Friday, 21 August 2015

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.

Free speech on the fringe was put under the microscope last year when the young Israeli company, Incubator Theatre, were forced to cancel their hip hop opera following protests from pro Palestinian groups. The eight plays in Walking The Tightrope are a direct response to that, as well as to the cancellation of Brett Bailey's Exhibit B at the Barbican in London following the show's Edinburgh International Festival run.

Radio reports of these and similar events play prior to Cressida Brown's production of a varied compendium, which opens with Mark Ravenhill's What Are We Going To Do About Harry? a wry dig at how private sponsors can hold undue influence on theatre programming, to Caryl Churchill's Tickets Are On Sale.

While Neil LaBute's wilfully provocative Exhibit A asks how far art itself can go as a performance artist has anal sex with his model onstage, some of the other plays look too much like theatrical in-jokes. With two male and two female performers tag-teaming throughout, and with each show followed by a panel discussion, he programme is worth it alone for Churchill's piece. Here conversation is rendered meaningless by the sort of vacuous managerialist marketing-speak beloved by box-ticking funding bodies across the land.

Runs until August 31.

Also contemplating his own art is the ever wilful Daniel Kitson, whose healthy disrespect for the theatrical status quo extends to him not issuing press tickets for his new show, Polyphony. Such a gesture may or may not be part of the overall concept for his ingeniously constructed meditation on the absence of others, but what follows as the audience navigate a Spinal Tap size Stonehenge-like circle of fifteen iPod shuffles attached to small speakers as they enter. Either way, as Kitson hands each one out at random, he reveals that each iPod will 'perform' a play about an old man in the future who buys a job lot of iPod shuffles and writes a play with them.

Except that as he explains, assorted voices on the iPods which are now forming part of the audience proceed to interject, question and at times aggressively question Kitson's artistic process and, eventually, his entire raison d'etre. Kitson argues back, sparring with the disembodied until he runs out of time and his play is lost to the bottom drawer of his mind.

Playing on his own perceived persona, Kitson has created a play for voices which is as if composer Gyorgi Ligetti had orchestrated his piece for one hundred metronomes, Poeme Symphonique, to Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of An Author. The result might easily have been dubbed Kitson's Last Tape in a dramatic orchestration as wry as it is profound.

Runs until August 30th

The Herald, August 21st 2015



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