Verbatim Theatre at the Edinburgh Fringe

“Verbatim is a type of documentary theatre constructed from the words of real people responding to a particular theme or a real event. These words might be taken from interviews or testimonials, or even from media or news footage.”. (Naomi Joseph)

There are always verbatim theatre productions at the Edinburgh Fringe and, if you haven’t seen one. this year might be the time to dip into this unique and important field of theatre and the arts.

FringeReview’s Paul Levy explains the explores verbatim theatre and considers why you should see it at the Fringe this year.

And here are a few of our recommendations for verbatim work this year at the Fringe.

20 Minutes of Action is a verbatim play from Lionheart theatre that focuses its attention on the safety of women. “Using the exact words of the victim, the perpetrator and their families, this play guides you through the most controversial sexual assault case in America”.

Chalk Line Theatre, an Untapped Award Winner 2022, presents Blanket Ban. This piece draws upon three years’ worth of interviews “with anonymous contributors and their own lived experience“. Important, necessary ground is covered in the context of the intolerance in Malta – “actors and activists Marta and Davinia interrogate Malta’s restrictions on the freedom of women. What does it mean for your home to boast the world’s most progressive LGBTQIA rights, leading transgender laws – and a population that is almost unanimously anti-choice?”

People’s spoken truth, rigorous research, people’s lived experience, in their own words, this becomes the raw material source for verbatim theatre, sometimes transmitted or transposed as close to original source as possible, sometimes rendered, carefully edited and re-presented – this is the essence of verbatim theatre. Purists do not change a syllable with some companys’ actors wearing headphones and relaying through performance in a very direct way. In others the recorded words are the subject of editing for the purposes of a one hour show.

“Two transgender performers say ‘up yours!’ to the gender binary and invite you to their radical dance party! Under disco lights, over pulsing music, a queer celebration takes place. Set in nightclubs, this exuberant verbatim show examines the cisgender gaze on the transgender body. Featuring recorded interviews from trans and non-binary people, a self-love manifesto is made through riotous, glittering disco.” This is Sound Cistem from Plaster Cast.

Verbatim theatre can also form part of a production. In the case of Sugar? we have “a brand new show exploring utterly hilarious, painfully relatable and beautifully told real life stories of homelessness through a blend of verbatim theatre, physical storytelling and live and recorded sound.” And the underpinning research for this production is novel and interesting. “Through silent discos at sponsored sleep-outs, panic buttons in interview rooms and spontaneous rap battles, Sugar? was born.”

There are 19 shows that claim an element of verbatim theatre in their work at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. Verbatim brings the audience as close to source material from the real world as is possible, sometimes fully literal, faithfully transmitted, often at least partly edited, interpreted and rendered. Some would say that all verbatim theatre is rendered and interpreted due to the very nature of theatre as a form. Whatever your view, experiencing some verbatim theatre is importanrt especially this Fringe, where some critical subjects are in the spotlight.

Paul levy is Fringereview’s editor and founder.