Monthly Archives: August 2017
Greenside @ Infirmary Street
Aug 25-26 (23:10)
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
Leaf is essentially a patchwork quilt of capers, japes & nonsense under which we audience members may snuggle & giggle warmly for an hour. As we are swept from the ‘infamous moors of Berlin’ to the period drama of Georgian England, we are given the loosest pretensions of a story revolving about the lovequest of chess-loving chemical engineer Mark. The most remarkable thing about watching Leaf, in fact, is how its actors – led by commander-in-chief Helen Potter – can keep a straight face during the show. In a recent interview with The Mumble, Helen described her creation as;
larger than life comedy that is both entirely based on the truth, and an absolute load of fictitious nonsense. As quintessentially British as the queen eating her roast dinner off a Boris bike seat (perish the thought!)… Leaf is a show that combines the emotional rollercoaster of a socially awkward chemical engineer, with the wild chaos of a sketch-show.
A sketchy play in both senses of the word, Leaf is still a fascinating – & funny – watch. A lot of thought has gone into the stagecraft of Leaf; its visually exciting, while the voice-overs work superbly. This play is comedy bombast at its most fluent & foppish best. Some moments are freshly hilarious, while others are just dodgy pun-making, but with the latter being delivered with such overenthusiastic confidence that these turn out to be kinda funny n’all. Leaf also gets a bit taps-aff towards the end, & with a lung-bursting rendition of ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ to finish, this wonderful late-night watch was a perfect way to finish my Fringe for 2017.
Reviewer : Damo
A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Aug 28-Sept 2
Before a backdrop of a huge page from an adolescent notebook, scribbled with drawings and philosophical ponderings, a man trudges back and forward in a tired dressing gown making a cup of tea. A throbbing soundtrack tells us he’s only human after all. The phone rings and a conversation with an old friend, takes him back to a place he’d rather not be. It’s the 1980’s and Billy, a 5th year boy with journalistic ambitions, has access to the school’s Gestetner printer. What could possibly go wrong? Well given his publication is called the Cumnock Finger, plenty.
The play by Stuart Hepburn explores the relationship between three school friends over three decades. Billy (Ryan Fletcher) is a wannabe intellectual who knows a good book is for being seen with, not reading. Eddie (James Mackenzie) is cool and knows life is for living, not writing about. Deansy (Gavin Wright) is their sensitive specky pal, not terribly sure about anything. The characters are well rounded and their youthful disregard, for actions having consequences, will be all too familiar with many in the audience. With a capella singing and a strong, what-happened-next narrative, this is a sound start to Oran Mor’s autumn season.
Reviewer : David G Moffat
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
For a long time I have been interested in Scientology. I’ve seen the South Park episodes, Phillip Seymour Hoffman in the Master and the documentaries, visited their Museum of Death and Visitors Center in LA and even wrote a song about them. I have yet to be audited, but I’ve always been a bit paranoid about going that far. Maybe they’re smarter than they appear…? Anyway, one thing I have learned is that it’s a very brave thing going up against them and certainly revealing their secrets. Although I think that after the South Park episode half the world knows their big revelation you used to have to pay a hundred odd grand to reveal. All praise Xenu! Anyway, for that fact alone Cathy Schenkelberg, the protagonist of the show, deserves a lot of credit. And while she doesn’t have any major new insights, she does give us a fairly indepth account of how the cult took a great deal out of her, both personally and financially.
The problems with the show however were the often hammy acting and the fact that it assumed a lot of the audience. In particular of the dense brain washing language used by the Scientologists. As it manically flipped between life and auditing I was often lost in the dense vocabulary of the cult. I respect shows that don’t dumb down for an audience but the vocabulary of Scientology is niche knowledge at best. Even for someone as fascinated by it as I am. Never the less the gist was got and the ever increasing sums of money projected behind her were an effective graphic illustration of how Scientology may in reality be nothing but a marketing scam. Another interesting point made was that the aim of Scientology is to make the Able more Able, which may explain why they do so little for actual charities. Truly a cult of the elite. Anyway, if you have an interest in cults and haven’t seen the Master, the South Park episodes and the documentaries there is much to learn here. Although if you haven’t I’ve only got one question – where have you been the past twenty years?
Review by Steven Vickers
Aug 25-28 (13:50)
Now this is what its all about, the Fringe. We who live in the misty north of Britain have our fair share of culture through the year, but it is quite piecemeal & nothing too unconventional to our tastes. Then August comes along & a nuclear bomb of immense variety explodes into the city, & one must be rabbit-swift to catch even the minutest portion of the blast. But if one is lucky enough – & also daring enough to step outside the ‘couple of comedians & a play‘ mode of many – then we might just stumble across a show such as a Treasure Trove of Shadows, as I did yesterday.
It all begins in Shaanxi, China, the home of the Terracotta Warriors & also the 2,000 year-old folk tradition of shadow puppetry. Alas, as tour manager Wayne Sam admitted to the Mumble, this tradition is ‘dying,’ with the modern generation preferring to be entertained by the vast panoply of electrical means available in 2017. Enter multi-media artist, Feng Jiangzhou, who has decided to create a futuristic version of shadowplay & elevate it to high theatre. Feng told the Mumble, ‘we deliberately avoided focusing on the history, intent & explanation of shadow puppetry. Our aim was to focus more on theatrical expression placing the play into the criticisms of reality.’
