By Keith McKenna
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Edinburgh Fringe 2011 round-up

This article is over 12 years, 9 months old
Issue 361

Opposition to the cuts is so widespread that it was bound to find its way into the Edinburgh Fringe.

On 26 March around half a million marched in London against the cuts. What happened that day to a classical bassoon player and hundreds of protesters in a store in Oxford Street is the subject of the extremely funny show, Ben Brailsford: My Fortnum & Mason Hell.

Some weeks earlier Brailsford had visited his local bank to cash a cheque and found UK Uncut holding a seminar on the links between education cuts and tax-dodging banks. Remembering this when he marched on 26 March, he wandered down to posh shop Fortnum & Mason to see what UK Uncut were doing. Police then kettled him in the store, held him for hours handcuffed on a bus, confiscated his clothes, and detained him for a day in Lewisham police station.

This hilarious performance which should be booked by anti-cuts groups is interspersed with facts about the cuts and the tax-dodging of the rich along with clips from Ben’s favourite bassoon recordings. The show ends with the audience being invited to join him in handing out leaflets that read “Make music not cuts”.

Brent Boyd’s play Commencement shows women students from the US who have been inspired by the Arab revolutions. On the day of their graduation they kidnap the CEO of a notorious multinational with the intention of making demands on the company that will encourage revolution. They quickly realise that the company will not let the life of a CEO stand in the way of profit-making. They are forced to admit that “if revolution were that easy it would happen every day”.

The award-winning US oratorio From the Fire commemorates the 1911 Triangle factory fire in New York which killed 148, and the struggle of women textile workers to bring about social change. We glimpse the home lives of several women before they arrive at the long lines of machines on the ninth floor of the Triangle building, where exit doors are locked and talk about the unions can get you the sack. Elizabeth Swados’s music gives a powerful urgency to the constant movement of the women as they transform the minimal set from home to factory to street meeting.

As the fire rages the show reminds us that it was the walkout of Triangle workers a year before which had sparked a New York general strike of 20,000. The writer and director Cecilia Rubino explains, “It was called the Triangle Uprising and it was like the Arab Spring. This is a moment when you see the gears of history shift. This is a story of how women stood up and were heard.”

Fringe shows marking the 2001 attack on the World Trade Centre from the US focus on the injustices that flowed from that event. Chris Wolfe’s thoughtful and sometimes poetic Generation 9/11 present voices of those opposed to war, a Muslim changing his name to Jack out of fear, a woman hounded for wearing a hijab.

The much angrier War at Home suggests that US action post-9/11 was more to do with oil and power than any concern for the victims who died in the World Trade Centre. The cast end the show by linking hands with the audience in a plea for peace, singing the civil rights song “We Will Overcome”.

The ambitious and well-acted documentary drama Sold re-creates the stories of some of those who have been trafficked into Britain for forced labour, domestic servitude or the sex industry. Inserted between scenes are the accounts by campaigners of the millions of victims, the billions made in profits and the frustrations they feel with a British government that makes matters worse by, for instance, cutting funding to the Poppy Project that provided accommodation for women who have been trafficked.

Close Up Theatre brought a sharp, exciting production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman to Edinburgh. Shaped by the 1930s depression, it shows the world of Willy Lowman disintegrating when he is made redundant.

He desperately clings to illusions in a failed system that his son pleads with him to abandon: “You were never anything but a hard-working drummer who landed in the ash-can like all the rest of them…Will you take that phoney dream and burn it before something happens?” In Britain 2011 student protesters, striking public sector workers and rioters are doing just that.

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