Agent of Influence: The Secret Life of Pamela More

Underbelly

August 28th

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Script: four-stars Stagecraft: four-stars  Performance: four-stars

A fresh script for an 80 year old story, this was a comprehensive take on world war work made from the point of view of tasks taken on by the female half of the war. The novel like and radio broadcast like tempo and public announcement had the quality of formally addressing but Pamela decides to intersperse  jokes in the name of the irony of laughing at bad news. The scene of artistic decoration and sparse props could not be mistaken for anything but the early nineteenth century, again suggested by Pamela’s attire of a conservative but stylish dress. The many threads of information being covered in the dialogue follow where the actress moved from personal commentary to formal conversation deep in her involvement with MI5.

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The story itself tells of this woman rising through the ranks of government hierarchy and proving herself as being indispensable with a natural flare for her government requested espionage sagas. In a mid-war environment, the venue’s, looking like a bunker, immediate effect was more than able to support the solitary figure of “our” Pamela who worked alone for its entirety, this was very well themed. “Our” is the effect of her involving dialogue on us as the audience who were invited to accept her as doing something for all of us though her accent was very posh and endearing, especially for the time, a sound we know today from hearing war time broadcasts particularly on early radio.

The novel like aspects of the play were another thing to draw us in using a story like telling that in books are so common. The war itself was very often community based effort so the decision of having only one member of the cast was smart in quite a few ways. Pamela does most of the thinking here with every conversation she has with MI5 she reflects on by reasoning with herself to find what way she will tackle the tasks in front of her as a spy. She knows very well what measures to take and how to pass on information, war time information.

The play also raises questions which played a charming role that through dialogue suggests that there is still something of that time we should still be aware of making it current, though set in the past, and innovative because of the new writing of the story. Her jokes weren’t self-deprecating instead had the feeling of being a way of expressing excitement and tolerance within the government operations. Straight forward, frilly sensation, guarded thinking, Pamela stands for many things, war time woman being one of them.

Reviewer: Daniel Donnelly

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Brain Matter(s)     

Venue 13

26/08/2016

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Script: four-stars Stagecraft: four-stars  Performance: five-stars

“The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing,” according to Marcus Aurelius. Luckily, we get both in equal measure here from two very talented young performers, Liz Blake and Danny Boardman.

Ostensibly the show is an enquiry into the nature of being, the artists each being one side of the brain and moving from foetus to birth through the various  stages of life until death. On the journey we get some recognisable questions and conundrums: marriage or independence? Am I in love? Is he right for me? Where did I leave the car keys? Have I turned into my parents? All very apt and amusing, but the real joy is in watching these two superb performers demonstrate their art: the show is primarily physical theatre and their physical prowess is impressive and beautiful. The show begins with the performers dancing in the womb, then wrestling while learning to stand up and walk, and finally dancing in a beautiful interlocking manoeuvre demanding great skill and stamina. Their range is impressive too, able to move from dramatic situations to the comic: an example being the sexual positions adopted while going through the, is he right for me stage of modern life—the audience laughing loudly in recognition and appreciation of the creativity on stage. The performers also handle the switch in tone and mood in the second half of the production with great skill as we move from innocence to experience, and the life questions beginning to revolve around mortality and achievement. I’d also like to comment on the dynamics of the relationship between the performers; the audience could feel the artistic symmetry at work and showed their appreciation at the finale, the applause mixing with loud whoops.

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Apart from the main performers, the dramatic impetus of the show is developed through the work of Chris Everett and his creative musical choices that certainly enhances the drama taking place on stage; in addition to the music the production makes use of disembodied voices representing significant relationships on life’s journey: parents, boyfriends, driving instructor! Leading to the repeated phrase of “Please put on your seatbelt!”, first heard in the womb and repeated by the performers years later when they have their own children.

The show ends with the reckoning: the one prop on stage being a trunk, for most of the play a symbol of life’s travels, but now a casket for the aging actors; on the side is written a small list of human aspirations that can be fulfilled, like having children, again bringing to mind Marcus Aurelius, “Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking”.

Reviewer : Paul Rivers

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Teatro Delusio

The Pleasance Grand

3rd – 29th August (13.45)  

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Script: four-stars Stagecraft: four-stars  Performance: four-stars

Teatro Delusio is a another masterpiece brought to us by the production team at Familie  Floz from Stuttgart in Germany.  This is an intriguing piece of theatre, with three stage-actors and a collection of convincing and lovable characters, they proceed to take you on a journey through the magical and fantastic world of live puppetry. With masks that resembled the eerie, yet comfort of a childhood doll, you are immediately drawn in. The stage set is designed as a split-scenery stage, with the story taken place at the back of the main stage during an opera. Theatre within Opera..  Opera within Theatre … Genius !!!!!

