Volcano at the Edinburgh Fringe

Posted on: Tuesday, August 8, 2017 by Paul Davies

A lifetime ago, a bunch of us from Wales came up to the Fringe. We played in Jimmy and Sarah Boyle’s venue, The Gateway Exchange. It was 1988. The Fringe was dominated by Tic Toc from Coventry, Richard Demarco, Jerry Sadowitz, Tadeusz Kantor… The venue functioned all year round as a place of creativity and recovery. It seemed a wonderful example of art, hope, passion and drink.

We went to East Germany and then, after the wall fell, West Germany too. Our next visit to the Fringe was to a place on High Street called The Netherbow. I think it was 1991, and in the shadow of John Knox we blasted Tony Harrison’s state-of-the-nation poem V. It wasn’t subtle, but it was necessary and heartfelt – a statement from Wales. Peter Scott, the Netherbow technician, would give us clearance in his unmistakable ex-miner’s drawl: ‘From Wales to Scotland: have a good show, Volcano’.  

Through the early nineties, we played at Theatre Workshop in Stockbridge. Archaos were in town, redefining circus. It seemed unremarkable to appear in a venue that programmed work all year round. We performed Medea: SexWar, but left early to play in an amphitheatre in Patras, Greece. Two years later we returned with an Ibsen show called How to Live, directed by Nigel Charnock.  

It is not just performance itself that is ephemeral. The spaces in Edinburgh have shifted, disappeared and become standardised in ways that determine what kind of work can be presented. There might be some good in this: more shows, more people, better organisation. But we might have lost something…

Back in Wales, Volcano shifted away from a pattern of international touring (much of it assisted by the British Council) and moved into a defunct Littlewoods shop in a neglected area of the city. There was a lot of space. There was a housing association, and the Arts Council of Wales had a scheme to connect artists with larger organisations involved in regeneration. We started to work together. People dreamed of development, but when they woke, they realised they had been dreaming of different things. We moved again – to a former Iceland store with more space and more possibilities. But still the dreams of development, bad and good, would not go away.

The unevenness of development doesn’t surprise us. Our colleagues here in Leith know all about it, too. After returning to the Fringe with a show in a cupboard and a show at The Biscuit Factory, it became clear to us that we needed to offer something more concrete and visible. The Leith Volcano came into view. A Scottish-Welsh collaboration; a space for performance that might give companies more time to see what they have made and how it might be enjoyed…

Paul Davies

Fern Smith

Share this page