August 3-14, 16-18 (19.45)
From the Gut is a young, in-your-face theater company whose affection for the stage is absolutely infectious. The swelling lovechild of three LAMDA graduates, the company has brought to this year’s Fringe a fascinating take on a classic modern tale – Liverpool Football Club’s come-back-from-the-dead triumph in the 2005 Champion’s League Final. Two of the trio, Nick Howden-Steenstra & Sam Angell, are the authors of the piece; but intriguingly they have left the direction of the play in the hands of the third muskateer, Max Harrison, who was still taking notes on the performance in the seat beside me even this far into the run. A third eye, indeed, & a fresh mind of course, & the overall texture is cooked up like a really tasty lobscouse.
It’s a raucous 50 minute play that’ll leave you pumped and inspired. Even if you hate football you’ll still love Istanbul.
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As a play we are given three different eyeglasses through which to follow the action, from the scrappy semi-final victory over Chelsea to the adrenaline-bursting excitement of the penalty shoot-out. A young Liverpudlian lass has bought her jobless Glaswegian male friend a ticket to the actual match, crossing the barren, boozeless land to the stadium together in Istanbul like downed WW2 pilots in the deserts of North Africa. The second group is your typical Northern family in their madhouse terrace, Royle Family style, sat around the box with banter & beer. The last scene is set in a hospital, where a radio DJ is being treated, glued to both the box & the telephone to his son in Istanbul. All three sections of the revolving tryptych have subtle sub-plots, & all are delivered by the same guise-donning group of five polished-like-a-crystal actors.
‘It doesn’t matter where you come from, if you’re a red, you’re a red.’
To aid the story, six black boxes are maneuvered into position, out of which costume changes & props are pluck’d out with great rapidity to further embellish each scene. The smoothness of the transitions added an extra dimension to this energetic play; we were watching true theater here – Shakespearean in stagecraft, Tennessee-Williams in substance. There is also a terrific soundtrack splicing the scenes, & the occasional radio-phone in, which with each caller spreads more depth to the play, showing how this one occasion touched so, so many people. And of course, there’s the happy ending, which most folk know is going to happen, but still feels as jubilant all the same, so rewarding & realistic is the performance.
Aug 10-27 (15.15)
Upstairs at the Pleasance Courtyard really is quite the scene, filled with right angled seats, ranged around a stage of the same shape. It invited you to sit down and as I did so I felt full of pleasurable anticipation, which was confirmed when the five performers took to the stage. The start was even more thrilling than I was expecting and I settled down and prepared to be immersed in the action for an enjoyable hour. The Incognito Theatre Company have a fantastic track record at the Fringe going back to 2014 and including an adaptation of ‘A Government Inspector’, Nikolai Gogol’s satire, and a sell-out adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray. They now follow up another successful production of ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ with this play which could be thought of as a kind of sequel as we follow the exploits of this group of young people who are struggling to make their way in the world after the destruction of the great War.
After the mesmerising, thundering opening scene which grabbed us right from the start, we were drawn straight away into the plot. There was talk of getting out and rising up and as many twists and turns and ordered frenzy as will keep you on the edge of your seat for the entire hour of the play. It was like watching TV’s Peaky Blinders brought to life before your eyes. The rivalry between the two 1920’s London gangs was brilliantly done – the shared poverty and frustration and risk involved in being part of the criminal underworld. One very compelling scene was when the characters spent time in a jail cell after being set up by a rival – 2-girl – gang. All was shown to us in a form of physical spectacle – so much to take in from each performance, so much sheer talent on display, perfectly blended with set and props and lighting.
