Category Archives: Fringe 2018
The Song of Lunch
The Pleasance Courtyard
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
The Forth venue at Pleasance Courtyard is a wonderful space and was filled to capacity in anticipation of this 50 minute show. The words “The Song of Lunch” were projected onto the back wall, looking like the sign of a café. The action begins with Robert Bathurst’s silhouette on the screen as he launches into dialogue with the audience that was somehow calm but manic at the same time. With his “…imagination peeled…” he refers to TS Elliot and describes with gusto his taste for the written word.
His lunch date, with an old flame, came in the shape of Rebecca Johnson who looked fabulous, an observation he shared with the audience as he thought out loud poetically and ravenously. He set a high bar of comedy “…under new mismanagement…” and had us agreeing to it with laughter. Yet he wonders if his pursuit is in vain, “…was the shadow world to welcome him”? He danced lightly around while pouring the dialogue from his mouth in torrents and swash-buckling precision. They meet for lunch.
The silhouette mocked him laughingly as he sang an interlude melody. We watch as he compares his memories of her with the current reality and finds his heart gladdened and his sensibilities heightened. Drinking more wine than her in his nervousness, his head tells him that he has a speech to deliver now that he is in her company. At the same time, he finds he wants to amuse her too, so he tries both.
They physically circle each other, in a birdlike dance, winding up by standing side by side in an easy movement, slipping back into conversation. The physical interplay has them at one moment close to caressing and the next moving a great distance apart, all the while with him lyrically describing to us everything that was happening. The silhouette scoured the room and showed us a shadow dance on the screen. He tells us that this gives him an almost youthful delight.
Rebecca stands in front of him and they move the two chairs to sit down for lunch. We see everything in great detail, mirroring his heightened feelings. His nerves are pushed to the point of destruction as he excitedly drains the bottle of wine while she is still on her first glass. “Could this all go horribly wrong?” he asks himself. There’s a change in the dynamic as the chairs are moved and he takes her hand in an intimate way and sensually describes it. We watch with rapt attention as the action builds to a crescendo. It’s all done very lightly with clean, tight direction and simple tricks like Robert laying himself on her lap, showing the depth of his feelings.
Robert strides up into the audience, moving from one side of the stage to the other and taking centre stage by lying on the floor as an antidote for all of life’s ills. We laugh as he hilariously takes a trip to the loo to take a pee – was it “…will power or wine…?” As the silhouette spans the screen he doesn’t know whether to weep or sleep – nudge him, he says, and he’ll crumble. He expresses the underlying joy he feels at this reunion in an adorable deprecating manner, funny and touching. This is a thoroughly delightful 50 minutes of entertainment – it would be great to see these characters in further dramas.
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
Whew! Men seem to be getting a bad rep at this year’s Fringe! I left this show with the chills and feeling just a bit shaken at what I’d just watched. Was this a spot of the “Me Too” movement taking place in the Pleasance Dome? How Stuart Law’s rom-com set in deep space, managed to take it’s audience from the plot-thin standard fare of fringe comedy to a stunned silence at it’s denouement was very clever indeed.
Will Brown and Phoebe Sparrow play Adam and Kate, who find themselves in the hothouse of a new relationship, made even hotter by the fact that they are together twenty-four-seven on a spaceship headed into the depths of space. Comedic charm soon turns toxic and we watch the couple lose their lustre for each other. In orbit around this story arc there’s a lot of back history about Adam’s previous partner, also Kate’s sister, who seems to have gone a bit off the rails. Poor Adam makes a lot of appeals to the audience for understanding as this new relationship rapidly seems to be spiralling into a similar chaos. The pressure builds to an explosive and pretty unexpected climax. Without giving too much away, expect to have your allegiances shattered.
There are some laughs along the journey. Zero-gravity and men’s untidiness don’t seem to mix well in a cramped shared cabin. The comedy, well-populated at first, does become more remote as the characters begin to drop their pretences. There’s much more to this play, however, than Red-Dwarf meets Love Island, it just all seems to come on one all of a sudden. The whole gravity of the situation comes down on the two characters and like Scotty in Star Trek would say “She just cannae take any more captain! If I give her any more she’s gonna blow!” Fireworks ensue….
