This article is from 2008.
As the first InvAsian Festival kicks off, Miles Johnson discovers why its innovators are determined to bring some much-needed diversity to the Fringe
When, earlier this year, a BBC executive lamented the continued dominance of a ‘liberal, white, middle class elite’ across British television, his words could equally have been applied to Edinburgh in August. For all the Fringe’s variety, the number of non-white performers is still low enough for comedians to continually observe that many of their audience ‘have never seen a black person before’. Now, a team of promoters, performers and directors have come together to redress the balance.
The InvAsian Festival is a month-long showcase of over 30 companies from around Asia along with some of the most respected British Asian talent working in the UK. Held at ClubWEST, the inaugural programme is probably the only place you’ll find a Chinese Elvis impersonator and a rendition of the Hindu epic, The Ramayana, on the same bill. But, far from being a multicultural gimmick, it seems likely that some of the most innovative new writing coming to this year’s Fringe will have a distinctly Asian flavour.
‘We went through the Fringe programme last year and realised there’s been a dearth of British Asian companies coming up to Edinburgh in recent years,’ says Kevin Williams, who set up InvAsian through his ClubWEST venue. ‘We decided something must be done about this. There’s a huge multicultural Asian population in Scotland. It seems terribly unfair to have these struggling companies who want to show their work and carry on their new writing.’
Williams also feels that the growing commercialisation of the Fringe has made it harder for British Asian companies to afford to put on a show. Luckily, InvAsian has received sponsorship from the Indian Tourist Board’s Incredible India. ‘Asian companies can often find it difficult to get into the Festival on a financial level. Don’t get me wrong, I adore the Fringe and am a great supporter of it, but a lot of the leading mainstream venues have taken it to a very commercial level where it is not as alternative and multicultural as it might be. It is often impossible for these companies to afford to come to Edinburgh, but now that we have lots of people pooling their resources it can happen.’
InvAsian features a particularly strong theatre programme. Another Paradise written by Sayan Kent, is a dystopian farce set in a Britain where the introduction of ID cards by the government has changed the nature of identity itself. In a world where hospitals can be bought on the stock market and government corruption is rife, a citizen’s gender can be changed simply through computer malfunction. ‘Sayan has taken the reality of what it will be like when we all have to carry ID cards in the not too distant future and has stretched it to an incredibly funny level,’ says the play’s director Janet Steel. ‘A man’s identity card suddenly says he is a woman, and even though he dresses and looks like a man nothing matters to other people but what the database says.’
More exciting new writing is to be found with Three Flying Solo, a triptych of plays directed by Annie George. It Ain’t All Bollywood , a production by the highly regarded British Asian company Rifco, depicts a young girl who escapes from her overbearing mother by dreaming of Bollywood.
Williams is hoping that this year’s InvAsian will be the first of many. ‘I think it shows what can be achieved when people collaborate on something. I hope it will continue for years to come and become an umbrella for Asian companies at the Fringe.’ What is certain is that Williams and his collaborators will certainly make the Fringe a more interesting and diverse place to be this August.
All shows clubWEST @ Quincentenary Hall, 527 1562. Another Paradise, 3–25 Aug, 4.45pm, £12 (£9); It Ain’t All Bollywood, 3–25 Aug, 4pm, £9.50 (£8.50); Ramayana Part I, 4, 6, 8, 11, 13, 15 Aug, 11.15am, £9 (£6.50–£7.50); Ramayana Part II, 5, 7, 9, 12, 14, 16 Aug, 11.15am, £9 (£6.50–£7.50); Three Flying Solo, 3–25 Aug, 2pm, £7.50–£8.50.