Updated: Feb 29
It’s not always easy to say what is (or isn’t) a Fringe performance
It’s usually easier to respond to questions of Fringe authenticity by saying “You know it when you see it”.
Last Summer, on the Stratford Fringe, it was easy. Anyone asking the question could be pointed in the direction of After Aulis a new play by Rowena Cooper (above right, with Emmeline Braefield) which hit the stage at The Attic Theatre.
Its subject matter (a risqué millennial take on a classic Greek legend), its style (in your face in rhyming couplets) and its performance (one woman direct to audience) ticked all the boxes for the hard core Fringe fan.
Not surprisingly the production won our Fringie Award for Fringe Event of the Year and also not surprising the production is now on the road heading for one of the UKs biggest Fringe festivals in Brighton.
In After Aulis - inspired by the mythical figure Iphigenia is simply Nia – a millennial woman who is busy on Tinder while boosting wine imports.
“You can almost rip apart everything you know about the myth and use it as a jumping off point to talk about more contemporary issues” Rowena tell us when we talk as rehearsals for the Brighton production are getting under way. The degree she has in Classics no doubt came in handy in creating a new play based on such legendary material but it was as part of a Master’s degree in Creative Writing that Rowena was completing in Oxford where Nia came to life.”I love Greek Tragedy and Roman Comedy” Rowena says “and I adore Fleabag” – put such passions together and out comes After Aulis.
Feedback from writer Ben Brown a tutor on the Oxford course suggested that not only did Rowena have a degree worthy script but also that she should consider taking it further than academic recognition.
At this point, friend from University days, actress Emmeline Braefield was asked to read the script for a performers-eye comment
“I wanted to play Nia immediately”
A scratch-night performance in Cheltenham garnered more positive feedback and more importantly provided the “lets do it” moment for Rowena and Emmeline to think about a fully-staged performance.
Emmeline has appeared several times at Stratford’s Attic Theatre so another un-surprise was when it played host to the premiere performances in the hot summer of 2018.
As many Stratford Fringe makers will confirm, selling any Fringe event in the Bard’s home town is challenging. But, Emmeline recalls “we were amazed at the turnout. We were preparing ourselves for five people a night”.
The performances in Stratford also brought an unexpected emotion for the actress “it was a lot more exhilarating than I was expecting. The idea of being the only person on stage and have the pressure on you to make the audience enjoy the play and to keep the energy going without anyone else to bounce off”.
For the writer, sat in the audience at The Attic “ it was a huge learning curve getting to hear the lines you’ve typed out in the depths of the night and seeing other people laughing is an amazing experience”
Fast forward nearly a year and After Aulis, its writer and performer are off to the Sussex seaside and there is agreement from Emmeline and Rowena that Brighton is the perfect next stop for Nia.
“Brighton fits well with the themes of the show” Emmeline says and Rowena adds “I love Brighton. It’s open to riskier work”
We ask if anything has changed after the Stratford show. “Not huge amounts – perhaps one or two less vomiting gags” says the writer. From the performer – “we’re taking the chance to make a few scenes sharper and we have to lose fifteen minutes to fit the performance slot we have”.
So Stratford got the uncut, unadulterated vomiting to the max Nia what next for her?
“If this goes well we’d love to take Nia on tour so we hope she’ll be a hit in Brighton and pull in some good reviews to spread her fame” is Rowena’s after Brighton hope
For Emmeline - “the sky’s the limit. So much that could be done with the show. I want it all to happen. I think it’s a fantastic piece”.
Sadly for Stratford there’s doesn’t seem much chance Nia will be returning but at least she left a big impression and a gold standard for Fringe performance in the town.
After Aulis by Rowena Cooper and staring Emmeline Braefield is at Laughing Horse @ The Quadrant12 North Street Brighton from 5th to 8th May.