Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Festival Olympics

So a couple of years ago a friend and myself put together a little Fringe Drinking Game for people to work their way through on a quiet night in Edinburgh. It seemed to go down pretty well so I thought it might be time for some kind of sequel...

Of course, this year is an Olympic year - a time when the world comes together to forget about oppression and illegal arms trading and celebrate what dirty money and cheap labour can get built. Go Sports!

So, in honour of this occasion I have started trying to put together a Fringe Festival Olympics - a collection of festival-specific sporting activities for all the family. This is what I have so far:

The Royal Mile Sprint

A straight race between the two giant arches along the central stretch of the Royal Mile. First past the post is the winner, except:

No running, walking only please.
If anyone offers you a flyer you have to turn around, go back to the beginning and start again.

The Fringe Programme Hustle

Open the fringe programme to a random double page. You must collect a flyer or some kind of advertising material for every show on this page of the programme. First back with the full lot is the winner.

The Great B-Movie Hunt

You have half an hour to find the following:

1) A Bride
2) A Zombie
3) A Robot
4) A Queen
5) A Soldier
6) A Cheerleader
7) A Wrestler
8) A Nun
9) A Doctor/Nurse
10) An Alien

The person who can get the most of these figures in a single photograph wins.

The Living Statue Play-Off

Line yourselves up along the street as a series of living statues. The person with the most (or probably any) Money after half an hour wins.

The Self-Promotion Challenge

Create flyers advertising yourself as a show at the Edinburgh Fringe. The title of the show is your name. The image for the show is a photograph of you. You can be creative with blurb and quotes. At the bottom of the flyer you must include the line ‘Text “I Love [Your Name]” to [Your Mobile Number] for 2 free tickets”

The first person to receive this text message wins.


So that's a start, but we need more! And that's where you come in. Please feel free to add your submissions in the comments. The final list of games will be printed up and will be available from Forest Fringe throughout the festival.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Forest Fringe Profiles: Pangolin's Teatime

[Team Pangolin's Teatime hard at work, photo courtesy of Alex Hall]

God bless the change of plan. Few things generally tend to work out for the best with such brilliant regularity.

This New Year for example at about half one in the morning I could be found (but fortunately wasn't) drunkenly gasping for breath propped up against the wall of a toilet cubicle in an overcrowded former town hall somewhere in South London. It was hot. I was suffering. My Jacques Cousteau costume was reduced to nothing but a pair of orange swimming goggles. Things were not looking good.

Then, like some kind of over-excited guardian angel poorly disguising their spectacular drunkeness, I bumped into a friend of mine in a hallway, who mumbled something about Finsbury Park - we were off, busses and trains blurred by in a breathless trail of free public transport (they make it free at New Year - this single thing probably made me love London more than anything that had happened in the past year and a half I had lived there) and suddenly I was at a house full of strangers in a part of the city I knew only because spelt backwards it sounded like Crappy Rub-Sniff. It was the best.

A change of plan bless the change of plan. And so it has proved once again.

First of all the bad part though. Unfortunately Nick Young, who's company Crack Theatre, were supposed to be performing Controls at Forest Fringe has had to pull out for personal reasons. It's a real shame as it was one of the shows I was really looking forward to seeing (and one of the companies I had no experience of before they got in touch) but we wish Nick all the best and I'm sure he'll be back next year with something new.

And so with but a couple of weeks left before the festival started we suddenly had a tiny puncture in the programme and it was at that moment that I thought of Pangolin's Teatime.

Pangolin's Teatime are an Edinburgh based puppet company who, like me, came up through the Bedlam Theatre - Edinburgh's student run theatre, which stands all red and churchy and grand looking, directly opposite Forest Fringe.

The company was started by Jeremy Bidgood - an Edinburgh college of art student who I've known for about four years. He actually appeared in one of my first ever shows - an almost (almost) endearingly earnest version of Howard Barker's completely brilliant play Victory. For the show Jeremy created a magnificent severed head, all black and decaying and oozing unpleasant things from every tattered wound. Since then Jeremy has continued to experiment with models and puppets (directing amongst other things a version of Equus for which he created all the horse masks) to the point where he decided to start a company dedicated entirely to the process.

However, one of the delightful things about the company is that far from being a one-man show, every step of their process is wonderfully collaborative - with practical puppet-making workshops bleeding into improvisations and games and collaborative attempts at story telling to create an entirely fluid process of creation in which everyone's skills are shared and a truly charming sense of fun can be felt.