The end result is a bizarre & bold, mish-mash, neoclassical pastiche of Chinese folk stories, played out by a youthful, bright & bubbly cast, while a sophisticated saxophonist accompanies events with some smart sound-art. At all times, behind the proceedings, some simply amazing visual set-pieces are wheeled one-by-one before our eyes. This show is a visual delight, indeed shadowplay for the 21st century, but the story is unfortunately a little difficult to follow – despite the English translation being beamed onto the wall – a literary Wasteland, which even wanders into Macbeth at one point (!?).
However, watching Treasure Trove of Shadows is more of a transcendental experience which shines a time-warping telescope half-way across the world to the villages of China, where Shadow Puppetry once ruled supreme. Then, at the end of the show, the audience is invited onto the stage to witness the art of shadowplay in its purest form, & one hopes that someone in this crowd, or more likely in China, will fall in love with the artform & perpetuate it for posterity.
Reviewer : Damo
Until the 26th (21.05)
Catherine & Anita is a powerful & flippant piece of theatre. The brainchild of American writer/director Derek Ahonen, he has chosen as his mouth-piece the electric watch that is Sarah Roy, a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. Together, they tell the story of Catherine & her invisible friend, an idealised & actualised symptom of her madness, who supports her through both the childhood causes of her madness & the inevitable fall-out in her later, adult life. I don’t want to talk about the story too much, as a prior knowledge to events would deflect somewhat from the intensity of the dramatic interplay between the audience member & Roy’s ruminatingly, chin-strokingly decisive performance. All I can say is that the multi-layered plot peels off like an onion in an exquisitely smooth progress throughout Ahonen’s worldscape.
As Roy chitters away through all her angsty girliness, we become almost as one with Catherine, so powerful is the acting. I cannot praise highly enough how bold this play is, when a make-believe best friend becomes a massive, almost tangible presence on the stage – a rare feat which seemed easy putty in the hands of Roy. Indeed, her gothic, slightly deranged, but unquestionably courageous performance was at first unpleasant & a little corrosive to observe, then increasingly superb as the plot levels clothed her & we began to understand what was going on. Both an exploration of insanity & an expose on the darker corners of the world we undoubtedly share, C&A is a fascinating foray into the theatrical demense, & one which should be applauded for both its bravery AND its quality.
Reviewer : Damo
Aug 23-28 (12.00)
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
It has been a decade since Jungnam Lee’s Kokdu swept the award-boards at the 2008 Korea Theatre Festival, & it is being given in 2017 a renaissance for a new generation. Rooted in traditional Korean storytelling, it explores that oriental land’s shamanistic rituals and beliefs, while incorporating traditional folk songs, dance, masks & costume-work. yes, you get everything crammed into one tour de force hour. Korean theatre is proud of its roots, rather like the Tanzanians laud their Ngonjera, & it is no surprise that MAC theatre want to give us their unadulterated, untranslated best, & thus Kokdu is given to us in Korean as if we were watching it in some rural village in that fabled peninsular.
Reminscent of O Yong-Jin at his most creative best, the folklorist elements of Kokdu take on a fairy-tale guise for the voyeur, & immerse us all in a dreamscape habituated by archetypes & punctuated by Dantean sounds visionary scenography. Kokdu is a fine spectacle, & tho the story may be unfamiliar & lost to us in translation, the overall effect is rather pleasing & worth an hour to reflect on Edinburgh festivals being international at heart, & not just about comedians from London.
Reviewer : Damo
Underbelly Med Quad
Aug 22-28 (16:30)
Manual Cinema, based in Chicago, have created an entirely original show, using overhead projectors, shadow puppets, actors (non verbal) and live music. As well as the screen you can watch the team working the overhead projectors with clock work precision, the live band, a sound technician and the two actresses playing Lula (Sarah Fornace) and her mother (Julia Miller), with a look that adds to the surreal dystopian 50’s vibe that characterises the performance.
Lula lives in a caravan with her mother in a satellite array in the desert in 50’s America. There are scenes of rocky, desert landscapes where Lula and her mother share their love of space. However Lula is growing up and when she hears the Baden Brothers on the radio, she decides to head to the big city for an adventure of her own. The hand illustrated acetates add to the naivety and innocence of Lula but the dream and reality conflict and Lula faces difficulties in every direction. With nobody to look out for her, she is lost in a big city, eventually returning to her anguished mother.
Although at times I found it hard to follow, the story was peppered with social and political observations from this period of American history, and themes of fantasy sit with more uncomfortable themes of isolation and political unease. The music adds to the surreal but intense atmosphere of the play with guitar, percussion and cello, it’s quite modern and edgy in style but switches at times to a more quaint americana. I enjoyed the simplicity of the slides, and the attention to detail and timing was impeccable. I would highly recommend this show for its sheer originality and theatricality. Very cleverly put together, don’t miss this theatre group!