Aug 25027 (17.00)
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
It’s always a pleasure to be back at the Pleasance Above venue, with its high seats and sloping design. The stage took up half of the room, promising powerful performances. Strictly Arts have worked with award winning writer Camilla Whitehall to create the Freeman extravaganza. The subject is crying out for our attention, perhaps impartial attention; the wilful shooting of black Americans, the aftermath, the police acquittals. It begins with silent story-telling, a silent yet deafening explosion of physical posturing involving all six actors, a scene where they were all tossed high and low, almost throwing each other around. It was very impressive, introducing the plot loudly and proudly.
They were all dead, killed by the police. In the after world they compare their horrifying deaths and the identity and life so brutally taken from them. We had William Freeman who died just before his retrial In Auburn, August 1847. He was beaten and tortured so savagely by the Police that he couldn’t recognise himself or his mother. And Sandra Blaund; after she was beaten by the police she was found having apparently hung herself in her cell. The stories go on well into the night (so to speak) and much was made of every case, told by the victims of each atrocity.
The play flowed in music, song, dancing, using tricks like shadow dancing for effect and acrobatically balancing on top of each other to depict cars and other artefacts. Each one of the 6 deaths, tragedies that gave us a sickening feeling in our guts, were thoroughly explored from every angle. At the same time examining the human condition, showing us something that was complex and cruel. The subject turns to mental illness, where people were considered mentally unstable and consigned to bed for 21 years as some inane idea that it would be good for them. “Rage against the dying of the light” (to quote Dylan Thomas) they boomed with the full force of six voices. In 1949 someone stowed away on a boat and found himself in the rock n’ roll era. When the stage turned into a magnificent dance hall of the American 50’s, they all danced and swung. It was around that time that use of electro therapy was used to solve these problems with blatant disregard as to the effects thereof. The horror continued.
The Male Caucasian was put on trial to convey the privileges he had compared to Africans. Negros, fellow human beings, were kept in a submissive state, “a condition of the mind…” Needless to say this was achieved by means of whipping. The accused stood there and sang about the favours of whipping and how pleasant a good whipping would always be. An image of blood ran down the screen at the back of the set, that was roof to floor, they all died again and a pitch fork stabs a rice bag for effect. When Sandra Blaud was stopped by police, irritating her, she argued with him and things escalate into a heavy handed scene where she was brutalised and degraded. The officer, explaining that she resisted arrest, pins her to the floor and declares that she deserved it. She was devastated and sits there weeping loudly in grief. She takes out her phone demanding the right to film. The films we sometimes see on Facebook are but a glimpse into the worrying unease at the heart of American law enforcement. Being brutalised for a failure to indicate seems absurd.
Anger caused William Freeman to kill four people, the system called him insane and lobotomised his memory, he couldn’t recognise friend from foe. He struck out in rage and anger. Good old fashioned racism means that names get forgotten. Remember our names they whisper as the stage darkens. The power and emotion of this performance will stay with you for a long time. It will send you home rightly raging against injustice, determined not to forget.
The Extinction Event
Until August 27th (15:40)
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
The Pleasance Courtroom is among the larger venues at the Fringe, high and echo-ey, a perfect setting for The Extinction Event. This brand new show from David Evans and Simon Aula follows on from The Vanishing Man, which I had just attended. It’s good to see both shows, with the theme of magic running through them, but they each stand alone and both take us to the heights of good theatre. In The Extinction Event, we were told that every hour a species becomes extinct, an alarming figure that also shows that this world is a big place to be able to afford to lose so much. For the opening line we were asked to clasp our hands together with our pointing fingers up and parallel to each other. The fingers moved together and we couldn’t help but laugh.
