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Showing posts from August, 2014

1984 - Headlong Theatre on George Orwell

There was a time when the phrase Big Brother meant a whole lot more than an increasingly freakish reality TV show. It is such grotesque legitimisation of surveillance culture as public spectacle, however, which in part fuels Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan new stage version of George Orwell's dystopian novel, 1984. Their co-production between the Headlong theatre company, Nottingham Playhouse and the Almeida Theatre arrives in Glasgow this week following suitably mass acclaim for its first run in 2013. While this new version adapts Orwell's novel in full, the starting point for Icke and Macmillan was not the novel itself, which charts Winston Smith's battle with an authoritarian state as he rebels and falls in love with a woman called Julia, but the appendix that follows it. “The appendix really changes your perception of the main story,” Icke says of The Principles of Newspeak, which refers to the novel's ideologically driven minimalist language. “It's a strange p

Ubu and the Truth Commission

Royal Lyceum Theatre Four stars “Our reign of terror,” says Pa Ubu at one point in director William Kentridge, writer Jane Taylor and Handspring Puppet Company's reimagining of Alfred Jarry's grotesque fable on power, corruption and lies to post-apartheid South Africa, “was no reign of error.” Wandering the stage like an overgrown baby in grubby vest and Y-fronts, Ubu here is a general on the make, whose liaison with Ma Ubu may look as multi-cultural as it comes, but is one which hides a multitude of sins. Much of this comes out by fusing Jarry's play with real-life testimonies from the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, in which witnesses laid bare a litany of institutionalised brutality. These testimonies are relayed by puppets, operated by a trio of performers, with English translations provided by the other performers situated in a glass booth beside them. They are visualised even more powerfully in a series of chalky monochrome animations by Kentridge,

William Kentridge - Ubu and the Truth Commission

When Johannesburg-born artist William Kentridge teamed up with the Handspring Puppet Company to create Ubu and the Truth Commission, the post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa that inspired it was a year into proceedings Scripted by Jane Taylor, Kentridge's audacious fusion of Alfred Jarry's piece of proto-absurdist buffoonery and real life transcripts from the Commission opened in Johannesburg in 1997. The show went on to tour South Africa, Europe and America, finishing with a run at the London International Festival of Theatre in 1999. Seventeen years after its premiere, with Handspring now universally acclaimed for their work on War Horse, and with South Africa commemorating twenty years of democracy, Kentridge's revival of Ubu and the Truth Commission closes this year's Edinburgh International Festival theatre programme. While much of South African theatre remains associated with the satirical agit-prop of the likes of the Market Theatre

Helen Lawrence

King's Theatre Four stars 1948, and a femme fatale is receiving her just desserts in a Los Angeles sanatorium after being convicted in a headline friendly murder. A year later, and the same ice-cool blonde blows into Vancouver, drop-dead gorgeous and with revenge on her mind. So it goes in Stan Douglas' epically staged piece of cinematic theatre, which is part film noir homage, part dissection of post Second World War social engineering, and part technical feat par excellence. The story, as scripted by some-time HBO writer Chris Haddock with hard-boiled baroque flourishes, is stylistically familiar enough, as the play's eponymous heroine flits her way between a decrepit hotel that houses homeless war veterans and the mixed race Hogan's Alley ghetto nearby. As corrupt cops attempt to clean up the black economy which has thrived during war-time, we get a glimpse at the roots of future urban regeneration projects that razed big cities as much as enemy bombs did. All of thi

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2014 Theatre Reviews15 - The Future For Beginners / Animal Farm / Anthem or Doomed Youth

The Future For Beginners Summerhall Three stars When boy meets girl and things start to get serious, making plans for the future can take many forms. In the case of Jennifer Adams and Matthew Bulgo in Alan Harris, Martin Constantine and composer Harry Blake's lo-fi musical rom-com for the liveartshow company, that means meticulously cataloguing every detail of every single day of their life together in advance. She sings operatic arias and might just be a Russian princess. He plays the ukulele and is into Buddhism and skateboarding. As if such hipster affectations weren't quirky enough, the perfect fantasy life they map out more resembles an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder inspired art project than real life domestic bliss. It is when things go wrong, however, that things get really interesting in a sweet little construction performed with considerable charm that makes for a show that is about the unexpectred surprises which happy ever afters can bring. Run ended. Animal Farm Ass


