The Camden Fringe: Festival Focus

The Camden Fringe co-founder Michelle Flower tells us about London’s huge festival and picks her own highlights.

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While much of the theatre and comedy world head north to the Edinburgh Festival in August, London has its own alternative fringe festival. Launched in 2006 by Michelle Flower and Zena Barrie, The Camden Fringe has grown from small beginnings to include nearly 1,000 performances of 270 productions in 22 venues this summer.

Flower tells us more about London’s exciting, experimental, essential The Camden Fringe:

Artificial Intelligence Improvisation, part of Camden Fringe
Artificial Intelligence Improvisation, part of Camden Fringe

What is The Camden Fringe?

The Camden Fringe is a four-week celebration of theatre, comedy and all sorts of performance. It takes place in small venues across the borough of Camden and slightly beyond.

Why did you create The Camden Fringe?

The Camden Fringe came into being in 2006. At the time we were running the Etcetera Theatre in Camden and struggling to find any shows to play during August each year. It seemed that everyone in the world of theatre (including us) decamped to Edinburgh for the summer. The first Camden Fringe was an experimental season of shows doing short runs at one venue. We didn’t have thoughts beyond that first year, but everyone in London seemed to be having more fun that we were in Edinburgh and we realised we might have hit on something.

Burlesque In Underland, part of Camden Fringe
Burlesque In Underland, part of Camden Fringe

How has the festival changed since it was first launched?

We now have many more venues – 22 this year – and many more shows. I think the first year was around 50 performances. Twelve years later we have over 950.

Are there any themes that draw this year’s shows together?

There are too many for there to be a common thread through all of them. We do have quite a strong showing of feminist theatre exploring issues of gender. (That happens most years, to be honest!) There are quite a few shows inspired by the classics and early Greek theatre, at least three reworkings of Macbeth and a few shows about sexual kinks!

Pluto, part of Camden Fringe
Pluto, part of Camden Fringe

What do you look for when programming the festival?

The Camden Fringe is open to everyone. These days each venue programmes their own events, so I can’t pretend to have any artistic input into the content. As an organiser we’re always keen to have organised companies who have a clear marketing strategy and an eye for detail. What this boils down to is that we like the shows that actually read all the information and guides we provide them with and act upon them!

Which show would you recommend for someone who’s never been to The Camden Fringe?

I don’t think there is one show I can recommend, because there is such a varied selection. If you’ve never been to The Camden Fringe before and want a good idea of what it’s all about, I’d suggest picking a date and a venue where there are a few shows on each day and going to see everything that’s on there that evening. It will cost less than a ticket to a West End show to watch three or four different things of varying style, subject and quality.

Circus Abyssinia - Ethiopian Dreams, part of Camden Fringe
Circus Abyssinia – Ethiopian Dreams, part of Camden Fringe

Which show would you recommend for someone who’s a regular at The Camden Fringe?

Regular Camden Fringe goers will be familiar with quite a few of the companies who are performing this year. So just to be contrary I’d recommend a regular attendee go and see something completely out of the blue that they know nothing about. Perhaps choosing it by sticking a pin by the programme.

What is your own Camden Fringe highlight?

This year I am looking forward to The Trap’s new sketch comedy show, because I’ve followed their work for many years. Pramkicker by Old Trunk Theatre will be great. And I’d love to try and catch one of the three circus shows that the Cockpit have programmed this year to make the most of the venue’s height (Circus Abyssinia, Crash – A Celebration and Destination Planet Earth!). I’m also intrigued by Nina Talks About Her Values and Undercover Refugee.

Ultimately, I always end up seeing whatever is playing nearby when I have some free time. So it’s very much like the strategy I’ve advised for others!

The Camden Fringe runs from 31 July to 27 August.