Their first show Haozlka was a big hit at the festival last year and went on to win several awards at the national student drama festival.

The most interesting thing about the show was, for me, undoubtedly the puppets themselves. The company already seemed to be developing a quite personal aesthetic; creating a number of different styles of puppet that all complemented each other beautifully and were irresistably lovely to watch. It was a show with a lot of promise and so I was already looking forward to see what they came up with this year for their new show The Last Yak. Mainly I think I was possibly looking forward to much use of the word Yak. Yak.

And then came the very sad call from Nick one day whilst walking in the rain along Kingsland Road and suddenly our programme had a hole.

After deciding between us that we were happy to invite Pangolin's to come and do something at Forest I got in touch with them and they were delighted to be involved, initially suggesting that maybe they could do a workshop followed the next day by a little show. By this point however the mechanics somewhere in the back of my head had started whirring and another idea had popped into existence.

We came up with the plan of giving the company at the start of August a series of challenges - provocations for a new show, things like 'no talking', 'you're only allowed two puppeteers', 'you must incorporate this story' etc. The idea being that they had to try and make a show within these fairly proscriptive constraints with only the puppets they already had at their disposal from the other two shows.

I liked the idea of this - of using only what you have to try and find some way of telling this new story. I liked this scrappy little challenge. I liked the way I hoped it would make the company think. I remember being at a fascinating seminar on devising where one guy was explaining the use of what he called 'wild cards' in problem solving; the idea being that one of the best ways to actually solve a problem is to throw in more problems (or at least more factors) as it opens up different areas of your brain that you weren't using before and so you start thinking more broadly, more strangely. I liked this. I wanted the company to think strangely.

And brilliantly the Pangolin's team were equally intruiged by the idea, so we'll get a chance to see how it works out. Once I've decided what the rules are I'll post them up here for all to see. Then come along on the 15th and 16th and see what they manage to come up with. Alongside this Jeremy will also be leading a free bonus workshop on how to work with puppets after the performance - so it's all good!

Pangolin's Teatime vs. Forest Fringe is on 15th & 16th August at the slightly later than scheduled time of 5.30pm. The Last Yak is at Pleasance Dome at 3.40pm (almost) every day.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Most imaginative... that's us that is.

Am chuffed to pieces with a delightful mention in Scotland on Sunday's guide to August Attractions:


Forest Fringe

As ticket prices for the Fringe continue to rise, it's great to find a venue that has a 'doing-it-for-the-love-of-the-game' feel to it. The Forest Café on Bristo Place operates on a pay-what-you-can basis, and has a programme packed with experimental performances. Shows to watch out for include The Night Flyer by Paper Cinema and Kora, which has visited Glastonbury and uses a mix of drawing, puppetry, cinema and music, and the One O'Clock Scratch, in which artists try out different ideas and encourage audience feedback.
Not long to wait now...

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Forest Fringe Profiles: Rabbit

Here is a non-exhaustive list of things we know about Rabbit.

1) Rabbit makes things happen.

2) Rabbit likes adventures.

3) Rabbit has many friends.

4) Rabbit has been sighted (or maybe spoken of (or maybe dreamt of)) in many places.

5) Rabbit has been missing for some time.

6) Rabbit likes people email - why not try

This is (for now) almost all we know.

Music OMH

Critic, blogger and all round nice person Natasha Tripney gives us a bit of a plug in Music OMH's preview of the Edinburgh Festival:
Away from the main venues there are countless unexpected pleasures to be found, truly vital work. Take the Forest Fringe, curated by the passionate Andy Field and Deborah Pearson. They aim to provide an alternative space, where experimentation thrives, artists aren’t crippled by the costs of staging a three week run and genuine risks can be taken. Their staging of Paper Cinema’s The Night Flyer looks hugely appealing.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

More Nice Things...

Couple more lovely mentions from les journaux. First up in the print edition of the Guardian we (or rather the delightful Paper Cinema) featured in their theatre recommendations for the festival:
The Night Flyer
A disarming mix of puppetry, animation and live music, this show is by Paper Cinema, resident company at Forest Fringe - a venue that allows artists to take risks, and audiences to pay what they can. Should revolutionise the Fringe.
And then we also got a mention in Dominic Cavendish's invaluable guide to Edinburgh on a budget:
There's also a fabulously altruistic project called Forest Fringe (3 Bristo Place) which invites audiences to sample a range of experimental theatre on a pay-what-you-can basis from Aug 5-18.
Thank you kindly to those people. I'm quite taken by the idea of fabulous altruism, conjuring the frankly perfect image of a rabbit in Gucci sashes and tiny Prada sunglasses thumping on the roof of a rapidly collapsing warren to warn its comrades of the impending danger. It's been a long weekend...

