Edinburgh goes corporate: Is it time for a fringe of the Fringe?

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe has swelled to an untameable 2,871 shows, most of them well-behaved and aspiring. Matt Trueman gives his pick of the shows brave enough to stick their heads above the parapet.

Against a backdrop of brand logos, plastic pint glasses and corporate away-days, people wonder whether the real Edinburgh Festival Fringe still exists. The festival has swelled to an untameable 2,871 shows, most of them well-behaved and aspiring. It’s time, some say, for a fringe of the Fringe.
 
So, it’s only fitting that questions of authenticity and artifice are being asked. First there’s David Leddy’s Long Live the Little Knife at the Traverse Theatre (until 25 August), a caper in which a pair of con artists (mostly trading in fake handbags) move into major art forgery. Or rather art-forgery forgery, because their plan is to pull off a huge con, come clean and then live off the kudos. It’s the perfect crime, as Jean Baudrillard might say.
 
The play prods at the terms “real” man, “real” woman and “true” love but its main target is the free market. It triggers a race to the bottom in which scammers scam scammers, who scam other scammers. Though Leddy occasionally trips into clever-clever territory and starts to irritate, he has brio, toying with the show’s authenticity through scenes written in the style of verbatim theatre and in accents from around the UK. A world that eats its own tail, he suggests, will ultimately consume itself and disappear.
 
There’s another great faker in Kubrick3 at the Pleasance (until 26 August), a play about Alan Conway, who posed as the reclusive director for several years (and inspired the 2005 film Colour Me Kubrick). Conway bedded students, hobnobbed with Julie Walters and gave interviews to the New York Times, although he’d only ever seen half a Kubrick film (he walked out before the end). David Byrne’s impish production makes canny use of four actors – three female, one male – as a hydra-like Conway, back from the dead, ashgrey and running circles around his son. The play is scruffy and small but its well-honed gags and gusto are ample compensation. It has an intriguing philosophy: if life gives you lemons, grab someone else’s limelight.
 
Kieran Hurley’s and A J Taudevin’s Chalk Farm, at the Underbelly until 25 August, is a serious rejoinder to the constructed narrative of the summer 2011 riots. We have been spun a story of mindless violence and poor parenting; this disruptive piece refuses to swallow it. Jamie is watching on the telly. His neighbourhood looks like a film set. The itch to get closer, to join in – let’s face it, we all felt that – proves too much.
 
Outside, kids carry goods in bulk. Jamie nabs a gift for his mum. History is being made, even if no one can quite articulate the causes. It’s a class thing but not in the way the papers and politicians make out. Chalk Farm is guilty of beautifying mayhem but it understands without excusing and is fierce and fixed in its gaze.
 
In Have I No Mouth at the Traverse (until 21 August), Feidlim Cannon attempts to heal his family’s wounds. Onstage with his mother – a reiki master – and their psychotherapist, Cannon invokes the circumstances of his brother’s death in 1984 and then his father’s in 2001. The latter was preventable. Totemic objects – a natty doll, photographs – and reenactments build a charge and when the psychotherapist, his head wrapped in bandages, stands in for Cannon’s father, it’s as raw as anything I’ve seen onstage.
 
Watching Have I No Mouth is a challenging experience. Whether the play is being staged for the benefit of its participants or ours, I’m not sure – it makes you feel their pain, rather than soothing yours. Yet it’s hard to dismiss this display of their agony as indulgent. This is theatre with undeniable force.
Posters line the streets in the run up to the Fringe. Photograph: Getty Images.

This article first appeared in the 12 August 2013 issue of the New Statesman, What if JFK had lived?

Photo: Warner Bros
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Every single line spoken by actor Harry Styles in the movie Dunkirk, evaluated

Judging the actual speaking and acting the from teen icon.

When it was announced that Harry Styles had been cast in Dunkirk, most people assumed it was a Drew Barrymore in Scream sort of deal. A big name, who would be plastered over the posters, front and centre at promotional interviews, but given a barely-speaking part and probably killed off in the first five minutes. Not so! Not only does he not die early on, Harry has a very significant amount of time on screen in Dunkirk, and even more surprisingly, a lot of that time involves actual speaking and acting from the teen icon. In this action-heavy, dialogue-sparse film, he has more lines than most.

