Monday, 10 August 2015

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2015 Theatre Reviews 1 - A Gambler's Guide to Dying - Four stars / Fake It 'Till You Make It - Five stars / How to Keep An Alien - Four stars / Pardon / In Cuffs - Four stars

Traverse Theatre

In a dead person's living room filled with boxes loaded up on a garish carpet as if awaiting the removal van, Gary McNair tells the story of his grand-father, an unreconstructed Gorbals legend who allegedly made his fortune by betting on England to win the 1966 World Cup Final. Which, according to the way he tells it in A Gambler's Guide to Dying, didn't go down too well with the local hard-men in a neighbourhood where life expectancy is so low that people age in dog years, who saw it as a betrayal. Out of this incident which may or may not have happened, McNair weaves a comic portrait of the man who first introduced him to story-telling, and who almost became a millionaire if he'd lived to tell the tale.

Over seventy-five minutes of this big-hearted solo piece, McNair's shaggy-dog story says much about families and how they function. McNair is an engaging presence in Gareth Nicholls' production, underscored beautifully by Michael John McCarthy. Ultimately, it is about the things that make the people we care about immortal and a hand me down mythology which McNair is keeping very much alive.

As performance artists go, Bryony Kimmings is unflinching in the way she mines material from her own life and transforms it into theatre. Her latest piece, Fake It 'Till You Make It, devised and performed with her partner, Tim Grayburn, is her most honest outing yet. Heavily pregnant, Kimmings, alongside Grayburn, start the show with the sort of ridiculous dance routines consenting adults head over heels with each other normally play out in private. Once the pair announce that the show is a love story based around Kimmings finding out about Grayburn's clinical depression, however, things get very serious indeed.

With Grayburn hiding behind an array of fancy head-wear, what could all too easily slide into self-indulgent navel gazing is transformed into one of the most candidly life-affirming heart-on-sleeve depictions of warts and all true romances you're likely to witness this Fringe. Peppered throughout with a warmth that belies its subject matter, Kimmings and Grayburn's show and tell may be led by Kimmings, but its clearly something Grayburn needs to do just as much. As the pair transcend their struggles, what emerges is something that's artfully crafted, tightrope-walkingly fragile and really rather beautiful.

Sonya Kelly's almost solo show for Rough Magic and Soho Theatre, How to Keep An Alien,

is another real life love story, in which Kelly charts how she fell for Kate from Queensland, a stage manager on a production of a Russian classic Kelly was rehearsing. What happens next sees the couple jump through a set of bureaucratic hoops that will allow them to live in the same country together that would break up less substantial affairs before one of them even made it onto the plane.

Assisted by her own stage manager, Justin Murphy, who appears onstage beside her, Kelly makes for an engaging presence in this most charming of romances. Gina Moxley's production largely allows Kelly to be her normal amusing self and deliver some killer one-liners in what is actually a deceptively epic tale of persistence in the face of the silliest of adversities. It was lovely too on the first night to see Kate herself dragged up from the front row to take a bow for a moment in the spotlight which she and Kelly deserved every second of.

In Pardon / In Cuffs, a man and a woman sit at opposite ends of a long table on a revolving stage . As the revolve spins, what looks like a dead body is sprawled on the ground beside them. The woman interrogates the man, and it becomes clear she is a prosecutor, he some kind of petty thief lout. Over the next eighty minutes similar scenarios are repeated again and again, with the three performers including a resurrected dead body switching roles over a multitude of micro-duologues. One detainee does magic tricks. Prosecutors steal kisses from their charges. The performer not involved in a scene plays an organ at the side of the stage as the revolve stops and starts throughout.

Inspired by the documentaries of Magnum photographer Raymond DePardon, Valentijn Dhaenens' compendium of verbatim cases for his SkaGeN company that forms part of this year's Big in Belgium programme is a series of playful snapshots of those vital moments between crime and punishment that tell a million stories. Clara van den Broek, Korneel Hamers and Dhaenens himself play a role-call of addicts, drunks and delinquents in a dizzyingly forensic display of dramatic close-ups of the pains of confinement.

The Herald, August 10th 2015

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