Heroin(e) For Breakfast / Tim Key: The Slutcracker / Otto Kuhnle
Various venues, Edinburgh
August, 2009

The final weekend of the Edinburgh Fringe season is normally one of the busiest. This year, however, perhaps partly because of the festivals’ later than usual dates and an unprecedentedly busy start, felt palpably exhausted. Nevertheless, the past few days have seen a slew of awards announced.

The last batch of Fringe Firsts included Grid Iron’s site-specific Barflies and Better Bourne’s A Life In Three Acts, both of which I reviewed last month, as well as an extraordinary award to venues rather than productions, namely Forest Fringe and the Arches at St Stephen’s. Another venue, Dance Base, won the Jack Tinker Spirit of the Fringe award, and Amnesty International’s Freedom of Expression Award was presented to Judith Thompson’s trio of Iraq war monologues Palace Of The End.

Two of the most practical awards consist of offering transfer runs abroad for the winning productions. The Carol Tambor Award for a New York run was won by Little Gem, a fine accolade for Elaine Murphy’s first play, about three generations of women from a Dublin family. The Holden Street Theatres Award, under which a show travels to Adelaide, went to Heroin(e) For Breakfast (Underbelly), which I am afraid I found for the most part simply crass: a kind of modern morality play in which Heroin is personified as a manipulative Monroe-lookalike who shoots up three flatmates by vampirically biting them. It felt like a 70-minute version of one of the old, finger-wagging “Heroin screws you up” TV spots, albeit one whose final phase was unintentionally hilarious.

The winners of awards from Total Theatre magazine included The Clod Ensemble’s Under Glass, a group of live-action vitrines presented in the University’s Medical School; Adrian Howells’ one-on-one piece Foot Washing For The Sole; and post-student company The River People’s Lilly Through The Dark (Bedlam), which brought a Tim Burtonesque aesthetic to a live-action/puppetry tale of a girl searching for her father through the land of the dead. Theatrical trade newspaper The Stage’s awards for acting excellence included a Best Ensemble award to Green Shoots Productions for their production of Martin Lynch’s Chronicles Of Long Kesh (Assembly Hall), a powerful recollection of the Northern Irish prison camp which both reminded us what had gone before and affirmed that we have moved past such things.

The most keenly observed awards, the Edinburgh Comedy Awards (formerly the Perriers), were presented this year to a couple of Cambridge Footlights alumni. Jonny Sweet’s first solo show Mostly About Arthur won him the Best Newcomer award, whilst the principal gong was secured by Tim Key for his deliberately shambolic but delightful collection of bad poems, apercus and daft games The Slutcracker. Performing in one of the Pleasance’s “Portakabin” spaces, Key described the show as “a poet sweating in a hut”. The Eddie award should see him graduate to venues with proper walls and ceilings. Elsewhere in the field of comedy, the Malcolm Hardee Award for left-field comic antics was won by Otto Kuhnle for a show which included yodelling in drag whilst standing on his head and using a leaf-blower to juggle chiffon scarves in the German national colours.
Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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