Monthly Archives: August 2018
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.
The Principle Hotel, Edinburgh
Aug 11-27 (times vary)
I – like many- grew up with the original Fawlty Towers. In my case it was via my parents VHS cassettes of the show and I have fond memories of the madcap antics of Basil and so I approached this performance with some trepidation. It had been years since I’d watched it. Would the performers do the characters justice? How would they deal with the anachronisms particularly the problematic nature of Manuel and its potential accusations of xenophobia. And perhaps the most important question of all would I find it funny? I needn’t have worried as right from the beginning it was clear that we were in the hands of experts.
All 3 actors were superb capturing not just the vocalisations of the characters from Basil’s clipped delivery to Sybil’s ridiculous laugh but also their very physical essence. Here we have a Basil who is as obsequious and full of brittle contempt as John Cleese’s rendering, a Manuel as sweetly endearing in his buffoonery as Andrew Sachs and a Sybil as shrill and flirtatious as Prunella Scales original. From the immaculately highlighted beehive of Sybil, to Basil’s too tight checked jacket the attention to detail of the costumes is also excellent.
But what saves the show from being merely a slightly creepy if excellent act of re-animation is that it is fully alive to the possibilities of the moment. The show is 70% improvised and although favourite gags and skits from the show are expertly weaved into the performance most of it is ad libbed. So yes whilst we do get the pleasures of seeing Manuel’s ‘ Siberian hamster’ or Basil goose-stepping we also get jokes about Brexit and Trump. These cleverly bring the material up to date and address some of those concerns audience members might have about the accusations of xenophobia Manuel’s character might now present.
The way in which the actors bring the audience into the show makes it a fully immersive experience too as they bounce off comments made by a very game public. At one point I asked ‘Basil’ what kind of soup it was and he immediately shot back ‘red’ with clipped irritation. A personal moment of comic genius of which there were many. Due to the projective skills of the performers what was happening at one end of the large room was for the most part clear and audible to all. The space itself was used very well whether it was Manuel standing on the table to conduct us in a jaunty rendition of ‘Viva Espania’ or the Sybil chasing Basil around the room with a fish. The humour combined the antic physical comedy of the original show whilst not losing sight of its famed wit. Some of the fun the performers had with language was comic gold whether it was a ridiculous gag about some dentures lost in the soup being ‘an aperitif’ to the constant misunderstandings of Manuel they were sublimely silly.
And so to the final and most important of my questions ‘was it funny?’ It was a veritable cavalcade of hilarity from start to finish. One barely dared speak to a neighbour in case one missed a gag as they came so thick and fast. The audience were clearly up for the fun too and added much to the show creating a great sense of camaraderie between audience and performers. What shone through most of all though was the respect and love clearly felt for the original Fawlty Towers material itself by all involved. This was a loving homage to the work of Cleese and Booth which captured and breathed life into its spirit.
Assembly George Square Studios
Aug 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 15, 17, 19, 21, 23, 25, 27 (11:45)
Joanne Hartstone has brought two solo plays to this year’s Fringe, & I have had the gladdening delight of seeing them both. On this second occasion, just as with ‘The Girl Who Jumpd Off The Hollywood Sign,’ Hartstone has penetrated the obscurer mists of history with a thespian eyeglass & found us a figure from her native land. Breathing life into visionary clay, her subject is Muriel Matters, a romantic young actress from ‘claustrophobic’ Adelaide who was swept along by, & then became a major figurehead for, the Suffragette movement of the United Kingdom.
This perfectly sequenced timeflying frolic sees Hartstone at her very best – effortlessly demonstrating her bewitching ability to implant a story & then deliver it to a proper conclusion through all its subtle strands, while entertaining the audience at the same time. A paragon of performance in this particular piece, as I was watching I thought to myself this is exactly the way I would like to learn about Muriel; not via the sterile pages of a book; or the observational fly-on-the-wall of a movie; not even the lectures, voiceovers, photos & grainy films offered by a well-made documentary – but real flesh & blood & original words keenly researched out of Muriel’s own life & mind.
The parallels between Muriel’s life and my own were immediately apparent when I began researching her life and achievements. I was born mere kilometres away from Muriel’s place of birth – separated only by the North Adelaide parklands and 107 years. She began her career as an actress and elocutionist – I began my career as an actress and a singer. Muriel was a teacher – I am a teacher. Muriel left her home in Australia for the bigger theatrical industry in London – I travel to the UK at least once a year to participate in theatrical festivals.
Read the full interview
The true beauty of Hartstone’s art is her ability to turn monologues into conversations; it feels like we are with her in a chamber room, or having high tea in a salon, sharing a passionate chit-chat about both our goings-on, but of course we can never get a word in edgeways – yet the warmth of her performance really does engage us all on an individual basis. As a play it is well-paced, informative, & above all extremely watchable. As historical document That Daring Australian Girl is a perfect & poignant reminder that many of the things we globalities take for granted – desegregation in America, universal suffrage in Britain – were fought for with extreme tenacity in the face of enduring persecutions, & seeing Hartstone recreate the horrors that brave young women endured in the grimy old corridors of Holloway prison is the stainless exemplar.