Monday, 14 July 2008

Company Profiles: Charlotte Jarvis and Clemency Cooke

[The Mantilla Foundation, Image by Jamie Archer]

Undoubtedly one of the most frustrating things about the Official Edinburgh Fringe Festival and its biblically long Festival programme are the absurdly over-simplified categories shows are required to pigeonhole themselves with in order to get into it. Early on in the process companies are forced to decide whether they want to be considered Comedy, Theatre, work for children, or 'Dance and Physical Theatre', the festival's tentative catch-all for anything that has a lot of moving around in it.

Now I'm sure from a marketing perspective its great to be able to split everyone up, give them a category and a colour-coding tell them to be on their way. Yet surely this is kind of the opposite of everything the festival once stood for? The Fringe was, after all, a fringe once. It was an edgeland, somewhere wide open, unpredictable and risky and new. It was a land of outcasts and misfits, a place where work that defied conventional categorization could find a home.

You tell audiences something is Comedy and they will go expecting Comedy, you tell a company that people are coming expecting Comedy and they will feel like they should deliver Comedy. And frankly I don't think that's all that healthy a way to make something.

We want to give artists and audiences that space of unpredictability back. We want to make mongrel theatre; work that is funny without being Comedy, that is theatrical without Theatre, that is artistic without being Art, physical without being Dance (or indeed Physical Theatre).

Charlotte Jarvis and Clemency Cooke
are the perfect example of this. CJ and Clemency are graduates of Edinburgh College of Art, where they studed Fine Art and since graduating they had a number of succesful gallery shows in both England and Scotland.

Yet much of their work has always played in the space between the gallery and the theatre. One of their first projects was the creation of the Mantilla Foundation, a bespoke cremation service for regretted pieces of art. In the guise of this mysterious entity they appeared at a number of major art events across Europe and North America, decked out in sinister umbrellas and veils, encouraging artists of all kinds to submit any work they are ready to see the back of.

Live Feed, another later project, was a performance dinner party in Madder 139 Gallery in London, exploring the bizarre rituals and power structures that dictate the way we eat. The evening involved amongst other things eating Sushi of a naked man who then stood up, was brushed down, dressed and sat down to eat with the rest of the guests, later the guests were tied up and fed by an anonymous hand poking through the table and at the end the excesses of the meal were recorded in a series of theme park style action photos displayed in a special commemorative cardboard frame. The whole thing was as fascinating as it was disturbing, a gloriously grotesque (and highly theatrical) parody; a dinner party aware of its own absurdity that set about deconstructing itself one course at a time.

At Forest Fringe things are hopefully only going to get more gloriously confusing as they present a performance lecture on their new creation Thought Art. Thought Art is the lovechild of conceptual art and theoretical physics in which the actual physical art work is once and for all annihilated and replaced with a delicate, intimate art that exists only as a thought shared between people. Like all Clemency and CJs work together the idea is brilliantly balanced between absolute earnestness and gentle self-mockery; it is fun, but serious fun. Yet beyond this play there is something quite personal at stake as well; an attempt to reunite two people divided by the very physical barrier of the Atlantic Ocean. This is maybe the thing I love most about the idea, that something so knowingly conceptual becomes equally something quite localised and intimate and, well, emotional.

And like Paper Cinema and their hand-made live-action Cinema, like Action Hero and their performance come recreation of a daredevil stunt, like any number of the beguilingly strange things happening at Forest Fringe, its joyously unclassifiable. And I love that. I love its defiant wierdness.

Hopefully Forest Fringe, lingering suspiciously as it does on the fringes of the official fringe, is the perfect home for the this kind of work. A space for the unclassifiable and the wierd.

Thought Art: A Lecture by Charlotte Jarvis and Clemency Cooke will be at Forest Fringe on Thur 14 August at 1pm.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

William Shatner Karaoke

Actor, thinker, dreamer, man. William Shatner is a lot of things. Primarily though we at Forest Fringe like to think of him as a re-imagineer.

Shatner has, to a degree, created his own artform. He takes mere songs and makes them into theatre; into sad-eyed, weary-voiced, heartbreaking theatre. With just a puff of a cigarette and a achingly long gaze into the camera, Shatner has the power to transform any popular song into the tragic story of a Canadian everyman beaten down by love, loneliness and the crushing excesses of contemporary urban society.

