Friday, 8 April 2011

Night Time / Is This About Sex? / Stoopud F***en Animals / The Human Computer - Edinburgh Fringe 2007

Night Time 3 stars
Is This About Sex? 3 stars
Stoopud F***en Animals 3 stars
The Human Computer 4 stars
Traverse 3@University Of Edinburgh Drill Hall

When Edinburgh International Festival used the Drill Hall for Patrice Chereau’s production of Bernard-Marie Koltes’ In The Solitude Of The Cotton Fields in the mid 1990s, it demonstrated the theatrical potential of a space not fully realised until Black Watch moved in last year. This year, The Traverse Theatre has opened it out as a third space for their Festival Fringe programme.

Its flagship is The Traverse’s own production of Night Time, Selma Dimitrijevic’s slow-burning piece of psychological entrapment that transcends its initial resemblance to stock thriller territory into something far less obvious. In the middle of the night, a young woman, Chris, is ushered into the flat of Frank, a man she barely knows. He’s kind, she’s grateful. A tantalising but polite exchange eventually makes clear that Chris is seeking sanctuary from an abusive partner. A similar round-the-houses conversation occurs before Chris finally comes home to roost.

And that’s about it in Lorne Campbell’s production, set in a big white room with a large white sofa that slowly revolves until it comes full circle to accentuate the after-hours blur. While its technical nuances occasionally distract, it lends a disorientating effect to the understated menace simmering throughout what’s pretty much a piece of radio dialogue rather than a stage play, with some conversations extended to the point of banality.

As Chris punctuates each scene with an elongated self-help mantra, time oozes into a cycle of need, trust, dependence and a potential for intimacy, to gradual emotional rejection and withdrawal. With Kananu Kirimi’s Chris onstage throughout as the men in her life, played by John Kazek, David Ireland and Benny Young, dissipate, Dinitrijevic has crafted a haunting if at times unsatisfying reclaiming of the night.

Rough Magic’s production of Christian O’Reilly’s Is This About Sex? is essentially a bourgeois chamber comedy of sexual manners and mores, in which two couples consumer habits come under scrutiny following one-man’s visit to an expensive underwear emporium.

Daniel doesn’t just love women. He wants to be one. A lesbian at that. When sales girl Cathy falls for his bedside manner after her boyfriend Paul attempts to learn the secrets of Daniel’s wife Kay’s lady-carriage, doing lunch takes on a whole new meaning in a merry-go-round of food, sex and desire.

So far so 1990s, then, in Lynne Parker’s handsomely realised but ultimately flimsy dive into the sex wars dressed up with extended philosophical bedroom and boardroom debates. What initially looks like knockabout stuff led by Hilary O’Shaughnessy’s masterly deadpan comic timing before long gets all serious and clingy in a piece that kinda lingers, but not that much.

Country music was founded on such sexual and familial dysfunction. Transposed to the housing estates of rural England, the white trash soap opera of Stoopud F***en Animals, Joel Horwood’s attempt to meld bar-room cabaret with realist grit is an equally messed up, if not always coherent rendering of such rootin'-tootin’ back-woods yarns.

Charlie sells bull semen to farmers with impotent cattle in-between changing his name by deed poll to gun-toting macho movie stars. Twin brother Dim is happy to be an over-age paper boy while mum Karen leads an equally barren existence. The secret ties that bind them to aging pub singer Lefty cause Charlie to confront the past and take revenge like some hard-boiled vigilante.

Produced by the newly instigated Loose Collective, Horwood’s follow-up to last year’s mini-hit, Food, is an off-kilter mix of brutality and black humour. Kate Budgen’s production may resemble The Grand Ol’ Oprey in design, though at times its fluidity becomes a distraction. While attempting to mix and match forms is to be applauded, if the opening song that sets down the play’s legend in ballad form isn’t delivered sharply, its tell-tale resonances are muddied. The play’s end, when it comes, may seem sudden, but the steam Charlie’s just let off might just be enough for him to move on.

Only Will Adamsdale’s The Human Computer fully engages with its surroundings, and when he confesses that he only recently discovered the difference between the workings of Macs and PCs, every technophobic Luddite in the land will double click in solidarity. Because, as with his previous two solo shows, Jackson’s Way and The Receipt, in what might well prove to be his best work, he manages to tap into an absurd homespun wisdom while sticking up for every bewildered little man and woman who struggle through the daily grind.

In trademark baffled style, Adamsdale glides us first through the vagaries of the virtual global village via a glorious display of home-made crayoned-in cardboard cursors, pop-ups and a toolbar “advertising help but rarely offering it”, passing them among the audience in a truly back-to-basics interactive display of old-fashioned audience participation. This hand-knitted effect is heightened from Adamsdale’s entrance sporting what looks like a school fancy-dress TV screen on his head.

Once we’ve got the basics, we’re led through an auto-biographical request show before Adamsdale leap inside the computer on a fantastic voyage to take out the spider virus. It’s a flight of fancy both hilarious and heroic, as Adamsdale’s geeky persona masks a surreal, sci-fi inspired mind downloaded and made flesh in a brilliantly audacious fashion.

The Herald, August 2007

All until August 26, various times

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