Aug 1-27 (21:15)
The Summerhall was formerly a veterinarian college, & I’ve always found it pretty cool how their old lecture rooms are converted into performance spaces during the Fringe. Thus, when I found myself immersed in the curious comblending of kick-ass music & genetic science that is Valerie by New Zealand company, The Last Tapes, it was a perfectly serendipitous occasion. We are presented with a trio of enigmatic performers, whose ethereal stage presence beam’d into the room as if they were General Zod, Ursa & Non from Superman II. The soundscape is provided by Robin Kelly on cunningly-played keyboards, Tom Broome on splatterdash drums – a song called White Knuckle Trees was especially lucid – & the incomparable vocal talents of Cherie Moore up front. ‘Lovely as the wail of a Dingo‘ are her opening lines, & there is indeed something primal in her voice.
Between songs, we have musically silent narrations from Kelly & Patti Smith style recitations from Moore over avant garde jamming from the boys. The chief ribbon of the piece is Kelly’s exploration of the mental health of his family tree, revealed to us at one point on the naked back of Moore, whose own place in the scheme as Kelly’s partner was pointed out by her with some delight.
We’ve been in a relationship for nearly 10 years, so I’d say our working relationship is beautiful, and complex, and has a depth of understanding and empathy that can only come with that much shared experience
Read the full interview
The ultimate pondering convoked by Valerie is the question of nature-nurture; its connection to our mental health & familial inheritance – does nature really load the gun & nature pull the trigger? As an audience member I often found myself lost in moments of most thoughtful awakenings – this show attracts & fulfills the mind, & also makes one’s feet beat to the tune.
Photography: Andi Crown
Gilded Balloon Teviot – Sportsmans
Aug 10-12, 14-27 (13:45)
Two clothes stands occupy either side of the stage as the spotlights rise on an empty stage; to the left hangs a black sequinned and feathered coat; to the right, a coral-pink gown and pearled head-dress. These are faded but once-beautiful clothes for beautiful people, reminiscent of vaudeville from years ago. Into the spotlight bustles Sheryl (with an S), theatre manager and the first of a brood of splintered tragi-comic characters brought to life to tell the story of Alfie, the male half of comedy duo Grace and Alfie. Only, Alfie is transitioning into the beautiful, female performer Zora de Rosie. Along with every birth, it seems, there has to be a little death. So say goodbye to Grace, and goodbye to Grace and Alfie.
Katie Reddin-Clancy has penned a poignant, intricate show that explores gender, performance and personal identity. The writing is beautiful: at times haunting and poetic, at times as wittily sharp as a tailor’s tack. The story unfolds through the characters’ narratives, skipping backwards and forwards in time and, seen from different viewpoints, builds to the emergence of Zora de Rosie (echoic of Homer’s Rosey Fingered Dawn?). Building up to Zora’s debut we are introduced to characters Alfie and Grace have met along the way; Anna Clamber, power-hungry theatrical agent; Audrey, a debut stand-up in a regional backwater town theatre. There’s some deliciously observed character comedy here, and aperçu one-liners aplenty. Look out for grande debutante with a space on her dance-card for a spot of something risqué !
Grace is a high-reaching, mesmerising and witty piece of comedy theatre. Reddin-Clancy’s performance is powerful, intelligent and funny. Go see this show for laughs and food for thought.
Assembly George Square Studios
Aug 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 16, 18, 20, 22, 24, 26 (11:45)
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
Joanne Hartstone is a theatrical renegade, a portrait painter of niche figures, out of which creations she pulls out a composite blend of her own humanity & that of the planet at large – & all for our entertainment. Australian by birth & upbringing, in this instance Joanne has donn’d the masque of a meteor-eyed American actress, trying to break Hollywood in the mid-twentieth century.
It is a revealing commentary on America’s Dream Factory, from a point of view rarely observed
Read the full interview
Her name is Evie Edwards, & the setting is at the top of the ‘H’ of the Hollywood Sign where she has climbed to look back on just how she ended up at this point in her life. We’ve all been there, or somewhere like there at some point. The real life inspiration is that of a certain actress called Peg Entwistle, who leapt from the H in 1932. The Girl Who Jumped Off the Hollywood Sign is then a platform for Hartstone’s impeccable sense of historicity & the mammoth study that goes into the recreation of the past. But then, of course, she must turn that into entertainment, just as Shakespeare looked up from his well-thumb’d copy of Plutarch’s ‘Lives’ & got busy with his Roman plays.
