Posts tagged ‘the scotsman’

27 August, 2010

Odyssey ****

C soco, 4 – 30 August 2010 (even dates only)

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

This is Schrödinger’s Odyssey: it’s neither Homer’s Ancient Greek epic, nor is it wholly Dominic J Allen’s mid-apocalyptic refashioning, yet it’s both. The man lying unconscious on the table is not Theodore “Ted” Stirling, fascist poet, nor Odysseus, nor Ulysses: he is, as he tells anyone that asks, “Nobody”. He’s trying to return to Ithaca and also to a devastated New York City. He both has and has not already arrived.

All of which is as discombobulating as it sounds, which gives us, the audience, an idea of what Ted’s feeling; which is humbling, because the reason Ted’s feeling discombobulated is that he’s being psychologically tortured, and we’re in league with his torturers. So we’re both the tortured and the torturers, as well as being neither.

The duality of Allen’s Odyssey allows him to entangle 21st century concerns with Homerian themes without uprooting either element from its natural context and to present dual interpretations of Odysseus / Ulysses: is he a wise war hero, or a cunning butcherer? A faithful but cruelly waylaid husband or a gallivanting philanderer?

Because the play doesn’t commit fully to either setting, it also exonerates itself from many of the usual constraints of continuity and consistency. A blood ritual that summons Tiresias and the spirits of the dead may seem out of place in a world of mutant assassins and extreme ethnic cleansing, but of course it gels just fine with the Ancient Greek world to which Ted finds himself increasingly connected.

Then there’s the fact that none of the action is really happening at all: it’s all a reenactment for Ted’s sake, to “torture him with his memories”. His two tormentors – our hosts – secure our cooperation by sheer force of will, preying on our natural passivity as audience members to the point where we willingly pelt poor Ted with rubber balls. Examining what audiences will and will not willingly participate in has been one of Belt Up’s strengths since The Park Keeper in 2008, and they’ve rediscovered that strength in their Odyssey.

Written by Dominic J Allen after Homer

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25 August, 2010

Felicity Ward Reads From The Book Of Moron ***

Felicity Ward Reads From The Book Of Moron

Felicity Ward Reads From The Book Of Moron. Image courtesy of the Gilded Balloon Press Office

Gilded Balloon Teviot, 4 – 30 August 2010

Reviewed for The List (issue 665)

Being less a ‘moron’ (her word) than a victim of circumstance, Felicity Ward has to inflate mere embarrassing mishaps into excruciating humiliations to get her desired reaction which, with some neat turns of phrase, she does. Aware that her brave but scatological finale isn’t everyone’s ideal takeaway memory, she buffers it with a song, proving storytelling’s her forte, not music.

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23 August, 2010

The Door **

The Door

The Door. Image courtesy of the EdFringe Media Office

Gilded Balloon Teviot, 7 – 29 August 2010

Reviewed for The List (issue 664)

Two men argue in spiteful spirals about responsibility and religion as a door bangs offstage. Each has his own particular brand of self-righteous posturing; both are equally grating. The outcome of the debate is unexpected without being contrived, and is delivered more theatrically than the rest of the play, but who cares about the outcome when neither party engages our empathy?

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23 August, 2010

The Chinese State Circus Mulan ****

The Chinese State Circus Mulan

The Chinese State Circus Mulan. Image courtesy of the EdFringe Media Office

Ocean Terminal Big Top, 6 – 22 August 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

After just ten minutes in the Chinese State Circus’s big top, my palms are already sore from clapping. Applause soundtracks their entire event in a near-continuous torrent, accompanied by vocalisations of awe both voluntary and involuntary.

The legend of Mulan – who disguised herself in her father’s armour and became the Emperor’s only female general, unbeknownst to all – provides a loose framework for this year’s extravaganza. Each act is contextualised as part of the celebration of Mulan’s birth, part of the Emperor’s army or part of the enemy’s.

Mulan gains her martial prowess by studying with the Shaolin Warriors, whose presence is clearly a coup for the circus: every three or four acts they’re back, breaking metal bars on their heads or lifting each other on spearpoints. Their martial arts displays are almost too fast to register as impressive; we can marvel at their speed, but the movement is a blur, its precision and intricacy impossible to appreciate without a slow-motion replay. Everyone applauds regardless: did I mention these men can break metal bars with their foreheads…?

The dialogue is clunkily dubbed through the PA, but that doesn’t matter: it’s brief and infrequent, and its only real purpose is to distract the audience while the next act sets up. The story intrudes precisely as much as is required to give the acts a sense of purpose, and thence stays out of the way of what we’re all there to see: acts so skilled and polished you’ll double-take, realising only after a moment’s reflection just how breathtaking their apparently effortless feats actually are.

