How the Just Festival is changing mindsets

Ed fest

This year's Just Festival is the biggest yet with performances, theatre and events from across the globe 

1st August 2017 by Robert Armour 0 Comments

The world is in a difficult place at the moment.

From the domestic to the global, the personal to the political, for those who wish to make the world a better place it may feel as if there is a surging tide of issues and injustice that might knock us off our feet.

So from the 4th–27th August, the Just Festival will be taking a closer look at issues that goes against the current and stand up for social justice.

In a distinctly different programme from the usual Edinburgh Festival fair, this year’s “Just” as it has become known, engages with a wide range of social justice issues facing people around the world.

Themed as #AgainstTheCurrent, this year the festival will host conversations, talks and performing arts events that present people, movements and ideas that challenge the status quo. 

It will also delve into the past and reflect on three significant historical anniversaries: 100 years of the Balfour Declaration; 70 years of Indian Independence; and 500 years since the Protestant Reformation, all of which have shaped the world around us (100 Year of Balfour, Quaker Meeting House: Aug 11,12,15,16,18,19 Aug | 17:15-18:35 | £10 (£8))

Organiser James Bryson explains: “We believe that through respect for each other's faith and belief, culture, philosophy and ideas, as well as each individual's right to self-expression and freedom, we can be part of the wider movement to establish a more united world.

“With these values in mind, we strive to promote a safe, inclusive and creative environment for everyone who is willing to engage with us to work together to foster understanding and respect.”

For the duration of the programme, two historic venues in the city, St John’s Church and the Quaker Meeting House, will be home to theatre, music, art and debate that will challenge perceptions, celebrate differences and promote dialogue.

As for what’s on, there’s something for every socially conscious festival goer. There will be a strong Indian presence in the performance side of the programme. Ragamala Dance Company come from the United States where they combine a Western aesthetic with an Indian ethos, to create a physical piece that has rich tradition and deep philosophical roots (St John’s Church 4,5,8,9 Aug | 19:30-20:30 | £12 (£10).

The incredible young women of Kranti (Meaning “revolution” in Hindi) will share their own stories of sex work, trafficking and surviving in Mumbai’s Red-Light Area in their critically acclaimed play Lal Batti Express (St John's Church 5,8,9 Aug | 17:30-18:30 | £10 (£8); 11,12,15,16 Aug | 19:30-20:30 | £10 (£8).

And local group Active Inquiry will be bringing its amazing Theatre of the Oppressed show to St John’s. The Leith-based arts company will invite the audience to do just that as they create pieces which demand that the audience attempt to solve the problems for the characters on stage (26 Aug | 17:30-21:00 | by donation).       

Augusto Boal, the creator of Theatre of the Oppressed, said: "I want the spectator to take on the role of actor and invade the character and the stage. I want them to occupy their own space and offer solutions."

Harmony Choir bring their mental notes to the festival for 2017. After their sell out show in 2016, they are back providing even more proof that singing is an incredible tool for battling mental illness (St John’s Church on the 25th August at 8pm).

In Seriously Funny comedians will collaborate with academics as they aim to educate and entertain. This year a tranche of fledgling comedians will be coming to Edinburgh focusing on social justice, many of whom are being given the chance to work with an expert in this field.

As such they will be able to create a one-off show, promising to be as informative and rewarding for themselves as it is for the audience. Former human rights lawyer turned comedian, Daphna Baram (above) will give her take on the state of the international political scene (whatever it may be) on the 18th. Then on 25 August junior doctor and comedian, Ed Patrick will bring you his first hand account from the frontlines of the NHS.

For five nights only, the very best in Ugandan theatre comes to the festival as the creators of Freedom adapt their award-winning film for the stage. Nisha Kalema’s (pictured below) powerful story of a young woman faced by the very worst kinds of misogyny swept the board at the Ugandan Film festival picking up three awards. Kalema herself won Best Actress for her portrayal of Amelia will reprise her role at St Johns, for what is set to be the most significant piece of Ugandan drama ever seen on the Fringe (St John’s Church: 15,16,22,23,26 Aug | 21:30-22:30 | £10 (£8).

And then there’s Mimi’s Suitcase - the universal coming-of-age story of resilience and humanity. Raw, authentic, relevant and vibrant, the story centres on questions of identity in Iran, Spain and England with nothing but the titular suitcase, a raincoat and a scarf. Performed by Ana Bayat (pictured below), it is a tour-de-force performed in three languages with English subtitles (St John’s August 4, (5:30 PM) August 5, 8, 9, 11, 12 (9:30 PM).

And let’s not forget that Just has a conversation programme that has consistently provided the backbone to its festival offering. This year, Fringe goers will have the chance to hear from and discuss with experts on a whole spectrum of social justice issues. Local and international perspectives from charities, NGOs, academics and many others will be discussed as well as some of the biggest, and some of the more overlooked, challenges facing society. 

As part of these conversations you can hear how, as part of the Fringe in 2016, a sell out play by a group of disaffected dads from Wester Hailes came about. Fathers Network Scotland in partnership with Strange Town Theatre Company and Just Festival last year decided to tell the story of dads who, despite culture which often judges them to be 'Bad Dads', are motivated to be the best dad they can.

The play was a sell out and garnered impressive reviews and plaudits from the public, prison authorities and families groups across Scotland. 

A conversation, Dads in Adversity, will tell the story of how the play came into being, its continuing impact and the changing role of fathers in Scotland today (Quaker Meeting House: 7 Aug | 19:30-21:00 | £5).

Bryson says: “We allow the public to go further than being just an audience member and encourage them to engage in the discussion. We hope that all those who come to the Just Festival this August will leave inspired, enlightened and ready to join the movement to fight for a more united world.”

That’s just a taster. Go online and see for yourself an act to suit your taste. There’s something for everyone and anyone.