Friday, 14 August 2015

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2015 Theatre Reviews 3 - Going Viral - Four stars / Key Change - Three stars / The Paradise Project - Three stars / Here is the News From Over There (Over There Is The News From Here) - Four stars

Northern Stage at Summerhall until August 30, except Here is the News From Over There (Over There Is The News From Here) until August 29.

Mass outbreaks of grieving are nothing new these days, but what if such emotional outbursts are part of a contagious medical condition that cries real tears. So it goes in Going Viral, Daniel Bye's latest performance lecture which forms part of Northern Stage's Edinburgh programme, and which takes an idea and runs with it to a fabulist conclusion. In this case, what starts with Bye sitting in the audience unloading his assorted everyday medication explodes into a blockbuster sized saga worthy of the most paranoid of ecology-inspired science-fiction epics.

Bye plays a version of himself, who finds himself on an aeroplane sat next to a woman who starts crying for seemingly no reason. Before he knows where he is the whole world's at it, and he's being pursued by a woman who wants to know why he's remained so dry-eyed with a persistence that really is enough to make you weep.

The fact that Bye unravels his story in a self-effacingly geeky fashion makes you warm to it even more, even as he intersperses it with a bucket-load of facts and figures which here come in the shape of several hundred liquorice allsorts. Created with advice from Dr Mark Booth, Bye's piece unpeels contemporary society's fascination with disease in a way that fascinates without blinding you with science.

When the quartet of women that make up the main protagonists of Catrina McHugh's women's prison set play, Key Change, look the audience in the eye before marking out their locale with masking tape, the tone is set for a searingly honest study of life behind bars and the things that put these women in a place where they can snap as easily as the tape that here allows them to break free. Devised with real life inmates of HMP Low Newton in County Durham, Laura Lindow's production for the Open Clasp company focuses largely on the lives of habitual offender Angie (Jennifer Johnson) and first-timer Lucy (Cheryl Dixon), and the ongoing litany of poverty, drug dependency and domestic abuse that shaped them and ultimately caged them.

Fused throughout with an often furiously choreographed physicality, putting the action in a women's prison gives things a heightened poignancy, and using the real life devising process as a framing device is inspired in a heartbreaking portrait of women in confinement that's full of wit, anger, muscle, guts and a heart that beats with what it means to be free.

How do you build utopia? It's a question that isn't asked directly in The Paradise Project, a collaboration between the Third Angel and mala voadora companies, but it's the driving force behind the man and woman who embark on what looks like an end of the world experiment in this sequel of sorts to the two companies' last collaboration on What I Heard About The World. Conceived and devised by Jorge Andrade and Jose Caopela of mala voadora, Alexander Kelly and Rachael Walton of Third Angel plus Chris Thorpe, there's a science-fiction feel to a set which performers Jerry Killick and Stacey Sampson build as they go.

Over an hour, the pair construct systems as well as tables and walls as they explore notions of equality and work, rest and play in a shiny microcosm of what passes for democracy in all its flaws. All of which makes for a consciously idea-led and a playfully intelligent sixty minutes that arches an eyebrow at what lies ahead even as it maps out its blueprint for a brave new world.

A key component of Northern Stage's 2013 Edinburgh programme was The Bloody Great Border Ballad project, a late-night line-up of hot off the press lo-fi theatre and song which added a new verse each night to make up an epic twenty-first century take on Scots balladeering.

In Here is the News From Over There (Over There Is The News From Here), this follow-up goes international with a similarly loose-knit vehicle for theatre, music and art from the Middle East. While directed with easy charm by Northern Stage artistic director Lorne Campbell, it is Lebanese satirist and playwright Abdel Rahim Alawiji who is ringmaster of an event which, in its first edition, featured new work by Sabrina Mahfouz and Hassan Abdul Razzak performed script-in-hand. The latter presented a reconstruction of an increasingly absurd TV chat show unable to address notions of atheism in an Islamic society.

With a set-up that included cups of tea, a lap-top generated score, a guitar-playing magician and some live weaving from artist Susan Mowatt, here was a post-modern multi-media Happening that gave a glimpse into the rich tapestry of third world culture that looks set to grow into the most infectiously eclectic of global villages.

The Herald, August 14th 2015

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