Monday, 5 August 2013

Edinburgh Fringe Reviews 1 - The Surrender – Gilded Balloon – 3 stars Bath Time – Gilded Balloon – 4 stars The Epicene Butcher and Other Stories For Consenting Adults – Assembly, 4 stars London Road, Sea Point – Assembly – 3 stars The Veil – Pleasance – 3 stars

If the Edinburgh Festival Fringe must start with a bang, there are few 
more graphic ways of doing it than with Spanish actress Isabelle 
Stoffel's solo adaptation of Toni Bentley's singular sexual memoir, the 
Surrender. In both the book and the play, Bentley is a woman in search 
of spiritual enlightenment who finds it through the physical extremes 
of anal sex.

While such libertine excesses aren't anything which the likes of the 
Marquis de Sade's works fantasised about a couple of centuries back, 
the fact that Bentley made it flesh gives her story an extra edge. 
While Bentley's words lean towards the sort of counter-cultural 
confessionals of the 1960s, in Stoffel's hands, and indeed every other 
part of her body, it's not nearly as po-faced as it could be. While 
Stoffel's delivery is laced with an apposite sense of levity, 
theatrically, she either cavorts on a bed or behind a screen, places 
candles on a wooden shrine or else listens to her own audio diary of 
each liaison on a Dictaphone that plays one of her meticulously filed 
cassette tapes.

As her character falls prey to jealousy and emotional self-destruction, 
the fact that she knows when to walk away suggests that she is in 
control in a handsomely realised if curiously old-fashioned sounding 
journey.

Ruaraidh Murray scored a mini-hit in 2012 with his one-man show, Big 
Sean, Mikey and Me. This year he should do something similar with Bath 
Time, a follow-up solo piece which similarly pokes around the edges of 
Edinburgh's underbelly where a trio of likely lads on the make reside. 
As hapless Spike bursts out of a cardboard box wearing his mammy's 
dress before making his way to the sexual health clinic, one can be 
forgiven foe thinking this is gloriously low comic terrain. As Murray 
introduces us to Spike's pals Joe Joe and Billy, however, a complex 
tale of petty crime, even pettier rivalries and friendship turned sour 
in the most dangerous of ways gradually unravels.

Murray may initially present his three characters as cartoon 
archetypes, but as each tells their story, it's clear they're anything 
but in a blistering piece of writing that's more akin to the sort of 
intertwined monologues favoured by contemporary Irish writers such as 
Mark O'Rowe. In director Tim Stark's production, peppered with a 
local-accented demotic, the twists and turns of Murray's play becomes, 
not just a post-Trainspotting view of Edinburgh, but, in its 
bucket-mouthed sense of pathos, post Limmy too. It's a bleak and brutal 
picture that Murray paints, but this exquisitely constructed little 
firecracker of a show us possessed with an energy and a common touch 
that makes it irresistible.

In The Epicene Butcher and Other Stories For Consenting Adults, an 
archetypal Japanese schoolgirl blows bubbles in the corner with her 
pink-clad comrade in arms like they're at a  Cos-play convention in 
Jemma Khan and Gwydian Beynan's twenty-first century pop cultural 
reinvention of the ancient art of Kamishiba, or paper theatre. Here, 
however, paper theatre becomes comic book strip cartoon renderings of 
contemporary iconography, from Manga to Super Mario by way of a brief 
biography of Nelson Mandela in a handful  felt-tipped frames.

While Khan in pink acts as narrator of the half a dozen yarns that form 
part of Assembly's South African season, her sulky accomplice scowls 
her silent way through each chalked-on introduction punctuated by some 
buzzsaw Japanese bubblegum punk music. As Super Mario is given Dungeons 
and Dragons style status, the effect of all this is a set of grown-up 
pop-art mythologies from a pair of geek girls who've clearly spent too 
many hours indoors in front of the computer inbetween occasional treks 
to the comic book store to make a refreshing piece of naughty fun 
that's as far removed from the heavyweight perceptions of South African 
theatre as you can get.

Also part of the South African season is London Road, Sea Point, in 
which a Nigerian woman and her widowed Jewish neighbour are forced 
together after a burglary in their Cape Town apartment block. Wary at 
first, as disappointed exiles in search of a brave new world and with 
no men-folk in tow, Stella and Rosa slowly bond over the kitchen table. 
In London Road, Sea Point,. they share stories of their respective 
erotic adventures as their secret lives unfold. Before long, the pair 
are wiling away their days spying on their handsome neighbour with 
Rosa's binoculars, avoiding the drug dealers who Stella works for or, 
in Rosa's case, hoping in vain for a visit from her son in Australia 
inbetween waiting for the inevitable.

Nicholas Spagnoletti's play goes beyond the elegiac tone that's 
suggested from the opening maudlin piano music. If the performances by 
Robyn Scott as Rosa and Ntombi Makhutshi as Stella in Lara Bye's 
production as are at times a tad too shrill, it's nevertheless a sad 
little close up of two lonely
lives who find each other's friendship in a changing world which had 
previously deserted them.

There's a perception of the Fringe by some that most of those 
performing in it don't know their arts from their elbow. Nowhere is 
this exemplified better than in The Veil, Lucy Hopkins' grand pastiche 
of every presumed Fringe cliché to have ever cavorted down the Royal 
Mile in skin-tight lycra and white face paint. It begins with a hunched 
figure, covered by what appears to be an all-consuming oversize 
security  blanket slowly making their way through the audience like a 
cross
between a Halloween ghost and an accused murderer being bundled from 
the back of a police van and into court.

When Hopkins reveals herself with a flourish, it is to teach us about 
the value of 'art', or more significantly, perhaps, 'the artist' in the 
most archly pretentious, self-absorbed and narcissistic way imaginable. 
What follows is a quasi  physical dialogue between assorted be-draped
characters, all played by Hopkins, which every wannabe Marceau, Berkoff 
and Grotowski should be frog-marched to see before they disappear up 
their own fundament. As a well-observed and waggish one-liner, it's 
fine, but, as physically dexterous as it is, can't fully sustain itself 
over its fifty-five minute duration.

The Herald, August 5th 2013


ends


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