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Posts Tagged ‘Edinburgh Fringe’

John Godber’s plays for his then company Hull Truck Theatre were a staple diet of the Edinburgh Fringe for some time from the late 80’s, sometimes two or three a year. For me, it started with Bouncers, the first in a series of four-handlers that were effectively interwoven monologues, continuing with Teechers and Shakers, plus plays that blended comedy with social comment, plays about real people, a slice of humanity on stage. I’ve seen around a dozen of them.

A weekend in Scarborough provide the opportunity to see his new work for The John Godber Company, resident at Theatre Royal Wakefield, and to go to Stephen Joseph Theatre, on my list of regional theatrical powerhouses to be visited – appropriate considering Godber is the UK’s third most performed playwright and the the Stephen Joseph Theatre has premiered all of the plays of the second, Alan Acykbourn (Will remains No.1, of course). This is very much a family affair, with Godber’s wife Jane Thornton and his daughter Martha the other two actors and Elizabeth Godber the stage manager. Godber writes, directs and acts.

It’s set in a Yorkshire seaside town, Sunny Side, where Barney, his wife Tina and daughter Cath run a small hotel. At a quiet time, booking wise, Tina invites her brother Graham and his wife to stay as hotel guests. Graham has long moved on from Sunny Side and the play centres around how some of us leave home and lose sight of, and connection to, where we come from. The contrast between the run down hometown and its upwardly mobile former resident forms the crux of both the comedy and the social message. It’s a multi-layered piece which is both entertaining and thought provoking, and it clearly resonated with the local audience of a real seaside town, and with me, a Welsh miner’s son who left home at eighteen.

The three actors play both those who stayed and those who’ve moved on, as well as other characters like hotel guests. It unfolds in a series of short scenes between the two couples separately, which could have been a bit ‘staccato’ but flowed well, with a soundtrack to die for of well known pop songs of Barney / Graham’s youth. It has great feel-good warmth and I thoroughly enjoyed being reacquainted with this prolific, very talented and populist theatre-maker.

Catch it on tour in Halifax, Oldham, Newcastle-under-Lyme and Hull.

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This was one of the first plays I saw at the Traverse Theatre, and indeed at the Edinburgh Fringe, 33 years ago, which began a lifelong love of both, leading to ten shows at the new Traverse just last month. It was part of a golden age for Scottish drama, led by the Traverse, which went on to mount three more Jo Clifford plays before moving on to the next generation. It hasn’t been revived there since and I’m not sure it’s ever been seen in London before.

It’s set in the early 17th century, when Spain was an aspirational expansionist power with particular designs on the states which would one day become Italy. The newly married Duke of Osuna, not really enamoured with his new wife and seemingly impotent, avoids the honeymoon by heading to Venice on behalf of King and country to make Spain great again, with his poet Quevedo and servant Pablo, whose partner Maria stays at court in Madrid with the Duchess. On the way they encounter pirates and when they get there, it’s all a bit weird, with little to say and not really going anywhere.

I’m not sure Jess Curtis’ hybrid period / contemporary design helps Paul Miller’s production, but the actors work hard to breathe life into it, notably the four central performances by Tim Delap as the Duke, Christopher Logan as poet Quevedo, Eleanor Fanyinka as Maria and an excellent professional debut from Remus Brooks as Pablo. I can see why they thought the time was right to revive it, and indeed I was very much looking forward to seeing it again, but time hasn’t been kind and I’m afraid it comes over as dull and a bit pointless today.

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Well, here we are again at the world’s largest arts festival, and this year without any main festival shows booked because the programme for our week looked a bit dull. Still ,with more than 2000 shows on the fringe, you’re not going to be twiddling any thumbs up here.

We started with Africa Heart & Soul*** by a group of five performers from Zimbabwe who tour their show to raise money for their youth work. The harmonic singing was gorgeous and some of the dance was good too, but they tried to create a narrative that came out a bit embarrassing; they’d have been better sticking to a song and dance show. Still, a good cause and the spirit of the fringe.

The first highlight was Antonio Forccione***** with his trio including regular Brazilian percussionist and a new Senegalese Kora player. The sound is gloriously uplifting and it’s without question the best band he’s put together. They’re clearly loving it and it was infectious.

