Billed as a ‘treasure trove’ of over 140 events, the Wandsworth Arts Fringe has community spirit in abundance this year. From outdoor installations to plays in pubs, adult comedy to family fun, there’s a mad mixture of shows running at venues such as The Bedford in Balham and the Tara Theatre in Earlsfield.
‘What’s exciting for me is the diversity of it all,’ says playwright Tom Green, ‘there seems to be a huge range of stuff.’ This year, Green will present his play Tom Molineaux at The Arches at St Mary’s Church in Putney. It tells the story of a black American boxer who travelled to face English champion Tom Cribb in one of the greatest, and most overlooked, fights of all time. ‘It’s a classic boxing story, charting the rise and the fall,’ says Green.
‘Just like today, sport was a world where issues like race and migration captured the public imagination.’ In the process of writing the script, Green started going to boxing clubs for research – including Carney’s Community, a charity in Battersea. He soon also started to get the clubs involved creatively, organising drama sessions. There’s a sense that boxing is about much more than what happens inside the ring. As Green suggests: ‘These clubs are really important for communities.’
Catching the Ghost (also at St Mary’s) is another stand out play produced by Extant, an arts company made up of visually-impaired artists. The play is a window into the world of sight loss, performed with humour and empathy.
Speaking of his experiences with sight loss, writer Chris Campion says: ‘I always had this strange feeling of this other me that didn’t lose his sight. I tried to imagine him, and I tried to imagine me.’ The play follows this split-reality, and while the material is emotionally charged, Campion is keen to ‘muck around with the audience’. He adds: ‘I’m really trying to make it light and have fun with it, and bring an almost stand-up element to it.’
Comedy is a huge part of the scene at Wandsworth Fringe, with a range of performers from Wes Barker in Drunk Magic to Femmes by the Thames, a night of all-female comedy
Comedy is a huge part of the scene at Wandsworth Fringe, with a range of performers from Wes Barker in Drunk Magic to a night of all-female comedy hosted by Radio 4’s Rosie Wilby, Femmes by the Thames. One-act play Beerey at The Cat’s Back doesn’t miss out on the fun either. It’s a play about a family left behind after the conviction of Jon Beere (known as Beerey) for a crime he maintains he did not commit and while the subject matter is intense, actor and writer Lois Temel assures us that the humour within will be bittersweet.
‘The family are hilarious. I think they use humour a lot as their defence,’ she says. Beerey is performed verbatim, using dialogue recorded from Jon Beere’s wife and daughter. ‘While there’s a big public interest in criminal fiction and true crime cases, far less light is shone on what happens to the family members that get left behind,’ says Temel.
Meanwhile, Justin Hopper’s homage to the independent high-street bookie, Flutter, will be performed in The Grosvenor Arms on Garratt Lane. ‘It’s very much a community theatre project and so the venue is perfect,’ says Hopper of the collaboration. ‘We’re actually going to transform it into a pop-up betting shop.’
The play takes place in 2006, and acts as a time-capsule for the struggling independent bookie. ‘It’s about the manageress, the relationship between her and her cashier, and her relationship with the regular customers who come in there,’ says Hopper.
The immersive experience is set to give theatre-goers a new perspective. Hopper adds: ‘A lot of those manageresses are kind of like agony aunts, very maternal figures that look after their customers as well. That’s probably not the perception of bookmakers or people who run them necessarily.’
Over in Balham, The Bedford will be hosting The 49, Gary Thomas’ play about the events leading up to the Orlando LGBT nightclub massacre last year. ‘It explores what it means to be safe, what it means to be a part of a community and to have an identity,’ says Thomas.
The show is set around three fictional characters living in Orlando at the time, and, although the dramatic irony of the narrative is ever-present, Thomas and his fellow actors will be challenged to lure the audience into a sense that things might be okay.
Thomas would like it to be an eye-opening experience for viewers. ‘If it makes an audience member rethink their lives, or even just ask someone out that they never thought they’d ask, after realising how fleeting life could be,’ he says, ‘then that would make doing the show worthwhile.’
There will also be plenty of outdoor events that will make a change from sitting in on theatre, dance and comedy. Heathbrook Park will host Puppets with Guts’ Rampaging Rhinocerosproject, where viewers can make their own rhinoceros head and join the pandemonium. More family fun can be had at Prospero Theatre Company’s The Elephant of My Heart, which follows the story of a nine-year-old girl recovering from an injury, encouraged by a host of animals – including an elephant, of course.
Make sure to catch the music too, which ranges from Sisters of Reggae, a performance of roots reggae and ska, to the Squelch Quartet, playing contemporary jazz at Balham Bowls Club. It’s the perfect way to celebrate Wandsworth’s position as a hot contender on the fringe scene…