Of course, the most normal human response to this revelation is to list every single time he speaks in the film and evaluate every moment on a line-by-line basis. So here it is. Every single line spoken by actor Harry Styles in the movie Dunkirk, evaluated by a very impartial Harry Styles fan. Let’s go.

Obviously, this contains spoilers for Dunkirk.

“What’s wrong with your friend?”

It’s the first line, but it’s a goody. So nonchalant; so effortless; breezily accompanied by a mouthful of toast and jam. Curious, friendly – but with dangerous edge. A lurking threat. A shiver of accusation. This sets up Alex as a normal, if self-assured, bloke who also wants to be sure you’re not about to get him killed. A very strong debut – the kind of line that, if you didn’t know better, would make you think, “Hm, who’s this charismatic young guy”?

A cheer.

Solid 8/10 cheer, believe this guy has cheered before.

“You can’t leave us! Make some room!”

It’s only been ten minutes, but things have really kicked up a notch. Raspy, panicked, desperate, this line left my heart jumping for my poor sodden son. A triumph, and certainly one of Harry’s best lines.

“Hey!”

Here, Alex yells “Hey!” to get the attention of other soldiers, which turns into louder, repeated cries for their attention. I can find little wrong with this “Hey”, and indeed later “Hey”s, but I would not nominate it for an Oscar. This “Hey” is just fine.

“What’s that way?”

I believe that Alex does not, in fact, know what is that way. (It’s a boat.) 7/10.

“S’grounded!”

Alex has delivered the last three shouts with exactly the same intonation. This is good because normal people do not opt for variance in tone when desperately yelling at each other across the beach. I also appreciate the lack of enunciation here. Great work, Harry.

“’ow long’s that?”

I believe that Alex does not, in fact, know how long it will take for the tide to come in. (It’s about three hours.) 7/10.

“Poke yer head out, see if the water’s come in”

Alex is ramping things up a notch – this is authoritative, even challenging. Excellent pronunciation of “aht”, more great slurring.

“Talkative sod, aren’t ya?”

A big line, important for the growing hints that Alex is mistrustful of the silent soldier in their group. And yet not Harry’s absolute best. A little too much forced vowel for me.

“For fuck’s sake!”

Oh my God, we’re here now boys. It’s begun. The water’s not come in. Forget the high-explosive, Alex has only gone and dropped a bloody F-bomb, and Harry’s performance is actually stressful. What an about-turn. Delivered with spitting fury; the “for”, if there at all, almost inaudible; a dropped box clanging to the ground for extra impact. We know that Harry ad-libbed this (and a later) F-word, and this spontaneous approach is working. A truly superb go at doing some swearing. 10/10.

“Yeah but ’ow long?”

I would describe this delivery as “pained”. A little groan of fear hangs in the back. This is, as they say, the good shit.

“Why’d you leave your boat?”

This whispered anger suits Harry.

Some extreme shushing.

Definitely would shush.

“We have to plug it!”

Alex’s heart doesn’t seem really in plugging the bullet holes in the boat, despite the surface-level urgency of this delivery, probably because he doesn’t want to get shot. Nuance. I like it.

“Somebody needs to get off.”

A mic drop of a line, delivered with determined focus.

“I don’t need a volunteer. I know someone who ough’a get off.”

The way his cadence falls and his voice falters when as he reaches the word volunteer. It’s a sad, resigned, type of fear, the type of fear we expect from Rupert Grint’s Ron Weasley. Harry’s dropping clues that Alex doesn’t really want to be shoving anyone off a boat to their deaths. But then Alex steels himself, really packing a punch over that “ough’a”.

“This one. He’s a German spy.”

The momentum is building, Alex’s voice is getting breathier and breathier, panic is fluttering in his voice now. I’m living for each and every second of this, like a proud mother with a camcorder. You’re doing amazing, sweetie.

