Are you sitting uncomfortably? How audiences became reluctant fringe stars

Go to an Edinburgh show at your peril: you may be asked to sing, dance or even share the intimate secrets of your love life on stage – as Alice Jones found out
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The Independent Online

Watching shows is so last summer. At this year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe, it's not enough to buy a ticket and settle back in your seat; you have to prepare to become part of the show too.

The new breed of ultra-experimental shows make extraordinary demands on their audiences: dance for three hours non-stop; leap into cars with strangers; feed hard-earned bank notes into a shredder. Comedy is getting in on the act, too.

And so, in the past two weeks in Edinburgh, I've signed up for a humiliating public piano lesson in What Remains, taken part in a windswept singalong of "The Bonnie Banks o' Loch Lomond" from the top deck of a bus in The Tour Guide, and performed a Cheryl Cole-inspired dance routine in Jessica Ransom's Unsung Heroes.

I've obediently meditated when instructed in David Leddy's Untitled Love Story, acted as assistant clown on the Royal Mile in You Once Said Yes, and sung the chorus to a piece of performance poetry, playing a sub-par Dido to Luke Wright's Eminem. There were also opportunities to share the intimate secrets of my love life in Looser Women.

Why? Because, frankly, I didn't have a choice. Performers have realised how much audiences enjoy actively experiencing a show rather than just passively watching. And, so long as it's not you being picked on, it's enormously fun to watch. Pantomimes have been working on that premise for years.

A trickle-down effect will bring more interactivity from the Fringe to the West End. In the meantime audiences would do well to work on their wallflower technique: sit five or more rows back, right in the middle of a row and never, ever catch the performer's eye. You might just get away with it.


In the Belgian company Ontroerend Goed's play, a camera is trained on the stalls as actors give voice to audience members' supposed inner monologues. The company then pick one person to come up on stage and be subjected to a torrent of abuse. Supposedly questioning what people will watch in the name of entertainment, it has been widely criticised for going too far.

The Dance Marathon

A three-and-a-half-hour endurance test for punters and cast alike. Audience members are given a numbered bib and a partner and taken through a series of ever more fiendishly complicated routines. Judges on roller skates send the mal-coordinated and exhausted to the Losers' Lounge round by round until only one couple is left standing.

Seven-Day Drunk

Bryony Kimmings' latest show is a pseudo-scientific look at the links between alcohol and creativity. Devised in various stages of intoxication, Kimmings performs the show sober, but recruits a female audience member to drink seven shots of vodka to replicate the effects of her "creative process" live on stage.

The Boy With Tape on His Face

Ultimate audience participation, this is a silent clown who mutely implores audience members out of their seats, charming them into dance routines, re-enacting the pottery scene from Ghost and stripping. Seems it's impossible to say no to a man who can't talk.