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Traverse 1 Edinburgh Festival Fringe Reviews 2011

Futureproof 4 stars
Mission Drift 4 stars
Ten Plagues 4 stars
The Wheel 4 stars

The ongoing renewal of old theatrical forms for a new century and a
younger audience hungry for fresh kicks beyond the virtual frequently
looks to retro-chic cabaret for comfort. Lynda Radley's new play,
Futureproof, rewinds back to the sort of travelling roadshow
immortalised in Tod Browning's film, Freaks, redrawn for the cyber-punk
age by the likes of Jim Rose' Circus and last seen in an episode of
karma-based sit-com, My Name Is Earl. Rather than muck about with the
actual trappings of such low-rent vaudeville, Radley has penned a
relatively conventionally structured peek behind the stage curtain to
say something about self-definition, reinvention and the perilous
necessities of both.

Robert Riley's Odditorium provides sanctuary of sorts for Tiny the
fattest man in the world, armless bearded lay Countess Marketa, Siamese
twins Lillie and Millie and hermaphrodite George/Georgina. Then there's
Serena, who dons a mermaid's tail and can't or won't talk. With the
punters away, a serious make-over is required to make the acts a more
attractive proposition.

What follows in Dominic Hill's swan-song production for the Traverse in
association with Dundee Rep is a lovingly human exploration of what it
means to be different, and just how easily it is for alliances to be
severed and communities fractured when selfishness and progress come
home to roost. Robert Paterson's new slimline Tiny predicts the
extremities of faddy diets, Irene MacDougall's clean-shaven Marketa is
effectively airbrushed into acceptability, while Ashley Smith and
Nicola Roy's Lillie and Millie want to be individuals in their own
right rather than remain literally joined at the hip.

Paced beguilingly slowly and underscored by John Harris' elegiac piano
and accordion soundtrack, there's something here too about how radical
outsider art can be commercialised into respectability in a homogenised
cultural marketplace. Only Natalie Wallace's Serena, it seems, is too
normal to fit in. While she literally goes “back to the sea” like some
primordial missing link, unable to move on, George/Georgina embraces
new apparel, walking tall and proud in a thoroughly modern world.

The TEAM. (Theatre of the Emerging American Moment) have slowly but
surely become the artistic conscience of a younger generation
questioning their country's all-consuming capitalist culture. As they
return to Edinburgh for their new collectively created show, Mission
Drift, The TEAM head out to Las Vegas, the former desert turned shining
city of slot machines, star spangled cabaret and legitimised mobsterism
to explore a boom and bust landscape that is currently an epicentre of
America's housing crisis.

Dovetailing the latter-day stories of a laid-off casino worker and an
American Indian whose house was forcibly sold to the city with Dutch
teenagers Catalina and Joris' 1624 arrival in the promised land,
Mission Drift unravels an impressionistic history of growth, greed and,
ultimately, spectacular folly.

Delivered in a pick-and-mix collage of post-modern pop references,
political theory and live art, Mission Drift's cast of four are aided
and abetted here by a live band led by singer and pianist Heather
Christian. The result in Rachel Chavkin's production is the most mature
and cohesive TEAM show to date. As the feathered-head-dress sporting
Miss Atomic, the dynamic Ms Christian becomes part Greek chorus, part
bar-room cabaret turn using gospel and blues to create a brand new and
well overdue set of protest songs.

As we move into a twentieth century of A bomb tests, Elvis and
avaricious over-expansion, Catalina and Joris put their identities in
hock several times over as Vegas becomes one almighty if somewhat tacky
metaphor for a greater fall-out beyond. As Catarina finally runs away
from the desert, spiralling back on her and her adopted city's own
past, there's hope at the grassroots of getting things right this time
in a play that itself is a piece of well-buffed collectivism in action.

The majority of former Soft Cell singer Marc Almond's 1980s peers may
confine much of their activity these days to the thoroughly
entertaining nostalgic package tour circuit, but for his first ever
Edinburgh Fringe appearance this most singular of artists is being far
more ambitious.

Ten Plagues finds Almond onstage alone regaling us with Mark
Ravenhill's libretto inspired by the London plague of 1665 set to the
solo piano music of composer Conor Mitchell. In Stewart Laing's
production, this is scaled up to a stark but no less moving piece of
music theatre involving video projections cast onto a wooden-boarded
room where a black-clad Almond takes flight from the maze of barren
music stands below.

Over the piece's fifteen songs, Almond stretches both his voice and his
performative abilities, as he recounts the simple need to go shopping
in spring before things turn nasty. Confined to the room with images of
a presumably doomed lover beside him, Almond embarks on a moving
journey, his voice wracked as he clings to memory. There are times when
Ravenhill's lyrics sound tailor-made for a generation who grew up with
the spectre of AIDS, as on a telling titled Farewell, which could sit
alongside any of Almond's own torch tragedies. With Almond hunched up
alone at the end of this hour long show, love and loss have clearly
made their mark on his character, but ultimately Ten Plagues is about
survival.

Survival is the crux of The Wheel, a major new play by Zinnie Harris
for the National Theatre of Scotland. The play may open in nineteenth
century Spain, where Beatriz is preparing for her sister Rosa's
wedding, but before long the army have moved in, along with a little
girl whose father has just been exiled. Taking the girl reluctantly
under her wing, Beatriz chases after the girl's male protector, only to
embark on an epic quest that lurches across war zones, continents and
centuries, before finding herself back where she started from.
Somewhere along the way Beatriz' mute charge has moved from being angel
to apparent devil, a silent witness to brutalisation who seems to have
acquired strange mystical powers some might call evil.

Harris has set up a thrillingly audacious presence that looks at the
corrupting influences of poverty, violence and this thing called
society on n impressionistic mind. Vicky Featherstone's production
leaves things even more wide open on Merle Hensel's multi-tiered
breezeblock bombsite of a set, through which Catherine Walsh's Beatriz
and her acquired brood clamber like some magical-realist Mother Courage

As a mountain of shoes spill out of a cupboard like they're escaping
Auschwitz, it's an inherently moral line Harris is taking on whether
any of us are born bad or have it thrust upon us by circumstance. There
are hints too in the final scene that the whole thing might have been
some hallucinatory Wizard of Oz style fantasy by Beatriz, as she chases
an elusive father figure and guiding hand to call her own. The Wheel
remains a powerful and compelling indictment of neglect either way.

The Herald, August 9th 2011

ends

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