Page and Screen: Black Shorts at the Edinburgh Fringe (Part 1)

This week’s Page and Screen doesn’t actually feature any screen as such. In fact it’s little more than a completely shameless bit of self promotion on my part. Nevertheless I’ll try to justify it by claiming that what I’m about to shamelessly advertise fits in with the “ethos” behind this feature.

Earlier this year I wrote a sketch called “Lessons in Salesmanship”. I submitted it to a York based Theatre Company, quirkily named Mary’s Sofa, with no real
expectations of it being selected. But I had to give it a go because the prize
was a writing credit for a show, entitled “Black Shorts”, which was heading to
the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August. Cue surprise and childlike excitement when they actually liked it.

The Fringe is well known as a Mecca of comedy. It’s where the next big things make their breakthroughs. It’s where the industry insiders pick who to back. It also sounds like a month of awesome fun. I am only going for four days but I am looking forward to a packed itinerary, coupled with hidden gems I’ll only find with a little exploration. Aside from the best established and undiscovered comedians around, there’s theatre, music, cabaret and streets full of colourful entertainment.

Then there’s the city itself. Apparently I’ve been there, as a four year old. My father paraded me on his shoulders up and down the Royal Mile. I say paraded but I mean lugged. Family legend has it that I was terrified by the sheer amount of legs jostling for supplies on the high street, hence the need for an elevated position. That didn’t help much either though. I imagine the barking Scottish faces dangled my infant nerves over the abyss of a tantrum. Into which I swiftly plummeted.

I digress. The city sounds wonderful. Of course there is the added excitement of my own work on show and the tales of entertainment ecstasy I have both read and heard about, from the likes of Michael McIntyre and Stephen Fry. But if I were simply visiting Edinburgh there would be plenty for historian me to salivate over and digest, plenty of simultaneously European and British culture and architecture to absorb. Think of the great enlightenment figures from the city, the economists and doctors, the writers and philosophers. Think of the great works of atmospheric literature conceived and set there.

Let’s get back to my vague and tenuous link to the usual Page and Screen offerings. In June I went to see a preview of “Black Shorts” in York. I had no idea what to expect. I had no idea how many changes had been made from my original creation. I wasn’t sure how long it would last and how it would fit into the show as a whole. I’d never met any of the Mary’s Sofa team and I had no idea if they’d be good or bad, terrific or terrible.

Looking back with a little perspective, a few less jangly nerves and temporarily becalmed excitement, I realised this was my first taste of it. Of a creative process I hoped to see a lot more of. Of a collaboration I wanted to be a much bigger part of in future. I felt the surrender that screenwriters must feel, handing over a project helplessly to a Hollywood studio.

Yes there was enormous anticipation and a sense of satisfaction and achievement. But there was also something more akin to peril. Would it still be what I had intended? Even if it was, would it work in practice, and would other people like it? It wasn’t quite transforming a novel to film but it was making an idea work from the page as part of a whole. I hadn’t seen the rest of the show, didn’t know the other writers and they hadn’t met me to gauge my precise preferences face to face. Such is the magic and mystery of the web.

“Black Shorts” was split into two acts that night. The first act destroyed any doubts I had about Mary’s Sofa. Not only were the other shorts intelligently written but they were charismatically and skilfully realised. There were some really impressive themes about storytelling itself running through the show, along with some fine moments of black comedy and drama. These weren’t just talented, arty and interesting people, like many I hope to casually meet at the Fringe; they also explored themes that I found fascinating. I felt relieved.

But my moment was still to come. There were new worries to ponder during the interval. The show had a coherent structure and interconnected themes. The first act had a particular tone. I wasn’t sure how my sketch would fit with the flow and the feel.

Then all too quickly it was over. I couldn’t have been happier with how it was realised. If memory serves me correctly, uncorrupted by ego, people laughed just seconds into the fast paced dialogue. The characters I’d imagined had been fleshed out but they were still mine. The qualities of the performers conjured laughs from lines I hadn’t even envisaged to be that funny. There was no doubt my sketch was more conventionally comedic than other shorts in the show but it seemed to provide suitable light relief, deflating some audience tension, rather than feeling out of place.

I spent the rest of the evening glowing and trying not to mention how well it had went in every sentence I uttered. Stress did return as I worried about whether Mary’s Sofa had been happy with it and how it would do at the Fringe itself. But mostly I just enjoyed the moment and looked forward to Edinburgh. It will hopefully feel like a huge step in the right direction. Briefly I’ll indulge myself, thinking that I’ve “arrived” or something pompous. Really though I know it’s only the beginning, fingers crossed a promising one.

You can find details about “Black Shorts” and Mary’s Sofa here: http://www.maryssofa.co.uk/#!black-shorts

If you follow the link there’s a video from the preview. You can glimpse the contribution of this Flickering Myth writer (“Lessons in Salesmanship”
remember) at 19 seconds and 28 seconds.  If you’re attending the Fringe you can see “Black Shorts” at Finnegan’s Wake (Venue 101) at 16:45 on August 4-5 and 8-12.

I’ll report back after my Fringe experience with Part 2. Thank you for indulging this sales pitch. But it was obviously so much more than that, looking at the passion and emotional rollercoaster behind the process of adaptation etc, etc, blah, blah, blah…

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3 responses to “Page and Screen: Black Shorts at the Edinburgh Fringe (Part 1)

  1. Congrats: that’s very cool.

  2. Thanks! It really is 🙂

  3. Hey buddy – Jon Boustead here (Mary’s Sofa). It’s been a pleasure. We’re looking forward to introducing your skecth next week in our Second show (basically Act two of the preview you watched). Fringe is going great. We had a full house tonight which was amazing, and the show very well received so hopefully we’ve left people wanting to come back next week for a new show! When/if you get to come to finnegan’s wake to see the show (which has a new sketch in it too…..intriguing, no?) Do please come and say hello. It’d be nice to officially meet you, and that’s out for any other writers who submitted to us :D.

    Cheers,

    Jon

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