Royal Lyceum Theatre Four stars The stark, solo trumpet fanfare that opens Luk Perceval's polyphonic cut-up of First World War memoirs sets an anti-triumphalist tone for a bi-lingual piece drawn from Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet On The Western Front and Henri Barbusse's Under Fire as well as contemporary sources. What follows, as nine men and two women dressed in charcoal black suits and white shirts line up on crates placed in front of lamp-lit music stands across the lip of the stage, is an ice-cool piece of European post-modernism that uses the trappings of live art to evoke the horrors of war that arguably begat them. The ensemble speak into microphones in German, French, Flemish and English, weaving counterpointing dispatches from the Belgian frontline around each other while gazing out front in reflection of the archive photographs from the trenches projected behind them. The descriptions of grotesquely dismembered bodies are delivered flatly, as if those recounti

Edinburgh Festival Fringe Theatre 2014 Theatre Reviews 14 - Every Brilliant Thing / Bill Clinton Hercules / The Initiate

Every Brilliant Thing Summerhall Four stars How life-affirming can you get about suicide? If that’s not an easy question to answer, try asking the hero of Duncan Macmillan's solo play, who probably has it filed away in his list of great things in life that keep you going. The motivation for this was when his mother attempted suicide and he began a list to help remind her of why she should be alive. As performer Jonny Donahoe leads us through all the love, loss and messy twists and turns of our hero's own life, his ever-lengthening list becomes part diary, part totem of survival. Goethe and Daniel Johnson all make an appearance by way of the meticulously numbered epigrams that come to life when Donahoe asks the audience to recount them throughout the course of George Perrin's production for Paines Plough. The audience too become assorted key players in the unfolding drama as they go willingly onstage in what may be the gentlest form of audience participation

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2014 Theatre Reviews 13 - No Guts, No Heart, No Glory / The Trial of Jane Fonda / Sirens

No Guts, No Heart, No Glory Sandy's Boxing Gym Four stars Not a punch is thrown in anger in the Common Wealth company's follow-up to Our Glass House, one of the sleeper hits of last year's Fringe. In its real-life show-and-tell played out by a determined quintet of young female Muslim boxers, however, this new piece's depiction of young women empowering themselves enough to find a voice beyond their backgrounds is inspirational. Taking place in Sandy's Gym housed in a community centre in Craigmillar, director Evie Manning and writer Aisha Zia have choreographed a criss-crossing confessional that moves from a training session with punchbag and skipping ropes to climbing in the ring and declaiming like champions. On one level, the young womens' concerns – about themselves, their families and the world that would rather define them in other ways while behaving crazily to each other – are the stuff of any teenage rites of passage. In the context of

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2014 Theatre Reviews 12 – Traverse Breakfast Plays 2 - Fat Alice / Mother Ease / Walter

Fat Alice Traverse Theatre Three stars When the crack that appears in the ceiling of a woman who's been conducting a ten-year affair with a married man threatens to turn into something bigger, it becomes a metaphor for how easy it is for  entire worlds to come crashing down if you allow them to run to seed. Issues of body image, fear of commitment and the willingness to acquiesce to others all rear their chocolate-fuelled head in Alison Carr's absurdist tragicomedy, the fourth play in the mini season of Traverse Breakfast Plays directed by Traverse associate director Emma Callander as script-in-hand work-in-progress productions. There are contemporary shades of Ionesco in the audacious largesse of Carr's script, which would make a wonderful radio piece while offering some potentially tantalising technical and design choices for any future full stage production. As it stands, Keith Fleming and Meg Fraser spar furiously in a domestic tug of war where comfort

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2014 Theatre Reviews 11 - Theatre Uncut

Traverse Theatre Four stars Revolutions don't often start on Monday mornings. For the last three Mondays, however, Theatre Uncut has suggested otherwise in a series of lo-fi presentations of relatively hot-off-the-press bite-size playlets in response to burning issues of the moment. Founded in 2010 by directors Emma Callander and Hannah Price as an open access style operation in response to the Westminster government's cut-driven austerity culture, Theatre Uncut has become an annual fixture of the Traverse bar, where their three programmes were presented as script-in-had works in progress. This year's first session featured five new works, including Anders Lustgarten's The Finger of God, which sees what happens when the National Lottery is sexed up to extreme proportions, and Inua Ellams This is Us, in which direct action against the bedroom tax is the only solution. It is a timely co-opting of someone else's words that made Hayley Squires' piec