“Magic”, they said, “is a hard thing to do in front of an audience – it’s a place where you need to learn, try things out and make mistakes, all in the interest of improving the show”. They asked how can you repair that which is broken – even using magic it can’t be done, or can it? We were shown an elastic band trick where it appeared to pass through itself and were told that the eyes see everything. We were being led into a place where the two played with our imaginations and turned it into improvisation – a fantastic leap. The double act was an integral part of the show with the continual interaction paving the way for our understanding and appreciation of magic and science
Following the original theme, the possibility of control over evolution itself was characterised as a dangerous magic, akin to the trick of catching a bullet in your mouth. We were told that the famous magician Chung Ling Soo died while attempting this superhuman feat. Very often Magicians blame their mistakes on their assistant. In hypnotism they claimed that they can help with programming a human brain. There was one instance apparently where a person was hypnotised for 8 months which I found impossible to believe. We watched as, with a touch of the shoulder and a head hung down, hypnosis was performed, but only as a joke. This was all leading up to an exercise in Improvement to show that we were all under some kind of sway, under the influence of the most complex thing in the universe – the human brain. The trick to do with mind reading was the one where you pick a number to take you to the page, another number for the paragraph and another for the word. The magician would say the phrase from the other side of the stage, displaying “true magic”, which seemed utterly believable.
We were asked to think about the process of retrieving our memories and mastering them, even going so far as to raise the dead. And again we are brought round to the trick of catching a bullet in your mouth which is intended to be about death, to achieve the ultimate of cheating it in front of a packed audience. It seemed as if the whole show was leading up to the moment when at last they did the trick. Bang, the gun goes off, David falls to the floor, there’s blood, he screams. What had happened? Had they really gone and done it…? Magic is enjoyed across the globe. Countless finely tuned tricks have audiences in awe and believing the impossible. The idea is to know what to believe – and if you get yourself down to the Pleasance you may find out, and be thoroughly bamboozled, intrigued and entertained in the process.
Just William’s Luck
Until August 26th (12:10)
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
The Fringe festival is so varied, with so much on offer, that every single niche is surely covered somewhere. Thus, if you are a grandfather of a certain age, & you wanted to see a show with your grandchildren of school-age – in particular your grandson(s) – then Just William’s Luck is the more-than-perfect choice. I’m not saying no other groups would enjoy the play – I did immensely – its just I can really see that particular grandfather & grandson combo becoming rather passionate about this strangely deranged performance.
Richmal Crompton’s Just William stories are irreproachable classics, & are brought to life by Shedload Theatre’s convenial genius, with the help of Richmal’s great-great nephew Jonathan Massey. They’re like a pantisocracy of art are this lot, whose quite daring retro theatre is a joy to watch. The story is this; William Brown & his pals – the self-acclaim’d Gang of Outlaws – want to put on a play, using sets & props cobbled from kitchens & cupboards. Tomfoolery is the watchword, as the tale of Arthurian adventure is played out via a torrential sympathy towards the antics of the Goon Show.
With an acute sensitivity to the original, born clearly from Massey’s familial respect, Just William’s Luck is a mimicking masterpiece, full of slick touches, which as art perhaps transcends the books themselves. William Brown is now flesh & blood & his world is full of living colours & breathtaking vigour. There is also the arrival of precocious six-year-old Violet Elizabeth into the mix, played by the superb Lousie Waller, whose annoying mischief-making is the star-turn. Witness on your haunches spectatorship – you never get a chance to relax & philosophize about events unfolding before you. The best way to describe the experience of seeing the play is seeing five balloons blown up to bursting, then released into whizzing bat-like inspirals at the same time…
August 20-27th (11.30)
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
Still buzzing from last night’s “Pussy Riot” gig, I strolled down to Zoo on Nicolson Street to collect my tickets for Monday’s review… Paradiso. Then on to Charteris Church for the performance of a puppet show about old people dying, convalescence and palliative care. It was a full house, but it must be noted that considering most of the congregation were in their winter years, this venue was quite hazardous to circumnavigate. It was so, so, so dark, & when one had climbed the steps to take your seat, it was impossible to see the steep steps. A lot of the old people were talking about this being an accident waiting to happen. The lighting deffo needs improving there. Luckily, everyone was seated safety.
