It’s the time of year when theatre people are inundated with companies talking about their Fringe show. And as much as its always interesting to see what the ‘big boys’ of Welsh theatre are up to – National Theatre Wales, or Fringe stalwarts Dirty Protest – what feels more ‘fringe’ is seeing the smaller companies getting out there and sharing their work.
In that spirit, Cardiff company Clock Tower is a relatively young, and small company who are taking an equally small but mighty show ‘Adrift’ to this year’s fringe.
“George took it up with the cast a few years ago, and they were turning people away, so we’re hoping to recreate even a little piece of that buzz! It’s the perfect fringe show, less than an hour, one-set piece,” producer Steve Bennett says.
Writer George Infini says that the first version of Adrift was 20 minutes long and he wrote it quickly as a warm-up act for another show. The simple set – in the form of a sofa – was due to lack of budget rather than an artistic choice.
Adrift has been in the world for a number of years, and Infini talks about its evolution – from a script in hand version, to a more crowd-sourced approach.
“We asked the audience to suggest endings and put their ideas in a suggestions box,” he says.
“I picked the suggestion that made me laugh the most and just went for it!”
The result feels like a genuinely collaborative theatrical endeavour, which has unearthed a comedic gem or two along the way.
Infini becomes quite philosophical on the subject of comedy. “It’s the riskiest and most rewarding medium in which to write,” he says.
“If you write a drama, you’re asking your audience to feel something subjectively. In comedy, you have to try and get your whole audience on the same page.
“You know instantly whether you’ve done your job right because of the laughter – or lack of it.”
Despite the risk, it does him good as a writer because “I’m naturally suspicious of praise, particularly from theatregoers, who tend to be supportive friends or family.
“So, I have to write comedy to prove to my cynical self that I’m any good; I cannot argue against a room full of strangers laughing at my stuff! It means that I’m doing something right.”
And in Adrift, if the Edinburgh try-outs in Cardiff were any measure, he was indeed doing something right, as it was met with raucous and warm audience response.
But it’s always a challenge taking a show to Edinburgh, even with the experience both Infini and Clock Tower have under their belts.
As Bennett says: “The things that suck are the expenses; it is still very exclusive financially for people who don’t want to take the risk.”
“The great thing is the exposure; you’re seen on a world scene, we’re so lucky to have the largest fringe theatre festival in the world practically on our doorstep!”
It’s the atmosphere of Edinburgh that struck Infini: “It’s an unrivalled creative extravaganza that feels like your walking through Diagon Alley on quidditch match-day, but everyone is trying to hand out flyers. I love it.”
And it is that. Having had its pre-Fringe try-outs in Cardiff, Adrift is 45 minutes of fast-paced comedy and the perfect comic treat for Fringe audiences.
It’s also one with an unexpected amount of heart. Despite being structured as a series of comedy vignettes, or sketches, there is an underlying poignancy to Infini’s writing. And one that comes from both the strength of the actors as well as his writing.
The cast of three truly elevates the piece. Sam Harding has a gift of drawing a laugh with a look. Even in the background, his reactions are priceless comedy gold. And he makes the best use of a Gloucester accent in theatre this year.
Beaumont has the less broadly comedic role but does much with his character- the Doctor is mildly infuriated and eternally exasperated.
Alongside them, Cawley as the son-of-an-Admiral Captain, wouldn’t be out of place in any Period Drama. He embodies the posh-but-dim aristocracy of his character while being utterly charming and endearing. It’s a tough ask to give his character a likeability alongside the comedy but Cawley manages it with a seemingly effortless charm.
The key however to the entire piece is the ensemble – and the way the three bounce off one another is what lifts the piece – and gets the big laughs. And as much as the short running time is perfect for this show and the Fringe, it feels too short a time to spend with these characters.
It’s initially difficult to imagine how three men on a raft could sustain and entertain an audience. And with a raft made of pallets it’s easy to underestimate the comedy power of the piece.
The best laughs are the unexpected ones, and Infini has a gift for writing the most ludicrous line possible in a situation and crafting a laugh. He is abetted by a cast of actors who have a knack for comic timing.
George Goding’s direction pulls the piece together. He balances faced paced direction with quieter moments to let the writing and performances ‘breathe’.
So, how much fun can you have on a raft? With a peg? Quite a lot, it turns out. Adrift is a perfect Fringe piece – 45 minutes of fast-paced fun comedy. It’s also incredibly satisfying to see a small company like Clock Tower have the chance to take on Edinburgh and no doubt makes a brilliant success of it.
Adrift will be at Venue 13 Edinburgh on the 10, 11 & 13-17 of August at 5:20pm.