Powerful and moving, touching and endearing,  this is a show that delivers it all. With a white dress only suitable for an angel, the first character is introduced and the show starts – the tale of the hidden lives of the theater’s technical staff. Engulfed in their lives, it soon becomes obvious that there is more to this than the eye can see. Encounters with swords, women and unscrupulous situations all play host to this tale of darkness becoming light. With costumes that delight the eye and lighting that sets the mood, it hits the mark, big time!

With comedy being injected. and emotion being attached, you are catapulted to the hidden universe of  tragedy and love. A theatrical maze that allows the audience to embrace an array of imaginative places.  Like an illusion, you are transfixed, rooted to your seat in anticipation you become intrigued as acting, live puppetry and silent movement capture the finesse and uniqueness of this production. Like a silent movie with the humour of Laurel and Hardy, you find laughter at every turn.

imgres.jpgWritten, produced and beautifully crafted for the stage, the show is executed with precise meaning.  A world of make-believe becomes a reality & when the worlds of fantasy collide the result is Teatro Delusio. Visually stunning  and emotionally warming this pulls at your heart strings. The train of musical scores is captivating; Barber’s  ‘Adagio for Strings’ music without words tells an unspoken story..  simply beautiful.  This is theatre, dramatic arts, story-telling & creativity escalated to a different height. The love affair, the slap-stick humour and the unseen opera all adds to a dizzying array of mind -racking thoughts that hurtle through your head. Uplifting, amazing, different and educational, this show should not be missed.  Take yourself away to a time and place far from here and find a moment to be you. Very moving…..

Reviewed by Raymond Speedie

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Twonkey’s Drive In: Jennifer’s Robot Arm

August 24-28 (17:15)

Sweet Grassmarket

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Mr Twonkey gave a performance not unlike Gene Wilder’s portrayal in the iconic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory of a man society deems freakish or out of place. Out of place is perhaps a good way to describe how I felt in an audience of a mere few. A two -sided sword came to life to be mocked and sent into the distaste that lay behind the story of this play. One side filling us with friendly airs of talk and compassion but, entwined in the dialogues and music scenes, there was an abhorrent side. Everything had undertones that subtly, yet abrasively, provided a stark use of playwriting.

It was almost all about things that are wrong about life and what happens to you inside it. If intended, the detailed writing demonstrated that we were dealing with an astute man who can work a stage covering a great many things in just one hour. The play pulled us in so it could deal a hand that we could not escape from. I found myself taking the role of a psychologist as I watched the play unfold, making notes and prescribing possible remedies for what was a deeply sensitive subject. Somehow even the jokes flowed well despite the sensitive subjects.

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Mr Twonkey stole the show as a man of mystery, his presence on stage and his vocal deliveries were commanding and endearing as he spouted words into worlds that somehow made sense while at the same time, being weird and baffling. Jennifer’s mum was a character who seemed hopelessly self-involved showing her distaste that juxtaposed the play. Each character helped the play evolve in this way making such a powerful impact that takes time to digest. But that is as should be, considering the blatantly serious side of the play.

Even Twonkey’s eyes played a role in his down-to-earth demeanour and close attention to detail. The costumes were ironic given the craft that had gone into the evening adding to an appreciation of the profound understanding it takes to write like this. The play deals with big, and hard to swallow ways of looking at entertainment, prejudice against mental illness, the general boredom of life as it is dealt with by real human beings in an effort to find out what we need of life, in a basic, intricate and yet, in a strange way, charmingly. Love is prevalent but so is distaste, disharmony and, to be honest, the use of worst case scenarios when we tend to try a little better and set aside our judgements to see the human being behind the imbalance and general illusion that the Jennifer portrayed. There was a child-like innocence about her, perfectly placed, but this is no play for children or even for some adults.

Reviewer: Daniel Donnelly

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The Concept

Venue 13

August 22nd – 27th (17.20)

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Script: five-stars Stagecraft: four-stars  Performance: four-stars

I always find it refreshing when productions dare to take on the big questions of life, death, the universe and everything. There is far too much fear these days of being pretentious or over worthy. Personally I don’t see what’s wrong with a little bit of pretentiousness, at least it shows you’re trying. And is worthiness not just an attempt, no matter how deluded, to make the world a better place? In the present climate surely that can’t be the worst idea. So when I discovered this play was indeed going to attempt to answer some of those big questions I was encouraged. Hoping very much it wouldn’t be some kind of religious doctrine but, thankfully, it wasn’t.