Reviewer : Sophie Younger
Aug 21-27 (20:20)
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
Golem is a stark, matter-of-fact recanting of a very ancient tale, that of the man-created monster, which once inspired Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein at the Villa Diodati in 1816. Returning us to its primal origins is Golem’s creator & sole actor, Richard Waring, who wakes up on stage as some middle-aged Jewish tinker with a drama-chiseled face perfect for the fancy, declaring, ‘I am still here!’ & proceeds to shimmer through the play as if he was in a permanent state of mild electrocution. In a recent interview with the Mumble, Waring, described the hoped-for effect his play would have on audience members as being;
that people will look at the things that they hold true in their lives and question them. I do believe that this version is really relevant to what is happening in the world today
Through Golem, Waring asks for us all some of the fundamental questions of life, to which matter an eerie smattering of phantom sound effects have elevated the trance. His rich, slow, caterpillar dialogue reminds me of some religious procession through the streets of Jerusalem, while his dramatic body movements help Richard to achieve an absolutely riveting delivery of his play. ‘Under the wings of the Exalted One,‘ we follow the day-by-day progress of his creation, which is then superseded by the arrival of a classic, curly Jew, who proceeded to tell us a series of Jewish stories & jokes &…. well, it was all quite surreal & heady-headed, but fascinatingly morbid enough to hold one’s attentions, especially when caught in the grip of Waring’s fiercely lyrical performance.
Reviewer : Damo
Hello Helen, so where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
I grew up in Essex in an area so rural and unpopulated it doesn’t actually have a name, but I went to school in Chelmsford, so let’s say there. I live in London now having just graduated from East 15. It’s expensive.
When did you first find yourself getting into the dramatic arts?
They held auditions when 10 for the big play that year in Primary School and I landed the lead role, Susan the evacuee. It was probably the biggest ego-boost I’ve ever had.
What for you makes a good piece of theatre?
Taste is so individual it’s not worth pinning it down to style, but big selling points for me are always commitment, discipline and energy. If the actors are working hard and have gone for something ambitious it’s probably worth watching. At the fringe in particular I’d always rather see something that’s risky enough to divide opinion rather than plateau at ‘it’s good.’
When did you first realise you could write for the stage?
So much of writing seems to be just allowing yourself to try ideas out on paper and not judging yourself for them. The best writing I do is what comes out naturally, the worst is the material I write because I think it’s what people want to see, or what’s currently deemed as ‘in vogue.’ So probably at the point where I felt confident enough to write the really wacky stuff that I love as opposed to attempting something profound.
Which playwrights have inspired you?
I was mentored by East 15 CT alumni Charlotte Josephine when I was initially writing ‘Leaf’. Her emphasis was always on finding my own style and I’ll always respect her for that. Jesse Briton was also a mentor when ‘Leaf’ was part of East 15’s Debut Festival and he’s such a wickedly astute person his opinion is invaluable. I’m also always inspired by improv groups, it’s that kind of quick, sharp thinking that I like to try put in my writing – Racing Minds are a great example (although a little more family-friendly.)
What does Helen Potter like to do when she’s not being theatrical?
I play the violin, and I love making vocal arrangements of things and creating new music. I’m also a big fan of the outdoors (leaf..?), reading (currently working back through the Harry Potters), running, and cooking.
You are in the middle of bringing Leaf to Edinburgh this August, can you tell us about the play?
Leaf is a larger than life comedy that is both entirely based on the truth, and an absolute load of fictitious nonsense. As quintessentially British as the queen eating her roast dinner off a Boris bike seat (perish the thought!). Originally developed at East 15, Leaf is a show that combines the emotional rollercoaster of a socially awkward chemical engineer, with the wild chaos of a sketch-show.
What emotive responses have you been getting from your audiences?
Laughter (as we’d hoped.) Often mad guffaws when people are astounded by the sheer absurdity of what’s happening on stage. My favourite moments are when the true sadness of the characters is exposed – people often don’t know whether to laugh or let it sink in, the confusion is delicious. There’s a fantastic sense of guilt in what you’re laughing at sometimes, honestly we’re all just revelling in someone else’s troubles.
How do you find performing in your own play?
Difficult and fantastic. Honestly I wrote something that I would enjoy as an actor. I love mad, fast comedy, and I love the challenge of finding emotional truth in there as well. On the other hand, being a writer always makes you hyper-aware of the work, and you have to work hard to treat the two as separate identities in a rehearsal room. I’ve had the best team behind Leaf at the fringe, and their respect and encouragement has really helped me to develop the play without damaging its integrity – that in itself is indispensable.
Can you describe in a single sentence the experience of putting on a play at the Fringe?
Bloody hard work, incredible experience.
What does the rest of 2017 hold in store for Helen Potter?
A life for Leaf! We’re taking it back to London and on to other cities to spread the delirium. For me personally, I’d like to keep writing, and I’m working with my lovely agent Kate Borde as an actor, so I’m very fortunate in still being able to maintain two strides for now. Probably more violining in things, more puzzling in the living room, more Fleetwood Mac. Anything and everything that comes!
Aug 21-26 : Greenside @ Infirmary Street (23:10)