Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2016 Reviews 5 - Greater Belfast - Traverse Theatre, Four stars / Daffodils - Traverse Theatre, Four stars / Putting the Band Back Together - Summerhall, Three stars

The pre-show Undertones soundtrack is a telling marker of what's to come in Greater Belfast, Matt Regan's spoken word tone poem to Northern Ireland's capital where he no longer lives. While from Derry, the punky purveyors of Teenage Kicks were the epitome of what was possible despite the violent divisions that defined what Regan calls the T word in his sixty-five minute love letter to his home town from an exile's point of view.

Accompanied by the sublime arrangements of the Cairn String Quartet, Regan leads us on an impressionistic travelogue through Belfast old and new, a city marked by songs and an eternal desire for an alternative ulster that nevertheless acknowledges the bombsite of old.

Developed at Glasgow's Tron Theatre, who now co-produce this finished version with the Traverse and Regan's Little King company, Claire Willoughby's production weaves the different elements of the show into an elegant suite loaded with as much black humour as operatic intent. And yes, there are nods to Belfast's musical past by way of covers of both the Undertones and Stiff Little Fingers, while an epic finale distills Van Morrison's back catalogue into a cacophonous hymn to places lost and found.

Runs to August 28

One is reminded of Dylan Thomas' poem, From Love's First Fever to Her Plague watching Daffodils (A Play With Songs), the New Zealand based Bullet Heart Club company's bittersweet portrait of a thirty-five year relationship between Eric and Rose, who meet in 1964 when Eric almost runs Rose over. A whirlwind romance to a rock and roll soundtrack later and a happy ever after is guaranteed. Except that the new freedoms afforded to the post-war teenage generation can't quite shake off the familial baggage that shaped it.

Rochelle Bright's everyday tragedy is told by Colleen Davis and Todd Emerson through a series of criss-crossing exchanges delivered out-front into microphones, while a live three piece band plays selections from the Kiwi song-book. Radically rearranged numbers not only underscore Eric and Rose's relationship, but give glimpses of an entire culture where the possibility of everlasting love is blighted by secrets that can never be shared.

Utilising period home movie footage, Dena Kennedy's production, created with the company, has a lively DIY appeal. Davis and Emmerson are a delight as Eric and Rose, however sad watching their youthful fizz eventually close down to a shell of unacknowledged self-protection may be.

Runs to August 28
Putting the Band Back Together draws from the real life last wish of Tyneside based theatre maker Mark Lloyd after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. That he put his old band back together long enough to play live three times is heroic enough in itself. That he then inspired the Unfolding Theatre company's artistic director Annie Rigby to create this show with writer Chloe Daykin and a cast of actor musicians that includes Ross Millard of Sunderland indie band The Futureheads is heartwarming stuff. Over a loose-knit set of song-punctuated scenes, musical passions are reignited in a piece imbued with a roughcast common touch wrapped up in heart and soul.

Each show too features a house-band of local musicians who may similarly have given up the ghost, but who here step out of the audience onto a stage to give it their best shot. In this way the show taps into the pure collective joy of singing and making music, not out of some craving for stardom, but to be able to share in an expression of unity that is a matter of life and death even as it transcends it.

Runs to August 27

The Herald, August 17th 2016

ends

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