Take for example Elton John's Rocket Man. A good song initially, if a little, you know, Elton John-y. There's also a perfectly decent version by Kate Bush. However there is no doubt in my mind that the following Shatner take on this tale of space travel and broken families is undoubtedly the definitive version, all crumpled tuxedo and suspicious smelling cigarettes:

All you need do is take a brief glimpse into the eyes of Bernie Taupin to know that truly he is seeing his words truly honoured for the very first time.

And then there is Harry Chapin's seminal tale of failed dreams and lost loves Taxi, here again given the inimitable Shatner treatment:

Just look. Look at that half-glimmer of a smile playing gently on his lips, that constellation of twinkles glittering in his eyes. This. Is. Monologuing. When you need five minutes of top drawer Acting, Shatner has to be your man anytime. As you watch him cantering comfortably into his stride one can't help but shake one's head and think 'good lord, this man could Act anything...'

Of course the Shat wasn't the first to transform the narrative pop song into monologue - here for example is Frank Converse performing Paul McCartney's She's Leaving Home way back in 1967.

Shatner however has undoubtedly made the form his own.

What's that? Oh... I believe that's the sound of Jarvis Cocker being PWNED... (and yes, that was Ben Folds on the keyboards)

So in honour of Canada's finest ever export my fellow Director Debbie Pearson has wonderfully created William Shatner Karaoke. The premise is simple:

1) Each person who wants to play must choose a popular narrative pop song.
2) They will then perform this pop song to Camera and in front of an audience as a dramatic monologue, either in the style of Shatner himself or in one of their own choosing (potentially a whimsically northern Alan Bennett style talking head...)
3) This monologue will be both recorded for the Shatner vaults and projected live for everyone else to see in all its glory.
4) The longer you can go without someone realising what the song is, the better.
5) The moment you corpse, your turn is over. Shatner never corpses.

So that's its. We'll be playing an almost unnecessary amount of William Shatner Karaoke at our Goodbye Event on the 19th August (a day of sharings, music and other as-yet-unplanned and uncreated events that will be formed during the festival) so do come along with a monologue prepared. Don't do it for us. By God, do it for Shatner.


[Here's something from James of Action Hero about Residence, an artist-led collective of companies and individuals based in Bristol who make theatre, performance and live art. Members include both Action Hero themselves and Ed Rapley, who will also be at Forest Fringe with some of his solo work.]

A few weeks ago Residence were forced to move. The council had decided they needed the old police station we were in and so we found a new space (coincidentally another police station) and moved in. The day we moved was an uncharacteristically hot day in May and at the end of the day as we all stood in our new space overwhelmed by the work that needed doing and bickering about where things should go someone suggested we needed to go for a swim to cool off. So we jumped in our hired van and drove to a river near Bath picking up a bottle of champagne on the way and jumped in. As I swam on my back I listened to the others who only a year ago I had never met and started to realise the essential brilliance of what, as a group, we had achieved.

As artists when you’re all sitting on your own in your bedrooms competing for the same limited pots of arts council money and the same limited opportunities its easy to see other companies as a threat. Its easy to be overly judgemental of other peoples work or jealous of those who are getting attention. In the short time we’d all been part of one organisation that competitive edge has gone, we can see more clearly how collectively we are stronger and the support we give each other is more important than anything else because it is what drives us to continue making work and its what pushes the quality of the work higher. Instead of moaning over a pint in the pub or sulking at home we were swimming in a river drinking Bollinger.

Now before you shoot me for my disgusting smugness let me defend myself. Setting up Residence has not been easy and as an organisation we are far from perfect. There have been many obstacles on the way and there have been conflicts and tears and we’re still facing new issues everyday that often seem insurmountable. But I guess its these challenges that stop most people beginning such a venture and I wanted to paint the (sickeningly) idyllic picture above because I really want to encourage those who are maybe tentatively putting their toes in the water at the moment to jump right in. What I didn’t tell you about that day was that we got lost trying to find the river and spent 2 hours walking through fields treading in cow shit and grumbling before we got there but that’s the thing about idyllic rivers. You have to walk through cow poo to get there.

Residence came about because a few like minded artists wanted somewhere to rehearse, office space and to feel more connected with each other. We’d all been making work at home in our bedrooms, and felt isolated doing that. So Residence was really a response to the problems we all faced making performance work as young companies in Bristol: can we support each other, can a dialogue between artists help us all make better work, can we pool our resources for the collective good?

