Camden Fringe was founded by Zena Barrie and Michelle Flower. Flowers gives an insight into the festival: What to see and where to go.
There are seven pub theatres involved. Does each one have its own flavour?
All our pub theatres have a different history and a different vibe. There is no set way of doing things. The Hen and Chickens, Canal Café and Etcetera Theatre have been around for years, but we have newer venues like the Moors Bar in Crouch End and the Rabbit Hole in Hampstead involved now as well and it’s lovely to see them develop.
Do any of them have particular preferences in programming shows?
Definitely. Upstairs at the Gatehouse is a large venue in Highgate which has quite a traditional audience, so they programme revivals and musicals. The Camden Head on Camden High Street has, in recent years, re-branded its performance space as The Camden Comedy Club so they are mostly stand-up performances.
What can we expect from the festival?
The Camden Fringe isn't a curated festival, we are open to all applicants - shows aren’t viewed or vetted before they are booked in. So all sorts of people have an opportunity to try out all sorts of shows. This means the type of shows – and the quality – vary enormously, which for us that it the whole point of a Fringe festival. It’s all about taking chances and perhaps coming up with something brilliant – for performers, audiences and venues.
Our backbone is theatre and comedy, but there is a little bit of spoken word, music, dance and even an opera.
This year we have a lot of Shakespeare inspired pieces – always popular, but especially this year marking the 400th anniversary of his death – and masses of improvisation. It’s not just comedy improv: there are a couple of plays that will also be created out of audience suggestion.
If you could pick just a few must-see shows, what would be your recommendations?
I’ve not seen any of the shows yet, but there are so many that sound interesting. Here is just a handful of the companies that have produced good work in the past.
Oscar at the Etcetera is a work in progress but of puppet theatre based on the life and work of Oscar Wilde.
Kunst at the Lion and Unicorn is likely to be very charming and involve some amazing masks in a simple story about an elderly couple’s squabble over their evening TV viewing.
I think Godspell at Upstairs at the Gatehouse will be worth a go if you fancy a musical revival, which you don’t often see in a pub theatre (unless you are a regular at the venue!)
At the opposite end of the theatrical scale Boo Hoo at the Hen and Chickens is a personal show written and performed by Judith Faultless about her experiences of adopting a child.
If you could challenge audiences to get involved what would you say to them?
Take a chance on a show. Tickets don’t cost much – in most cases less than a trip to the cinema and these shows are not going to be available for free on Netflix in a few months! For example, Sketch trio Cheque Please who I know literally nothing about – not even what they look like, as they haven’t provided us with photographs, or their names – but the name of their show, Hot Crisps, amuses me and tickets are only £6.
What’s been your biggest achievement to date?
I think just keeping the Camden Fringe going – with no funding or sponsorship – for 11 years in an achievement.
What made you and Zena Barrie decide to open a festival in Camden?
In 2004 and 2005 we were running the Etcetera Theatre in Camden whilst also producing shows in Edinburgh. It became increasing frustrating that we were hiring venues and flats in Edinburgh (at vast expense) for a month while we had perfectly good homes and a venue in London that was lying pretty much unused during in August. So in 2006 we decided to try putting on a festival, just at the Etcetera, to try and get some interesting stuff on over our quietest period. It worked well and the Camden Fringe was born.
Camden is a great place to do this sort of thing as it has a real centre (the high street) where we started things off, and has plenty of venues. It also has a history of creativity with the market, music and theatre venues and has always felt like a place where new things happen
You both ran the Etcetera Theatre in Camden for 8 years (2004-2012) and produced shows at Edinburgh festival. What did you learn that you’ve brought to this festival?
We’ve learned that putting on shows is easy. Selling tickets is hard. We try and pass on our knowledge to acts about getting bums on seats, but I think many of them under-estimate how much work is involved in getting people interested in watching their production.
When do you start planning the next festival?
It takes a month or so to after the Fringe to round off work on the current festival. We then have a little break from it October / November time and get cracking on the next year in December. Applications start on the 1st of January.
Where do the shows go to after the fringe festival is over?
There isn’t a set pattern, but some shows will return to the venues for a longer run later in the year (Camden Fringe runs tend to only be a few nights) and many will go to the Edinburgh Fringe next year.
Some will realise they should never be seen in public again!
Finally, are there some theatre makers to look out for, that you would back to go on to bigger things?
Lazarus Theatre Company are an easy choice as they have been working with us for some time and are already doing amazing things. Catch them do ‘Tis A Pity She’s A Whore' at Tristan Bates Theatre at the Camden Fringe
I have a good feeling about new company Dirty Rascals who are producing Thlides at the Lion and Unicorn (previously seen at the Wandsworth Fringe.)