The puppets were not of the puppets-on-a-string variety, but were worn by each of the puppeteers. Three old men and one buxom charge nurse that bared an uncanny resemblance to an old flame of Divine’s.This was a performance that took its time to draw you in. The little dialect there was, was spoken in Italian. It was a performance that worked the audience. Three men that were forty minutes away from ascension, the story-line mimed by puppets. One man possessed a copy of Playboy; the soft porn – glossy, permanently attached. As the Pearly Gates moved closer, our heroes began reminiscing about past loves. The memories were enacted by shadow puppets, which didnae leave much for the imagination. If one wasnae paying attention it would have been so easy to have given up on even beginning to understand what was going on. I think this is one of the reasons that it did draw me in.
The charge nurse using a metal detector before boarding the last plane to ascension was as surreal as the entire concept. Then she began helping the last of our trio back through the Pearly Gates because he kept returning. Hmm, I thought, was this the dark twist, had the nurse murdered the last old man puppet, perhaps? It certainly took a while to process this show. As I wandered over to the Meadows, the sun was watery warm, I lay down on the grass and processed. My conclusion is that Paradiso is fine within its field, but not for everyone, & definitely not the kids expecting a fun show with puppets.
Mark ‘Divine’ Calvert
August 20-27 (15.00)
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
The show began with the audience being addressed in an ancient tongue – Cornish- for we were now about to enter into the deep past, to a time of myths and legends, one legend in particular “The mermaid of Zennor”. Our guide was Daniel Drench, a professional storyteller and sometime actor played by Dan Frost. With his booming voice and evident pride for his Cornish homeland Drench was a large presence on the stage both literally and figuratively. A demonstrative performer he gesticulated wildly with his hands and stomped about the stage with intent before the story had even begun.
When he did begin Drench narrated the story to the audience whilst intercutting it with scenes where he acted the part of the main character, sullen Anti hero Matthew. These sections were played out as rather beguiling silent tableau illuminated by spotlight. Out of the shrouded darkness came the voices of bar-room bores, friends or his parents trying to communicate with him. As well as being beautifully atmospheric this also helped heighten the sense of the central character, Matthew as being a troubled yet passive individual lacking any real sense of a will of his own. The contrast between Frost’s energetic and charismatic role as storyteller Drench and Matthew ‘s lumpen silence worked rather well particularly in the way it was staged with the effective use of lighting. It seemed that his role of storyteller in its way was just as much a performance as that of Matthew and there was fun to be had in his grumbling about failing to land a role in “Poldark” or in his chastising of the audience for not joining in with his singing.
The language of the writing did feel at times a little stale and I became aware of the use of over-familar turns of phrase but there were also moments of rather lovely poetic description particularly of the local landscape. One part particularly stands out where Matthew’s mother describes in juicy detail a bird attacking and making off with a rat whilst he sits impassive and glum his knife and fork raised in his hands.
The moodiness of the piece was leavened by Drench’s interactions with the audience and the flecks of humour with which he coloured the piece and I would have liked to have seen more of this. When circumstances changed for Matthew and he was given a new lease of life it seemed like the story might likewise pick up the pace and head somewhere interesting but sadly this was not the case. It merely dawdled along to an insubstantial and unsatisfying conclusion. Though the use of sound and lighting made great use of the space and created a real sense of atmosphere and times even genuine beauty a show such as this needs more than technical trickery to get by.
It was true that Frost’s performance as Drench was full of flair and drew me in despite the weakness of the material he had to play with however overall I felt the show dragged and was let down by the weakness of the central story. As a story it was simply not interesting or powerful enough to warrant the amount of effort everyone had clearly gone to. I feel the piece would have worked far better if Drench and his issues with the material and conflicts with his own situation as a storyteller and performer had been more of the focus and the folk tale had been used more as a framework to build it around. An intriguing, if not entirely successful piece of theatre.
