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theSpace celebrates two decades at the Fringe with even more spaces

By | Published on Thursday 17 July 2014


The venue operation with one of the biggest show counts at the Edinburgh Fringe celebrates two decades at the Festival this year, and with sixteen performance spaces to its name, theSpace empire has come a long way from the single church hall in the depths of the Old Town where it all began. Though Venue 45 remains a much loved part of the Space network.

“Busy”, is how Space chief Charles Pamment describes putting together a 270 show programme each summer. And all the busier this year, we assume, as Pamment has three new spaces to operate, mainly to accommodate some site-specific shows in his programme. “Production Company Fourth Monkey are using four floors of theSpace on North Bridge for a late night immersive show”, he explains, “which is an adaption of ‘Alice In Wonderland’. Meanwhile ‘Victorian Vices’ at theSpace on Niddry St uses a brand new space for a site specific programme set in a devised Victorian environment, presenting ‘Sweeney Todd’ and ‘The Picture Of Dorian Grey’”.

“We also have a unique show in a caravan on the cobbles outside our Niddry St venue”, he adds. “Barbara and Yogashwara’s ‘Safe Space’ is a ruthless adult comedy horror in a caravan exploring power, abuse and new age spirituality!” And also new within the Space domain this year is the ‘Festival Garden’ in Hill Square, outside theSpace @ Symposium Hall venue a stone’s throw from the Fringe’s Bristo Square hub. “This will be designed as ‘step in’ bar”, he says, “where audiences and performers alike can relax in a slightly more sophisticated environment”.

One of the reasons the Space programme is so extensive is that Pamment goes out of his way to accommodate shows which wish to do shorter runs, while many of the other venue operations of similar size prefer acts to perform for the full three weeks. But this flexibility is important, the Space chief reckons, because it’s not only the big established names who need to be able to perform for just a segment of the Festival.

“We do have over 50 shows running for three weeks this year and many for two, but the one week show is just as important. In fact, most short-run shows really reflect the ethos of the Festival as a platform for new work; many are young, developing companies new to the Festival who can’t afford a longer run”.

He goes on: “Experience tells us that these producers, directors and performers are quite probably the future of the arts in the UK, so where better to give them a platform to begin that journey? We are proud we do that. It’s also worth mentioning that one week shows do win awards too. Shame on those awards that don’t reflect that!”

No venue director likes to be forced to pick highlights from their programme – “everything’s a highlight” they’ll tell you – and with 270 shows to choose from it’s a particularly big challenge for Pamment. But, aside from the aforementioned site-specific shows, which the Space boss is clearly excited about, he also notes: “Our new writing programme is again very strong and includes new takes on topical issues like equality, race, terminal illness and technology; we even have a show about Michael Gove!”

“The 100 year anniversary of WW1 is also prominent” he says. “‘Forever Young’, ‘Brotherhood’, ‘Soldier Box, ‘The Constant Soldier’ and ‘Rose of Jericho’ all explore the conflict in different ways. Other shows include ‘Darkle’ from the writer of the BBC’s ‘Paradise’, plus we welcome back Mulberry School from Tower Hamlets who bring ‘The Domino Effect’. They are the only school ever to win a Fringe First award in the 70 year history of the Fringe. And ‘Jim’ is already the winner of the 2014 Drama UK Edinburgh Festival Fringe Award telling the story of two sons preparing to say farewell to their terminally ill father”.

But what about that two decade landmark? How have things changed in the twenty years that theSpace has been in business at the Edinburgh Fringe. “I think people always expect me to say it’s bigger, better and so on”, Pamment muses. “I don’t know if that’s especially true. From the outside looking in it may seem so, because the Fringe Society lists hundreds of venues in its programme these days. But on a closer look a large percentage of these simply aren’t suitable performance environments”.

He goes on: “The evolution of the of TV-star stand-up programme has increased the profile of the Festival in some quarters where perhaps before there was less awareness. And certainly technology means media coverage has become stronger and more widespread. All these elements have made the Fringe a bigger event, but you know, the Fringe was already a really strong platform for new, emerging and developing performance back in the 1990s. And I think more important than the programme being thicker, is that the Festival has become an even stronger platform for new talent”.

LINKS: www.thespaceuk.com