fringe theatre



  • Innovative and radical theater that takes place outside thecommercial mainstream; the phrase is the equivalent of the US off-off-Broadway.The term probably derives from the growth of unconventional theatricalproductions on the 'fringe' of the Edinburgh Festival duringthe 1950s. In 1960 the Cambridge Footlights team appeared at the EdinburghFestival in the satirical Beyond the Fringe. The first truefringe theater was the Traverse Theatre, an Edinburgh studio venuethat gave both Tom Stoppard and C. P. Taylor their startin 1963. Fringe theater, which included student and amateur productions,brought a new vitality to British drama in the 1960s. Plays were performedin pubs, parks, halls, universities, and other public places as wellas in more conventional venues. Most productions were critical ofthe Establishment and appealed to younger audiences.

    The abolition of stage censorship in 1968 gave afurther impetus to fringe theaters, which soon increased in number.By the 1970s the fringe companies began to receive grants from theArts Council and from local authorities. More than 50 Londonfringe theaters existed by the early 1980s, when a ticket agency wasestablished for them at the Criterion Theatre. Well-knownfringe groups have included the Pip Simmons Theatres, Shoestring,Bubble Theatre, Tricycle Theatre, Theatre of Black Women, the PortableTheatre (co-founded by the playwright David Hare), the King's Head,the Monstrous Regiment, the People Show, the Hull Truck Theatre Company,the 7:48 Touring Company, the Gate Theatre (Notting Hill), theHampstead Theatre Club, and Complicite.

    A variety of venues have housed the fringe groups: the Half-MoonTheatre is in a former synagogue, while the Bush Theatre in Shepherd'sBush, London, and the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond are above pubs.Other venues for experimental productions include the ICA Theatreat the Institute of Contemporary Arts, the Riverside Studios Theatre,the Theatre Upstairs at the Royal Court Theatre, the Pitat the Barbican, and the Cottesloe Theatre at the RoyalNational Theatre.

    Fringe successes that have gone on to enjoy major success in the West End include Accidental Death of an Anarchist in 1979 and Educating Rita in 1980. Arguably, the distinction between the fringe and the commercial theater has become less clear in recent years, with the success of such venues as the Almeida Theatre and the Donmar Warehouse.


  • noun
    (written as Fringe Theatre)
    a general term referring to small theatres which put on mainly experimental plays and do not form part of the theatre establishment