched by Michelle Flower and Zena Barrie, over the past decade the festival has been turning the London borough into a whirlwind of comedy, theatre, cabaret and music, in venues ranging from Hampstead pubs to central London theatres.
After reviewing some of the theatre on offer at last year’s Fringe, I went along to their first media launch to meet some of this year’s participants. Based in Camden Lock, it was an incredibly busy event with scores of performers, writers, directors and producers eager to share what they’d be creating at this year’s festival. They had a fantastic amount of enthusiasm – even after queuing for a long time in a pretty warm underground bar! – not just for their own shows, but for the Fringe as a whole.
Many spoke to me about the appeal of the Camden Fringe compared to Edinburgh. The founders describe themselves as “definitely one of the big kids now, but still intimidated by the likes of Edinburgh, Brighton and Buxton Fringes who lurk around the back of the gym smoking and looking like real grown-ups.” Yet what I gleaned from the 36 (!) different companies I spoke to was a huge amount of affection, both from newcomers and old hats. They spoke of the sometimes crippling financial strain of Edinburgh, and the vast number of shows that create the feeling of being swamped and overwhelmed by the ‘competition’. Conversely, in Camden, many praised the feeling of camaraderie and community, the advantage for many of being on home turf and the relative affordability that means they are able to take more risks in their creative process. It may not be the most famous of the August fringe festivals, but by offering emerging companies a viable alternative to Edinburgh, and offering audiences a diverse and exciting range of performances, it’s certainly making its mark.
Which brings me onto the programme itself. Fringe festivals are often known for their comedy, and there’s a great selection of improv, sketch and stand-up to choose from. But for me it’s the programme of theatre that’s the most appealing. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of the shows continue the current high profile theme of works created by women that explore ‘issues’ (if we’re still using that word) of gender politics, social equality and other feminist concerns. While some of the companies involved embraced this label, others sought to distance themselves, describing their work as “humanist” not feminist. It’s an intriguing one – there’s much to be celebrated amongst the women exploring the concerns of their gender and making their mark, but evidently some are wary of being put into that box. Elsewhere, there’s also a new translation of a refugee drama (Cockroaches); a modern adaptation of the Garden of Eden narrative; a satire on the pressure on schoolchildren today (Krool Britannia); and a dark comic play about a certain Mr Murdoch.
Look out for my more detailed previews over the coming days, and for some reviews when it all kicks off on 1 August.
For the full programme of shows and to buy tickets, visit the Camden Fringe website.