Theatremaker Lita Doolan was performing in Edinburgh Fringe one summer when she was inspired to write a story about Scotland’s iconic capital. She took her inspiration from how the city and its residents recovered following the devastating 2002 fire that started in Cowgate Street and ripped through much of its Old Town. This summer, she brings the resulting play, Time for Tea, to Camden Fringe, running for one performance only to open the festival on 30 July 2018. Here, she recalls how it all came about…
It’s a tough question when things fall apart…
Standing with four boxes of show flyers to distribute on my own, the words of Judy Garland spring to mind: “There’s no place like home.” My lighting designer says he knows exactly how to sell a show on the Fringe. I’m agog and then he disappears.
I try to cheat the taxi queue at Waverley Station to run away fast when an old lady comes at me with an umbrella. When I read the ‘haste ye back’ sign at the airport my mind takes it literally.
Escape is futile. The city draws me back every time.
I stay in a room on West Register Street for £20 with an unlocked door. Lots of English-language students are running in looking lost, laughing loudly and leaving. I lie awake and write a play about it. Sitting on a bench by Waverley the next morning I stretch out, eating Pret porridge, staring at Edinburgh Castle and I wonder if that’s free to hire as a venue. I decide not all things are possible and wonder about what I can write about this iconic city.
I write a love story about Grassmarket and find a bowl of ‘Hula’ soup to cry into. A magician, Oliver ‘when magic and food collide’ Meech, is flyering next to me in the monsoon rain and shields me from the wind, showing me how performers take a stand for each other.
This inspires me to start where I am. The fringe family supports each other to be brave, and solidarity sells the shows and breeds stamina. Flyering, just like writing, needs to keep moving to stay strong.
As midnight approaches, the fireworks pop and I see nothing stays stuck for long. Suddenly, my draft is finished and all ready for the rehearsal room. Everything moves just like the Roman candles that dance in the sky and tie together all the strands in my story.
I write about the day Edinburgh’s Old Town is devastated by a spark – something that I recall as being unbelievable – how the 2002 Cowgate fire changes lives.
One of them is mine.
The city burnt for 52 hours. Thankfully, there were no casualties but 11 buildings were devastated during the blaze. Well-loved Fringe venues, including the original Gilded Balloon, were destroyed, along with irreplaceable architecture. Emergency rehousing was sourced for residents and students, and the sky appeared orange from miles away.
Whilst even today, in 2018, the area has still not been fully restored, the dreams the venues inspired grow stronger every year.
Edinburgh changes, it grows and survives. It never needs sympathy. Sitting on the wooden bench at Waverley Station, I realise now what my lighting designer was saying. Although he’s long gone, I read in the graffiti: ‘Surrender and move forward’. That is probably how you sell your show on the Fringe.
See you in Camden. It’s Time for Tea.
Kicking off Camden Fringe, Time for Tea runs at 12.30pm on Monday 30 July 2018 at the Etcetera Theatre, 265 Camden High Street, London NW1 7BU. Tickets are just £7.50 (concessions £5). CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE!