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Showing posts from August, 2015

Iphigenia in Splott

Pleasance Dome
Five stars

Don't mess with Effie, the hard-nosed, hard-drinking, shag-happy heroine of Gary Owen's blazing reinvention of Greek myth that bursts onto the streets of Cardiff with a lust for life that matches Effie's motor-mouthed and alco-popped libido. Into the Friday night mess Effie meets a squaddie war veteran whose leg has been blown off in action. This doesn't prevent Effie from getting pregnant following their one-night stand that leads ultimately to tragedy by way of an ill-equipped ambulance that crashes while rushing her to an even worse resourced hospital.
Laced throughout with a ferocious back-street Cardiffian poetry, Owen's play is brought to brawling life in Rachel O'Riordan's ferocious production for Cardiff's Sherman Cymru. A stunning Sophie Melville strides through the littered striplights of Hayley Grindle's set as they pulse into life or else black out like a stopped heart machine.

As with most of us, it's onl…

Murmel Murmel

King's Theatre
Five stars

The red carpet that adorns centre-stage as the audience enter the auditorium for Herbert Fritsch's production of Dieter Roth's previously presumed to be unstagable concrete poetry epic may suggest a formal air for what's about to follow. The absurdist game of peek-a-boo that nudges its way from the wings, however, points to something altogether wilder. There's a flappy arm here, a distended leg there, and manic shapes thrown pretty much everywhere over the next eighty minutes of prat-falling Dadaist slapstick.
Given that Roth's 178 page text consists of just one word, the eponymous 'murmel', there is no end of fun to be had in what is a meticulously choreographed riot involving eleven retro-clad performers overseen by a conductor dressed in a military uniform who supplies the live soundtrack of marimba-led exotica. At times it's a physical symphony involving sketch-like movements that morph into lounge bar bump n' grin…

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2015 Music Reviews - The Ex - Summerhall - Four stars / Skatgobs - Garage - Four stars

One of the biggest musical draws on this year's Fringe has been Summerhall's Nothing Ever Happens Here programme, so named in ironical homage to those who mistakenly believe Edinburgh to be a musical desert and to City of Edinburgh Council's ongoing lack of civic will towards live music.

By far the most interesting date was the return of The Ex, the Amsterdam-based quartet who have been marrying angular punk guitar noises to African rhythms for more than thirty years. With strong Edinburgh roots care of guitarist Andy Moor, who formerly played in the capital's own wonky punk auteurs, Dog Faced Hermans, The Ex's first Edinburgh date in twelve years in a co-production with experimental music promoters Braw Gigs was a prodigal's return to be reckoned with.

Opening the show were My Two Dads, a knowingly named collaboration between Drew Wright, aka solo troubadour Wounded Knee, and Dylan Mitchell, formerly of Pet. With both men on guitars and Wright giving vent to h…

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2015 - Theatre Reviews 10 - Trans Scripts - Pleasance Courtyard - Four stars / A Game of You - Traverse Theatre - Four stars

Six women line the stage at the start of Paul Lucas' new play, Trans Scripts. At first glance, such a disparate array seem to have stepped out of a common or garden piece about female bonding. As it is, the stories that unfold over the play's ninety minute duration presents a very different kind of sisterhood.

Culled and cut-up from some seventy-five interviews with trans women, Lucas and director Linda Ames Key have shaped six disparate stories from true life experience that lay bare the agonies and ecstasies of being a woman trapped in a man's bodies. The ecstasies, of course, only come later, after the women have risen above lifetimes of verbal and physical abuse. The stories that emerge are by turns angry, funny and at times wilfully saucy. There are flirtations with the audience and there are heartwarming tales of acceptance by families and local churches and communities as they support each other through the purging in this most beautifully realised of emancipations…

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2015 Theatre Reviews 9 - Forever Young - Traverse Theatre - Four stars / The Solid Life of Sugar Water - Pleasance Dome - Four stars / Am I Dead Yet? - Traverse Theatre - Three stars

It's fitting that Forever Young begins outside the funfair carousel in the west end of Princes Street Gardens. As symbols of lost youth riding off into the sunset go, it's one of the best for this new piece of journey-based theatre from the Australian one step at a time like this company in association with the Irish Clonmel Junction Festival.

Using text messages and one to one interaction, the young people of Clonmel's newly christened Junction Joes ensemble lead the show's solitary audience member on a teenage joyride into rediscovering the child within. Risks may be taken, passion fruits may be stolen and hearts may be broken, but in coming to terms with lost idealism and the reckless joy of doing things for kicks, by the time you're on the couch being asked questions by a teenage therapist a la Lucy doling out advice to Charlie Brown, it becomes a melancholy confrontation with what it means to be a grown-up.

With our teenage guides on the cusp of going out into…

Herbert Fritsch - Dieter Roth and Murmel Murmel

It was no laughing matter when German theatre director Herbert Fritsch decided to stage Swiss-based artist Dieter Roth's play, Murmel Murmel, at the Volksbuhne, Berlin, in 2012. Here was a work which had never been staged in full but which was now about to be seen at one of the most prestigious of Europe's stages. The fact that the play's 178 pages consisted of just one word, Murmel (Murmur) suggested that Roth's epic piece of concrete poetry was unstageable. As Fritsch's production arrives in Edinburgh for the final week of the International Festival, such perceptions couldn't be more wrong.

“They said to me that the Volksbuhne is not good for a little joke,” Fritsch explains. “I said that it's not just a joke. If you listen to the words, they can be a prayer or a secret. You can do everything with these words. You can make them as great as Shakespeare, or it can be like doing the telephone book.”

With the play-text consisting of six columns of words with …

Politics and Protest on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe - Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award 2015

Two weeks ago I was asked to appear on a radio programme to talk about political theatre on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. On Saturday morning I picked up a copy of a London broadsheet to find a regular columnist asking where all the political plays were in Edinburgh. Somewhere inbetween I have been attempting to help judge this year's Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award, the winner of which will be announced tomorrow during a ceremony at the City Art Centre in Edinburgh.

Founded more than a decade ago as the U Win Tin Award, named after the imprisoned Chinese dissident, the Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award is designed to honour the best show on the Fringe that highlights human rights in a way that puts artistic merit on a par with the particular issue it is focusing on. So, previous winners such Roadkill, which looked at sex trafficking in a production performed in a flat off Leith Walk, Nirbhayer, Yael Farber's devastating study of sexual vio…

Lanark

Royal Lyceum Theatre
Four stars

When Sandy Grierson as Alasdair Gray's eponymous alter-ego in David Greig's sprawling adaptation of Gray's magical realist 1981 novel declares that he wishes to pen a modern day Divine Comedy with illustrations inspired by William Blake, it knowingly sums up the artistic ambitions of both Gray and Graham Eatough's equally epic production for Edinburgh International Festival and the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow. We've already been introduced to our eternally bemused hero in scenes of retro-futuristic dystopian noir as he is psychologically ship-wrecked in Unthank, a city not unlike Glasgow where the Sun never shines. There Lanark meets Jessica Hardwick's equally wilful Rima before descending into the sci-fi trappings of The Institute, where he attempts to find out who he is.
Subtitled A Life in Three Acts, as with the book and in true Godardian fashion, the beginning, middle and end of this portrait of the artist as a young man d…

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2015 Theatre Reviews 8 - Smash it Up - Summerhall - Four stars / Tar Baby - Gilded Balloon - Four stars / Penny Arcade: Longing Lasts Longer - Underbelly - Four stars

It's not just City of Edinburgh Council who are wilfully ignorant to their city's artistic past as they flog off everything in sight to any property developer who comes calling. In 2013 in Newport, South Wales, Kenneth Rudd's mural commemorating the Chartist uprising of 1839 was destroyed in the underpass it was built into alongside adjacent buildings so the privately owned Friars Walk shopping centre could be built.

The response of the South Wales-based live art troupe, Mr and Mrs Clark and their artistic cohorts, Bosch, is Smash it Up, a furious hour-long cut-up of performance lecture confessional, artistic actions, film, dance routines and a welter of pop-art detritus that rallies for an assault on the sort of reductive money-led culture that is now the norm.

Using Gustav Metzger's notion of auto-destructive art as its thesis, the two men and one woman who make up Mr and Mrs Clark unleash a wild and often witty plea for artistic and civic preservation that's hig…

Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour

Traverse Theatre
Five stars

At first glance you could be forgiven for thinking that butter wouldn't melt in the mouths of the six-strong Catholic schoolgirl choir onstage throughout Vicky Featherstone's National Theatre of Scotland production of Lee Hall's freewheeling adaptation of Alan Warner's 1998 novel, The Sopranos. They sing so sweetly, after all, do Orla, Chell, Kay, Manda, Kylah and Fionnula,

Once they're off the leash and with time to kill in the big city before the choir competition they're doomed to take part in, voices of angels morph into a potty-mouthed chorus running riot through any bar that will have them en route to a series of everyday epiphanies.

