Around the World

The Fringe isn't just a birthing pool for homegrown talent; it's also a hugely diverse showcase of performers from the world over. Matthew Sharpe tours the globe

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Chiffonnade @ Institut Français
Published 20 Jul 2016


The two main exports from down under to the Fringe are a former award-sponsoring lager, and stand-up comedians. Loads of them. The proliferation of them in our stadiums and on our screens over the last decade means that it's no longer much of a surprise to see the world's biggest arts festival host so many antipodean comics. In addition to the usual roster of performers, this year there's the "Made in Adelaide" pop up, funded by the South Australian Arts council to promote Australian food and drink, as well as a funded showcase of shows. Adelaide happens to be the world's second biggest arts festival, so it's prudent of them to exhibit their stuff to a wider, international audience. It's a sneak peak of what's on offer in South Australia, including Steve Foster, Amelia Ryan, Delia Olam and more.


The French are coming, with their regular cultural exchange scheme the Institut Français Programme. The Institut Français is the agency of the French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, with responsibility for cultural activity outside France. With a permanent base in Edinburgh, come August L'Institut promises "the crème de la crème of French and Belgian performing arts". There's theatre workshops in French, such as Sur le Bout de la Langue, as well as Chiffonnade, a kooky choreographic piece. It promises to be a great insight into arts south of the channel, and an accessible introduction to French culture in general.


It's conceivable that Scots may empathise with the Canadian comic voice, finding comforting familiarity in the "overlooked northern neighbours" rhetoric. If that rings true then it bodes well for the 31 shows coming from Canada this year. There's The Shaken and the Stirred, four Canadian poets who have already performed to great reception in London, as well as Mike Ward, the Québécois standup with a reputation for controversy making his Fringe debut. He's currently embroiled in a censorship debate after his sketch was banned from the Olivier Comedy Awards (at which he was given Comedian of the Year, it should be noted). His show is appropriately titled Freedom of Speech. The skit itself has since become a viral hit, so if nothing else he should be arriving in Edinburgh riding on a wave of internet buzz. Also flying the proverbial maple leaf are panel show favourite Katherine Ryan, and character comedy troupe The Terrible False Deception.


Owing perhaps to the dearth of Russian comedians hitting it big with English-speaking audiences, the imports from Russia this year are making a bigger impact at the Edinburgh International Festival. There's powerhouse conductor Valery Gergiev bringing Wagner's Das Rheingold to the Usher Hall, and virtuoso violinist Maxim Vengerov performing Beethoven and Schubert, among others. There's also Moscow Boys at the Fringe with a musical dance show. None of this is to suggest that there's no comic offerings from the eastern giants: indeed, there's a showcase from the Federation, Stand-Up From Russia, as well as Abi Roberts, who actually performs in Russian. She is in fact from the UK, but she's the first of her kind in British comedy, linguistically speaking. She's had rave reviews not just from our broadsheets but from the Russian locals in her audiences too. 


Representing West Africa with aplomb will be Senegal, offering an exciting selection of performers. Chiefly, there's the multi-talented Youssou N'Dour, probably the most famous musician from the entire African continent. Describing him as just a singer is pretty reductive, however, when you discover he was also Senegal's Minister of Tourism and Culture in 2012. He's a pioneer of a style of Senegalese music known as Mbalax, and he's sure to be a huge hit with Edinburgh audiences, performing at the Usher Hall. There's also Senegalese Shindig, from Samba Sene and Diwan, at the Citrus Club. It's an exuberant flavour of world music and provides an uplifting contrast to an often cynical backdrop. Elswhere in West Africa there's Fanti Acrobats International, the Ghanian outfit that travels the world promoting African culture through dazzling gymnastic displays, as well as fire-breathing. 


In a similar vein to Australia and France, the Chinese government has commissioned a cultural exchange programme. For the second year running, the Scotland and China Chamber of Commerce will host the Edinburgh Chinese Arts and Culture Festival, featuring stage art exhibitions, music and stage productions. This year there's at least a dozen Chinese adaptations of Shakespeare coming to the Fringe, some offering modern reimaginings and others infusing it with 14th Century Kunqu opera. There's also an exhibition from renowned artist Ai Weiwei at the Assembly Rooms, previously on display at the Royal Academy in London. On the comedy front, there's Louise Reay: Que Sera, billed as "comedy in Chinese for people don't speak any Chinese", and winner of the Alternative New Comedian of the Year 2015.


Despite a surfeit of Hamlets, Edinburgh has been somewhat starved of Danish chic – 2013's Blam! marking a rare exception. Fortunately for us, the Danish Arts Council have their eye on Edinburgh, and have seen fit to give us a glimpse of what they've got. Don Gnu is the offering from the North – a physical piece that takes a hunt for masculinity as its start point. And what could be more chic than... socks and sandals. Proving that we know nothing of the fun and breadth of the Danish scene, Dance Base have an international cracker on their roster here.