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Edinburgh Fringe Reviews 2011 - I, Malvolio / As The Flames Rose We Danced To The Sirens, The Sirens / 2401 Objects

I, Malvolio – Traverse Theatre – 4 stars
As The Flames Rose We Danced To The Sirens, The Sirens – Summerhall – 4
stars
2401 Objects – Pleasance – 3 stars

Tim Crouch's ongoing fascination with the nature of performance
appeared to have reached its limit with his previous show, The Author.
In I, Malvolio, however, Crouch manages to go further, and, by tapping
into the out and out ridiculousness of one of Shakespeare's crucial
characters in Twelfth Night, he manages to both laugh at his subject
while gently unveiling his inner tragedy.

As he silently mouths the words of a letter from his would-be beloved,
Olivia, clad in stained and tattered long-johns, animal ears and
presumably stinking yellow socks, Crouch's Malvolio more resembles
Bottom from A Midsummer Night's Dream than the spick and span servant
he once was. As he launches into a monologue littered with contemporary
references, however, it's clear the pomposity of old remains intact.

With the house lights up, the audience are in turn abused or else
invited onstage to perform assorted tasks, all the while being
questioned we're finding the ongoing spectacle so amusing.

Originally written for school-age audiences alongside three other
similarly styled solo deconstructions of Shakespeare, Crouch's Malvolio
is a pompous ass who falls somewhere between the buffoonery of Boris
Johnson, the absurdism of Vic Reeves and the misguided self-importance
of the late Princess Diana's former butler Paul Burrell. Like them,
Malvolio plays his part seemingly all too well, only to fall victim of
his own misfortune by not recognising that he's actually a little bit
rubbish at what he does. In a deadpan comic turn, this is something
Crouch himself could never be accused of.

A young woman wearing a little black dress and blonde wig stands behind
a microphone stand drinking a glass of red wine. Her feet are circled
by the tracks of a model train set as little musical fanfares play
while her shadow is cast large in the noirish mood lighting. She looks
every inch the dressing up box ideas of femme fatale, a little girl
in movie star clothing. Yet, as Spanish performer Iara Solano Arana
talks in the Sleepwalk Collective's hour-long devised piece, As The
Flames Rose We Danced To The Sirens, The Sirens, the audience become
intimate strangers complicit in a very public attempt to reach out
beyond the fourth wall and find some kind of comfort from the artifice
of the exchange.

Fear, love, passion and pain are all offloaded through the bottom of a
glass as Arana explains the meaning of red and green lights, allows her
mouth to become a tunnel for an oncoming model train and gives the
audience one minute to go up and touch her before attempting to saw
herself in half just to remind herself she can still feel. Meanwhile,
on the big screen behind her, Greta Garbo is in perpetual swoon as an
electronic pulse builds to a crescendo.

Samuel Metcalfe's production is a beguiling and transfixing experience
of a woman alone. While not without an impish comedic edge, Arana is
setting herself up as the ultimate damsel in distress, and this show by
her own admission is a cry for help that yearns for some kind of
connection even as she stays firmly in the spotlight. “How does it feel
to the only ones sober at the party?” she asks us before the lights go
out on an unsettlingly languid but hauntingly touching display of
live-art tragi-comic stand-up.

Also a matter of life and death is 2401 Objects, Analogue Productions
latest marriage of elegiac narrative and a busy visual way of telling.
Here the company focus on the real life story of Henry Molaison, who in
1953 underwent experimental brain surgery in an attempt to cure his
epilepsy, but who woke instead with the previous two years blanked out.
On top of this, Henry was unable to form any new memories, leaving his
mind on a never-ending loop that could only source his formative years
fleshed out with old black and white films watched with his dad.
Molaison inadvertently became immortal in 2009 when his brain was
dissected into two thousand four hundred and one pieces live on the
internet.

With a text by Lewis Hetherington drawn from a devising process led by
co-directors Hannah Barker and Liam Jarvis with their cast of Melody
Grove, Pieter Lawman and Sebastien Lawson, 2401 Objects presents a
gentle merry-go-round that humanises neuroscience without ever making
judgements. Made in association with Dr Jacobo Annese, director of the
Brain Observatory in San Diego, whose voice is heard at the beginning
and end of the show, it's a remarkable story not always served to its
advantage by Analogue's trademark kit of gauze screens rolling in and
out of the action.

As the actors double up while sporting post-war outfits that suggest
just how much it remains forever the 1950s in Henry's head, there's
clearly some good writing at play. It's just a shame that, despite
handling the material with a strong sense of sensitivity, things never
quite hang together as much as they should. Much the same could be said
about Henry's brain.

I, Malvolio until August 28; As The Flames Rose We Danced To The Sirens, The Sirens, August
22nd-23rd; 2401 Objects until August 28th;

ends

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