Thursday, 7 April 2011

The Container / Lemons Are For Emergencies Only / The Pitch - Edinburgh Fringe 2007

The Container
Underbelly
4 stars
Somewhere in Europe, the rain is battering down on a speeding truck. It could be just one more HGV moving coast to coast. Inside, though, its cargo is a barely alive quintet of would-be refugees seeking sanctuary in what they’ve heard is some green and pleasant land. Cooped up like sardines and kept in the dark, the mix of Somalis, Afghanistanis, Turks and Kurds have paid good dollar to be where they are, from the middle-aged business-man to the 15-year-old girl who’s already written a letter to the Queen asking for a job. If they even get there depends on the unseen driver and his hired henchman holding them to an ever higher ransom.

The multi-cultural mix of Clare Bayley’s play would make for a volatile enough experience, even if its audience of 20 weren’t witnessing the unfolding events inside a real container just off Bristo Square.

The play’s set-up, of polar opposites trapped in a confined space and forced to re-evaluate their lives, is a well-worn one and staple fare of genre thrillers and disaster movies. Put in such a contemporary context made even more familiar from TV news reports, Tom Wright’s production transcends novelty in an unflinching close-up of inter-personal conflicts made even more extreme by the bigger political and cultural situation.

As the five captives, performed brilliantly by a 6-strong ensemble, race towards the west, full of hope in some brave new world, what’s most heartbreaking of all is how much a withering indictment of a capitalist society that allows lives and bodies to be bought and sold in such corrupt circumstances. Each time the container’s door is opened from the outside, where the lorry’s inmates will find themselves, and whether they’ll even be alive at the end of it all, makes for a heart-stopping and thrilling ride.

Lemons Are For Emergencies Only
Gilded Balloon
3 stars
Happy birthdays can’t come quick enough for the missing-presumed-horrid little girl at the centre of Claire Titelman’s appealingly nasty little 40-minute monologue. All dressed up in her party dress and Baby Jane rouge, she’s invited us to her party, which is unlikely to be quite as much fun as last year, despite the hats handed out on the door. Instead of cake, however, sweet has turned sour by way of an ever-present lemon on her plate. Ever since the accident, you see, she’s so wired she can’t feel anymore, and needs the bittersweet aftertaste to make her wince.

Blank-eyed and with gormlessly down-turned mouth, Titelman’s subject could have stepped out of Grant Wood’s American Gothic, so accurately does she capture the kookily dysfunctional face of Americana. What follows is a black-humoured case study of how childish things can sometimes take a vicious turn. All obsessive compulsive twitchiness, Titelman repeatedly counts out nine candles which must forever stay unlit. As she holds court at this very private affair, the wrapping is slowly torn on a pocket-sized gift which you should suck on and see.


The Pitch
Assembly Rooms
3 stars
Ever since Quentin Tarantino showed how any video store geek with a big mouth and an even bigger frame of reference could take Hollywood by storm, the whole world’s been desperate to make movies. Peter Houghton’s one-man riff on the theme finds our hero about to try and sell his action and adventure extravaganza to a trio of big shot producers, who effectively hold his life in their hands. As he rehearses each scene, a big budget narrative unfolds that uses every trick in the book, from the cultural stereotyping exotica of its pan-global establishing shots, to its multi-tiered yarn of an assassin who can’t read teaming up with a rapping burglar and Catherine Zeta Jones while Anthony Hopkins double-crosses him in a jazz club. It’s clich├ęd, formulaic stuff, and a perfect tinsel-town cash cow.

Walter’s real life, alas, isn’t quite so jet-set, as his romance falls apart in bitter counterpoint to his fictional panorama. By the time he gets the potential of a done deal, priorities have changed considerably.

There’s perhaps a tad too much of Houghton’s rubber-faced parodies of his all-star cast, from Clint Eastwood and Russell Crowe to an inevitable cameo from every Nationalist’s favourite tax exile, Sean Connery. Zeta Jones help bump off real life pension-book owing spouse Michael Douglas. For all this is at times a runaway riot, as every script doctor knows, back-story is crucial, and there’s not quite enough of it on show here. Would-be movie moguls, though, may well recognise every moment.

The Herald, August 2007

ends

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