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Edinburgh Fringe Theatre Reviews 2011 - Beolwulf / Dry Ice / Midnight Your Time / No 52

Beowulf – A Thousand Years of Baggage - Assembly – 4 stars
Dry Ice – Underbelly – 4 stars
Midnight Your Time – Assembly – 3 stars
No. 52 – Summerhall – 3 stars

This year's Edinburgh Fringe has already seen one classic ripped into
with reckless abandon in the shape of all-night epic Hotel Medea. Now
along comes a riotous take on ninth century narrative poem Beowulf by
the New York based Banana Bag and Bodice company. What is often
delivered as a dusty museum piece is here ripped into in Rod Hipskind
and Mallory Catlett's loose-knit extravaganza by turning it into a live
art musical that cocks a snook at academe in much the same way same way
as the National Theatre of Scotland deconstruct border ballads for the
twenty-first century in their bar-room hit, The Strange Undoing of
Prudencia Hart.

In Beowulf, a trio of academics clutch copies of Seamus Heaney's
version of the story, declaiming into microphones as it comes to life
before their eyes like a messed-up post-modern vision culled from a
psyche where theory and pop culture meet, Grendel is a check-shirted,
beer-swilling momma's boy with some kind of hyperactive disorder and a
Freudian subtext that means he can't help but cause trouble. Beowulf
himself looks like a rougher Jarvis Cocker on a mediaeval re-enactment
weekend. “Screw you, Bambi!” yells Hipskind's Grendel at one point to
Jason Craig's “slightly dyslexic” Beowulf before they thumb-wrestle
their way to the finish throughout the venue's big top arena.

All this is set to a cacophonously skronky set of jazz-punk showtunes
performed by a live six-piece band led by composer Dave Malloy, and
which features two trombones at the score's heart, as well as a pair of
warrior women on backing vocals. It's a glorious din that transforms
the story of Beowulf into something that's fun and sexy, as swell as
pioneering the sort of DIY musical which, in recession-blighted times,
is the rough-hewn, hand-knitted future.

Dry Ice is also fun, even if Sabrina Mahfouz's rhyming monologue does
go some way to prove that a stripper's lot is not a happy one. Mahfouz
plays Nina, a streetsmart twenty-four old who may or may not be trapped
in a world of coke-head boyfriends, over-enthusiastic punters and a
coterie of increasingly brittle back-stage colleagues who she could
easily end up becoming exactly like.

Without ever being judgemental, Mahfouz relates all this in a barrage
of motormouthed couplets that fuel a multitude of characters, and which
recalls the poetic solos of Claire Dowie. Developed with some
unspecified input of Friends star David Schwimmer, Dry Ice is a
fearlessly exuberent little show which, if given the chance, might
prove to be the perfect cabaret-style accompaniment to photographer
Jannica Honey's studies of real life strippers currently on show at one
of the lap-dancing joints on Lothian Road.

Veteran actress Diana Quick plays a very different kind of woman to
Nina in Midnight Your Time, a solo vehicle for her penned by Adam Brace
for the HighTide company. Quick plays a retired lawyer going quietly
mad in the Islington home she shares with her husband. Now her grown-up
children have flown the nest, she has time on her hands, do-gooding
groups to join and, as becomes clear, quite a few bridges to build.

This is particularly the case with her daughter Helen, who, obliviously
ensconced in her own life in a warzone on the other side of the world,
has little time to keep to the pre-arranged online chats with her
mother via Skype. With only silence at the other end of the live feed
and Helen clearly in an almighty strop about something unspoken, Quick
finds herself interacting with nought but her own reflection and
speaking into a vacuum in an increasingly frantic and soul-searching
set of calls that make up the play.

With Quick perched in front of a laptop on a slowly revolving platform
and her web-cam image projected onto a large screen behind her, this is
an eloquent enough portrait of some of the traumas well-heeled
Islingtonites might face, but in terms of writing its all so much on
the same level that its hard to feel much in the way of empathy with
her. The story's narrative arc is almost too subtle, and , despite
Quick's assured and sympathetic delivery, one can't help but feel that
Helen might have had a point when she did a runner and stopped
returning calls.

No 52 is a devised curio put together by the fledgling Two's Company
Threes A Crowd ensemble, who, as with many of the young artists
occupying Summerhall this year, are graduates of the Kent-based Rose
Bruford drama college. Ostensibly a peek through the windows and blinds
of English suburbia where seemingly perfect nuclear families go about
their business, one can imagine it's a world not too dissimilar to that
occupied by Ms Quick in Midnight Your Time.

Here, however, what lies behind the fragile edifices of politesse take
on an altogether shriller, more hysterical edge as the O'Reilly clan's
life-long game of happy families turns increasingly ugly behind closed
doors. Using a mannered form of manic expressionism to get all this out
of their system, the three performers heighten things even further as
they stand behind window frames as if posing for snapshots by
punctuating the action with a series of harmonic chorales. At less than
an hour long it's never quite clear what's being said here, but it
remains an intriguing oddity nevertheless.

Beowulf until August 29; Dry Ice until August 28; Midnight Your Time
until August 28; No. 52 until August 16

The Herald, August 16th 2011

ends

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