“He’s a focking Jerry!”

Go on my son! Harry’s voice is so high only dogs can hear him now. The mix of fear and aggression is genuinely convincing here, and more than ever it feels clear that you’re practically watching a group of schoolboys with guns scared out of their minds, desperate to go home, who might shoot each other dead at any second. This is undoubtedly the pinnacle of Harry’s performance.

“Have you noticed he hasn’t said a word? ’Cause I ’ave. Won’t speak English: if he does it’s in an accent’s thicker than sauerkraut sauce.”

This is, objectively, the silliest line in this film and maybe any film, ever, and I love it. Never before have the words “sauerkraut sauce” been uttered as a simile, or as a threat, and here, they are both. Inexplicably, it sort of works through Harry’s high-pitched voice and gritted teeth. My personal highlight of the entire movie.

“Tell me.”

Alex is going full antagonist. Whispered, aggressive, threatening. It is safe to say I am dead and deceased.

“Tell me, ‘Gibson’”.

Ugh, now with an added layer of mockery. I am dead, but also please kill me.

“A frog! A bloody frog! A cowardly, little queue-jumping frog. Who’s Gibson, eh? Some naked, dead Englishman lying out in that sand?”

Brexit Harry Styles is furious, and his accent is going a bit all over the place as a result.

“Maybe he killed him.”

Just-about-believably paranoid.

“How do we know?”

This is too close to the delivery Harry uses in this vine for me to take seriously, I’m deeply sorry about that.

“Well, we know who’s getting off.”

I believe that Alex does, in fact, know who is getting off. (It’s the French guy.) 7/10.

“Better ’im than me.”

I agree!!!!!

“Somebody’s gotta get off, so the rest of us can live.”

Empassioned, persuasive, fervent. When glimpsed in trailers, this moment made me think Alex would be sacrificing himself to save others. Not so! He just really, really wants to live. A stellar line, executed very well.

“Do you wanna volunteer?”

Good emoting. I believe the emotion used here is “disbelief”.

“Then this is the price!”

I believe the emotion used here is “desperation”.

“He’s dead, mate.”

So blunt, delivered with an awkward pity. A stand-out moment thanks to my high quality son Harold.

“We let you all down, didn’t we.”

Dahhn. Harry lets us know this is not even a question in Alex’s mind, its a fact. Poor depressed little Alex.

“That old bloke wouldn’t even look us in the eye.”

The weird thing (irony? joke?) here is that the old bloke is actually blind, not refusing to look them in the eye. Slightly bizarre, but Harry rolls with it with this relaxed approach to the word “bloke”.

“Hey! Where are we!”

Good God I love this rousing line. The bell chiming in the background, the violins stirring. There is something curiously British about this line. Something so, “‘What’s to-day?’ cried Scrooge”. Here, Harry is doing what he did best in the early one direction days - being a normal lad from a normal town whose life was made extraordinary even though he’s just, like, so totally normal.

“What station!”

I take it back, THIS is probably my favourite line of the whole movie. Purely because it sounds exactly like Harry Edward Styles on an average day, going about his business, asking what station he’s at. Alex who?

“Grab me one o’ them papers! Go on!”

Now, this, I love. Newcastle brown in hand, f’s dropped, a “go on” barely lacking a “my son”. Put a flat cap on the lad and hand him a chimney sweeping broom - we are in deliciously caricatured Brit territory.

“I can’t bear it. They’ll be spitting at us in the streets, if they’re not locked up waiting for the invasion.”

How rapidly joy turns to ashes in our mouths. One second so elated, with the nostalgic scent of home quivering in his nostrils, Alex is now feeling extremely sorry for himself (fair enough, to be honest). A fine “sad voice” here.

“I can’t look.”

The “sad voice” continues.

“Wha’??”

Hahahahahaha. Yes.

And with this very confused noise Harry Styles closes his debut film performance, which I would describe as extremely solid. Even if I am fuming that he didn’t get to die, beautifully, and at length. Well done Harold.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.