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2014 Theatre Reviews 10 - Spine / A Walk At The Edge of the World / 13 Sunken Years

Spine Underbelly Five stars When teenage Amy turns up on the doorstep of an old woman with the promise of a room, she opens up the door into a brand new world.  Amy may be chock-full of attitude, but the old woman is no pushover, as she reveals to Amy when she reveals her own attitude founded on old-time Socialism. This is something she put into practice following the enforced closure of her local library, when she and her neighbours liberated all the books. Originally presented as a twenty-minute version in 2012 as part of the Theatre Uncut initiative's hot off the press responses to austerity culture, this hour-long development remains  as touching and as urgent as it ever was. Surrounded by shelf-loads of hard-back tomes, Rosie Wyatt gives a ferocious performance as Amy as she charts her accidental getting of wisdom and the call to arms for people power in action that follows. Where the old lady we never see represents the wisdom, decency and compassion that

Theatre Thalia - Front

When Belgian theatre director Luk Perceval decided he wanted to live and work in Germany, his parents apparently warned him against such a move. The Germans killed their countrymen, they said, so why would he possibly want to live there? This is what the director whose last work to be seen in Edinburgh was his 2004 production of Andromache told Christina Bellingen, the dramaturg of the Thalia Theatre, Hamburg, anyway. Bellingen worked closely with Perceval on Front, an epic, multi-lingual spoken-word polyphony brought to Edinburgh International Festival this week in a co-production between the Thalia and NTGent from Belgium. Front is based in part on All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque's novel published in 1929, which sold more than two and a half million copies in twenty-two different languages over eighteen months. Remarque's book, which was filmed twice in 1930 and 1979, was also burnt by the Nazis when they came to power. Front also draws from Under Fire, w

Stan Douglas - Helen Lawrence

There's something oddly off-kilter about Stan Douglas being photographed in an ornate, low-lit and state-of-art room in the Haus der Kunst, Munich, where his new exhibition, Mise en Scene, has just opened. For the past hour, the Vancouver-born artist, film-maker and photographer, whose large-scale piece of cinematic theatre, Helen Lawrence, opens as part of Edinburgh International Festival, has been taking part in a panel discussion to talk about the series of elaborately constructed fictions contained in the exhibition. Taken from real life historical events, the assorted images of staged streets scenes, 1950s nightclub portraits and post-revolutionary 1970s hedonism may be steeped in meticulously realised retro imagery culled from film noir and pulp fiction, but they are quietly and deeply political in intent. Which is why Douglas appears as off-kilter as the shadowy 3D image at the far end of the long room where much of the exhibition is housed, and which reimagines the now raz

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2014 Theatre Reviews 9 - The Collector / Theatre On A Long Thin Wire / Thief

The Collector Gilded Balloon Three stars What do you do when the only way to earn a living is to work for the enemy? This is the dilemma for Nazir, the hip hop loving translator who provides the heart of Henry Naylor's new play set in Iraq in 2003. Nazir's story is told by way of three cut-up monologues spoken in turn by his partner, Zoya, and the two American army interrogators he translates for. With humanity turning to brutality, Nazir is effectively outed by one of the army captives and made a pariah that changes his and Zoya's lives forever. There is some neat writing in Naylor's timely script, which is given a strong delivery by Ritu Arya, Wiliam Reay and Lesley Harcourt. There are probably more imaginative ways of moving from one monologue to the other than simply turning the lights off as the actors shuffle on and off stage in Naylor's own production An understated power prevails, however, in a piece that highlights the potentially destructive aftermath of l

Common Wealth - No Guts, No Heart, No Glory

Sandy's Boxing Gym in Craigmillar might not know what hits it this week when Common Wealth Theatre Company move their new show in there for its Edinburgh Festival Fringe run. No Guts, No Heart, No Glory, after all, isn't a typical look at the power and the glory of one to one combat inside the squared circle. Evie Manning's production of Aisha Zia's script is not only about women boxers, but Muslim women boxers who also happen to be champions. “It all stems from Our Glass House,” Manning says of Common Wealth's previous Edinburgh show, a site-specific piece about domestic abuse performed in an empty house in Wester Hailes. “After we did it, we had a lot of conversations about representations of women onstage, and we decided that we wanted to focus our next piece on strong role models for women and what they can achieve.” With Zia also keen to do a piece based around young Asian women, Manning somewhat fortuitously met a Muslim neighbour in Bradford who was a boxer.