Let us then follow Hartstone’s hologramatic Evie through her life, from the poverty of a Hooverville to the unwanted advances of Hollywood execs. With a subtly splendid set & lighting created by Tom Kitney, & punctuated by authentic songstress blossoms from the era, Hartstone’s performance seems as if she were the shepherdess of our mental images, herding us all into her intellectual craftsmanship without protest. All in all a terrific & entertaining time capsule which flies on feather’d nostalgia.
It seems that more and more often, Hollywood is looking to theatre stages for inspiration. Mamma Mia just returned to the screen with its “Here We Go Again” sequel, and did so to the tune of largely positive reviews. And in the next few years there’s talk of adaptations for the likes of Cats, In The Heights, West Side Story, and Wicked – not to mention new reboots of Disney films-turned-Broadway shows like Aladdin and The Lion King.
What we see a little bit less of these days is adaptation going the other way – from screen to stage. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen, but the reverse seems to be more common for the moment. We’re likely to get an exception in the next year or two though, as the original musical movie La La Land appears destined to appear on stages in London, New York, and, if those go well, around the world.
To refresh your memory, La La Land came out late in 2016 and immediately became the darling of Hollywood. Directed by the young and incredibly gifted Damien Chazelle and starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, it chronicled the lives of two young adults in Los Angeles chasing different dreams in the arts. Widely expected to steal the show at the Oscars because of its celebration of Hollywood and the sheer joy it seemed to evoke in audiences, it actually wound up being upset by Moonlight for the Best Picture honor. Even so however it proved that a completely original modern musical could take the cinematic world by storm.
The film’s nearly universal appeal seemed to come from its purest aspect, which is to say the songs. Even an LA Times piece that was harshly critical of the movie’s message about young musicians in 2017 stated that few movies as “dumb” about music as this one are also as alive to its emotional potential. The article’s point was that the film’s message contrasting sellouts with genuine artists was somewhat childish or outdated – but that when the movie boiled down to its original numbers, it shined nonetheless. This sort of critique wasn’t unheard of, but it did represent the minority opinion. Even so however it demonstrated exactly how this show could work on Broadway.
A stage version of La La Land would almost certainly be stripped down a little bit in terms of plot and dialogue, and would emphasize the music that people will remember from the film. It’s even been suggested that new numbers will be added, which should provide some depth for a score that, if it can be criticized for anything, might be a little too repetitive. The formula of highlighting songs above story, and adding more music to the project, actually sounds like a winning concept for the eventual stage musical.
We haven’t heard much in the way of specifics about when this is coming or where it will debut. But a La La Land stage production has more or less been confirmed, and this is a reminder that it’s almost certainly coming in the near future.
3rd – 27th August (Not 8th, 13th or 20th) (17.00)
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
Last year I found myself watching a young actress in a solo comedy show called One Woman Army in one of the more obscurer Free Fringe venues. Her name is Vicki Sargent, & this year she’s back with something quite different. She’s moved on from finding humour in personal retrospective, & decided to entertain us with theatre. Hearing her writing & watching her act through Old Souls has just proven to me this lady is still a blossoming talent, & a year of creative maturity has presented us with something quite magnificent. I’m not sure when, but at some time in the future Vicki will be creating a timeless classic.
But this is 2018, & what she has for us this time round is a delightful fly-on-the-wall window into a young persons visitor scheme to counteract old-age loneliness. Meet 21-year old Rosie (Vicki) & cantankerous, sarcastic, Irish Coffee loving 78-year old, Vera, cannily played by Janet Garner. The irony is this – while Rosie is a bit, well, dull, Vera has lived life to the fullest, becoming a dancer in Paris at the start of the sixties when she had been 21. Alas, the passage of a half-century had stripped her of friends & family, arthiritis is wracking her body, & all that remains to comfort her are the ‘the memories of when she was brave.’
Old Souls is divided into several scenes, marked by blouse changes & subtle differences in the two actresses’ interchanges. There is also a subplot – Rosie’s application to a baking school – but the real beauty of this play is just watching the two ladies bicker over Countdown & crosswords.
It’s a clash of personalities but ultimately they both have something to learn from each other.
Read the full interview…
Edinburgh is the UK’s loneliest city for the elderly, & while millions of people are coming together during the Fringe to mingle & make fun, thousands of others are simply sat at home, watching TV, not having spoken to anybody else for days. Compliments, then, to Vicki, who shows just how much our elders have to offer – they may not be as spritely on their feet, but they have wisdom & they have many a tale to tell. This soft ‘duel’ between Entitled Millennials & Post-War Austeritites is perfect for all – witness an Indian family in the audience whose teenage boys were laughing just as much as their parents. Old Souls is excellent, yes, & funny to boot, & coupling it up with a visit to the renovated Riddles Court in which the cosy theatre is situated is like the perfect Edinburgh cocktail.