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Posts Tagged ‘Polly Frame’

This David Greig play is based on Polish writer Stanislaw Lem’s 1961 Sci Fi novel. It’s been made into a film three times, in Russian, then Polish, and by Hollywood in 2002, but this is the first stage adaptation.

Solaris is an ocean planet, with no land, and we’re on a space station orbiting it, studying it. The two year mission is coming to an end when psychologist Kris Kelvin arrives by shuttle to find Commander Gibarian has died of cancer. She also learns of strange goings on suggesting the planet is intelligent. It appears to be probing their memories, thoughts and feelings and sending in clones of significant people from their past, and soon after her arrival her old flame Ray turns up.

It transfers to stage surprisingly well; we don’t get many Sci Fi plays. I was a bit irritated by so many scenes, with a screen lowered between them, as we moved back and fore between locations on the space station, but otherwise it held you in its grip, particularly in the second half, which unfolded like a thriller. We hear from Gilbarian on video (Hugo Weaving, no less) within the space station and sometimes see the ocean on video between scenes, a bit disorientating front stalls!

The sex of Kelvin has been changed and Polly Frame plays her really well. Ray is in many ways a tougher role which I thought Keegan Joyce navigated very well. Jade Ogugua and Fode Simbo complete a fine cast. It’s great to see an international co-production from three great theatre cities with Edinburgh’s Greig writing and Australian Matthew Dutton directing. Too late to recommend it as I didn’t make it until the penultimate day of the short London run, but good to record its success.

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I was intrigued by the prospect of this response to Edward II, written by the actor who play’s him in Marlowe’s play, running in rep with it. It turns out to be a very clever yet entertaining review of attitudes to LGBT rights since, made more poignant as I saw it on the day the state of Brunei introduced stoning as a punishment.

Edward ‘falls’ into another place and the first person he meets in the dark is the Archbishop of Canterbury. They talk while they light the theatre’s candles together. He’s soon gone and three rather diverse gay icons turn up – Gertrude Stein, Quentin Crisp and Harvey Milk – who share their perspectives and experiences. At various times we briefly meet Maria von Trapp, The Village People and Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, obviously. Another character from history, actor Edward Alleyn, adds his historical perspective. Gaveston arrives to take us full circle as the actor playing Edward becomes himself and introduces his story, during which we get to meet his school bully. In the final scene the stage and auditorium is invaded by the cast, musicians and a choir for an exhilarating conclusion.

It’s a well written play which makes its point, that we’ve come a long way but there’s still further to go, really well, whilst always entertaining. By linking the story of Edward and Gaveston with the writer’s own and those of the historical public figures, it produces a multi-layered and very satisfying narrative, and its very funny. Brendan O’Hea’s staging and Jessica Worrall’s design both serve it well. Tom Stuart is excellent as Edward as well as himself!, there’s a terrific performance by Richard Cant as Quentin Crisp, and Polly Frame, Annette Badland & Jonathan Livingstone are excellent as Harvey Milk, Gertrude Stein and Edward Alleyn respectively.

The highlight of the Winter Season in the SWP. Don’t miss!

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Well, I’m now on the Isle of Bute, a short way off the West coast of Scotland, recuperating after 23 shows and 11 exhibitions in just under 7 days. I’ve lost track of how many years I’ve been heading North of the border for this most addictive of festivals, the world’s largest. Here’s a round-up of this year:

The Traverse Theatre has long been my second home, with an unrivalled reputation for both its own productions and first class, innovative visitors and this year was a good one. Based on my trust in them, we’d booked eight shows here before we’d arrived and added the other two following the buzz and the reviews. The hit rate was 80%, with Iseult Golden & David Horan‘s Class and David Ireland‘s Ulster American (whose Cyprus Avenue wowed me recently at the Royal Court) leading the way – both Irish, both three-handers, but from different sides of the border and very different plays. The very thought-provoking Class examines the relationships between teacher and parents, between parents as ex’s and between both and the child. In black comedy Ulster American, a movie star dabbles with fringe theatre on terms unacceptable to the writer. Both had great writing and fine performances in an intimate space.

The onward march of the one-person play saw Corrie’s Julie Hesmondhalgh tell her husband Ian Kershaw’s delightful story in the modestly titled The Greatest Play in the History of the World very engagingly, with people represented by shoes. You know a story works when you can picture its characters. At other times in the same space, Irene Allan was very compelling in David Leddy’s very different one-person thriller Coriolanus Vanishes, with striking lighting adding edginess. Finally, On the Exhale, also in Traverse Two, looked at American gun control through the story of one woman who’s son was a casualty. Both the writing, and Poly Frame‘s performance, we’re very powerful.

Biographical plays were also a feature this year, and the Traverse had two contributions. In What Girls are Made of, Cora Bissett told the story of her short teenage pop career, with rock concert aesthetics. This was also gig theatre – another 2018 feature – and the true story and the form went well together. Nigel Slater’s Toast was just as effective, a lovely growing-up story with food! Sam Newton as the young Nigel was terrific. Biographical work popped up elsewhere, with Grid Iron’s South Bend – OK, but lacking the usual Grid Iron sparkle – and Song of Lunch, a two-hander which should have been a monologue (the actress was wasted) and in a smaller space. Robert Bathurst seemed to be attracting Downton Abbey fans whilst ignoring his more prominent role in Cold Feet in his quirky self-penned programme biography. There was also more gig theatre at the Pleasance with Songlines, a delightful love story with folk music.

