Saturday, 9 April 2011

Venus as A Boy / Believe / The Yellowjacket - Edinburgh Fringe 2007

Venus As A Boy
Traverse Theatre
5 stars
Imagine a world where the healing powers of sex allow the entire world to see stars, and race-hate and homophobia are all but cured with Cupid’s kiss. Luke Sutherland did in his remarkable 2004 novella, in which an Orkney born ne’er do-well finds himself blessed with just such powers. Now Tam Dean Burn’s stage adaptation, performed by himself with live musical accompaniment by Sutherland in a production developed by the National Theatre Of Scotland Workshop in association with Burn’s newly constituted Burnt Goods label, has blessed it into some kind of afterlife.

Opening with a chatty double-bluffing pre-amble, Burn becomes Cupid, a golden boy whose quest to replace the first love who first woke him into pure pleasure seeking bliss leads him from Orkney’s brutal insularity to big-city bed-sit-land. He finally hits the self-destruct button with the beautiful losers on the Soho scene.

History’s in there too, from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the near apocalypse of 9/11, making sexual ecstasy an even more pertinent way of getting out of it in such an unforgiving world.

Burn and Sutherland, with co-director Christine Devaney, have created a rare thing of profundity and beauty that mixes the trans-gendered and the transcendent in a rare brush with wisdom through excess. Burn alone is a revelation, pushing way beyond his actors comfort zone to be all but unrecognisable in a masterly and heart-wrenching display of no-holds-barred, naked and emotionally fearless story-telling. Sutherland’s bowed guitar and violin loops pulse throughout, a sooth-saying chamber score resembling Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s more reflective refrains.

Lizzie Powell’s lighting frames this beautifully, bathing Pamela McBain’s glad-rag costumes. By the end, Burn is swathed in such iridescent finery as to resemble an escapee from Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising if he’d soaked himself in love juice and shot his bolt over all the sleeping lonely-hearts in search of love. Heartbreaking, audacious and outrageous, Venus As A Boy remains as holy as its source.

Traverse Theatre
3 stars
Everyone knows the best bits in the Bible are in the Old Testament, where all the blood, gore and mucky bits are buried. Which is why its yarns of begetting and be-heading are such a great gift to dramatists. Especially, it seems, when it concerns women at war. Matthew Hurt’s compendium of four portraits of these grand dames of theological literature is a gift too for Linda Marlowe, who performs each with trademark dynamism and verve in a semi-contemporised delivery.

Rahab is a hard-as-nails whore plying her wares in a war-zone. Bathsheba’s cut-glass but frustrated officer’s wife could have stepped straight from some bosom-heaving Noel Coward propaganda flick had she not given in to temptation. Judith, already made flesh in Howard Barker’s eponymous 1990s play, is a fiery and calculating dervish, while Hannah remains quietly defiant in her faith.

From storm to calm and back again, Marlowe’s every emotional sinew is on show in a hand-on-heart confessional that puts faith in the frontline in a way that suggests God’s hand was blessed with a woman’s touch.

The Yellowjacket
Collective Gallery@Traverse 3@University Of Edinburgh Drill Hall
Long before digital special FX allowed lycra-costumed musclemen and similarly clad Amazons to leap tall buildings with a single bound, super-hero serials were a staple of the early days of wireless. Writer and performer Brian Dewan puts his own eccentric slant on the era with this recorded reading of a post-modern pastiche. Dewan, along with poet John Hegley, actress Christine Entwisle and the mysterious but well-turned Sir Gideon Vein, usher us into the far-off planet a long time past, where insect-inspired heroes and villains slug it out in-between revealing their secret origins, and sometimes their identities too. Normal service is only resumed following the numerous public announcements by the all-seeing Self reference Centre and the election of a pink king.

Forming part of The Collective Gallery’s cross-discipline Comic Book Project, its delightfully silly, throwaway stuff. Its possibly lysergically inspired world of creepy-crawlies would give William Burroughs’ story, Exterminator, a run for its money in what is, to revive a very retro-futuristic parlance, decidedly zany. Especially with Dewan setting the scene with a trio of accordion-led ditties concerning such matters as the loneliness of the letter ‘O.’ If Sesamie Street ever went Yankee-doodle music hall, this is what it would sound like.
Preceded and accompanied by a four piece band playing the sort of Ragtime that probably hasn’t been heard in The Traverse since it occupied its original James Court residence, this is a one-off Fringe happening you’ll live to regret missing.

Run ended. The Comic Book Project, Collective Gallery until September 15, with events at Edinburgh International Film Festival on August 23, and Edinburgh International Book festival on August 26

The Herald, august 2007


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