Posts tagged ‘the list’

23 August, 2010

Threshold *****

Zoo Roxy, 9 – 20 August 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Everything about Threshold is a secret. The location is a secret. Most of what happens there is a secret. Whatever happens that isn’t a secret happens for secret reasons. Everything we learn is a secret revealed: scraps of overheard conversation; scenes glimpsed through the undergrowth; comments that slip out in unguarded moments: all information we know we shouldn’t know, and for that we treasure it all the more.

Three hours in the late afternoon is a big commitment at the Fringe. Be reassured that Threshold is a three-hour show, not a one-hour show plus two hours’ travel time, even though two of the three hours are spent travelling. The outward journey is for tipping us subtly, uncomfortably sideways and out of the real world. The return journey is for sharing the secrets we’ve learned. The moment you think it’s over is the moment Threshold puts on its triumphant final spurt. It is worth three hours of your time.

The middle hour is one of excitement, adventure, voyeurism, uncertainty, guilt and heartbreak. With a few deft touches our hosts gain our trust: from the start they trust us enough to share secrets, enough to rely implicitly on our support in a confrontation, and so we trust them back. When our guide breaks into a run and we follow suit without a thought it’s not just because we know we’ll get lost or miss the action if we don’t keep up; it’s because we understand why they’re running, so we run for the same reasons.

A secret isn’t a secret unless someone’s left in the dark. Roughly one fifth of the people that witness each major event in Threshold will be party to all the information required to fully understand it. Each occurrence we do understand strengthens our conviction that first, there must also be explanations for the events we find incomprehensible, and second, there will be people on the return journey who have discovered those explanations.

Whether anyone can be persuaded to reveal what they’ve learned is another matter. Threshold relinquishes but one piece of advice willingly: that some secrets are best kept locked away.

Written by Fred Gordon, Lowri Jenkins and Thomas McMullan

Crew includes Susanna Davies-Crook (director) and Vasiliki Giannoula (costume design)

Cast includes Kristina Epenetos, Nicky Ingram, Hayley Kasperczyk, George Kemp, Adam Loxley, Pablo Navarro-MacLochlainn, Tom Ross Williams and Seda Yildiz

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23 August, 2010

Others ****

Pleasance Courtyard, 4 – 29 August 2010

Reviewed for The List (issue 665)

Jemma and Kylie, two thirds of the Paper Birds, perch in an armchair and speculate about Nazim, an Iranian woman Jemma’s been corresponding with by post. Maryam, the third Bird, plays Nazim, updating her performance to reflect her colleagues’ conclusions. Though based at first entirely on Nazim’s own words, the armchair pair’s enthusiastic deductions ramify farther and farther from the facts, bombarding Maryam with illogical abusive husbands and suicide bombings as she vainly attempts to draw attention to their fallacies.

Not only is this intensely comical – a rare achievement for a verbatim play – it’s also a playful dissection of the Birds’ own unconscious assumptions and prejudices, and of the conflict at the heart of all documentary and verbatim theatre: the one between entertaining an audience and being faithful to the source. And that’s just one scene.

What’s truly impressive about Others is its use of such inward-looking subject matter to interrogate a much bigger issue: the national media, which face essentially the same dilemma as documentary theatre, and seem (the Birds suggest) to be veering the wrong way.

Devised by Maryam Hamidi, Jemma McDonnell and Kylie Walsh

Crew includes Ellen Dowell (set design) and Marec Joyce (lighting design)

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23 August, 2010

Josie Long: Be Honourable! ****

Just The Tonic @ the Caves, 5 – 29 August 2010

Reviewed for The List (issue 665)

Josie Long claims that losing weight has meant sacrificing her joie de vivre. It’s true that she gets more than usually angry, bitter and disillusioned in this, her first Edinburgh appearance in two years, but could a comedian bereft of joie de vivre hold a crowd for 20 minutes simply by enthusing about pictures of tasty breakfasts on the internet? I suspect she has a secret stash of positivity she’s not letting on about.

The chief source of Long’s newfound ire is life under the Tories and the lip-service hipsters and activists that couldn’t be bothered to oppose them. Relentlessly upbeat, she passes up the opportunity for an embittered moan in favour of self-improvement: a resolution no longer to take shortcuts to doing good. That involves talking more to strangers (which has furnished her with a first-class anecdote or two) and providing her own warm-up act, in character as a Kentish astronaut. It’s an opener that throws the audience off-guard, leaving us receptive to her call-to-arms.

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23 August, 2010

His Eyes Were Like Oysters ***

Just The Tonic @ the Caves, 4 – 29 August 2010

Reviewed for The List (issue 665)

Imagine The Mighty Boosh without the mellowing constraints of consistent characterisation and mainstream success. Oyster Eyes’ sketches are a bewildering tissue of pop culture references, surreal concepts and non-sequiturs gummed together by dour, anti-comic disco DJ Alan Starr. While there are undoubtedly some unconventional ideas on display here, the show revels just that bit too much in its own oddness.

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18 August, 2010

Pedal Pusher ****

Pedal Pusher

Pedal Pusher. Image by Holly McGlynn, courtesy of the EdFringe Media Office

Zoo Roxy, 6 – 30 August 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

It’s notoriously difficult to choke verbatim theatre into life on stage, but you wouldn’t guess that from watching Pedal Pusher. You’d be forgiven for not noticing that it’s a verbatim piece at all, in fact. It seems the trick is to choose the right source material. Sounds easy, and Theatre Delicatessen certainly make it look that way.

