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Posts Tagged ‘Sherman Cymru’

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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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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Well here we are again; I’m not counting but my guess would be something like my 25th year.  It’s a drug and I have a habit. Here’s the story so far (with added star ratings!)…..

This year started very well with Roadkill, a ‘site specific’ piece about sex trafficking.  Fifteen of us boarded a bus outside the Traverse Theatre and were joined after a while by a bubbly naïve Nigerian teenager fresh off the plane, who chatted incessantly, asking questions about her new home city. She was here with her ‘auntie’ for ‘education’. When we arrived at a flat a mile or so away, the meaning of ‘education’ emerged in a series of harrowing scenes that took place in three rooms and the corridors.  It was so believable you could feel your blood boil with anger at the ‘pimps’ and the punters. It was often difficult to watch but this was important theatre covering issues often buried. The staging was outstanding and the acting stunning ****

The juxtaposition of shows often means your next experience is affected by the last, and so it was I think with Penelope, Enda Walsh’s setting of the Greek myth in a swimming pool where four men take it in turns to ‘court’ the one who hates men and whose lives depend on their success. It was clever, surreal, well staged and acted, but just seemed trivial and unimportant after Roadkill; needles to say, the remaining three in the party – for whom it was their first show – rather enjoyed it! ***

Day Two started with a classic – En Route – which I will be talking about for years to come. The day before I received a text telling me where to go and to look out for someone who would be clearly marked. When I arrived there was someone with a hand-written sign which said ‘ Clearly Marked” and that got me off to a smiling start. I was given directions to turn right outside the theatre then turn right again and off I went. Just before I got to the point where I was thinking ‘what next’ another person caught up with me and gave me an I-pod and some instructions and checked my mobile number. I walked alone through Edinburgh receiving instructions by text, calls on my mobile and in a phone box, behind doors, in the racks of record shops and chalked on pavements. The I-pod provided a music soundtrack with occasional dialogue.  I had to take a photo and call a friend (who turned out to be – unexpectedly – in Greece and hence had to incur the not insignificant cost of my call!) and at one point was asked to raise my hand only to find it grabbed by a passer-by who held it as he walked me for a few minutes. I saw parts of Edinburgh I’ve never seen in c.25 years (including a stunning view from the 8th level of a car park) and it made me realise how much you don’t observe when you’re walking. The soundtrack heightens your visual senses and the whole experience was intriguing and thrilling. I don’t know how many of the people I saw en route were part of the experience but you get to the point where you’re convinced they all are. I ended up at a café with a complimentary coffee where the person who gave me my I-pod 90 minutes earlier and three miles away joined me. This is what the Edinburgh fringe is for *****

I should have rested, but a couple of exhibitions nearby proved too tempting. Impressionist Gardens is really one of those (seemingly frequent) ‘excuse for an exhibition’ exploiting the British’ insatiable appetite for anything impressionist. There were some lovely paintings but it was so much of the same that it was overpowering *** Just because it was free with the combined ticket, I took in an exhibition of an early 19th century Danish artist I’d never heard of called Christen Kobke and it was a revelation – I admired the quality of the portrait painting, but it was the landscapes, and particularly their light, which bowled me over. A surprise treat****

The same now happened as it had the day before, of course – disappointment to follow. Freefall is again a clever and well staged & acted play set at the moment after a stroke where the patient is rapidly reflecting on moments from their life. I was by now very tired so it was hard to get into it and I’m afraid as much as I admired the craftsmanship it never really engaged me; yet again, the other two members of my party for whom it was the first show of the day enjoyed it a lot more. ***

The Day ended with one of those things you book because it sounds so intriguing. Flesh & Blood & Fish & Foul was billed as theatre meets art meets taxidermy…..and they weren’t wrong! Two people inhabit an office where they seem to have little to do so end up employing those diversions we all at some point do to kill time. Their world collapses around them as plants and animals (stuffed!) rapidly appear and grow all over the place. It gradually becomes more and more absurd with the plants invading like triffids and the animals getting bigger – what starts with a rat ends up with a bear and a deer. It’s a surreal and absurd combination of slapstick and physical theatre and it made me smile and laugh ***.5!

Sunday started with a cracker called Speechless from Shared Experience / Sherman Cymru (makes you proud to be Welsh!) at the Traverse. I knew something of the story of the silent twins Jennifer and June Gibbons (I’ve seen the opera!) and this play focuses on their early life – until they are committed to Broadmoor. It was gripping from the start and the performances from the girls were positively mesmerizing. Their mother, and the boy who they befriend and who exploits them, were also brilliantly played. This was a fascinating psychological drama and high quality theatre indeed****

More art followed with Martin Creed’s quirky stuff at the Fruitmarket Gallery, the best of which was the staircase wired for sound*** Across the road at the City Art Centre there are two contrasting photographic exhibitions. At first, I thought I’d find the dressed up /posed dogs of William Wegman distasteful but they made me smile and the relationships between the pets and the photographer meant it wasn’t really cruel*** Early 20th century photographer Edward Weston covered a broad range from still life to landscape to portraits to nudes and though it was clearly technically very accomplished, there’s little more than historical interest almost 100 years on***

Oedipus at Colonus sounded like a brilliant idea – Greek tragedy (though a rare one where no-one dies!) as an African-American gospel oratorio.  There was an ancient building backdrop (used for projections) and steps for the performers. The music was very good and the costumes gorgeous. The problem was it didn’t work turning Oedipus into a Christian Everyman who is redeemed by repentance and setting it ‘inside’ a church service just wasted time and dented the impact. The projections were of dubious taste and reached their peak when Oedipus rose to heaven to be replaced by a rainbow; I’m afraid we laughed***

The day ended on the high on which it had started with the Frantic Assembly / National Theatre of Scotland co-production of Beautiful Burnout. I’ve lived my like until this year without a play about boxing, then two come along in quick succession. I think Roy Williams’ Sucker Punch at the Royal Court is the better play, but this production is simply stunning. You’d never think that Frantic Assembly’s stylised choreography and boxing would mix but they turn out to be made for one another. The energy is extraordinary and the performances stunning. I can’t say I approve of boxing, but you get caught up in the excitement at the same time as being horrified at the hurt. We left exhausted but exhilarated****

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