From rugby to robots, Fiona Gordon takes a look at some of this year’s Fringe theatre offerings, and thanks the local venues that will make these performances truly memorable
When actors take a bow, they are receiving thanks on behalf of people behind the scenes who make a show possible. This year, before the shows even started production, the thanks firmly belong to two well-loved venues in Wanstead. Because of them we have some cracking shows at this year’s Fringe, and one venue in particular is hoping to delight audiences for many years to come. But more of that later.
Wanstead Theatre Co has been gaining a reputation for producing West End-quality shows in local venues on or near the High Street. Their play about a jumble sale was performed in Our Lady of Lourdes church hall and their play about pub life was performed in The Bull. This year, they read a lot of plays trying to find one that matched a Wanstead venue, and thanks to Eton Manor RFC, a long-term collaborator with the Fringe, they have found the perfect comedy. Breakfast with Jonny Wilkinson is set on that glorious morning when England won the Rugby World Cup for the first and only time. Dave’s position as chairman of his local rugby club is being challenged by an extremely loud Australian. Why does Jake, the club’s best player, keep disappearing? Why has Nigel’s wife stopped him from wearing a nun’s outfit? And why have only seven people turned up to watch the game of the century?
What gives this production an extra kick is not only that it marks the 20th anniversary of that momentous event, but that the day before the Fringe starts, so does the Rugby World Cup 2023. Shows are on non-match days, however, so they don’t clash with any on-pitch dramas!
Baloney Theatre are back this year after their compelling A Non-Emergency with not one, but two very special shows. The Room Upstairs explores the invisible illness of ME through the lens of a mother-daughter relationship with lots of puppets, a self-deprecating actor, far too many biscuits and a sprinkle of absurdity. And Robot Penguin, winner of the Baloney Award 2023, is a bizarre, irreverent comedy about depersonalisation and the neurodivergent experience through the ‘lens’ of an undercover robotic penguin called Emperor Spy Cam A10N3.
The two shows will be performed at The Bull and here is why this particular collaboration deserves a special thanks. At the kind invitation of The Bull, the Fringe planning team have spent many hours discussing ideas, compiling research and using funds to fit out the upstairs bar with theatre lights and a lighting deck to create a more permanent home for Fringe theatre. To provide a dedicated venue for theatre on our High Street all year round is amazing and a great reason to take a bow!
For more information on Wanstead Fringe events, visit wnstd.com/fringe