We had no plan, and we still have no mission statement. We’re a loosely bound group who are united by similar needs. We have just tried not to limit ourselves by using what has gone before as a model, we’re trying to focus on the specific opportunities that exist in today’s environment and how we can benefit from that. Once a few of us started, more people joined us, more opportunities arose and soon we had something resembling an organisation. I’m really excited to be part of the Forest Fringe this year because its been set up in a really similar way and is showing how artist led initiatives can make all the difference. To be able to create a like-minded supportive, creative community in the middle of the pot noodle musical meat market that is Edinburgh is no mean feat and I can’t wait to see what fun it brings. See you there!

You can find out more about Residence on their website or simply by finding James and Gemma of Action Hero or Ed while they're at Forest Fringe.

Action Hero will be showing a work in progress of their new show Watch Me Fall from Tue 5 - Thu 7 at 5pm

Ed Rapley will be creating a series of one-on-one experiences from Fri 8 - Sun 10 at 7pm and then showing his solo show 10 Ways to Die on Stage on Mon 11 at 5pm

Monday, 7 July 2008

"An artist-led initiative that might dramatically change the face of the fringe"

Some lovely words about us from Lyn Gardner on the Guardian Blog today:
Forest Fringe - a pay-what-you-can venue programmed with artists and companies who don't have to pay for their slots - could be the most important development in the Fringe for years. In taxing times when even big operations such as Assembly are facing difficulties, it offers a model of an artist-led initiative that might dramatically change the face of the fringe. BAC will be there with its Scratch performances, Paper Cinema is the company in residence, Unlimited and Rabbit will be trying out new work alongside the UK premiere of Dislocation of the Heart from the St Petersburg-based Derevo protégées, The Rain People. It is operating outside of the main fringe programme, so look at the website.
This time next year, Rodney, we'll be millionaires...

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Forest Fringe 2007 - Survivors

So for Forest Fringe 2007, Debbie went out and brought three small pot plants from somewhere nearby. She placed them on a windowsill on the stairs in an effort to make the place look half presentable. And there, remarkably, they stayed. They had to put up with two weeks of mad theatre, drunk crowds attending music nights and shocking care - I have to admit I didn't water them once. Personally, I was convinced some drunk visitor at 2am would think they looked good and take them. Sometimes its nice to be wrong.

At the end of two weeks, we carefully took them home. Debbie took one and I took two, and I combined them into one pot and looked after them carefully. I do water them now, I should say. As you can see, its doing well. It will be back for Forest Fringe 2008. Please treat it well.

James, Venue Manager

Forest Fringe Profiles: The Paper Cinema and Kora

Somewhere hidden within the vast, Gothic labyrinth of rooms that made up Punchdrunk and BAC's The Masque of the Red Death was a secret. Sandwiched between a sinister puppet-makers and yet another crepuscular corridor was a small door with a little Victorian poster on it advertising a side-show of diversions and amusements. Step inside and you stepped into a different world.

This little space was the home to numerous miniature shows, buried like treasure inside The Masque of the Red Death. Artists were given a weekend to fix something up based on the works of Edgar Allen Poe and week to perform a piece of about 15 minutes length for audience members who would stumble upon it as they wandered curiously through Punchdrunk's mammoth installation.

As I was working at BAC at the time I was lucky enough to see almost all these little shows (by companies including Kneehigh, Uninvited Guests and Blind Summit) but none was quite as charming and quietly beautiful as that made by the Paper Cinema. Huddled in the dimly lit room we watched a screen in front of us while to one side the company themselves sat, arrayed around a tiny black box and a video camera. As they delicately moved dozens and dozens of paper cutouts back and forth in front of the camera on the screen in front of us a world was conjured; a world of pirates and plague, of mysterious figures and rowdy bars, of magical journeys and impossible twists of fate. To the gentle and perfectly pitched sound of a single live guitar these sinisterly beautiful illustrations danced across the screen. The whole experience was just completely lovely.

The Paper Cinema were born of the Bournemouth music scene, initially providing charming illustrations to flit across the background for a number of musicians at bars and gigs and festivals. As illustrator Nic Rawling has grown more confident in the skill with which he crafts his tiny worlds the relationship with music has slowly started to change. Now it is more frequently the music that is supporting the storytelling, subtly underscoring the action and contributing hugely to the woozy, late-night feel of this unique company. And without doubt the music is still absolutely integral, the musician in the case of the Night Flyer (their show at Forest) being the brilliant Kora.