After All Quiet on the Western Front we were chatting about potential future projects and there was a unanimous wish to explore steering away from adaptation. A couple of the boys mentioned their interest in looking further into London’s criminal past and figures like the Krays twins. Then, of course, we were all watching Peaky Blinders and that inter-war period became quite alluring
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They take to Boxing; they are all gangs from the streets of the 20’s, wearing garb to suit this time period; cap, waistcoat and blouse, all in mid tones. This created an aesthetic unity, which created a distinctive tone to add to the dialogue and the action. There was a lot of sense in the play; many quandaries solved through use of logic and leadership – you felt that through this the gang were bound to succeed in their climb to top, as indeed they did. In fact they gained such success that you almost felt it was a fairy tale for a while, despite the subject being so gritty and down to earth. The hour was full-on, quick fire story telling rather than long reflections on, or critique of, the human condition. Nonetheless, it was all there because at the end of the day, this was a play about real human beings with real human emotions and ambitions, and all the more fascinating for being set in London’s gangland in the 1920’s. It could be escapism, or something more insightful. Director Roberta Zuric offers us an earnest, provocative, thought provoking piece of theatre, with marvelous ensemble playing. Escapism or something more insightful – it’s up to you, and definitely worth a watch.
Aug 14-27 (17:05)
The small venue (downstairs at Assembly Roxy) soon filled; there was a tall blond woman with her back to us, she turned around and began to address us as if giving a lecture at some grand conference, gesticulating with her hands and staring with a strange expression deep beyond the slope of seats in front of her – present but somehow elsewhere too. This was Kate Kennedy, writer and performer, making an immediate impact on the audience and using that remarkable solo voice to carry as complete a play as you’re likely to see
Taking on the character of Una, Kate talked a little about the woman’s world of childbirth and tummy pains, pivotal to the plot, though I didn’t quite catch on to that straight away. The point was that Kate – Una – had been anointed as a Superhero, starting at the bottom rung of the ladder, and tasked with using her gut feelings to pick out friend from foe, truth from lie, guilt from innocence. Her whole demeanour changed as she hunched (hence the title) and drew power from her own intuitive hunches, from the gut – this is her superhero power. We saw her in various characters, in repeated domestic scenes. As a minister, she leaned on a desk placing two palms flat on the table and speaking abruptly and with deep doubt. As Hunch she ignored the doubt – it didn’t matter. All that mattered was the people she would help as the hero; at least in deciding the direction it was her fate to give – was it a fate earned or inherited?
The intertwining of hilarious threads drove us on magically, leaving no stone left unturned by her. She wore a red pant suit looking modern in style and threw her thunderous voice; able to fill the room, then shrank back to Una who was by then beginning to disappear. Across the set she bounded as her super hero status again arose when they cranked up her clearance level. She juggled quickly between her characters. She threw her hands up in a salute as she declared, once and for all, that she was indeed a super hero. But she was just as expressive, explosive and humble in her silences.
This play is both completely baffling and yet made perfect sense as it drew together an apparently fragmented string of scenes into one organic whole, with all the loose ends tied up – in the end it is great storytelling, very well done. We learn that for the hero to rise we must first separate them from their previous self, leaving it aside. We are inspired and moved by the hero’s passion and concern and the need to act with free abandon in the spirit of the superhero. It is an exhilarating show to witness.
Up & coming company From the Gut have brought an emotional, fun-packed play to the Fringe…
Hello Nick, so where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
Nick: Hi Mumble! I grew up in Warwickshire, in the countryside, then moved down to London when I went to LAMDA. I’ve lived in Bermondsey, SE16 since 2015 and it really feels like home. I love it, the River, the community, the pubs, the parks. It’s a wonderful place.
When did you first develop a passion for theatre?
Nick: Daisy Herringshaw was a family friend who was 90 when I was born. I used to sit for hours as she used to tell me stories of “treading the boards” in rep theatre. From there I was hooked.
What for you makes a good piece of theatre?
Nick: Something that makes you feel; if I’ve got shivers running down spine, laughing until I cry or left thinking about the play for days I’ve seen a good piece of theatre.
Can you tell us about From the Gut?
Nick: From the Gut was formed by three of us after we graduated LAMDA. We loved the community at Drama School and wanted to recreate that in a professional environment, that’s why we work with actors who we know well. From the Gut is a family.
