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News / Theatre & Performance

Caroline Horton: Edinburgh Fringe is a beast that I love

Caroline Horton, Islands
Edmund Collier

Theatremaker Caroline Horton is back at the Fringe five years after making her debut. Here, she discusses how the Fringe helped her make that journey.

I’m heading off for another Edinburgh adventure, this time with 'Islands', the monster of a show that opened at The Bush amid a storm of debate earlier this year. We’re also remounting my first show, 'You’re Not Like The Other Girls Chrissy', five years since it opened in Edinburgh back in 2010. 'Chrissy' will be back where it started in The Attic in the Pleasance Courtyard. It makes me think how enormously indebted I am to this sprawling, expensive, exhausting, fickle and brilliant festival and how different the shows are that I’ve put on here.

'Chrissy' is a joyful solo show about my eccentric French grandmother’s wartime romance. We were a very small, close-knit team - Clare Betney who dramaturged the piece, operated the show, flyered with me and we slept in the living room of a flatshare (as the weeks went by, Clare started sleeping in the big wardrobe while I pushed my mattress behind the sofa, in an attempt to give one another space). It was the start of ongoing creative relationships with director Omar Elerian and producer Ed Collier. We designed it ourselves, roping in boyfriends, friends and relatives along the way. And I drove the show up to the Fringe in the back of my car, which in a miraculous turn of events didn’t require the AA either on the way up or the way back down. We sold enough tickets, got enough good reviews and to our enormous surprise, won The Stage Award for Best Solo Performer (Clare and I were busy gossiping and drinking the free prosecco at the back of the hall when this was announced). So we left the Fringe armed with what we needed to book a tour and a tentative feeling that this theatre-making idea might be a keeper.

In 2012, I came back to open 'Mess' at The Traverse. The team was bigger, the subject matter trickier and expectations to live up to ‘something or other’ hovered about. There was certainly a less straightforward reception for this second show – a three-hander based on my own experiences of anorexia and recovery. I spent that August becoming ok with a bit of debate swirling around something I’d made. Edinburgh had bumped us about but once more sent us off with a fistful of press quotes and an award – off the back of which, we’re still touring the show and currently working towards a North American stint.

And now, I’m heading back with 'Islands', which makes 'Mess' look like a crowd-pleaser - it’s a foul, furious, grotesque show about tax havens that makes for seriously uncomfortable viewing (it’s fun too, just a particular sort of fun). When the British Council invited us to be part of their showcase, the opportunity was too exciting to resist. I’m fascinated to see what Edinburgh audiences and international programmers will make of it. Will it provoke the same level of debate it did in London? Again Edinburgh has offered an exciting opportunity – and I’m up for the rollercoaster.

Each day it’ll be like straddling the last five years of work as I dash from 'Chrissy' at the Pleasance over to 'Islands' at Summerhall – they’re so different but I love both shows. I want to keep making and seeing work that entertains and is full of optimism - as well as work that dives into darker, angrier and less comfortable territory. Edinburgh’s sprawling strength is that it’s full of such contrasts: it’s inclusive and although it often feels like it chews you up and spits you out, it really won’t fence you in.

You're Not Like the Other Girls, Chrissy, Pleasance Courtyard, Aug 22-29, 11.20am. Islands, Summerhall, Aug 22-29, 2.05pm.