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Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2012 - Theatre Reviews 3

Morning – Traverse until Aug 19th 3 stars

Mark Thomas: Bravo Figaro! - Traverse until Aug 26th,  5 stars

And No More Shall we Part – Traverse until Aug 26th, 4 stars

The Letter of Last Resort / Good With People – Traverse until Aug 26th, 
 4 stars

Simon Stephens last big play, Punk Rock, looked at how a bullied 
sixth-former can strike back at his class-mates with a loaded gun. His 
new piece, Morning, devised with and written for the Lyric, 
Hammersmith's Young Company, goes even further. Stephanie's mother is 
dying and her best friend Cat is leaving town for university. Stephanie 
takes what she wants,  has little regard for right or wrong, and kills 
the things she loves even as she clings to them. Whether Stephanie is 
just a spoilt brat, or this is a cry for help, the end result seems 
shockingly inconsequential to her world view.

Morning is like an episode of Skins rewritten as an early novel by Ian 
McEwan. Stylistically, Sean Holmes' production takes things beyond the 
play's ice-cool exchanges and discomforting denouement via an open 
staging, microphones and live laptop-generated soundtrack. The 
combination of all this makes for a troublingly nihilistic hour, in 
which action and consequence are amoral  abstractions which Stephanie 
simply has no concept of. Her final words are “There is no hope.” 
Coming from one so young, it sounds chillingly depressing.

Mark Thomas' new show, Bravo Figaro!, on the other hand, is  vital 
emotional viewing. Thomas goes beyond his stand-up roots to relate a 
moving and at times very funny account of his relationship with his 
father who contracted a degenerative illness.

It's initially easy to feel sympathy with the unreconstructed builder 
and self-educated opera fan Thomas grew up beside, especially as we 
hear recordings of his weak, raspy voice. Yet there are other, less 
pleasant sides to the man which Thomas doesn't flinch from. Even so, 
flanked by a large photograph of his old man taken during more robust 
years, Thomas, with the aid of  Traverse associate director Hamish 
Pirie, crafts an elegy that still manages to get sly digs in at class, 
the family and Jimmy Carr. As for opera, even as Thomas forms an unholy 
alliance with the Royal Opera House, the art-form remains “panto for 
posh people.”

Like many people, Thomas left it too late to reconcile himself with his 
parents. In creating a work of art out of that mix of love and hate, 
Thomas has delivered the best epitaph he can for someone who was 
clearly a difficult man. As Thomas says himself, real goodbyes are 
messy. This one, like Rossini, is a work of honest beauty.

Intimations of mortality are also at the heart of And No More Shall We 
Part, Australian writer Tom Holloway's close-up look at an ageing 
couple in crisis and their responses to serious illness. Don and Pam 
are happy together, or they were until they were forced to come to 
terms with the fact that one of them might not be around much longer. 
Over seventy-five painstakingly observed minutes on a barely-lit 
revolving stage, we rewind from what might be their final night to all 
the little rituals leading up to it. An ordinary supper is imbued with 
weighty significance beyond the mundane. Bill Don's leaky memory is 
caught out again and again by Dearbhla Molloy's Pam regarding all the 
silly, significant moments they've shared.

As Don, Bill Paterson imbues James Macdonald's slow, stately production 
for Hampstead Theatre with much of its quietly befuddled humour. These, 
along with Christopher Shutt's haunting sound design, make the sudden 
flashes of anger all the more shocking, and when Dearbhla Molloy as Pam 
howls for dear life as the couple hug, it's a devastating moment in a 
moving play of shared experiences that many in the opening night 
audience were clearly touched by.

This year's Traverse Theatre production is a double bill by two of the 
theatre's international alumni, David Greig and David Harrower. Both 
Greig's The Letter of Last Resort, and Harrower's Good With People, 
look at the responses to putting nuclear bases on British – and more 
specifically in Harrower's piece – Scottish, soil.

The Letter of Last Resort finds a newly installed female prime minister 
staying up late attempting to pen a letter to the families of soldiers 
killed in action. The mandarin who arrives at her door has more 
pressing matters to hand, however. Together, the ex-activist PM and her 
advisor role-play the consequences if the unthinkable happened In 
Nicholas Kent's production, first seen at the Tricycle, Belinda Lang 
and Simon Chandler run the gauntlet in an elegant and intelligent 
comedy of ideas, in which the absence of Radio 4 really does mark the 
end of the world.

There's a dark erotic tension at the heart of Good With People, in 
which prodigal Evan returns to the Helensburgh he left seven years 
earlier. He ends up staying in a hotel run by Helen, the mother of the 
boy Evan and his navy brat pals humiliated when still school-boys. A 
near mythical quality pervades George Perrin's brooding production, 
originally seen at Oran Mor in co-production with Paines Plough.When 
Evan and Helen dance, it's as if they've become intoxicated by some 
strange spell. Where before they were enemies, in the morning there's a 
kind of unity that suggests old wounds have healed.

The Herald, August 7th 2012

ends


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