Theatre company Northern Stage provides a ‘festival within the Festival’ at the 2013 Fringe

This article is from 2013

Northern lights

This year's programme considers themes of 'dissent, protest and the need to ask questions'

‘Curated programmes are making a comeback at the Fringe,’ explains Lorne Campbell, the new artistic director of Northern Stage. Last year the company took up residence in St Stephen’s, where – under the directorship of his predecessor Erica Whyman – it staged an array of work by artists from all across the north of England under one roof.

This year’s programme sees them ‘push the curational line’ even further. ‘Dissent, protest and the need to ask questions’ are the themes that pulse through this year’s programme. Campbell, who was born and raised in Edinburgh, is one of the founding members of Greyscale and a former associate director of the Traverse, as well as a freelance director and theatre-maker himself. His St Stephen’s season will feature ‘cross pollination between artists’ and work that prods at ‘the line between the personal and the political’.

The piece that does the latter most explicitly is perhaps Hannah Nicklin’s A Conversation with my Father, which explores the relationship between her, as a protestor, and her father, a retired policeman. The 2013 programme also includes How to Occupy an Oil Rig, Daniel Bye’s follow-up to his performance lecture, The Price of Everything, and The Paper BirdsOn The One Hand, a piece that looks at the social implications of ageing from a female perspective.

With the movement of Forest Fringe to new premises at the Out of the Blue Drill Hall, Campbell notes that something of ‘a geographic shift’ is occurring in the way audiences experience the Fringe. It’s shifting and spreading further from the commercial heart, a process that also allows ‘more opportunity for companies to embed in the community’. Campbell sees these shifts as in keeping with the ‘original impulse of the Fringe’ and he speaks of St Stephen’s as ‘a crucible’ for connecting communities, something brought to the fore in collaborative projects like Make. Do. And Mend, a day of theatrical problem-solving that sees Northern Stage working in collaboration with Forest Fringe.

Last year’s residency saw the converted church become a real social and artistic hub, a kind of festival within the Festival, and that’s something Campbell wants to see continue this year. Both the St Stephen’s Café Bar and the St Vincent Bar across the street are central to the experience, and a day-saver ticketing scheme encourages audiences to stay and take in a number of shows in any one day.

Campbell believes that, since Northern Stage is based in the very north of England, there’s a necessity for it to be ‘looking north to Scotland as well as south to England’ in terms of the work it programmes. The event that best encapsulates this is the Bloody Great Border Ballad Project, curated by Campbell, which will chart 95 years of ‘an imagined future history’ of Scotland in ballad form. Spread across the Fringe, the project will explore what the post-independence relationship between Scotland and England might look like, with a new verse of the ballad written each day. Balladeers include Lucy Ellinson, Kieran Hurley and Cora Bissett, and the project as a whole seems a fitting focal point for what, according to Campbell, promises to be a festival of connection.

Northern Stage at St Stephen’s, 558 3047, 3–24 Aug. For full listings visit ourNorthern Stage listings.

How to Occupy an Oil Rig

  • 3 stars

There are all sorts of lessons to be learned in life. How to get served at the bar. How to crash a boardroom meeting. How to avoid becoming romantically attached to an undercover police officer. That sort of thing. In this playful and provocative show about protest, you'll learn how to do all of this and more. Funny…

The Bloody Great Border Ballad Project

Part protest, part prophecy, part poetry, part party. Writers, performers, balladeers and special guests from North and South of the border create an epic new ballad written with and for the audience, every night. Alongside a series of newly commissioned ballads from Kieran Hurley, Chris Thorpe, Cora Bissett, Alex Kelly…

Make. Do. And Mend

A day of action in which the gathered group spend the day imagining and implementing real solutions to problems you suggest – an attempt to change theatre (and perhaps the world) for the better – in one day.

A Conversation with My Father

  • Directed by: Alexander Kelly

A spoken-word piece by Hannah Nicklin, co-directed by Alexander Kelly, in which Nicklin and her off-stage father discuss the role of 'sides' in a political argument.

On the One Hand

Six women of different ages and at different stages of their lives, explore what it means to age. The Paper Birds present their visually stunning 10-year anniversary show, interrogating the inevitable journey that our minds and bodies undertake from birth to death.