Last week the iron grip of the 1 hour show was dissected by Matt Trueman in his Guardian blog “The Fringe seems to favour the sort of short and punchy show that is easy to package. But, in most cases, an hour can only achieve so much” he concluded. And he’s right; in an hour you can only achieve so much. Or can you? Perhaps by letting go of the idea of a polished Edinburgh show, companies could actually achieve much more.
Received wisdom has it that audiences want to be given a complete package when they go to see an Edinburgh show. They want fulfilment for their £10. This need to tie everything off seems to validate Trueman’s final conclusion; if you need to fit in a beginning, middle AND end into 1 hour how much can you really achieve? But why do we feel this need to round off everything we do? Sometimes incomplete work can be just as successful.
The word completeness seems to have an inherently positive tilt to it, a competent state where everything has been thought out. But just as the negativity that haunts the word ‘critic’ could be questioned (constructive criticism for example) so the default position that ‘completeness’ is a good thing can be. In fact I can disabuse both assignations as I saw three good shows this year that proved that incompleteness can be just as brilliant and more over, often more interesting.
At The Sans Hotel, The Ducks and Doris Day Can Fuck Off were about as different from one another as you could get; one a postmodern examination of a fractured psyche, the second a straight play and the last a one man modern opera. What linked them all was a wilful abandonment of the need to cross every T and dot every I.
I have written about At The Sans Hotel previously and won’t double back but you can recap here. Needless to say it had an ending, but only because as an audience we left.
In The Ducks, a slickly directed and beautifully acted two hander, is a traditional text leaves itself open to unanswered psychological questions with total impunity. Whilst there is a resolution for these characters it feels like a pause for breath in a longer future, not The End. The story haunts you long after as you ponder these variables.
Greg McLaren’s Doris Day Can Fuck Off is a fragile exploration that examines what it is to be an outsider. McLaren wanted to set himself a challenge so he began singing everything he would usually say. In a crazy hour that documents this journey within an increasingly antagonistic public it’s clear this really was an uphill struggle, a quest even. There is no golden chalice at the end, but this doesn’t matter. Greg’s ramshackle but delicately balanced performance defies easy answers leaving the questions he sings into the air to become earworms that will bug you for the rest of the day. Pity the ‘well-packaged’ show that follows that.
Finance may dictate 60 minute maximum running time but companies should use this as a window into a bigger experience. A decision towards a more fluid incompleteness would promote a longer-term engagement from their audience that would surpass the restrictions of the hour long Edinburgh structure. This then is how we can defy the 1 hour dictator that has a stranglehold on Edinburgh.