If the piece fell into any category of theological thought I would say it was probably Gnosticism. It begins with a man discovering he’s dead. Not the most original premise but at least we knew it right at the beginning and it wasn’t left until the end as an all too common twist. He is told this by a disembodied voice who claims to be God (among other names). From the outset it is clear this is an imperfect God who was tricked into this position by his predecessor. So far, so Gnostic. From there we explore through exerts of Great Expectations and Edgar Allen Poe, notions of choice. In particularly the ability of man to rise above his destiny and escape the inevitability of death. I found the Dickens and Poe references a little bit clunky but they did never the less illustrate the points made by the production adequately enough. Particularly when you consider that the lead role was allegedly a great writer.

By the end of the play it was still a little unclear of what the point was they were trying to make, probably asking more questions than they answered. But then again shouldn’t be the case with all good philosophical drama? And whatever points they were trying to make were all illustrated imaginatively with some very creative and minimal set design. Largely relying on computer projections onto cloth. A common device but, despite the small budget, one of the most inventive uses of this device I have seen to date. So all in all a highly imaginative and thought provoking piece. Not for those of you afraid of thinking maybe. But for those of you afraid of thinking you’ll always have Donald Trump and lighter gas. For the rest of us please support plays like this. In a world where superficiality is seen as an asset we need them. As long as shows like “Naked Attraction” exist on our telly boxes plays like “The Concept” remain essential.

Review by Steven Vickers

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Blush

Underbelly, Cowgate
Until 28th August
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Script: five-stars Stagecraft: two-stars.png  Performance: three-stars

This performance has gained some pretty impressive reviews to date, 5 stars all over the shop. So with eager anticipation I set off in search of quality theater. Blush was a sell-out-seat-wise, centered around five characters – four girls and a boy – who talked a lot about porn and naughty selfies. The show’s promo would have led one to believe that this was to be a sexy show. Their is simple stage set centered around a big red dot with plain but effective lighting, but unfortunately, the two actors that perform this piece looked as though they had walked out of Sainsburys having just bought a pint of milk during half time, wardrobe really did not come into this. So it was down to raw talent alone to tell this story. The pro’s and cons of digital seduction.

Blush’s complex script moves at a fast pace – Josephine and Daniel Foxsmith unite in a formidable partnership, working in impressive symbiosis. Josephine, doubling as Blush’s writer, embodies the characters who’s lives are slowly shamed on becoming unsuspecting online porn stars. An evolution from sex texting to full frontal open leg shots and the emotional difficulties that the unsuspecting fame of this can muster. Relationships and lives are destroyed with the simple “Ting” of a bell to signify another online like for an impulsive naked selfie. With such a complex script and no costume changes, one had to keep one’s attention focused to determine what was going on. Fitting a 2.5 hour show into the 60 minute fringe performance did not give the subject matter and script time to breathe. It did get a standing ovation from some members of the audience. Divine left with his head spinning.

Reviewer : Mark ‘Divine’ Calvert

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Dracula

August 19-21, 26-28

15:30 (1h)

Pleasance Courtyard, Venue 33

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Script: three-stars Stagecraft: three-stars  Performance: three-stars

Although the story of Dracula is well known as a classic nineteenth century tale, it begs to be ripped apart in the name of comedy and farce. The tiny ice smoke filled room set a scene that could have been meant for a serious production. This gave the play credit from then start. If you have ever seen the Frances Ford Coppola movie or read the original Bram Stoker’s tale, you would have enjoyed seeing this play come to life as it followed the original story-line faithfully. As a farce, this close following of the original was done through sly and witty remarks and the jokes they employed to give the scenes teeth, no pun intended. However, a slower pace to give a little more time to relish more of the characters and gags would have been welcome. The actors play different characters and were in various scenes put together to tell the story of foggy train journeys (using dry ice) scenes that suit the obvious dark side of the vampire tale. Dracula (played by Rob Cummings) appeared on stage (on the same level as the audience) and his was a sign that comedy was in the air.

More fast action featured great and minimal use of props and lighting to provide loud and brash outbursts alternating with quieter moments of reading letters. In the scenes where Mina (played by Sarah Bradnum) and Lucy (played by Alyssa Noble) talk together about their future. They helped turn the action around with very witty jokes in their dialogue. The ruckus side of the play has these actors playing double roles as who and who? adding to the comedy. Van Helsing, Dracula’s nemesis, was played by Graham Elwell whose portrayal of the insane Renfield was a joy to behold and to be relished. Rob Cummings also doubles up as Dr Seward who was one of Lucy’s potential partners.

