Did you know that England will be exactly 1,000 years old in 2020? Or that the king who united the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms was in fact a Viking? The evidence is rooted in a fun legend of kidnapping and cross-dressing from the marshy land of Cambridgeshire, and Fringe audiences will be among the first to experience the story in an adaptation by Chip Colquhoun – a storyteller from the world-famous Oxford Reading Tree who worked with children aged 7–11 to develop this enthralling and delightful show, The First King of England in a Dress for family audiences. Chip spoke with The Fountain about the nerves that prevail when performing first time at the Fringe.
TF: You are performing at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, how exciting?
It is, but it’s also the most nervous I’ve been about performing since I started over a decade ago! I’ve only ever been to the Fringe as a punter before, so I know the fantastic yet enormous choice on offer. That adds to the pressure to deliver our best performance every time, because we’ll know that everyone in our audience has thought really carefully about where to spend their time – and we don’t want to let them down!
That said, I’m also hugely confident they will love our show. From Glastonbury Festival to Jorvik Viking Festival, every audience so far has left with huge grins, thanking us for one of the most participatory and creative shows they’ve ever seen. And our child star is a future household name in the making – she handles the role beautifully.
TF: First King of England in a Dress sounds intriguing, what is the premise?
The original inspiration is a legend local to my home county of Cambridgeshire, in which the Viking King Knut befriends a peasant Saxon family. It breaks so many barriers – age, class, gender, nationality – and also hints at how Knut unified the various Saxon nations into the single Kingdom of England exactly 1,000 years ago. So it’s an extremely pertinent story for our times – but it’s also huge fun, with disguises, magic frogs, exploding giants, and more!
TF: And what drove the project, where did your influences lie?
Since we began storytelling in 2007, we’ve seen how it has this amazing power to bring people together. Even Tyrion, in the finale of Game of Thrones, pointed out that stories unite people more than anything else. So our show explores how a foreign king, hated by the people he invaded, manages to win their trust by sharing stories.
Although the arc story is a traditional tale, the stories shared by the characters are actually original tales created by schoolchildren aged seven to eleven in workshops I ran before writing the script. I didn’t give those kids any characters or plots; they made these amazing adventures themselves, entirely from scratch. They bring great wackiness and colour to our show, but they’re also remarkably moral and well-constructed.
TF: Have you been to the Fringe before, is there anything you are keen to see whilst in Edinburgh?
This is our Fringe debut, so we’re incredibly grateful to the Fringe Society for the brilliant and wide-ranging support they give to production companies like ours. It will also be my longest ever trip to the Fringe – two weeks, instead of my previous record of two days! What I love about the Fringe, though, is being able to just wander around and find yourself immersed in wonderful experiences you may have otherwise missed. I’ve seen new twists on old magic tricks, lectures about time travel, and awe-inspiringly hilarious improvising comic musicians… I can’t wait!
TF: And what are your future plans beyond First King of England in a Dress?
We definitely plan to tour this show. England’s actual 1,000th birthday is next year, and Epic Tales is heavily involved in a project being led by Cambs County Council to celebrate. But we’re also a social enterprise, and recently received a grant from the Social Investment Business Group to develop our work over the next few years – which will help us use storytelling to strengthen the creativity and confidence of communities all over the place. So we’ve got an exciting few years ahead!
You can see The First King of England in a Dress at theSpace Triplex from 12th – 17th August at 11:55am and from 19th – 24th August at 3:05pm. For tickets, please visit www.edfringe.com