Until August 27th (14:35)
Underbelly, Bristo Square
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
Walking into the makeshift hut, we stumble over a figure lying face down on the floor. It is obvious that she has passed out drunk. The figure stirs as she hears a phone ringing. In fact we are witnessing the aftermath of Casey’s 26th birthday party. As ‘Awakening’ begins, she comes to and realises that she is in a garden she doesn’t recognise. In her blue top, bright yellow skirt and smudged lipstick, she tries out a few jokes and some poetic phrases that indicate to us her growing realisations about what has been happening, along with her increasing feelings of disgust with herself.
The set is rather cleverly done, featuring a yellow frame filled with objects hanging from it. As the show goes on, Casey plucks various items from the frame to use as props, such as a phone or a lolly stick. The room grows quiet as she silently gets to her feet in the first scene and starts trying to retrace her steps from the night before, taking us with her on that journey and letting us in in every respect, with the jokes and the poetry. She searches for her lost keys and promises herself that she must go home, which she sets off for, but in her delirium she arrives at the wrong house, not knowing where she is.
Skilfully written and performed by Kirsty Osmon, this play has realistic dialogue that makes it utterly compelling as you watch the character struggle with flashbacks from the past whilst attempting to make sense of what’s happening now. We hear her London heritage as she responds to “Do you get me blood?”,which is how London youth speak these days, though she herself speaks in a more polite accent.
She relives conversations with voices on the PA, normal everyday things like playing the computer, eating pizza lying on the floor, talking through things with her boyfriend (David) whom she feels to have lost. He says “Let’s grow old together” sort of hopefully and innocently as an endearing dialogue. Also “I f##ng hate Birthdays…” and “…men love to misbehave” she angrily screams at David. Every couple can relate to this. But she misses him, and realises the remedy is to dance, so this is another instance where her props came into play as, accompanied by music from Dirty Dancing, she takes an inflatable water melon, and dances with it, holding it close then deflating it and leaving it on the floor.
But the narrative takes a darker turn when she discovers bruises on both of her knees – ‘what the hell’, she thinks. She thinks she might be pregnant, “Did I have sex last night?” she asks herself, as so many young people do. She goes in search of a chemist for a morning after pill, taking on different characters as she leads us to focus on a story of a more and more serious nature. She despairs in her thoughts, “What have you got yourself into” she agonises.
Casey has vomit down her top and taking it off she finds two more large bruises. “I think I’ve been assaulted” she nervously declares. “My whole body hurts”, “Someone spiked my drink”. She recollects as much as she can, listing the day since stirring from her drunken slumber. Or was there another drug involved? But the thing is she’s cried wolf before and she doesn’t know if her friend will believe her. She wonders if the Police will when she decides she has to report it. Her whole body hurts. “It’s my body”, “It’s mine” as the lights darken and she storms from the stage, leaving us feeling shocked and wondering what will happen.
This show deals with raw contemporary issues in an engaging and thought provoking way. It’s well worth an hour of your time. The ending leaves you feeling shocked and wondering what will happen next.
The Last One
Aug 14-19, 21-22 (18.30)
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
The great space of The Summerhall venue offered the promise of wide ranging theatre, as the three actors, Gema Galiana, Anthony Nikolchev and Julian Sandoval stood poised to begin. Galiana, from Spain, formed The Useless Room in Los Angeles along with Californian Niklechev. They are joined for this extraordinary performance by fellow Californian Sandoval. The show begins with Galiana crawling across the stage playing with a feather, while the two guys stand before a bucket filled with rocks balanced by a single piece of stone. An intriguing introduction which immediately had me wondering what I had let myself in for, and what it would mean to me.
As Gema continued to play with her feather, keeping it in the air by blowing on it, we were informed by a quiet voice on a mic, that the depiction was of a pigeon. The momentum grew and the thought was put forward that pigeons have a poor image, but that they might be treated more fairly had they been more beautiful. The scene progressed with Gema following Sandoval around the stage grappling hold of him and hugging him each time he moved away. Her movement moved us as she danced in her bare feet striking us in her singular beauty. This was to be an existential play in the face of the totality of existence wherever it may be. It takes a dying breath to realise anything, perhaps.