Back at the Traverse, Mark Thomas, who has come a long way from stand-up, gave Check Up: Our NHS at 70; factual (rather than verbatim) theatre. I love his passion, even if he is probably preaching to the converted. The other two Traverse offerings were disappointments. Underground Railroad Game was a somewhat heavy-handed piece about slavery which attempted to shock in what felt like a dated away, and for me came over as rather tiresome. Meek was in Handmaid’s Tale territory and I found it rather dull, I’m afraid. It failed to hold my attention at all. Behind the EICC, in the open air, Polish theatre innovators Theatr Biuro Podrozy brought Silence, a show about refugees I saw in an earlier version during LIFT in London, and it’s grown in impact. The freezing wind added atmosphere, as only Edinburgh can. That was my only international theatre and My Left / Right Foot was my only musical. It’s a very un-PC take on the treatment of disability which was way more effective in making the point than a PC one would have been. Performed with great gusto, it was a hoot and a treat.

I saw Showstopper, an improvised musical, a long while ago and it appears to have become a big thing, in the Pleasance’s biggest space, where a full house seemed to lap it up. I’m afraid I found it very stale and overblown. A year for impressionists, with both Rory Bremner & Jan Ravens and Jon Culshaw delivering the laughs. I liked the way Culshaw’s show was structured as an interview by his producer Bill Dare, but it was Jan Raven’s lovely tribute to Victoria Wood which stole both shows. I only saw one stand-up this year, Malawian Daliso Chaponda, but he was excellent, with terrific audience engagement.

The main festival started well with a CBSO concert of rare works by Stravinsky & Ravel, but the highlight was a thrilling interpretation of Elgar’s Cello Concerto by young cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason who appeared to live the work. An attempt at updating John Gay’s The Beggars Opera fell a bit flat, but it had its moments, including the playing of Les Arts Florissants, in costume, and a clever carboard box design. Good fun, but you expect better from Peter Brook‘s Theatre des Bouffes du Nord, Robert Carsen and William Christie. Midsummer was an updated version of David Greig‘s fringe play with songs about a wild weekend. I have fond memories of seeing the original twice, but it didn’t work quite so well in a bigger space with the addition of the older selves. The final offering was the worst, I’m afraid, with Peter Brook’s The Prisoner, a very slight 70 min piece which left me hungry. Brook’s minimalist pieces are normally adapted from other forms, but this was original, and I suspect that’s the issue. Good performances and design couldn’t make up for weak material.

It looked like it wasn’t going to be a good year for art, and indeed the big Rembrandt show at the SNG was a disappointment – just 15 paintings and a lot of drawings and work by those he influenced. At the SNGMA, though, there were three treats – an excellent Emil Nolde retrospective, the fascinating Reinventing the Old Masters by Raqib Shaw and NOW, an interesting mixed show by six artists. At the City Art Centre, there was a fascinating show by lost artist Edwin G Lucas, who appears to have been buried by the art establishment. At the SNPG, though, the biggest treat of all was the discovery of portraitist Victoria Crowe who also had a lovely non-portrait selling show at the Scottish Gallery. Tacita Dean seems to be everywhere, so it wasn’t a surprise to see her at the Fruitmarket Gallery in a show that was a touch better than those at the NPG and RA in London. It wasn’t such a good year for photography, with mediocre shows at CAC and SNPG, and the annual Edinburgh International Photographic Exhibition finally lost me by putting image manipulation above the eye and skill of the photographer.

It seemed more exhausting writing about it than seeing it all! Until next time……

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Simon Armitage has cleverly adapted Homer’s Odyssey with a modern setting. In the original, it’s ten years since the fall of Troy and Odysseus hasn’t returned to Ithaca. His palace where wife Penelope and son Telemachus wait has ben overrun by a rowdy mob. Unbeknown to them, he is having a nightmare journey involving imprisonment, attack by a Cyclops, sirens and storms.

In Armitage’s version, Odysseus is cabinet minister Smith in a government about to fight an election. The PM (Zeus) sends him to Istanbul to watch England play Turkey in a World Cup qualifier, despite his protestations that he’ll miss his son Magnus’ (Telemachus) 18th. He gets caught up in a post-match bar room brawl trying to stop England fans attack a Muslim girl but photographed looking as if he’s the attacker. Running away, his journey home (Ithaca) begins and it of course mirrors the journey of Odysseus. Back in the UK, his political colleagues are preparing to disown him and his wife (Penelope) to sell her story to the highest bidding paparazzi (rowdy mob!) which she has invited into her home. During this, Magnus is reading the book he has been for his birthday by the PM’s aide – The Odyssey.

It’s all very clever and it’s also very funny, but I failed to see the point of the adaptation. It starts well, but as it progresses it does seem ever more contrived, implausible and preposterous. That said, it does entertain and you can’t help but admire it. Colin Tierney is excellent as Smith / Odysseus and Simon Dutton is perfect as the PM. I really liked Polly Frame as the PM’s aide / daughter and there’s good support from the other eight actors. It’s simply staged by Nick Bagnall who uses the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse well, though it doesn’t need this space (and has played other very different ones on tour).

An inventive and entertaining evening, but not an essential one.

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