The Camden Fringe is back this August after an enforced year off because due to Covid. The festival of theatre and comedy, which was established in 2006, runs from 2 to 29 August 2021 across 21 London venues, with 15 shows available to view online.
As with all else, the pandemic has had a big impact on both the organisation and the content of the Fringe. Camden Fringe co- founder Michelle Flower said:
“Cancelling last year was a difficult decision to make, as at the time, we were all hoping a lockdown would last just a few weeks or months. Little did we know that theatres would be closed for well over a year. We’ve been cautious about organising this year’s festival, doing everything much later than usual, not producing a printed brochure and including streamed performances.”
The Camden Fringe’s other co-founder Zena Barrie adds:
“We were expecting to have a very small programme of events this year, but that it would be nice to do something to assist the venues that have had such a difficult time. We were delighted to see the applications flood in and the programme is currently 267 shows, which probably adds up to around 1000 performances in all.”
Whilst a number of the participating productions were programmed last year and have patiently waited for 12 months to be performed this summer, quite a few have come about as a direct result of the pandemic.
Lockdown gave creatives the time and impetus to work on new projects. More shows have been directly inspired by the events of the last 18 months. The Corona-Nation of Celia and Pandemic of Love both offer a perspective on difficulties within romantic relationships during lockdown. Coronavirus – A Great British Farce is a two-person comedy play that aims to give audiences a cathartic release. How I Found and Captured Bigfoot During Lockdown is a musical comedy by Simon Stanley-Ward about his remarkable discovery on Tottenham Marshes on his daily dog walk.
There will, of course, be plenty of opportunity to escape from thoughts of Covid-19. There are a number of productions that are set in the “before times” where there will be no mention of the pandemic. With an Old West backdrop, Six Serpents and a Tarantula gives a rare female perspective on this period of history. (Intriguingly the five parts in this show will be allocated to the cast by chance at each performance.)
Better Than Sex: The Story of Mae West is a cabaret tribute to the actress and sex bomb. We’ll Meet Again is a WWII revue from Camden Fringe regulars Upstaged Theatre Company. Going slightly further back, Fabulett 1933 looks at queer culture in Berlin before the rise of the Nazis. Also set in that city, Back to Berlin is centred on the fall of the wall in 1989. History on the Road takes a look at significant moments in black British history through the eyes of the women in a Brixton hair salon.
For those who want to escape this world entirely, there are shows such as one-man comedy show Artificial Insmelligence, set in deep space, or Mario: A Super Musical, which unfolds in the video game universe of Mario.
With comedy clubs having been closed for so long, it’s probably no surprise to see a lot of stand-up testing new material at the Camden Fringe. There are work-in-progress shows from some great acts such as Tez Ilyas, Rachel Fairburn, Sara Barron, Pierre Novellie, Sarah Keyworth, Larry Dean and Catherine Bohart. Inbetweeners star Joe Thomas will also be working on his first solo stand-up show at the Camden Fringe.
As usual, there are a few genre-busting shows that offer up something more unconventional, with the online shows leading the way. Tree Confessions is an audio play from the perspective of a tree, which is best listened to whilst under a tree, #txtshow (on the internet) is a live zoom show by performance artist Brian Feldman which the audience helps to write. Frequency is a blend of live canvases by artist Brett Ashby and soundscapes by Felix Ezrael.
In person, there is also artistry on show in Painting By Numbers, a comedy play about three incompetent artists which promises exhilarating paint fights, riotous dance routines and unforgettable high stakes live painting. The Emoji Project is an intergenerational anthology of new writing responding to the digital language of emojis. Finally, Potatohead is a one-woman clowning and puppetry show based on Doctor Faustus with the central character of a humble spud who dreams of becoming a cabaret star. Naturally.