Camden’s answer to Edinburgh Fringe is going strong on 10th anniversary

Suzanna Gonzo aka comedian Katie OBrien performs at Aces and Eights Tufnell Park August 12-13

Suzanna Gonzo aka comedian Katie OBrien performs at Aces and Eights Tufnell Park August 12-13 - Credit: Archant

Sanya Ali talks to two producers who started a little revolution a decade ago – an arts festival for emerging performers who can’t play the Edinburgh Festival.

A decade ago, two theatre producers dreamed up the Camden Fringe as an antidote to the increasingly expensive annual trip to Edinburgh.

After years of taking part in the world’s largest arts festival, Michelle Flower and Zena Barrie decided their venue the Etcetera in Camden Town could provide the perfect template for a new London-based fringe.

That first year saw 57 performances by 22 acts over a four-week period at the Etcetera.

Ten years on, there are now 20 different venues staging more than 200 productions in what one critic described as the “weird, the wonderful and the unpredictable” mix of theatre, comedy, improvisation and more.

New venues this year include the Moors Bar in Crouch End, Aces and Eights in Tufnell Park, and The Rabbit Hole beneath the Duke of Hamilton Pub in Hampstead.

“The goal is to run an accessible grassroots festival in London that is open to everyone and affordable for people wanting to put on their first ever production,” says Flower.

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“We try and keep ticket prices nice and low so people can afford to see multiple shows.”

She adds: “We didn’t have a master plan when we started so to have reached our 10th year is pretty damn pleasing.”

Flower and Barrie fondly remember past performances and the positive vibe the festival brings each year.

“I always liked the way the atmosphere changed in August. It became buzzy and vibrant and exciting. Show wise; I loved Bad Musical, which went on to do a run in Edinburgh. I also loved Concrete Boots by Stopped Clock Theatre and Impro Twat,” says Flower.

“My best memory was in the second year, when we discovered a man called Chris had one of our brochures and was ticking off the shows as he had seen them. We suddenly realised our plan was working: it was hugely exciting,” adds Barrie.

This year’s programme features both returning and first-time acts.

“I am looking forward to watching Shackleton’s Carpenter at Upstairs at The Gatehouse (pictured right). I’m a bit of a Shackleton groupie; well, I would be if he were still alive. I also always try to catch Get Over It Productions who’ve come to us year after year and are both ace and lovely,” Barrie says.

“I am looking forward to The Comedian’s Cinema Club at Aces and Eights where some comedians recreate a famous film. There is a selection on offer, but I fancy Mary Poppins,” says Flower.

She hopes audiences come for an inexpensive day out to take a chance and witness the vast range of theatrical experiences on offer.

“The fringe is vital, it’s where everything starts. There will be some great stuff and some not so great stuff, but this is where you’ll see young people being really creative and trying out new things that they couldn’t do elsewhere.

“It’s well worth supporting and discovering some lovely new venues,” says Flower.

The Camden Fringe runs from August 3-30 with many tickets priced just £5.