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Home > Culture and Society

TFT Goes To... The Edinburgh Festival

30 July 2004

Last year, during TFT's annual pilgrimage to the Edinburgh Festival, we stumbled across 'Out of Your Mind', a show by an improv. group called 'The Uncertainty Division'.

Thoroughly hungover and with memories of Josie Lawrence firmly stuck in our brain, we were prepared to hate them. But we were disappointed. They were good. Very good.


This year the 'Division are back in Edinburgh with a new show: 'An Extremely Memorable Emergency'. We asked one of their number, James Lark, whether he'd like to write a behind the scenes diary of the show, and the festival as a whole. He said yes. He probably thought he owed us a favour.

He was right.

His Edinburgh adventure starts here...



Part I: The Preview


Taking a show to Edinburgh is not really about performing a show. It's about publicising a show. You could take up a daring piece of conceptual theatre starring Derek Jacobi on ice, but if you don't get publicity right you might as well be doing an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. At least you'd get some people to see it that way.

It is with this in mind that the Uncertainty Division has been getting stuck into pre-fringe publicity, aided by a promotions company called Tartan Silk (which sounds like a strand of Mills & Boon novels aimed at people with a Scottish fetish). Tartan Silk pulled off some impressive publicity work for us earlier this week with a press release cleverly linking our show to the government's emergency leaflets (only suggesting that our show is less full of shite).

The theme of unexpected emergencies being a significant selling point of our show, Blunkett's scheme has arrived at precisely the right time for us to exploit it. For the first time in our lives we are in the oxymoronic situation of having reason to be grateful to David Blunkett for something, which has caused all of us a few sleepless nights.

Tartan Silk took publicity up to another level on Wednesday with a brief showcase for members of the press (all of them liberally plied with wine and kangaroo butties - the latter a particularly unconventional move, but Tartan Silk surely know what they're doing). This meant flying up to Edinburgh and back again all in one day, just to perform ten minutes of material and taste marsupial - such decadence made us feel a little bit like celebrities, only with fewer bodyguards and flying easyJet.

To our delight, the man in charge of Tartan Silk was actually wearing a jacket made out of tartan silk. To our dismay, he promptly informed us that we needed to ensure our performance was no more than five minutes. Rather than the ten minutes we'd prepared for. Squeezing the essence of our show into ten minutes had been hard enough, getting it into five seemed nigh impossible. But if a man in a tartan jacket tells you it's five minutes, you're in no position to argue with him. So we thought sod it, let's just do what we've planned, twice as fast.

I can't help feeling that this solution worked very much to our advantage. It gave our performance a pace which even woke up the man from The Scotsman. Because it is an improvised show we asked for an audience suggestion as a starting point; a girl from Three Weeks called out 'wedding' so we unfolded a brief and pacey narrative about a wedding which included the line 'he's got bone rot'. All seemed good and well.

Alas, following the showcase I had a conversation which could be representative of what we'll be getting throughout Edinburgh. A journalist with pink trainers congratulated me on our piece and said, "so, you got that suggestion from the audience - which I presume was planted, yes?" I hastily assured her that everything we had done was fully spontaneous and unplanned.

Her face went momentarily blank with incomprehension as she stuttered over her kangaroo, unable to cope with the idea that people might be able to actually make up words on the spot. It was at least ten minutes before I managed to persuade her that it was all genuinely improvised.

At this point, the girl from Three Weeks appeared behind us, and the confused journalist said to her "you were the one who suggested 'wedding', weren't you - I thought you'd been planted there!" To which the Three Weeks girl waggishly responded, "that's right, they told me exactly what to say..."

Tee hee and thanks a bundle.

Tartan Silk have been alerted to the fact that all journalists need to be told repeatedly that our show is not scripted. Hopefully a few of them might even believe us. Time will tell whether they will be disappointed to discover that in our actual show we walk and talk at a normal speed.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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