First published 4 August 2016; Updated 8 August 2017
Each summer, the demographic of London Theatre audiences shifts as visitors from overseas arrive to enjoy school holidays in the UK capital’s famous theatre scene. At the same time, an equally significant migration occurs as many of the West End’s creative beasts depart on trains, planes and automobiles, bound for the magnificent Scottish city of Edinburgh – home to the world famous Edinburgh Festival and Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
In 1947, as the world emerged from the shadows of WWII, Edinburgh’s International Festival made plans to gather the world’s best artistic companies to perform together, regardless of nationality. In what was the equivalent of a post-war flash-mob, eight theatre companies arrived uninvited and decided to stage shows on the periphery of the International Festival. The Edinburgh Fringe was born.
In the 69 years since, The Fringe has grown exponentially in size and renown, and now eclipses the International Festival with venues across the city taken over by actors, comedians and performers in shows of every shape and size. The careers of many writers and artists have been ameliorated by appearances at The Fringe; Rowan Atkinson, Stephen Berkoff and Ben Elton to name a few. Derek Jacobi even performed here in a Sixth Form production of Hamlet.
Staging a show in Edinburgh poses many challenges, with many venues hosting multiple performances. Still, there’s a reason that the Edinburgh Fringe proves such a draw for audiences and creative teams alike – it is a melting pot of culture, diversity and theatrical innovation. The Fringe has close links to a number of West End shows, including some you might not expect:
Alan Bennett, Jonathan Miller, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore famously perform at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in “Beyond the Fringe”. The show is conceived and staged by the Edinburgh International Festival in an attempt to take the wind out of the sails of The Fringe, but in fact it only serves to fan the flames of publicity. The show goes on to huge success in London’s West End and on Broadway.
Tom Stoppard’s play, Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead, has its first full performance as part of The Fringe. It was recently famously revived in February 2017 at The Old Vic, starring Daniel Radcliffe alongside Joshua McGuire.
Daniel Radcliffe (Rosencrantz) and Joshua McGuire (Guildenstern) in Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (Photo: Manuel Harlan)
Stomp premieres at the Assembly Rooms, winning the Daily Express “Best of the Fringe” award. The show is produced, directed and financed by Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas and is still running in the West End today.
Stomp at the Ambassadors Theatre (Photo: Steve McNicholas)
Following development at Battersea Arts Centre, Jerry Springer: The Opera is staged at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The show receives huge publicity, Jerry Springer himself attends and Nicholas Hytner secures the show for a full production at the National Theatre, London, where it went on to win the Olivier Award for Best New Musical.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest stars Christian Slater and Frances Barber. The production is beset by problems including Slater contracting chicken pox, but enjoys critical success and later transfers to the Garrick Theatre with Alex Kingston as Nurse Ratched.
Eurobeat wins Best New Musical at the Edinburgh Fringe and enjoys a UK tour before transferring to the West End’s Novello Theatre in 2008.
More recently, small but significant productions have enjoyed London transfers, both West End and off-West End, including:
David Ian Lee’s powerful and provocative play, The Curing Room, transfers to Islington’s Pleasance Theatre.
Mark Ravenhill’s satirical monologue, Product, transfers to the Arcola Theatre, East London.
Meanwhile, Lee Hall’s rollicking adaptation of an Alan Warner novel makes its world peremiere at the Traverse Theatre, entitled Our Ladies Of Perpetual Succour.
The cast of Our Ladies Of Perpetual Succour at the Duke of York’s Theatre (Photo: Manuel Harlan)
Reuniting the National Theatre of Scotland and director Vicky Featherstone, the funny and raucous musical play would transfer to the National Theatre in August 2016, where it attained the Olivier Award for Best New Comedy, before receiving a West End transfer in May 2017 to the Duke of York’s Theatre.
Annie Ryan’s beautiful adaptation of Eimear McBride’s bestselling novel, A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing, transfers to the Young Vic, and Olivier Award-winning playwright Jim Cartwright’s Edinburgh Fringe hit RAZ enjoys a West End premier at the Trafalgar Studios. There’s also a (very adult) Edinburgh transfer in the form of The Naked Magicians at Trafalgar Studios.
After a critically acclaimed UK premiere at the Southwark Playhouse, Lloyd Kaufman’s shlock-horror musical The Toxic Avenger plays a short stint the Edinburgh Fringe this year before returning to London at the Arts Theatre this September, with its gleefully infectious blend of comedy, frights and rollicking rock.
With just a week of this year’s Edinburgh Fringe gone, who knows what other unearthed West End gems may lie in store?
By Niall Palmer; updated by Robin Johnson