Featherstone and Hall have their unruly charges act out their adventures amidst the glorious tack of the Mantrap, the tellingly named late-night Oban dive the girls call home. From this set-up we see their messy lives in close-up as they cling to each other for comfort in the face of a stream of…

The Ex - Dog Faced Hermans and the Edinburgh Connection

The first time Andy Moor remembers his band The Ex playing in Edinburgh, it was in a long lost Cowgate dive sometime in 1990. With much of the venue's clientèle in attendance solely to take advantage of its late night opening hours, the sounds of Holland's première underground punk band didn't go down too well.

“After four songs our sound man got bottled,” Moor remembers. “It was quite a dodgy place, where most people just wanted a late drink, I don't think we were what some people were expecting.”

This incident hasn't stopped Moor and co returning to the city that is arguably the band's spiritual home, and is where they forged strong musical connections with a grassroots DIY scene based around Edinburgh College of Art's Wee Red Bar and other places with more responsive audiences than the weekend drinking crowd of yore.

Following a date in Glasgow in 2010 accompanied by Brass Unbound, the free jazz horn quartet featuring saxophonists Mats Gustafsson and Ken…

Jim Cartwright - Raz

A night on the town isn't what it once was. Just ask Jim Cartwright, the author of Road and The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, whose brand new play, Raz, opens at this year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Raz is a solo piece which, as the title suggests, charts one wild weekend in the life of a twenty-first century dead-end kid called Shane. As Shane moves from bar to bar, the Friday night carnage grows increasingly grotesque until only the morning after and what Cartwright calls “the battlefield of the dawn,” awash with “ambulances and cops and people lying on the floor, crying at the moon” awaits in a frontline portrait of a generation in freefall.

“It's about one night in broken Britain,” Cartwright explains in a Bolton accent which, aged fifty-seven, sounds Coronation Street cosy. “We've all seen the scene on a Friday or Saturday once the pubs and clubs have shut, girls with their legs akimbo sitting on the kerb, boys all pissed up and spoiling for a fight, and it m…

Beatrice Gibson – Crippled Symmetries

Collective Gallery, Edinburgh until October 4th
Four stars

The noise of money is everywhere in the two films by Beatrice Gibson that make up the London-based artist's Crippled Symmetries show for this year's Edinburgh Art Festival. Where F for Fibonacci juxtaposes archive footage of a mercurial Karlheinz Stockhausen and images of Wall Street city boys at play with an eleven year old boy's computer-generated images of a world owned by fictional superhero, Mr Money, the newly commissioned Solo for Rich Man finds another eleven year old ruffling wads of dosh and dropping coins with composer Anton Lukoszeveize in a Shoreditch adventure playground.
Both films are inspired by William Gaddis' 1975 novel, JR, in which an eleven year old boy creates the biggest financial empire on the planet with the unwitting help of his school's resident composer, Gibson's films pits notions of progressive education, abstract composition and work by Fluxus artist George Maciuna with t…

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2015 Theatre Reviews 7 - The Titanic Orchestra - Pleasance Courtyard - Three stars / Walking The Tightrope - Underbelly Topside - Three stars / Polyphony - Summerhall - Four stars

As austerity bites, everyone's looking for a way out. So it is with the four tramps eking out their lives at the abandoned railway station in The Titanic Orchestra, Bulgarian playwright Hristo Boytchev's play, seen here in Russell Bolam's production in a new translation by Steve King. As the quartet dramatise their existence by rehearsing what might happen if a train stopped to pick them up, a quasi-Beckettian landscape emerges as they start to lose faith in the things they can barely imagine anymore.

When an equally shabby huckster turns up on their patch claiming to be a magician called Harry, things appear to be possible again as the motley crew are co-opted into the ultimate vanishing act.

As Harry, John Hannah laces his performance with an affable charm alongside an international cast in the UK premiere of this archly-played curio that questions the nature of reality, fantasy and the things you have to kid yourself about in order to survive.

