Clybourne Park / Edinburgh Fringe
Various venues
August / September, 2010
I was in the minority as regarded Domic Cooke’s earlier Royal Court production of Bruce Norris’s The Pain And The Itch: I wrote in this column in Issue 2007/13, “I couldn’t for a moment find anything in these gross caricatures to give me any insight into any actual group or type or tendency of people.  For me, it failed as satire because its target was not remotely identifiable enough in real-world terms.”  On this occasion, though, I’m waving my pom-poms with the rest of the cheerleaders... even more vigorously than my Financial Times other half Sarah Hemming, in fact. 

And it’s because I feel properly indicted by Clybourne Park.  Its mode of operation often seems flip in the manner of that notorious song from Avenue Q, “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist”; but time and again Norris skilfully strangles our complacent, self-absolving laughter in our throats, leading to that “half shriek, half gasp” that David Jays identifies in his Sunday Times review and which can be one of the most thrilling responses to hear in a theatre.  We can’t help but shamefacedly identify ourselves with the characters here displaying their various hypocrisies, avoidances and circumlocutions; even Quentin Letts, whose reviews so often take aim at a liberal mentality that he tacitly identifies as other for him and his readers, has on this occasion written an inclusive review.  We all do it; we’re all guilty.


It was a strange Edinburgh this year.  Strange for me in that, for the first time in more than 20 years of reviewing there, I decided not to stay for more or less the entire duration, but scarpered after a mere two and a half weeks to lie in a darkened room (rather than sitting in a succession of them) and recover.  Yet, although I saw barely 70 shows compared to my more usual 90–100, somehow the work felt more intensive than usual.  I never really felt I had sufficient time to stand still and listen to the vibrating antennae of the Edinburgh community telegraph.  Judging by conversations with colleagues, it hasn’t been such an uncommon feeling.  Here was an uncertainty as to how well things were going this year in comparison to past Fringes, in either artistic or business terms.

That uncertainty wasn’t helped by the figures released by the Festival Fringe Society at season-end.  Another record number of tickets sold, they said, some 1.956 million… until it became apparent that 120,000 of these weren’t sold at all, but were for the 500+ shows on the various Free Fringes… and indeed weren’t even a reliable count but simply an estimate… and just enough to take the total to 100,000 more than the total number of tickets sold last year.  (It’s also noticeable that the elections to the board of the Fringe Society are no longer held during festival season, which can surely only depress the number of votes cast and narrow the range of candidates to within a more or less self-perpetuating oligarchy.)  As for me, I must admit that I didn’t really miss that third week.  I think my middle-ageing metabolism may finally have naturally slipped down a gear once and for all, and that I will have joined the majority of colleagues who now look on it at best as work rather than play, obligation rather than adventure.  We’ll see.

Written for Theatre Record.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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