You have brought a play to Edinburgh this August, can you tell us about it?
Nick: It feels amazing. Last year me and Sam Angell, the other writer, came up to the Fringe for over a week and had the best time seeing the most inspiring theatre. We decided then and there that we had to create a show and bring it up in 2018. We put what we love most about the Fringe into Istanbul: You’ll Never Walk Alone; the energy, the heart and the music. The play is about the legendary 2005 Champions League Final between Liverpool and AC Milan and how the game changed the City of Liverpool. It’s told through the eyes of three groups of fans, the night of the game.
How is it going so far?
Nick: It’s going really well, we’re having the best time up at the Fringe. This is our debut show as a company and we’re learning a lot. I think the Fringe is unique place for that. The show’s been well received by audiences, people have been coming up to us afterwards and saying some really wonderful things. Hopefully the last few days (our run finishes on the 18th) we can really pack out the theatre!
What materials did you use during the research period?
Nick: I’m a huge Liverpool fan so for me it was about finding the things that had inspired me over my years of support. Building the emotional connection I feel for the City and Club into the play for both the cast and audience to feel. I hope the cast are all lifelong Reds now!
How is director Max Harrison handling everything?
Nick: Max is a wonderful director. Me and Sam trained with him at LAMDA and subsequently he’s been going from strength to strength. Most recently working with Phillip Ridley on his play Moonfleece at The Pleasance. Istanbul is a multi-roled multifaceted play, with lots of different styles of performance. Max is the perfect director to link all of those together, while working with the actors to draw out nuanced performances for each of their different characters.
The attachment between football & community is particularly strong in Liverpool, any idea why?
Nick: Liverpool is a global footballing super power and the support of both Everton and Liverpool often borders on religious. In recent history it’d be remiss of me to not mention Hillsborough. The tragedy in 1989 bonded the people of Liverpool to the team. Kenny Dalglish (the Liverpool manager at the time) attended each of the funerals for the 96, the city really came together. Afterward the club and fans and families had to fight or two decades to overcome the tragedy and being justice back to the city. The 2005 Champions League Final was the first big win for the club since 1990.
What is the opinion of Rafa Benetiz among Liverpool fans in 2018?
Nick: Most of us love him. He gave us one of the greatest nights of our lives. He got us to dream again, and he got us. His family still lives in Liverpool, his daughters are Scouse. I can’t find enough positives to say about the man. He was always there for the Hillsborough Memorial, even when he was no longer our manager. Istanbul: You’ll Never Walk Alone is, in a way, a play about Benetiz.
You’ve got 20 seconds to sell the play to somebody in the street…?
Nick: We are one of Lyn Gardner’s Picks of the Fringe. It’s a raucous 50 minute play that’ll leave you pumped and inspired. Even if you hate football you’ll still love Istanbul. We also have a banging soundtrack.
August 3-14, 16-18 (19.45)
The Principal, George Street
August 11-13, 15-19, 22-27 (times vary)
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
Australian theatre company Interactive Theatre International, has been bringing us immersive theatre experiences since 1997. That was the year they created their interactive version of Faulty Towers which has since toured the world to rave reviews. The Wedding Reception has been running since 2015, and has appeared at the Brighton and Edinburgh Fringes, in Singapore, and toured Australia, the UK and Ireland. The show contains all the classic cheesy moments of a British wedding gone horribly wrong, with skeletons getting flung wildly out of closet as the evening descends into utter mayhem.
There’s an immense amount of heart and warmth in the show, it’s fast-paced and really funny. And the audience get a three course meal. What’s not to love?
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In the beautiful setting of the Principal hotel on George St, each member of the audience was invited in and treated just like a guest at a real wedding. It captured the atmosphere of a typical British wedding reception, from the awkward clusters of strangers making small talk over their wine glasses to the embarrassing father-daughter dance. As we waited to be invited in to the ‘surprise reception’ for the hapless bride and groom, Will and Stacey (played by Otis Waby and Nerine Skinner), we got to mingle with the best man Ricky (Hayden Wood), the wedding planner (Nerine Skinner) and even the straight-talking Yorkshire mother of the bride (Emma Packer). We increasingly had sympathy for Will’s sulky expression as his best man went off the rails, unwanted family members made an appearance and misunderstandings abounded.