So what’s the right source material for the story of Lance Armstrong, Marco Pantani and Jan Ullrich, three of the greatest competitive cyclists ever to have lived, and the Tour de France, the toughest and most prestigious cycle race in the world? Press conference transcripts, for the most part. Dry as that may sound, press conferences are naturally dramatic, performative events. The rehearsed statements are superficially anodyne but – thanks to the insights we’re given into the athletes’ habits, personalities and relationships – laden with fascinating subtext, and there’s something of the courtroom drama about the open-floor interrogations that follow.

That the subtlety and theatricality of the text is appreciable, however, is down to the cast, who wrap their jaws nimbly around some potential deadweights. We don’t see much more than one side to any of the characters – Armstrong, fresh from beating advanced cancer, is practically messianic in his drive to succeed; Pantani, victimised by the doping officials, succumbs to self-pitying matyrdom – but what we do see clearly, in the performances and in the text, is the hardwired competitive urge that made each man great.

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18 August, 2010

2-Man No-Show **

Isaac Kessler and Ken Hall in 2-Man No-Show

Isaac Kessler and Ken Hall in 2-Man No-Show. Image courtesy of the Gilded Balloon Press Office

Gilded Balloon Teviot, 4 – 29 August 2010

Reviewed for The List (issue 665)

This Canadian duo will make you laugh, but not in a way you’ll thank them for. They sensibly wring dry the comedic potential of their distinguishing features (one’s Jewish, one has scoliosis) at the earliest opportunity, but too many of the subsequent skits are simply overlong re-enactments of famous scenes from 90s screen blockbusters, with gurning in place of gags.

Written by Ken Hall and Isaac Kessler

Crew includes Mark Andrada (director)

Cast includes Ken Hall and Isaac Kessler

18 August, 2010

Terry Alderton ****

Pleasance AceDome, 4 – 29 August 2010

Reviewed for The List (issue 665)

Watching Alderton is like channel-flipping between several different acts and finding that, by a million-to-one fluke, the composite experience makes perfect sense. ‘You can’t please everybody all of the time,’ chides his Gollum-like alter ego; but with observational material, characters, sound effects, impressions and music all vying for the mic, there’s probably a joke here for all tastes.

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18 August, 2010

Lorca is Dead ***

C soco, 4 – 30 August 2010

Reviewed for The List (issue 664)

Belt Up’s eulogy for Federico Garcia Lorca is anything but a stately affair. So much happens, and continues happening, all at once, in such a short space of time, that it’s impossible to pay attention to it all, and frequently difficult to know what is too significant to ignore; yet far from appearing frenetic, the action is suffused with a melancholy, restless unease. Someone has, after all, died.

While the nucleus of the surrealist movement – André Breton, Paul Éluard, Antonin Artaud, Louis Aragon, René Magritte and others – discuss important matters in the wardrobe, Salvador Dalí sits at Breton’s desk, distracting a privileged portion of the audience with a spoon strapped to a boule: a surrealist sculpture. This is the play in microcosm.

The surrealists re-enact Lorca’s life story, passing him like a conch among themselves and the odd audience member, touching on everything from his sexuality to his contribution to surrealism to his eventual execution by Franco’s firing squad.

Meanwhile, political, philosophical and personal differences are weakening the brotherly bonds between the post-Lorca surrealists. Simultaneously, Salvador Dalí is attempting to rewrite the history of the movement with himself at its centre, with help from Gala Éluard and a time machine constructed by Antonin Artaud. The play’s portrayal of ‘the divine Dalí’ is its greatest achievement: somehow both reverent idolisation and total character assassination.

The pace drops more than once when two plot threads intersect and the ensemble can’t change direction fast enough, and by the end threads that were pivotal early on are being tied off with single throwaway lines of exposition. It may well be fruitless to criticise the plot of a surreal play about surrealists staging a surreal play about a surrealist, but Lorca is Dead is demonstrably overstuffed.

Written by Dominic J Allen

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16 August, 2010

Cirque de Legume **

Cirque de Legume

Cirque de Legume. Image courtesy of the EdFringe Media Office

Gilded Balloon Teviot, 6 – 30 August 2010

Reviewed for The List (issue 665)

The most impressive feat achieved in this send-up of circus performance is training the audience, Pavlov-style, to applaud whenever the phrase ‘How ‘bout that?’ is uttered – whether it follows a ‘levitating’ radish or an onion ‘striptease’. The two red-nosed clowns commit so fully to gross-out, chewed-food spectacle and clumsy sleight of hand that they must be aiming to be ‘so bad it’s good’. Unfortunately they aren’t quite that bad.

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16 August, 2010

Gutted. A Revenger’s Musical ***

Assembly @ George Street, 7 – 29 August 2010

Reviewed for The List (issue 665)

Orphaned Sorrow has finally married her parents’ murderer, step one in her elaborate but strangely poorly thought-out revenge. Early on her resolve fluctuates for the sake of making her redeemable, instead making her a ditherer: an even less sympathetic quality than irredeemability. The book is mostly prosaic and uninspired, but not offensively so, and the production isn’t without a certain boisterous, admirably carefree charm.

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