Shooting the Breeze

With August, in Edinburgh, comes the Festival. Thousands gather, eager to enjoy the treats on offer at the five or so different but simultaneous celebrations of the arts and mingle with the celebrities that walk the streets over the course of an exhausting four weeks. We have our own film festival, in its 57th year, not so flashy as Cannes but proud of its reputation as a worthy promoter of diverse, interesting and original cinematic achievements. Also a book festival, this year welcoming John Irving, Mario Vargas Llosa and Susan Sontag amongst others, as well as offering many opportunities for aspiring writers to practice their fledgling skills. We have a jazz festival, growing every year, and of course we have the original Festival, which attracts the biggest names in the fields of classical music and traditional dramatic arts. Then there is the Fringe, the 'alternative' festival, one of the biggest comedy gatherings in the world with hundreds of acts from all over straining for our attention. Not just comedy, but musicals, dance and physical theatre, exhibitions, art, shows for children... And performed in the strangest of venues, this yea's including the back seat of a car and a toilet cubicle.

The fringe has taken a battering recently for a variety of reasons. Ticket prices have increased dramatically over the last few years and many have questioned its reputation for fostering emerging talent when it has become more difficult for new acts to secure a venue. They also point to the almost inevitable financial loss incurred by most who perform. It has also lost one of its biggest venues- the Gilded Balloon- which was gutted in a recent fire which tore a chunk out of the Edinburgh Old Town, also destroying various inconsequential departments of the University of Edinburgh. Plans for relocating the festival, or even staging an 'alternative' alternative festival have been mooted.

All this is set to change, however, according to one Fringe promoter, and all because of a single act. "Spin the Chamber", a five-piece 'experimental theatre' group from Coventry four nights a week at the Creased Onion.

"They will redefine the experience of going to the theatre," says Julian Gemini.

I meet Gemini at one of the busy cafes on George Street, eager to hear about this new act. They have developed a tremendous buzz about them over the six months they have existed and an interview with their enigmatic promoter is much sought after. He is dressed in a baggy black suit and yellow T-shirt. His head is shaved to the skin.

"Where most traditional theatre fails is in its inability to bridge the gap between performer and audience in a concrete, indelible way, to step through the fourth wall and open the artwork to proper participation from the spectator. The history of 20th century theatre- Brecht, Ionescu- is the history of the attempt to do this and we feel "Spin the Chamber" is a natural progression of this. Magic."

He talks fast in between sips of espresso. I am curious about the origins of the show.

"Well "Spin the Chamber" grew out of a number of other shows, "The Giggle Muslim and "Tickle My Poetry Bastard" to name but two. When these had run their natural course Gemma and Steve [Gemma Appleton and Steve Royd, two members of the group] spent a number of months watching television as research for a new show. They wanted to create something totally new. After sitting through hours of "The Weakest Link", "Big Brother" and "Tenko" they came up with the concept that was to become the show. They contacted me, and I put them in touch with John [Howie], Rachel [Newstead] and Kemal [Ataturk]. After two years of development, they had the show."

And the show itself?

"I want to make it clear first of all that everyone that goes to see the show signs a legal disclaimer before the enter the hall. These documents are legal because they were drawn up by our friend Andrew who does these things. European euthanasia legislation apparently. Anyway. The audience piles into the hall and sits. We've got some music for that bit. "Spin the Chamber" then appear, dressed almost entirely in cling film, and speak as one. They ask the audience to stand up one by one and give a brief justification of their lives. This should be no longer than five minutes and contain reasons why they think their lives are worthwhile, interesting and important. Crying is discouraged. There is a brief interval, during which is played the screams of pain of a dying elephant. Then an electronic poll of the audience determines who they think is the least deserving of a place on this earth. That person is shot. We then go through his pockets."

Critics have been equivocal about the show but it appears to be immensely popular, the first two weeks are already sold out. Personally I am genuinely impressed by the imaginative verve of "Spin the Chamber" and I think that every tourist that crowds the streets of Edinburgh over the next four weeks should try and get their hands on a ticket. Book now to avoid disappointment.

What do you think, did we get it right? Comment here...