There's something hugely alluring about the whole unusual process through which the Paper Cinema make their shows. For a start the brilliant juxtaposition of Nic's laboriously hand-crafted drawings and a live-video feed from a digital camera projected onto a screen. And truly for the magic comes in the decision to tell these stories live, rather than in stop motion or other traditional forms of cartoon-making. There a beauty, in an age of Pixar and their CGI brilliance, in seeing the wobbly movements and unchanging expressions of these characters drawn on pieces of paper. But more than that in the relationship between the figures in front of you, playing guitar or waving tiny scraps of card in front of the video camera, and the action on the screen something quite wonderful occurs. We are suspended between two worlds, seeing two halves of the same action; lost in the cinematic world of the story and yet still in the room with these musicians and puppeteers. For once we are being trusted with knowledge of how its all done. The magician is quietly performing her tricks without the smoke and mirrors, and in watching her careful workings there is more meaning and beauty than when all that is concealed.

After seeing King Pest, the name of the show they created for The Masque of the Red Death, I was desperate to get them to come to Forest Fringe. It was only later that I actually discovered that they had already played downstairs at the Forest previously, filling the space to the rafters for a cafe gig. Considering this prior relationship we thought they would be the perfect resident company for Forest Fringe, a regular evening slot that closed the day and sent everyone swooning into the night. Their soft, gentle style felt like the perfect antidote to the flashy bustle of the festival; a strange, alluring quietness that, like their show in The Masque of the Red Death, would provide a bubble of calm away from the loud, spectacular goings-on around them.

The Paper Cinema and Kora will be performing The Night Flyer from 5-15th August at Forest Fringe at 9pm, all tickets are Pay What You Can.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Company Profiles: Action Hero

So it's the beginning of July and everything is getting mighty, mighty close.

I'm pretty ridiculously ecstatic about the programme for this year. So I figure it might be nice to start to try and talk really briefly about a few of the companies that we have coming down, which is what I'll be doing in a few regular posts between now and the Festival. So first up:

Action Hero

I first saw Gemma and James from Action Hero at I Am Still Your Worst Nightmare, a weekend-long live art spectacular at the Arnolfini in Bristol. The whole event was great in its openness; with a completely uncurated collection of work things swung from the brilliant to the kind of awfulness that takes you to a very sad place inside. Action Hero (along with Ed Rapley and Emma Bennett from These Horses) were probably the best thing about the whole weekend.

For their short piece they did a recreation of Evel Knievel's 1969 Caesar's Palace jump that left him in a coma for over three weeks. It was a simple and beautiful idea, playing lovingly with the difference in scale between the theirs and the original jump while retaining some really tangible trace of the original's sense of euphoria and fear. Here we all were staring at a guy on pedalling towards a ramp on a little red bicycle and yet, there was real pause, a real breath held, an authentic moment of danger. The really beautiful thing about the piece however was its loving attention to detail; it wasn't just a good idea. It was done so thoughtfully, borrowing text from a number of sources to create something that already at this early stage was already subtly questioning and undermining the collective excitement that it so effortlessly generated.

Anyway, it was a beautiful piece and I was super excited when we agreed to have them come do the next stage of development at Forest Fringe. In the meantime I also got the chance to see a version of possibly their most popular show A Western, which has toured across the country. It's a wonderful little show; a show that demonstrates that the act of playing (because they are always playing at being in a Western, covering themselves in Ketchup, riding on another little bike) can be as meaningful as doing anything for real. What struck me this time however was that both pieces were slightly in love with and slightly nervous of this kind of deeply Midwestern American mythology that seemed so familiar to me.

I grew up listening to my parents record collection, getting lost in the world of a collection of denim-wearing, guitar twanging lovesick bearded men roaming dusty open roads in big American cars and staring out at an ocean I'd never even seen. The Eagles and the Allman Brothers (and everything from Steven Spielgberg to Perry Mason Investigates) were the nearest I came to a cultural heritage. Despite my resolutely, awkward, humdrum Britishness there's part of me that feels in some weird way American. But a kind of imagined, mythic American.

And this is another reason I love the Action Hero - that they seem too to have this strange pull. They wear their Englishness on their sleeves and yet there's a longing for freeway pancake houses and lonely towns called things like Splitwater Falls and the faded yellow colour of any American TV show from the 70s. It's strange and its sad and its familiar and I think they tap into something really meaningful for a whole generation of suburban English kids who's parents were big fans of Christopher Cross or who spent their childhood watching movies like and Capricorn One and Earthquake, a beautiful, bizarre film that coincidentally features its own desperate daredevil hero.