The cast of four are skilled and talented actors, who pull off an impressive feat by morphing into no less than nine completely distinct characters. They have to think on their feet, using sharp improvisational skills, meaning that depending on the audience, no night will ever be quite the same. With a traditional performance of a farce like Moliere, you expect a complex and tightly structured plotline. But because of the specific nature of this kind of show, the many plot strands have to wrap around each other loosely to allow for spontaneity. So that much depends on how innovative and outgoing the audience members are. Most audience members were game, which added to the hilarity of the night. No pressure, but it depends on you!
A Tarantino classic in less than an hour… for free! What kind of lady would do such a thing? The Mumble were delighted to find out
Hello Niamh, so where ya from & where ya at, geographically speaking?
Niamh: I was born and raised in Oxford, then spent three years living in Birmingham for university before moving to London, where I went to drama school, and have been living here ever since.
When did you first develop a passion for theatre?
Niamh: I remember getting my first stage thrill aged five and a half whilst playing The Old Israelite in my school’s production of ‘Exodus’ (yeah, that is the kind of play put on in primary schools in Oxford) performed in our dining room/gym. And it went on from there really.
Can you tell us about your training?
Niamh: After a drama degree at university I went on do an acting MA at Mountview, a drama school in London. It was a year long course consisting of very long days of intense, but brilliant training – and I loved every minute.
What for you makes a good piece of theatre?
Niamh: I try and see a real variety of theatre across all kinds of genres and in a range of spaces, so I appreciate pieces of theatre for many different reasons. But I think, ultimately, there are two things that resonate with me the the most. Simply a really interesting story is always a win, or pieces that explore human behaviour – in particular the complexities of human relationships.
What does Niamh Watson like to do when she’s not being, well, dramatic?
Niamh: I have a bit of a thing about novelty museums. The more obscure the better (Keswick’s pencil museum is a real good one if you’re wondering) and more generally, as a bit of an art nerd, I often try and distract myself from real life in galleries or museums. Or watching the latest Netflix series on bizarre cults. And you can’t go wrong with live music or a last minute cheap Ryanair flight to a place you’d never heard of.
You are bringing your solo show, Pulp Fiction: The One Woman Play, to this year’s Fringe; can you tell us about it?
Niamh: It’s me performing ‘Pulp Fiction’ on my own in an hour with only a briefcase onstage.
Where did the idea come from?
Niamh: It started back at drama school, when I was desperately trying to come up with a topic to write my MA dissertation on – and trust me, I went through everything! One night, however, I dreamt I staged a three-man performance of ‘The Godfather’. After waking up and believing this to be absolutely the best idea I’d had ever had I re-watched the film, and my dream was quickly shattered when I realised that this was almost near impossible, and I’d left it too late to rope in two actor mates. I did, however, settle on the topic of adaptation for my MA, and after some serendipity in the drama school library DVD collection I came across ‘Pulp Fiction’, which I’d not watched since the (probably inappropriate) age of about 11. On a second watch, my decision was made. There was a presentation element to the MA, so I presented my adaptation of the film.
Why Pulp Fiction, what is at about Tarentino’s classic that makes you tick?
Niamh: I mean, the guy is a genius. As I mentioned I love a good story and Tarantino, in my opinion, is a master at creating bizarre and complex stories. In ‘Pulp Fiction’ he presents multiple storylines in a clever, non-linear structure, which eventually all tie-in. I love his dark humour, and the incredible characters.
How deferential to the film are you?
Niamh: Well, for starters it’s just me up there. The film itself is around 3hrs, and my production is 50mins so there’s been a bit of editing. You’ll have to come along to see how it plays out.