Royal Lyceum Theatre Four stars “All artists are afraid,” says the ageing actor early on in this new English translation of Austrian literary giant Thomas Bernhard's mid 1970s dramatic treatise on life, art and an actor's lot. Subtitled A portrait of the artist as an old man, Bernhard's play has the title character turn up at a wood-panelled Ostend hotel on New Year's Eve while a storm rages outside. As played by Peter Eyre, Minetti makes his entrance quietly enough, but, as he' tells anyone who pretends to listen, he's here to meet a noted theatre director, who looks set to cast him as King Lear thirty years after he turned his back on the classics and killed his career. As he waits, Minetti cuts a hangdog figure who plays to an ever changing audience of drunken revellers while he waits, locked in a limbo of his own making, out of step and out of time. At first he accosts a woman in a red dress lost in her own champagne fuelled reverie. Later it's a young w

Genesis & Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge – Life As A Cheap Suitcase (Pandrogeny and A Search For A Unified Identity)

Genesis Breyer P-Orridge is laughing. Sitting in the New York apartment now called home on one of the hottest day of the year, for the artist once decried in the Houses of Parliament alongside others participating in a 1976 exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts called Prostitution as 'wreckers of civilisation', it's a laugh that's justified. The man who gifted Breyer P-Orridge and fellow members of nascent industrial band, Throbbing Gristle, such a damning soubriquet, after all, was Scottish Conservative MP, the late Sir Nicholas Fairbairn. The flamboyant sexual libertine, former Chair of the Traverse Theatre and ex member of the Edinburgh Festival Council's name has recently been mentioned in reports highlighting the ongoing alleged VIP paedophilia scandal, and Breyer P-Orridge for one feels vindicated. “Why were they so angry at us researching sex magick and other forms of sexuality?” ponders Breyer P-Orridge, who was effectively exiled from the

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2014 Theatre reviews 8 - Traverse Breakfast Plays 1 - Broth / Blinded By The Light / The Day The Pope Emptied Croy

Broth Traverse Theatre Three stars The Traverse Breakfast Plays have become a 9am Fringe fixture over the last few years. This year's season of six plays have been selected and developed from The Traverse 50, Scotland's new writing theatre's year-long initiative designed to develop and hone writers' playwriting skills. First out the traps is this brutally dark look at domestic abuse in a family which has somewhat miraculously stayed together despite the behaviour of its drunken head of the house. As with the soup on the stove at the start of Emma Callander's script-in-hand work-in-progress production, tensions betweeen the three generations of women who may or may not have battered Jimmy Chisholm's unreconstructed patriarch into submission are simmering to boiling point. This is seriously grown-up stuff from Primrose, who takes all the trappings of dour domestic drama and, as the likes of Martin McDonagh has done before him, explodes it into u

Where The World Is Going, That's Where We Are Going

Summerhall Three stars Neil Cooper It probably isn't essential for audiences to know the inner workings of eighteenth century French philosopher  Denis Diderot's novel, Jacques the Fatalist and His Master, before coming to see the Hof van Eede company's contribution to the Fringe's Big in Belgium strand, but it might help. Jacques, after all, was one of the earliest known novels to mix up the fictional form in a way that questioned the very essence of what a novel could be whilst also offering up a treatise on free will. Post-modernism before it's time, as one of this show's scholarly protagonists wryly observes. Things begin casually, with a bookish young man and woman who may or may not be a couple declaring their intention to introduce Diderot's ideas to us as they might in a lecture or a book group. Over the next hour of flirtation, bickering, misunderstandings and sixth form level misinterpretations of personal politics, the pair skirt

