The first 1999 Fringe First Awards were presented today to five shows premiered at this year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Subject matter of the award-winning shows includes the whitewashing of U.S. president Richard Nixon, joy-riding, kite-flying, circus skills and the music of French crooner Jacques Brel.
The Fringe First Awards, presented by The Scotsman newspaper in conjunction with the Fringe Society, are the festival's most prestigious recognition for drama. They were established in 1973 when there was concern that the Fringe was not attracting the right quantity and quality of shows.
The awards are announced weekly during the festival. There is no fixed number given and the only requirement for consideration is that the work must be new -- having had no fewer than six performances in the UK, prior to the Fringe.
In announcing this week’s six winners, The Scotsman praised The Assembly Rooms, whose lease is now up for grabs because of £20,000 of unpaid rent from last year’s festival: “It is a particular pleasure to be making so many awards to the program at Assembly when it is under the [gun], both financially and politically,” said the paper. “The contribution of Assembly over most of the last two decades to the credibility of the Fringe as the home of high quality work from home and abroad must never be forgotten.”
This week’s winners, and The Scotsman's reasonings for their recognition, are as follows: Nixon's Nixon by Russell Lees, directed by Charles Towers Watergate at the Assembly Rooms until Aug. 30.
"There was a whitewash at the White House but it all came out in the wash in the end. Russell Lees’ intense political drama is set on the eve of Nixon’s final resignation from the most powerful office on earth and steeped in the detail of the power-play. Fine writing, fine performances in a straightforward, but powerfully executed two-hander. "
Fantasia directed by Victor Kramer at the Assembly Rooms until Aug. 30.
"You would not have thought that flying a kite would be so complicated, so funny, so charming, so poignant and so enchanting. From the director that brought you Snowshow, this is another gem which requires no words to convey its multi-layered meanings. These performers are properly clowns, but they are a million miles from the custard pies in the Big Top."
Anonymous Society based on the music of Jacques Brel, directed by Andrew Wale at the Assembly Rooms until Aug. 21.
"A musical based on the songs of Brel did not sound the most promising newcomer at this year’s Fringe, but that was to reckon without this imaginative and wholly unpredictable staging, edgy new translations of Brel’s already edgy lyrics, and suddenly you have a piece of music theatre for the 21st century. Fringe Firsts are about theatre, but the music, which takes you a long but intelligent way from Brel’s originals, is pretty good too."
Car by Chris O’Connell, directed by Mark Babych at the Pleasance until Aug. 30.
"Tough, gritty and bleak, the story of a joy-ride -- the irony is palpable -- that goes wrong, leading to a confrontation between the car owner and the young tearaway. Some of O’Connell’s roots as a probation officer are still showing, and the show is rough and ready but there is real gold here, especially in the writing of the final scenes and the sophisticated structure."
The House of Pootsie Plunket created by Jonathan Christenson and Joey Tremblay at St Bride’s, until Aug. 30.
"Undoubtedly one of the oddest shows you will see all year, in terms of design and performance style, both of which are sustained to the tiniest detail. Originally growing out of a production of Electra, this strange story from Canada of the perfect family, guardians of the frozen north, will charm you and chill you in equal measure. "
Hopeless Games, directed by Yevgeny Koslov at Walpole Hall, St. Mary’s Cathedral, until Aug. 14.
"It is not easy to capture the magic of this show in a few words especially since, like Fantasia, so many of its pleasures are visual. Full of recognizable tropes of European theatre -- those suitcases, those coats, those trains -- it is more of a mood than a story, touching on partings, meetings, the great darkness at the heart of 20th-century Europe and the triumph over it of the human spirit. Captivating performances, with Irina Koslova primus inter pares."