You’ve got 20 seconds to sell the show in an Edinburgh street…
Niamh: Fancy handguns, heroin and hamburgers? All before your lunch? Great. See you at Tolbooth Market. Oh, did I mention it’s free?
Pulp Fiction: The One Woman Play
August 14-25 (13.00)
August 1-12, 14-26 (19.45)
Underground I went as if entering Hades itself, down the steps and into the ground and through a grimy, dusty alley past contorted figures and raggedy dressed waifs and into a bustling, raucous gin den. At first I thought I was in some kind of bizarre Victorian theme-park, a kind of Westworld for the pox ravaged dandy in us all but it gradually became apparent that this was a far stranger and more sinister place than my first estimations. The background noise of music and chatter added to the queasy sense of unease making me feel as if I was already drunk. The lighting was low and helped create a dream-like ambience.
At first I stood around uncertain of what to do. Should I wait for something to happen? It soon became clear that although the characters will approach and engage with you if you stand around uncertainly the more you involved yourself in the action the more you would get out of it. It didn’t take me long to make some new friends. I chatted with the evangelical Evelyn who read to me from her Bible and flirtatiously anointed me with water from her tankard, and with Rose, the kindly ex-ballet dancer. I watched a performance from the vampish singer Madam Vestres and played a game of cards whose rules seemed far too complex to ever win. I joined in the dance to an old music hall number, encouraged by a fey young dandy. Though some of these characters initially appeared friendly there was usually a catch involving the play money we had been given at the door or sometimes a ‘favour’. Some of the characters such as the emotionally unstable musician Wolfgang or the impish Louisa seemed a little unhinged and there was a haunted feel to many of them which occasionally crept to the surface especially when The Master appeared. A grotesque little one eyed puppet he hovered around in the background keeping everyone – myself included ( I was chastised for being ‘insubordinate’ ) – in check and making sure they pay their debts. Speaking of debts I lost all my money in a rigged bare-knuckle boxing match between Amadeus and medicine man Dr Cornelious. I almost got myself into debt with sinister debt-dealer Peggy but was saved from a similar fate to the other poor beleaguered souls by the advise of artist, Alexander who drew me a lovely portrait – extra for the eyes – hurriedly as they called final orders.
I hope people will leave The Swell Mob, excited and enthralled by the world that we have created, my wish is that they will have had an experience truly unique to them alone
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When I was returned back to the real world I was left with a sense of bewilderment the same as a mortal who’d spent an evening with the fairies might feel. For the show had been truly magical. A dark, sinister magic but one that was certainly spellbinding. Both the sets and costumes gave the place an atmosphere that hinted at a Victorian past without being so specific to time or place. We were in some strange sunken world beyond the ravages of time it seemed– a kind of purgatory in which these damned souls were forever doomed to repeat the same acts. The attention to detail was fantastic from the pewter tankards used at the bar to the printed play money. Nothing was allowed to break the spell least of all the actors who never for a second broke character. In fact one of the wonderful things about the show was that it was almost entirely improvised with the performers responding directly to the audience, talking to them, engaging them in conversation. No two performances would be alike. It meant that we ceased to feel in any way like we were witnessing a mere theatrical performance. In fact it would be fair to say that this show expects much from its audience. It’s not for the shy or the faint-hearted and it certainly isn’t something you can sit back and simply watch – you really do have to join in. The fact that the actors are clearly giving it their all with such conviction compels you to do the same and suspend your disbelief at it all. If you fancy spending an evening in a strange and seedy Victorian dream-world full of beautifully bizarre characters then come and join the Swell Mob for this really is immersive theatre at its best.
