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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 pa…

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,
wh…

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 this i…

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
Assembly
T…

FRONT

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
recounting…

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 eve…

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 thei…

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 eati…

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' piece, …

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 is bei…

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, wr…

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 loca…

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.

“T…

Minetti

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 wom…

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 UK i…

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 unexpec…

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 arou…

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.

A…

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 wordy r…

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 on…

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 lite…