Tom Cairns - Minetti

When Thomas Bernard wrote his play, Minetti, for veteran actor Bernhard Minetti in 1976, it introduced a new generation to a performer whose career had seen him play on all of Germany's major stages in the post Second World War years. Regarded as 'the king of theatre', and with an ego to match such a claim, Minetti joined the Schillertheatre in Berlin in 1957. By the time he first worked with Bernhard in 1974 aged sixty-nine, however, as a cantankerous circus ringmaster in The Force of Habit, Minetti's career was in need of a kickstart. Even though it wasn't directly about him, Minetti the play was it. For an equally provocative Bernhard, this new solo piece about an actor in decline stuck in the lobby of a New York hotel on New Year's Eve became a platform for his own ideas on life and art. Who better to become his voice than an old-time actor who echoed his own frustrations with the world, which the literary and theatrical establishment became a microcosm of.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2014 Theatre Reviews 7 - Chef / Little On The Inside / Britannia Waves The Rules

Chef Underbelly Four stars How does a high-flying young girl from the back-streets go from getting her big break working in a swanky restaurant to serving slops as a prison inmate working the kitchen? Sabrina Mahfouz's street-smart solo verse play tells all over several courses, in which a high-flying club kid from a troubled background goes on a rollercoaster ride, from being the emotional appendage of a wannabe gangster to getting sent down for something she didn't do. In the thick of all this, Mahfouz's heroine finds salvation for cooking up elaborate dishes that become a means of expression as much as anything else. In the thick of all this are comments on the penal system in all its slopped-out glory which our woman manages to transcend Onstage alone for an hour, Jade Anouka gives an uber-cool and thoroughly believable delivery of Mahfouz's dramatic poem which flows with a gregarious musicality. By the end of being served up such an overload of w

Heathcote Williams and Pip Utton - Hancock's Last Half Hour

Comic genius Tony Hancock had been dead for almost a decade by the time Heathcote Williams' solo play, Hancock's Last Half Hour, first appeared in 1977. Since that first production at The Almost Free Theatre, in which stalwart of Harold Pinter plays Henry Woolf played The Lad Himself, as he prepared to commit suicide in a Sydney hotel room with only a scrap-book of newspaper cuttings, a telephone and a bottle of vodka for company. Like the legend of Hancock himself, however, Williams' play has lived on. The late Richard Briers played Hancock in a radio version ofd Hancock's Last Half Hour in 1988. At that time, Pip Utton, who revives Williams' play for this year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe, was still working as a jeweller, and it would be several years before he picked up a copy of the play in a secondhand book shop and go on to launch his acting career with a portrayal of a man friends told him he resembled. Twenty-one years on, Utton has performed in solo play

Letters Home

Edinburgh International Book Festival Four stars The intimate art of letter writing may have given way to the impersonal pings of social media over the last decade or so, but this quartet of short works presented by site-specific maestros Grid Iron in a unique collaboration with Edinburgh International Book Festival goes some way to claiming it back. With the audience promenaded between a network of addresses in and around Charlotte Square, four short stories with themes of exile and the umbilical link with home are taken off the page and brought to life in this gentlest of fusions between forms. In Details, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie charts a long distance email love affair between a Nigerian woman and her American friend. Christos Tsiolkas' Eve and Cain brings the Bible's original dysfunctional family together in a mother and child reunion to end them all. In the first, Joe Douglas directs Muna Otaru and Rhoda Ofori-Attah through the womens' painful absence on a double bed

Vicky Featherstone and Chris Goode - Men in the Cities

If Vicky Featherstone hadn't come to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe when a student at Manchester University, it's unlikely that the National Theatre of Scotland would exist as it does. Featherstone, after all, was the company's first artistic director of a company which had already opted for a radical 'theatre without walls' initiative, programming a body of work that drew from all aspects of Scottish theatre. During Featherstone's tenure, the NTS developed more left-field artists alongside big main stage plays, a tradition which Featherstone took over as artistic director of the Royal Court Theatre in London. Despite heading up such august institutions, it feels as though Featherstone has retained a Fringe sensibility sired during the 1980s and  early 1990s era of politically driven grassroots shoestring companies and alternative cabaret. Featherstone's first Edinburgh show in her own right was an adaptation of Gogol's short story, The Nose. “The then li