August is generally a time of year of which I am not overly fond.
I have pale skin and burn easily (and honestly even when I'm tanned I might as well be burnt, that's how pink my 'tan' is), I overheat in record time, and this is not fun during a month when everyone wants to be doing outdoorsy sunshiney things. Why can't we stay inside with all the curtains closed?!
August and I are not super good friends.
But this summer August and I had a beautiful love affair. I got the chance to go to my first Edinburgh Festival and merciful heavens I adored it.
Of course Edinburgh has its problems, it's rainy and windy and you can't really dress for the weather because it changes every ten minutes... but I didn't burn not even once!! What a rare and beautiful thing for a person resigned to stinging pain and peeling skin for at least two weeks of every year.
Of course, the Lauren-friendly weather was not the only wonderful thing about my festival experience. Being surrounded by so much creativity and enthusiasm was endlessly exciting and inspiring, and of course being able to get up in the morning, walk into town and see four shows in a day for the price of what you'd pay for a seat in the gods in London was an indescribable joy.
But the thing that I think impressed me most over the time that I spent crammed into container boxes or shuffling around on hard-seated benches or wandering down dark alleyways hoping that I was heading into a venue and not an evil lair, was the amount of imagination audiences were willing to show.
Fringe productions operate on a pretty meagre budget, and as I experienced myself the get in and out time for venues is small and incredibly strict, so in most cases there's no room for massive set pieces or intricate stage design. The result of which is theatre stripped bare, unable to hide behind elaborate staging. It is - to commandeer a phrase from our friends at Encompass - theatre at its most elemental: A company of actors telling you a story and asking you to believe that it's the truth. And audiences will believe it.
We've been talking a bit about set design around the COF water-cooler, and it always seems to me such a daunting task, getting people to believe that what they're seeing is what you want them to see. That it is not, in fact, just two plastic chairs pushed together with a throw over them, but in fact a comfy, well worn, beloved and abused family sofa instead.
Really good set design can be incredibly exciting, can build an entire world for the audience to fully immerse themselves in. I had the pleasure of seeing Matilda in the west end for the first time for my birthday, and it was magnificent. Every piece of that set was a little surprise, a truly inspiring use of space and dimensions, I was delighted with it. And of course when you pay upwards of £50 to see a show, you do expect a little bit of a spectacle. But what has stayed with me from my time in Edinburgh, and what I hope to keep with me, is that the spectacle is not necessary. You don't need the sofa, or Brighton pier, or a pirate ship, you need simply an imagination, and an audience willing to use theirs.