Verbatim Theatre at Edinburgh Fringe 2023

Verbatim theatre is define as. “Verbatim theatre is a form of documentary theatre which is based on the spoken words of real people. Strictly, verbatim theatre-makers use real people’s words exclusively, and take this testimony from recorded interviews.” (Source). It can also involve using words from recorded video, from papers and documents, such as court records), from diaries. It’s all about bring the words spoken for read to the stage. Sometimes it is those words without any editing – a literal transposition – sometimes the words may be edited or “rendered” for the stage. Purists are not in favour of any editing at all.

There is always verbatim theatre at the Fringe, often focusing on political and social themes. Here are a few of our recommendations for 2023.

After The Act (A Section 28 Musical) tells the story in kusical form of one piece of legislation that had devastating consequences. Section 28: “the landmark legislation that silenced a generation and offered a global blueprint for LGBTQ+ oppression” is the foundation for this acclaimed piece of musical theatre, drawing the the exact words of the people facing those challenges at the time. Beach Theatre “sing and dance on the grave of this watershed moment in LGBTQ+ history.” Playing at the Traverse.

Jane/Norma is a piece of new writing playing at The Space on the Mile examining the landmark and controversial Rose vs Wade jusgement on abotion rights in the USA. “Roe vs Wade is synonymous with the debate around abortion rights. But behind this landmark ruling – which liberated women across America – lay a women whose story was told by many but known by few. Jane/Norma presents an unflinching look at the real Jane Roe and Norma McCorvey. Viewpoint are proud to present new writing, sewing up the threads of verbatim; giving voice to unheard testimonies.”

For some devised solo theatre playing at Zoo Southside, see Optimistic: Elizabeth Holmes. “Elizabeth Holmes claims her biotechnology will revolutionise medicine – and people believe her. A single drop of blood, she claims, can be used for up to 800 blood tests. As she defrauds investors of hundreds of millions of dollars and uses her disastrous technology to test real patients, does she think she’s doing anything wrong? This devised verbatim play, based on interviews, newly released trial exhibits, text messages, and Holmes’s personal notes, asks questions about the gap between appearance and reality as it delves into the mind of the fraudster once considered guaranteed to change the world.”

At Greenside @ Riddle’s Court, Tending bills itself as “the first play to use verbatim theatre to reveal the inner lives of nurses working in the NHS today. Based on over 40 interview recordings, Tending immerses you in their day-to-day experiences: all of the camaraderie, hilarity and heartbreak”

Verbatim is at the heart of dance and physical theatre piece Woodhill which plays at Summerhall. Multi award-winning LUNG in Association with The North Wall bring “gut-punching choreography and unflinching beats” which “shine a light on the hidden story of HMP Woodhill. Lyrically told in their own words, three families investigate what happened to their boys. What they discover is so haunting, it turns their world upside down.”

For an hour of unique  verbatim and cabaret theatre at the Plesance Courtyard, a hot ticket is bound to be 52 Monologues for Young Transsexuals from Nothing More To say. “‘What’s the worst thing that’s ever made you feel like a woman?’ Nothing More to Say’s award-nominated debut is an ‘experimental’ and ‘audacious’ **** ( hour of verbatim and cabaret theatre. We sat down with other trans women to get sleepover-honest about bodies, sex, and love. Now, armed with killer dance moves and lots of baby oil, we’re leading you through a fever dream of hilarious and gut-wrenching confession. We’re going from pleasure to pagan ritual, from Barbara Streisand to BDSM. And no – there are no actual monologues…”

There are more verbatim shows at the Fringe than are mentioned here and we may add a few more in the run up to Edfringe. What we have here are topics and important issues taken head on, literal and …. verbatim. This creates potential authenticity, iommediacy and puts the audience into the skin of the characters and stories in ways that fictionalised or over-transposed work sometime’s cannot do.