Stephen Sewell shares his Edinburgh International Festival experience

27 September 2016

NIDA Writing for Performance students attended the Edinburgh International Festival again this year, travelling to Scotland in August for the premiere English language theatre and arts festival, and this year was no disappointment.

The official program featured not only well produced standard fare, such as the American Repertory Theater’s production of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, but also more contemporary work such as Karine Polwart’s meditation on nature, community, memory and journey in her moving Wind Resistance, as well as the startlingly abstract and dance inspired version of Measure for Measure arising from a collaboration of legendary UK company Cheek by Jowl with the Russian Pushkin Theatre.

But it was the fringe that beckoned, and we were all thrilled by the great variety of work on offer, with favourites being Angel by Henry Naylor with an outstanding performance from Filipa Bragança depicting a Kurdish sniper fighting ISIS; Revolt, She Said. Revolt Again from writer Alice Birch, dealing with life under misogyny with a controlled fury that veers wildly from the appalling to the hilarious and back into the tragic; and my personal favourite, Anything That Gives off Light, a collaboration from US company, The Team, and the National Theatre of Scotland, and dealing with national identity in the context of the history and disintegration of capitalism, something particularly pertinent to Australia.

Lots of theatre, lots of debates, lots of vows taken and writing done. Big themes of the festival were the environmental catastrophe, a new tougher feminism, sexual liberation, the celebration of difference, in fact the celebration of life itself, which is perhaps not a new theme, but great to experience in these dire times.

The lessons were there for anyone to see: if you want young people in the audience, put young people onstage; keep your cast small if you want to tour; don’t try to be nice if you want to play anywhere other than the RSL; but perhaps the most important impression any of us came away with is that theatre thrives in a community that loves it, and if we are to have a vibrant Australian theatrical culture we have to cultivate that love as much as we can, not by pandering and not by giving them what they want – there’s plenty of deadening entertainment that does that – but by using our creativity to give the audience something fresh and new that makes them wake up and suddenly feel alive. Which is exactly what happened to us.