There were moments of real hilarity especially when the play flipped from the comic to the darkness the play was based on. There was even more to enjoy when the story took a new direction poking fun at vampire lovers who are turned with ease into something we should all be laughing at. But it was mainly the light-hearted manner that gave the play its charm as it set the audience off into fits of giggling throughout. The fast-acting flow left no time for thought or reflection as the scenes leapt from one scene to another with a mysterious door being pivotal to each, being used in a house, on a train and in an asylum. In fact the door was a silent joke and developed into a character to become a central part of each scene. Societal jokes, plunging deliveries, what the matter Dracula, grow up!

Reviewer : Daniel Donnelly

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Ada / Ava

Underbelly Potterrow

Aug 18-29

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Script: four-stars Stagecraft: five-stars  Performance: five-stars

Always expect the unexpected, huh? I wasn’t expecting this. Chicago based Manual Cinema does what it says on the tin – it creates a movie of sorts from projectors & actresses silhouetted on the screen. Supreme aesthetics indeed, & all the more riveting for watching the crew create the spectacle below the screen – it is in essence like watching two plays at once. It is all rather like a radio play, but a hell of a lot more complicated, like the mechanical workings of an early computer. Technically, Manual Cinema are flawless – amazing musicianship (cello, keyboards & guitar) combining with what can only be described as a cycle squad on the Tour de France pedaling frantically through the course, where if someone falls off the pace, the entire team will suffer. There is not room for one mistake in this performance – & I’m happy to say there wasn’t one.

IMG_20160818_160353097Ada & Ava are sisters of the spinsterly, sexlessly intimate kind – you see them around sometimes out & about in our towns & cities, doing everything today. This play plunges us into the lives & home – an eerie monochrome world of symbolism – carnivals, graveyards  & lighthouses all set the backdrop for the story. Now this is an enthralling story of sisterly love — when death even cannot separate that bond!! Silent except for a soundscape of stormy rumblings & ticking clocks, the elixir of entertainment drops ambrosia about half way through, when things get very phantasmagorical & genuinely scary indeed – I wouldn’t take anyone younger than 12 along, for sure. Rather like a German Gothic novel of the 18th century, Ada & Ava is an adventure into those places which exist in the hidden cloisters of our subconscious, the places where bats hang from the willow trees, whose skeletal branch-tendrils sway in an oily black, bubbling stream.

Reviewer : Damian Beeson Bullen

five-stars

Alix In Wundergarten

 The Cow Barn

Until The 29th August (19.10)

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Script: five-stars Stagecraft: five-stars  Performance: five-stars

The Cow Barn is a plush & well-equipped theatre in The Underbelly Quadrant. Tuesday’s Mumble Mission was to bear witness to a Welsh production of art madness. So abstract! So bizarre! So powerful in its presentation! Not unlike the experience one gets under the influence of psychedelic hallocinigens, one expects. Trying to make any sense of this ‘trip’ was futile. Disturbingly hilarious, with a script so complex one could only wonder if this was actually being improvised. If it was nae improvised then its visionary stuff, the product of a very interesting yet disturbed mind, brought to vibrant life by a cast of Welsh surrealists.

Chaos and natural order find themselves embattled throughout this finely poised representation of the thin line between genius and insanity. Sexy, poetic and dark, Alix in Wundergarten is  not so much inspiring but more mind frying.I guarantee that this powerful and very colorful unique piece of theatre change your life. Eighteen hours on I am still not sure what exactly happened back there, but I have changed. I suppose that is what Genius does… Mental but Genius.

Reviewer : Mark ‘Divine’ Calvert

5

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The Glass Menagerie

The Kings Theatre

Aug 5-21

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Script: four-stars Stagecraft: four-stars  Performance: four-stars

Just as the Beowulf poem is derived from one single Dark Age manuscript saved from a fire in the 18th century, so too did Tennessee Williams’ only copy of his ever-endearing play, The Glass Menagerie, stumble blindly through the pitfalls of fortune into existence. Left in the dorm of a pretty student he was trying to seduce, it was kindly posted back to him, from where it was re-posted to his agent Audrey Wood. Telling him off for the sheer ridiculousness of risking your only copy of your masterpiece to the labyrinthine lottery of the American postal service, Williams replied he would have been able to recreate it from memory – perhaps he would, but certain nuances may have been lost that make the play such a joy to behold.

