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Posts Tagged ‘Jim Cartwright’

I thought Jim Cartwright’s 80’s slice of working class life might have become a period piece, but despite it’s foundations in Thatcher’s Britain and the period clothes, props and references, it’s themes are not in the slightest bit dated, and it’s time may have well come again, along with the food banks! John Tiffany’s fresh look proves that it was, and is, ground-breaking theatre.

It struck me last night how poetic it is, so how appropriate that our narrator is poet Lemn Sissay, who glues it all together brilliantly. He presides over a series of scenes which take place over one night in the houses of and on the unnamed road, in the unnamed northern town. We meet fourteen of the residents, going about their business, domestic chores, reflections and escapes. It has an extraordinary ability to switch from uproarious comedy to bleakness and sadness. A number of scenes take place in a glass box which rises from below the stage and these prove particularly voyeuristic. The piece really gets under your skin.

When I saw it 31 years ago, it was a promenade staging and though it was more immersive, the performances were less subtle and nuanced than they are here by a superb ensemble of eight actors playing the fourteen roles, with some of the best drunken scenes I’ve seen anywhere! Michelle Fairley creates three extraordinary larger-than-life characters. I’m not sure I’d have known Mike Noble played both the Skin-Lad and Eddie if I hadn’t seen it in the programme, outstanding characterisations of roles that are poles apart. Mark Hadfield has two very different roles as well, both superbly handled. Liz White was a revelation in roles unlike any I’ve seen her in before. June Watson gives another pair of acting masterclasses; such a fine actress. Faye Marsay makes an auspicious stage debut in her two roles and Shane Zaza and Dan Parr excel in their solo turns.

John Tiffany has an ability to animate a play and tease terrific performances from his cast, and so it is here. Sometimes hilarious, somewhat bleak, but brilliant, timeless theatre.

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I missed last year and curtailed the year before, so this is my first full week in Edinburgh for three years, which may be why I enjoyed it so much. It seemed like a vintage year, with an extraordinarily high 70% hit rate of great shows and only two bummers out of 26.

The seemingly insatiable supply of monologues continued, with seven of the 13 plays falling into this category. Despite my ambivalence, even dislike, of them, there were some real crackers, led by Sherman Cymru’s Iphigenia in Splott, an extraordinary take on Greek Tragedy with a stunning performance by Sophie Melville. Canadian genius Robert Lepage was back with another of his imaginative, innovative solo shows, this time 887 blended memories of his youth with material about memory itself. Comedian Mark Steel‘s show was, like Mark Thomas’ wonderful Bravo Figaro a few years back, a biographical story – in this case how he found out about his real parents. It was moving, poignant and very very funny. The fourth 5-star show was another flight of imagination, this time The Anomotion Show with percussionist Evelyn Glennie playing in the 17th century courtyard of George Heriot School whilst the live painting of Maria Rud was projected onto its walls. Brilliant. The final day produced not one but two gems, starting with Duncan McMillan’s extraordinarily engaging and captivating one-man play about depression, Every Brilliant Thing, brilliantly performed by Jonny Donahue, which I’ve been trying to catch for some time. Our one and only opera ended the trip with the most inventive and original Die Zauberflote from Komische Oper Berlin in collaboration with our own theatre genius’ 1927. Animation, performance and music in complete harmony.

The Traverse continued its trailblazing, hosting the National Theatre of Scotland’s Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, a rude and hugely funny play with music that followed convent school girls on a school outing (bender) to a singing competition in Edinburgh, with six very talented young actresses and a female band, directed and designed by women! and Vanishing Point’s outstanding, creative take on dementia, Tomorrow. They also hosted young Belgian company Ontroerend Goed’s latest unsettling piece, A Game of You, where I was observed, interviewed and imitated before observing myself, and leaving with a DVD of my experience! Their other two shows fared less well, with Christians, a debate about hell, hard for a non-believer to engage with (though superbly staged and performed, with a 24-piece choir) and another monologue, Crash, which was clever but didn’t captivate like some of the others.

Musical high’s included Lennon: Through A Glass Onion, which showcased his songs – sung and played by a duo – interspersed with quotes from the man himself, Antonio Forcione (again!) with his brilliant Brazilian percussionist Adriano Adewale, hugely enthusiastic five-piece accapella group Simply Soweto and Hackney Colliery Band, who weren’t at all what I was expecting (a brass band!) but whose rhythmic jazz funk was infectious late-night fun. Musical Theatre featured, with enterprising amateur productions of The Addams Family and Sunshine on Leith, neither of which have yet had London outings though both deserve them.

More solo turns, with Jim Cartwright’s Raz, about preparing for, and going out on, a night out, performed brilliantly by the playwright’s son James, contrasting with stand-up comedian Mark Watson‘s highly strung but hysterical Work In Progress. Then there was 10x10x10 where ten comedians did ten monologues written by ten other comedians – except  there were only six, as they split it into two shows, and I can’t tell you who wrote or performed them, except Jo Caulfield who did one. Not bad, though. The big disappointment was Tony’s Last Tape, where an interesting life was made deadly dull.

Other Welsh contributions included Ghost Dance, a highly creative piece of physical theatre but with a confusing narrative comparing a native American plight with a Welsh one. There was innovative use of a smart phone app for English dialogue and subtitles and more polystyrene than you’ve ever seen in one place. Not a lot to say about a rather amateur take on (part of) the folk tale The Mabinogion, except to say I blame Judith!

The Missing Hancock’s featured two lost scripts staged as if they were being recorded for radio, with occasional ad libs, by an exceptional cast. I’d enjoyed them on the radio and I enjoyed them live too. Favourite playwright Jack Thorne’s sexually explicit, harrowing but brilliant play The Solid Life of Sugar Water was another theatrical highlight with two fine performances and, unusually on the fringe outside the Traverse, a great design. Finally, a novel immersive staging of a rare Tennessee Williams play, Confessional, where you are in a seaside bar with the dysfunctional characters partaking of a beer or two with them. Not a great play, but inventively staged.

The usual diversity with higher quality this year. No doubt some will appear elsewhere, so now you know what to catch.

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What an extraordinary initiative NT Connections is. Ten brand new plays especially written by premiere league playwrights for 230 youth theatre companies, ten of which get to perform them at the NT; two on the Olivier stage! I caught the two that did just that and what a great experience it turned out to be.

Wigan’s Winstanley College performed Lucinda Coxon’s clever play What Are They Like? which turned things upside down by getting the kids to say what they are more used to hearing their parents say. It opened with an acapella song sung beautifully before the scenes weaved in and out as the kids rolled out every parental cliché in the book. Great stuff.

This was followed by London’s Jigsaw Youth Theatre with Jim Cartwright’s brilliant Mobile Phone Show. This was packed full of invention and performed with great enthusiasm and energy. We moved from the archetypal mobile sales situation to a deeply moving story of texting a dead mum to the trauma of a lost phone and much more. The audience was brought into the play when invited to call cast members and the cast came into the audience to engage directly with us. Full of energy, completely infectious and absolutely unmissable. This one has to have a life beyond this festival.

In his closing tribute, NT director Nicholas Hytner said that what he had seen compared very favourably with the Olivier’s more normal fare – stars on expensive sets doing plays by dead playwrights! How wonderful it is that this project reaches 25,000 young people all over Britain and ends up on the biggest National stage.

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