Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017 Fringe Theatre Reviews 2 - Thus Spoke... - King's Hall - Four stars / The North! The North! - Summerhall - Three stars / Letters to Morrissey - Traverse Theatre - Four stars

In the spotlight, a man in a waistcoat stares the audience in the eye and tells us how lucky we are to be here, watching Thus Spoke... Three others – a man and two women – drape themselves around pillars at the edge of a big square of space as a wall of lights glows behind him. During the first man's reverie, he sprawls himself out on the floor, before a burst of raw blues by Jimi Hendrix punctuates the scene, acting as a bridge before the next person takes the mic to let rip, and on it goes, ad nauseum.

Dating from 2014, and originally performed in French by Quebec's Groupe Gravel/Lepage, this ensemble piece of existential psycho-drama that forms part of the Canada Hub season is akin to a grown-up parlour game. Verbal riffs tumble out without any filter, as if senses have been over-stimulated somehow.

The physical tics that accompany each amplified speech suggests those onstage are trying to climb out of their own skin. This becomes more like a series of routines from what might be the bleakest open mic night on the circuit. As the quartet dance in unison for dear life, each bares their scars in a fusion of nihilistic gestures that would make Nietzsche raise a smile of recognition.

In 1985, Britain was split in two, a seismic event that created a physical north/south divide which reflected everything else going on in the dark days of Thatcherism. This is how the history books should tell it anyway, according to the young narrator of The North! The North!, Christopher Harrisson's very British slice of twenty-first century gothic. With only the adjustable drawers of a wooden cupboard, some sci-fi noir projections and a burbling electronic underscore, Harrisson conjures up a mysterious world that is part road movie, part Peer Gynt style fantasia and part dystopian Kafkaesque mythology.

As Harrisson's creation races up the motorway from the big city in the south where hedonism reigns, the phone call from his sister that prompted the move sees him fall in with a series of fantastical Burroughsian grotesques. This leads him to develop a split personality in the most interestingly earthy of ways. Sired from a generation raised on a mix of stand-up, graphic novels and underground club culture, to call this a piece of story-telling theatre doesn't really do it justice in an impressively punkish portrait of a worm that turns in an ugly world.


Gary McNair is sprawled on the floor in what looks like a mock-up of his teenage bedroom as the audience enter for his latest solo play, Letters to Morrissey. A record player, a pile of Smiths albums a stack of old NMEs and several volumes of Oscar Wilde accompany him. On the back wall, pin-ups of Morrissey himself peer down, teasing and triumphal.

What follows is a touchingly funny trawl through a terminal adolescent's back pages, and how this strange and flamboyant libertine gave voice to all the shy and bookish dreamers who didn't fit in. In the hands of McNair and director Gareth Nicholls, what could have been a nostalgic indulgence becomes a fully fleshed story of how lives can be changed overnight.

Psycho Kyle, Jan the Lesbian and best pal Tony are all brought to life by McNair, before two key moments provide the play's narrative drive. The first captures the full hysteria of watching Morrissey live at Glasgow Barrowlands. This provides the strength for the second, more troubling incident. This isn't a play about Morrissey. It's about how icons like him can provide a lifeline and a voice for the disaffected, and how those without such a lifeline might not be so lucky.

The Herald, August 8th 2017

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