Not every play at the Fringe is the product of a large cast & company. The Mumble went out & about investigating solo & duo plays
Aug 1st – 27th: Underbelly Med Quad – Clover (12.10)
If you see a young lassie frolicking about the Fringe with a pair of angel wings, its highly likely to be Liz McMullen, who has flown over the Atlantic with her one woman show, the essence of which is this. A cherub is just about to take her/his (I think they’re androgynous) cupid exams, when an arrow is shot into her/his leg by mistake. Liz then becomes a lustful, amorous creature interacting with both a plethora of pink props & the audience. Erotic & playful, as McMullen flutters about the stage delivering her well-thought-out studies of love & sex, it all rather feels as if one is eating a creamy trifle by osmosis. Stupid Cupid is on early in the day – at noon – & seeing a horny cherub at that time of high sobriety was a real mind startler. This play is best, I think, for someone who wants a spot of theater; but nothing too high-brow, nothing too serious, just something fluffy & informative & fun.
Me Talking, Mostly
Aug 4-18: Paradise in The Vault (20.10)
Hailing from Paris by way of Chicago (which might explain the shiny suit and onion-johnny t-shirt), Mick peddles an absurdist set to get you thinking and give your chuckle muscles a full workout. From the get-go, he deconstructs the comedy entrance – just how many ways are there for a performer to come on stage? Then he tans the ass out of audience participation: masochists to the front row here. Mick pares down his comedy to find some moments of real comic gold where you find yourself laughing along with the rest of the audience without really knowing why – and then he throws that moment right back at you so you can laugh some more. He’s a gentle, charming, head-trip of an act. Prepare yourself for 2,700 seconds of physical comedy, absurdly twisted improv, song and dance and full-on audience participation that will leave you wanting more of this fresh, intelligent and beguiling act.
You Down There & Me Up Here
Aug 3-11 (16.05)
We Talk of Horses are a theater company consisting of two fine young thespian gentlemen, Pip Williams & Sam Rees. I was lucky to catch them just before the end of their run & found myself immersed in the drug rehab of a certain famous singer called Nick Cave. Sam was Nick, & Pip played the doctor, & together they passionately romp’d thro’ an enjoyable & abstract, arty, intellectual script. It is perhaps one of the strangest subjects I’ve ever seen treated at the Fringe, but its presentation was completely believable, so energetic are the two lads in their interchanges. This is stripp’d back theater at its very best; no props, no set, just two talented & daring actors whipping up a storm of illusion.
Assembly George Square Studios – Five
Aug 12, 14-19, 21-27 (12:00)
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
Phoebe McIntosh’s ‘Dominoes’ is a difficult yet essential hour of theatre at the Fringe. Written and performed by Phoebe McIntosh, this one-woman play introduces us to young bride-to-be Layla as she navigates her way through the difficult world of self-identity, wedding jitters and family heritage. She and her fiancé Andy have the same surname – a funny coincidence, perhaps – but had never thought twice about it until a cataclysmic realisation turns their entire relationship on its head. Suddenly, tying the knot represents something far bigger and more complex than any conversation or ritual can undo and Layla is left questioning the fundamental parts of who she is.
Though a one-woman show, the lights go up and we meet Layla next to an almost ghostly wedding dress hanging on a coat hanger. Though the play does not attempt to achieve Miss Havisham levels of imagery, the message is clear – Dominoes is about the paralysing struggle that comes with the choices we must make and the consequences we have to experience as a result – much like the game dominoes. Layla is a bright, sparky and witty history teacher with one white parent and one black parent. This fact is important as Layla tells us about her struggle to navigate the balance between her radically different heritages – one Scottish, which allows her to pass as white in job interviews and Scottish conversation, and the other black, where she loves meeting with her granddad, drinking rum and hearing about her black family.
Though this is a serious play thought its examination of the effects of white privilege and racism that are still so prevalent, we are never lectured. Rather, director Stephen Wrentmore has us empathise with the excellently-written character of Layla by allowing us to hear her innermost thoughts – from raging about her best friend’s bespoke bridesmaid’s dress to laughing at her grandfather’s drinking, smoking and blunt humour. At times Wrentmore could have Layla’s character let down her nervous guard a little, as her constant-seeming anxiety can be somewhat distracting in the small, intimate space that we share with her. However, perhaps this is the point: Layla has so struggled navigating her identity for so long that this nervousness represents a small, stressful break in her normally cool and collected character.