The first trip to the Traverse Theatre was for The Golden Dragon***, a show that weaves the stories of the staff of the Chinese-Thai-Vietnamese restaurant of the show’s title with those of its customers and neighbours. It was clever and original with some lovely touches, including regular ‘punctuation’ by menu descriptions ,but it outstayed it’s welcome by about 10-15 minutes and became a bit too surreal in the end.

I always seem to make the mistake of booking monologues when I know I don’t like them, and I did it again with A Slow Air**, lured by favourite playwright David Grieg and favourite theatre The Traverse. This was a sad tale told in two interlocking monologues. It’s well written and you can’t fault the performances but for someone with a visual imagination, under stimulating. For me, something for the radio not a theatre.

Faure’s Requiem by candlelight*** at 10pm in a church after a nice supper with rather too much Montepulciano – yes, you guessed, I joined Narcoleptics Anonymous rather quickly and the rest is a bit of a blur, but a rather pleasant blur nonetheless!

The two Welsh members in this year’s party booked for Llwyth (Tribe)*****, a play in Welsh, partly out of loyalty and partly because theatre company Sherman Cymru had given us two treats in the last two years with Deep Cut and Speechless. A play about a group of gay boys in Cardiff on the night of an international rugby match didn’t sound that promising, but it turned out to be an outstanding piece of writing which was staged well and brilliantly performed. It was captivating throughout, often funny and occasionally moving. Being from the valleys probably helped, but judging by the enthusiastic audience reaction not essential. When it opened with gorgeous choral singing I was impressed by the sound; when the choir walked onstage in the final scene, my mouth fell open. A highlight.

Sadly, we had to follow this with Wondrous Flitting*, a simply dreadful play from the Lyceum Company no less, at the normally reliable Traverse. Allegedly a social satire, it was a series of preposterous scenes that added up to nothing except a numb bum and a feeling that I’d waste of 90 minutes of my life. To appreciate the bad, you have to put up with the good, I suppose. Following Llwyth didn’t help, but it would have been bad following anything or nothing.

We ended Sunday with stand-up Sarah Milican***, whose Geordie charm is irresistible. Her use of ‘fuck’ doesn’t really suit her and we’d have liked more interaction with the audience because she’s good at it, but it was a funny hour which we enjoyed and brought the day back up again.

Monday started with an impulsive addition – Stepehn Berkoff’s adaptation of the Oedipus**** legend. I hadn’t realised Berkoff was in it, which was juts as well as he wasn’t, having pulled out following a slipped disc. I also didn’t realise Anita Dobson was in it too, which explained her sighting with Brian May at the restaurant we’d eaten at the night before. As it turned out, it was the eight man chorus and Simon Merrells who stole the show – not that Dobson and assistant director Matt Cullum standing in for Berkoff weren’t good too – they were. It was a touch long for the amount of story to tell, but was on a scale you don’t often see at the fringe and a thoroughly enjoyable show.

Judith sat next to two actors on the train up who were finishing off their show, as one does, so of course we had to go! It was an audio experience where you wear headphones and listen to stories unfold, but unlike similar experiences, the scenes were also being acted out amongst the crown in the Pleasance Courtyard so you could also wander around and if you found them, watch from as much distance as you wished (or not at all). In Invisible Show II****, four actors played a number of characters each and though the scenes did not seem to be inter-connected, it did add up to a satisfying dramatic experience.

We ended the first half as we had started with the spirit of the fringe, but this time it’s comic godfather Arthur Smith in his latest incarnation as chat show host for Arthur Smith’s Pissed Up Chat Show***. He’s now famously dry and the premise here is that the guests have to be pissed – they are breathalysed by ‘a licensing officer’ (his mate Terry!) to check. Our guests were a new labour spin doctor turned comic whose name escapes me, poet Monkey Man and comedian Andrew Maxwell, breathless from running straight from his show, but the highlight nonetheless. It was all rather eccentric fun, ending with a sing along Wild Rover with song cards held up by a naked woman and a naked man (who looked extremely uncomfortable, so I hope he got a decent fee!).

To be continued…..

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