In the Artificial mystery and beauty scene the two men huddled together laughing brashly. They realised that artistic expression was a scam, which was a great way of putting it. In posh voices they found no sense to beauty highlighted by metaphysical anxiety, they laugh again. Gema smacks the feather on the mic creating a dull thud. As a fight breaks out the choreography breaks out too, they fight like a dance. At the top of a ladder she blows feathers into the air having spoken very little save some heavy breathing, she enacts in silence. When she speaks, in a gorgeous flamboyant Spanish accent, it was to contribute to the star of the show; the pigeon.
She grieves at the loss of art, then; her laughter bursts from her at the same time through its revealed absurdity. They pile the rocks on top of each other trying to clamber to its small peak but each time they do the rocks crumble their effort having been for all to see. Have you heard of the o’o bird, it’s a Hawaiian bird said to be The Last One of its kind with therefore a song that waits for an answer that will never come! She crawls across the stage once more, chewing gum is a tombstone for pigeons.
“The important thing is that we are still standing, and we haven’t become cowards or cannibals”, a quote from Roberto Bolana. As Gema spreads herself over the new pile of rocks the two men pour buckets of soil over her repeatedly; “To die alone is not unique”, It’s only lonely to die alone.” The stage darkens, timely and abruptly, they bow and the stage was hurriedly tidied looking like part of the show. In the silence of the final scene we were left longing for more. I can only describe this play as a must see – surreal, and yet a compelling questioning of our everyday lives.
The Vanishing Man
Until August 27th (14:10)
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
The large space at the Pleasance Courtyard had a tall ceiling giving an echoing effect and a big stage already promising something great. The two actors/magicians began with full on, pacey energetic dialogue. We were immediately involved in the show, being selected from the audience and told exactly what to say, word for word. The story of the show revealed a sad tale of the great loss of a close and dear friend of Simon, the hypnosis magician. It became endearing when we were told that the story was in fact true. As Simon appealed to ours and his fellow performer David’s sympathies the show continued. The dynamics from the first scene; where, through magic tricks, power (which they called improvement) grew in our minds for the extent of the hour of the performance.
The plot involved an examination of ‘the Vanishing Man’, a famous trick among magicians, and exploring the nature of magic by performing tricks universally performed throughout the world. But this wasn’t just a magic show because once they’d done a trick, sometimes with assistance from the audience, they then proceeded to use logic to break down what seems to be impossible. They compared knowledge with the conundrum of adding truth to belief. If they showed us a card trick, it would be to advance the story and take us back to the Vanishing Man, everything came back to that. The famous Edwardian conjurer, Hugo Cedar was known as the Vanishing Man. On London Bridge he created the perfect trick and then before the very eyes of his audience, proceeded to disappear forever. The audience imagined the vanishing, but it can be explained by suggesting that it was done using trap doors.
This show moves along at a grand pace, with the duo constantly commenting on how little time they had. Everything was multi layered and unexpected and drew us ever deeper into the unravelling of the plot, coupled with tributes to magic and magicians. It was like a greatly organised lecture holding the audience enthralled. We were convinced when they told us categorically (if there is such a certainty) that robots kill the imagination, where technology can perform tricks too. And the spectacular side of the show did not disappoint, at times taking on an almost circus-like quality of excitement.
This was no plush David Copperfield-type show – the props at the Pleasance were bare and minimal. A true play like this earned its stars by being a tribute and dedication to magic. Magic tells you everything without telling you anything, with the proposition of power the deep truth they called improvement was believable in its magical suspension. With this fine contribution to the great world of magic the words were written with texture, character and a close eye on small details. They portrayed themselves as magicians who portrayed themselves as actors all of which was turned into magical fact and mysterious fiction, another irony for the illusionist. This was more than roll up roll up this was something more; strong and all-encompassing, finishing in a theatrical bow.