McIntosh expertly navigates the set with ease, keeping us engaged and particularly conveying a sense of space and place. Technically the play is kept simple, with interludes of music and lighting state changes gently keeping everything trotting along nicely. The piece works very well in such a small space as McIntosh never has to raise her voice to be heard: so, in many ways, we wouldn’t want a grander spectacle or a larger space, as we need to see every line and tear in McIntosh’s face.
I must state that I am a white woman who has therefore never experienced racism. I will never be able to feel the weight of hundreds of years’ worth of oppression based upon the colour of my skin except from the other side – as one of the oppressors. However, to boil this play down to it being a narrative about black rights only would be to do it a disservice – it’s also richly funny, with McKinnon’s impressions of her grandfather and friend being particularly well-observed, and deeply relatable as a young woman. We watch Layla almost grieve as Andy, her person to ‘soften the sharp edges of life’ for her becomes misplaced because of circumstances beyond her control. We see her nervousness at appeasing and pleasing everyone around her in a way that only women are really taught to do. It’s not often that you leave a play feeling as if you’ve made a friend in the lead character, but Dominoes does just that, and it has a powerful message to boot: The world might not know your name, but what matters is that you do.
Aug 11-19, 21-27 (16:20)
Everyone has an opinion on cocaine from the police officer on the front lines of the war on drugs to the casual recreational user to the repentant former addict but what we don’t often get to hear is the opinion of those it directly effects: the peoples who’s communities and families are shaped by its produce. “Stardust” is a show with that at it’s very heart but before you head for the hills fearful of some worthy lesson in blame shaming this show has far more to offer than mere edutainment. Our genial host is the diminutive Miguel Hernando Torres Umba, A Colombian national who has been living on these shores for over 11 years yet who still clearly feels a passionate attachment to his homeland.
His first admission to the crowd is that he has never actually taken cocaine and he would like to know more about it. This is a chance for the audience to test/share their knowledge whilst the faux naive Miguel wrestles with the dilemma of whether to try the cocaine provided for him by his producer – a running theme throughout the show. It soon becomes apparent that Miguel is quite the expert on the topic after all as he leads us through a fantastical journey into the dark heart of the cocaine industry something he acknowledges it is “impossible to ignore” in Colombia. Beginning with an exploration of the sacred rights of the coca plant by his Shamanic ancestors he takes us on a rip roaring exploration of the Cocaine trade, its ties to the colonial past and its uncertain future taking in the experiences of drug mules, Cocaine barons and weekend warriors along the way.
Miguel is a charming, self-effacing host who uses his excellent skills as a physical performer to bring elements of mime and dance into his story with mesmerising effect. It was impossible to take my eyes off him as he threw himself into the role of the cocaine user riding the high then crashing into the low, his small, wiry body twisting and contorting into the ecstasies of pleasure and the agonising pain of the comedown with a frantic, gurning, hot-stepping performance. At one point whilst demonstrating a traditional shamanic ceremony he literally steps into the animation too. It is a magical moment which combined with the beautiful black and white imagery- all swirling snakes and rustling trees – transports us into a distant past of folklore and myth.
As well as the expressive animation historical film footage is used sparingly which is particularly effective during the section on colonialism. Music and voice over also play their part to create a perfect synthesis of sound and vision throughout the show utilising various traditional musics to great effect. The use of audience participation too brings lashings of humour to the show as Miguel involves members in a mock game show, demonstrates the effects of cocaine on an apple or in one moving section breaks down the barriers between audience and performer entirely.
By the end of the show it is apparent to all of us what a deeply personal subject this is for Miguel. His passionate delivery, deep understanding and emotional honesty about the topic of cocaine use have allowed us to all to understand better the direct effects of this most unscrupulous and unregulated of businesses on the lives of those involved in it. Both unapologetically personal and unafraid to explore the areas in which we are all complicit I doubt anyone in the audience will look at the ‘white devil’ in quite the same way and many will indeed think twice before bugling with Charlie again.