Runs until August 31.
Fre…

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2015 Theatre Reviews 6 - The History of the World Based on Banalities - Summerhall - Three stars / Light Boxes - Summerhall - Four stars / The Christians - Traverse Theatre - Three stars

A young man plays bat and ball in a messy kitchen at the opening of The History of the World Based on Banalities Johan De Smet and Titus De Voogdt's new play produced by the Koppergeitery company as part of this year's Big in Belgium programme. Without a word being said, notions of velocity and gravity are being proffered up in this most everyday of exercises. When the boy played by De Voogdt starts talking to the audience, about his scientist mother who's lost her bearings through Alzheimer's disease, such a sense of his own isolation sparks up a curiosity that finds voice through a series of free-associating quantum leaps that fall somewhere between alchemy and idealism.

Accompanied by a hooded electric guitarist who skulks behind the fridge freezer twanging out some dust-bowl laden dirges, De Voogdt's character acts like he's home alone as he embraces new liberties en route to reclaiming his affinity with his mother from the totems left behind even as she sl…

Grid Iron Theatre - Light Boxes

In a cluttered Leith Walk rehearsal room it looks a little bit like the end of the world. The Sun may be offering up a rare if welcome shine outside, but for Grid Iron Theatre company, in the midst of rehearsing their new stage version of Shane Jones' cult novel, Light Boxes, for the moment at least, it must remain forever February. For the family played by Melody Grove, Keith Macpherson and Vicki Manderson who plays the couple's daughter, trying to contend with such terminal bleakness isn't easy, and MJ McCarthy's fiddle-led funereal score played live by the cast only seems to make the scene even sadder.

“The story of Light Boxes is the story of a town that becomes taken over by February,” explains director and adaptor Finn den Hertog. “Both the month of February and the cult of February, I suppose. February bans flight, and we see how this one particular family from the town deals with that. They get caught up in warfare, their daughter goes missing and we see how th…

The Wrestling - On The Fringe With A Sports Entertainment Battle Royal

Last weekend in a pub in Kent, a couple of hundred burly-looking men and women plus a smattering of fans took part in the twenty-fourth British Wrestlers Reunion. The event, attended by survivors of the 1960s and 1970s golden era of British wrestling rubbed shoulders with fans of an era that was as much showbusiness as sport.

A week before, in Portobello Town Hall in Edinburgh, a packed audience watched a younger generation of grunt and grapple stars more influenced by the high-flying antics of the American WWE superstars who began to redefine wrestling for an arena age around the same time British wrestling was taken off television in 1988 by ITV's then head of sport, Greg Dyke.

Two shows on at this year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe look set to trade on the revival of professional wrestling in the UK. While An Audience With Gorgeous George harks back to a pre WWE era through the eyes of a character who arguably kick-started the ongoing pantomimic cartoonification of such whit…

Alan Warner - Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour

The Sopranos were very much
on Vicky Featherstone and Lee Hall's minds when they bumped into each other at
an awards ceremony several years ago. Not HBO's much-lauded New Jersey-based
crime family saga that put patriarchal mobsters in the psychiatrist's chair
during its eight year run  between 1999 and 2007, but something which charted a
gang mentality much closer to home. Featherstone and Hall were actually
pondering Alan Warner's novel of the same name that was published a year before
the iconic TV show, and which the then artistic director of the National Theatre
of Scotland and the author of Billy Elliot thought might work well on the
stage.

Warner's book charts  the life in a day of a teenage female choir who
travel down from the nameless port where they live to a city not unlike
Edinburgh, where they are scheduled to take part in a choir competition. Once
let loose in the big city, the girls embark on a series of booze-fuelled
adventures that are by turns hysterical and he…

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2015 Theatre Reviews 5 - Tonight With Donny Stixx – Pleasance - Four stars / Man To Man - Pleasance Courtyard - Four stars / The Deliverance - Assembly Roxy - Four stars

Edinburgh may be full of fame-hungry wannabes right now, though hopefully none are quite as out there as the boy magician in Tonight With Donny Stixx, Philip Ridley's latest assault on popular culture that provides a companion piece of sorts to his 2013 play, Dark Vanilla Jungle. Like that play, Donny Stixx is a solo, performed here with initial cheeky chappie charm by Sean Michael Verey in David Mercatelli's production for the Supporting Wall company.

Donny is doing a show. It's not the same sort of show he used to do at children's parties and old people's homes when he would do an excruciating magic act. He's got the attention he's always craved, but only because he took things too far and became a national hate figure.