‘Memory Play,’ in fact, is the term coined by Williams to moniker the The Glass Menagerie – Williams’ first major contribution to dramaturgical excess, explaining through the mouth of Tom Wingfield,  ‘The play is memory. Being a memory play, it is dimly lighted, it is sentimental, it is not realistic. In memory everything seems to happen to music. That explains the fiddle in the wings. I am the narrator of the play, and also a character in it. The other characters are my mother Amanda, my sister Laura and a gentleman caller who appears in the final scenes.‘ In a world where the dysfunctional family is almost the norm, the Menagerie cannot have as much impact as it did when it burst onto Broadway in the 40s. Even so, its themes still resonate, & the encapsulation of the post-modern southern belle in the character of Amanda Wingfield is a museum piece which is a credit to the spirit of the theatrical arts and its ability to bring to life such visions of the past.

It is director John Tiffany’s favorite American play, so when he found himself chatting to Diane Paulus, director of the American Repertory Company, the germ-seed was planted. Then he met his Amanda, casually – the esteemed Broadway actress Cherry Jones with her native southern drawl – a catalytic moment that propelled the idea into orbit, which has just burnt its way through the celestial spheres to land quite parachute-gently onto the Kings Theatre stage.  Cherry told the Mumble about her casting;I realized that I am one of the last people of the right age to play the part who actually knew women like that. I was born in Tennessee in 1956, so when I was ten years old the women who were Edwina’s & Amanda’s age were in their late 70s & still vital to our community. I knew them well. They were the church choir directors; they were the little ladies who would invite us for cheese & biscuits & hot chocolate out of demitasse cups; they were women whose fathers & grandfathers had fought in the American civil war.’

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image_19.preview.jpgAmanda’s daughter Laura is a cripple – although the word is used cautiously in the house – perhaps a polio victim like Roosevelt, we never actually find out the true cause of her limp, which actress, Bury’s own Kate O’Flynn, plays with a Byronic shuffle across the floor. For me, O’Flynn is the real star of this play – her understated yet uncannily accurate portrayal of the insular Laura really does bring the play to life. The story hinges around the household receiving a gentleman caller, a friend of her brother Tom, who like a lamb to the slaughter comes for dinner innocently, the sitcomesque developments about which constitute the mainstay of the second half of the play. The first half is more of a family drama, when we see the abjectly depressing youth of Tennessee Williams in the city of St Louis condensed into an hour of tense dialogue all under the dramatic domination of Amanda, a caricature based his own mother, Edwina Williams. Indeed, after the 1944 Chicago premier of the play, Laurette Taylor – who first played Amanda – met Edwina in the street outside the theatre & asked her,’How did you like yourself?’ — ‘O Laurette, you were wonderful,’ replied Edwina, curtly.

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Tom, played by another Broadway stalwart, Michael Esper, is so much Tennessee Williams himself… observing the play in the mid-2oth century must have been the closest to reality television our grandfathers ever got. For starters, Tennessee’s actual name  is Thomas Lanier Williams, while ‘Tom’ is a type-writer tapping wannabe author, who haunts the movies as a getaway from his humdrum existence – just like the early Tennessee. Its composition comes from the most creative years of his life, the early 40s when he was wandering North America – Mexico, Hollywood, New Orleans, New York – a time in which the Americans were knocking back they liquor & dancing while the world disintegrated beyond the oceans. This unreal reality, this national decadence, is deftly reviled throughout the play, which is unashamedly satirical without being grotesque.

The set was splendidly laid out – wooden furniture, a telephone a gramophone, & of course the cabinet which contained the glass animals – the menagerie – which Laura spends all her time on cleaning & refining. The performances were sparkling; the constant fussyings of the supercilious, ‘bewildered by circumstance’ ‘I wish we’d wallpapered the walls’ Amanda, the facial expressions of the distance-peering Laura, the tribulations of ‘How lucky dead people are’ Tom desperate to escape, & of course the lovely, moving scenes between Laura & Jim, her gentleman caller (played with a great realism by Seth Mumrich). There is also the finest moment, when Amanda turns up for dinner wearing the same fancy dress she wore as a Blue Mountain debutante to the Governor’s Ball at Jackson, the same dress she met Tom & Laura’s father in – but now the flowers had faded & been removed & the passage of the decades hung heavy in the air. Yes, this, & everything else about the Menagerie forms a vivid portrait of a half-life that haunts us all with a brutal starkness. It is fantasy, I guess, but one drawn from the very rivers of truth.

Reviewer : Damian Beeson Bullen

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