Over a high-octane hour Verey lets the mask slip to reveal a kid on the edge, who attack anyone who dares question his precocious genius. It's furiously performed, with Verey's gradual unravelling going some way to explain the lack…

Sorcha Groundsell - Stain

When Sorcha Groundsell stepped out onto the red carpet for the world premiere of Scott Graham's feature film, Iona, at the closing night gala for this year's Edinburgh International Film Festival, she posed for the paparazzi alongside the film's lead players Ruth Negga and Douglas Henshall like a veteran. In the film itself, Groundsell played a teenage girl who is carried around on her father's back after an accident left her paralysed below the knee. For a seventeen year old from Lewis like Groundsell, it was quite an arrival.

With another two short films already under her belt, Groundsell makes her professional stage debut during this year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Stain, a new play in which Groundsell is onstage throughout Mark Westbrook's intense drama about a star pupil's relationship with her teacher after she doesn't quite make the grade.
“She's a very interesting one,” Groundsell says of her character in Stain. “There's nothing abo…

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2015 Theatre Reviews 4 - An Oak Tree - Four stars / Swallow - Four stars / A Girl is A Half-Formed Thing - Four stars

Traverse Theatre
Suspension of disbelief is a wonderful thing. Just ask the woman in the Traverse Theatre audience for the opening performance of the tenth anniversary production of An Oak Tree, Tim Crouch's meditation on truth and artifice performed by Crouch and a different actor at every show. So convinced was the woman by Crouch's impersonation of a bad pub function room hypnotist asking for volunteers that she gamely stepped forward, despite Crouch having already pointed out that he was only pretending to be a hypnotist and on no account should they respond to his request.

In a way, this incident is a perfect illustration of what An Oak Tree is dealing with, and Crouch dealt with it beautifully before his actual foil, in this case actress Aoife Duffin, who is appearing elsewhere at the Traverse in the Corn Exchange's production of A Girl is A Half-formed Thing, stepped up from the audience having never seen the script of An Oak Tree until that moment.

The story that …

Dragon

Royal Lyceum Theatre
Four stars

There are fewer than ten words spoken in Vox Motus theatre company's resplendent evocation of the effects of grief after a young boy loses his mother. When they come, they're as magnificently mono-syllabic as any teenager finding their voice. There is plenty of sound and vision beyond this in the company's collaboration with the National Theatre of Scotland and the Tianjin Children's Art Theatre of China, as clouds hang heavy over the stage, rumbling lowly before bursting into full-on thunderclaps as young Tommy tries to sleep.
When a street light turns into a dragon outside his window inbetween watching his ailing mother die, these mythical creatures soon start turning up everywhere, egging Tommy on like some invisible friend as he takes on the bullies at school and in the local swing-park where a girl shows him magic tricks. As Tommy's anger and confusion looks set to get the better of him, the dragons are always on his back, so at …

887

Edinburgh International Conference Centre
Five stars

The last time Quebecois theatrical powerhouse Robert Lepage came to Edinburgh two decades ago, his mesmeric mix of hi-tech visual poetry and story-telling was stopped in its tracks by technical hitches. As his astonishing overdue return makes clear in this European premiere by Lepage's Ex Machina company, technology has finally caught up with this ingenious renaissance man who has long been ahead of his time.
The past isn't always what it seems, however, as Lepage begins his two and a bit hours onstage with an anecdote about how the onset of iPhone culture has left him barely able to remember his own number, yet he is still able to recall events in his childhood growing up in Quebec City almost half a century ago. The catalyst for this was being asked to recite a poem to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of seismic events in Quebec's volatile Francophone history that provoked an angry plea for self-determination.

Fr…

Dragon and Paul Bright's Confessions of a Justified Sinner Revived - Edinburgh International Festival 2015

One of the many striking things about incoming Edinburgh International Festival director Fergus Linehan's inaugural programme has been its recognition that home-grown work more than deserves a place alongside names perhaps more familiar from the international festival circuit. It's not that Scottish work hasn't been seen at EIF. Far from it. It's just that much of the time the works presented thus far have been brand new, untested and, limited by short rehearsal periods, regarded by some as being not quite ready. The result of this is that an EIF commission has sometimes looked like something of a poisoned chalice.

Both Paul Bright's Confessions of a Justified Sinner and Dragon, however, have already proved their mettle on an international stage prior to their respective EIF dates this week. The former is an ingenious construction by director and designer Stewart Laing's Untitled Projects company which on the face of it looks tied to its Glasgow roots in away t…