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23 August, 2010

Reykjavík ***

Jonathan Young in Reykjavik

Jonathan Young in Reykjavik. Image courtesy of the EdFringe Media Office

The Bongo Club, 12 – 29 August 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Looking like a cross between polar explorers and scene of crime officers in our gauzy white coveralls, we help Jonathan disinter and analyse his past. Though he feels far enough removed from his past self to refer to him as a distinct character – Yonatan (the Icelandic pronounciation of his name), or simply Y – this is still an intensely, almost painfully personal show.

Reykjavík minutely examines every possible long-term and short-term cause of a single, life-changing outcome: the breakup of Yonatan’s relationship with S, an Icelandic woman he met in Paris, and by extension his life as an expat in Reykjavík. Could immutable destiny be the reason? The inevitable fate of the child to relive the life of the parent? Or one of the countless binary decisions every one of us makes every day?

Though the show is as introspective and self-interrogatory as it sounds, with a resultant tendency towards potentially alienating solipsism, it’s also full of delightful technical innovations. Foggy goggles and coloured lights represent a near miss in a car in near-zero visibility. Several wheeled full-length mirrors create seemingly infinite corridors crowded with possibilities. The whole experience is like studying a fascinating fossil through a microscope. The level of obsession doesn’t seem healthy, and you have to work to understand its relevance to you, but every new angle reveals something else of interest.

Written by Jonathan Young

Crew includes Carolina Valdés and Lucinka Eisler (co-directors), Paul Burgess (set and video design), Katharine Williams (lighting design) and Adrienne Quartly (sound design)

Cast includes Mark Huhnen, Sinikka Kyllönen and Jonathan Young

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23 August, 2010

Silent Cannonfire ***

Zoo Roxy, 15 – 30 August 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Silent Cannonfire feels like it’s missing something. It is, of course: this piratical production is performed entirely without spoken dialogue, instead mimed and mummed to a live soundtrack of sea shanties. It’s an interesting conceit, but Of Vast Bigness treat the speech embargo mostly as an obstacle they’ve placed in their own way, not an opportunity they’ve presented themselves.

To circumvent that obstacle, the company communicate dialogue in every possible way other than speaking it aloud. Lines are discovered conveniently written on flags, fish and the undergarments of harlots, and Captain Hatebeard communicates exclusively via scrolls written hastily in the blood of his crew.

To be fair, the revelation of each unexpected little innovation does contribute to Silent Cannonfire’s surreal, madcap humour; but the storytelling is of necessity so broad that the vast majority of lines revealed in this way just aren’t necessary for the audience’s understanding. The same information could be communicated more easily, and more in the spirit of the piece, by paying more attention to the physical side of the performances (which often lapse into standing still and mouthing, neglecting gesture).

The live band is a real asset to the production, maintaining a salty atmosphere with melodies cribbed from traditional tunes and a certain blockbuster movie franchise (be careful, Of Vast Bigness, one man’s sly reference is another intellectual property suit). The homespun scenery and special effects, including a papier mache sea monster, wouldn’t be out of place in a very enthusiastic school play, which may not be intentional but does give the play a pleasingly tongue-in-cheek tone.

Overall, though, it can’t shake that sense of incompleteness: that it isn’t a production devised without dialogue, it’s a regular production with the dialogue ripped away and imperfectly patched.

Crew includes Will Seaward (director), Rich Mason (technical director), Owen Woods (musical director), Fred Spaven (set design and construction), Dan Summerbell (fight director) and Deanna Bergdorf (dance choreographer)

Cast includes Stephen Bailey, Flo Carr, Chrystal Ding, John Haidar, Hannah Laurence, Julia Leijola, Max Levine, Matt Lim, Chloe Mashiter, Pierre Novellie, Emerald Paston, George Potts and Emma Stirling

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23 August, 2010

A Pint for the Ghost ***

The Banshee Labyrinth, 7 – 17 August 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Helen Mort’s cycle of ghost poems, inspired by the many ghosts of her native Yorkshire, is served well by the surroundings. In a candlelit nook deep in the gloomy warren of the Banshee Labyrinth pub, it’s easy to imagine the restless spirits of unfortunate caver Neil Moss, or Mort’s dad or her friend Justin, drifting through the walls to see who’s talking about them.

Mort’s no-frills delivery, on the other hand, contributes nothing to the atmosphere. This is definitely a recital, not a performance; and while the poems themselves are short and well-written and Mort is clearly attuned to the rhythm of the words, an extra touch of theatrical flair could make A Pint For The Ghost genuinely eerie.

Written by Helen Mort

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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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18 August, 2010

Hotel Nowhere ***

theSpace on the Mile @ Jury’s Inn, 6 – 14 August 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Hotel Nowhere is set in a hotel bedroom and staged at Jury’s Inn, a hotel full of perfectly serviceable hotel bedrooms; yet it’s performed in a makeshift studio theatre, decked out with black cloth and a hotel bedroom stage set. Perhaps the hotel couldn’t spare a room during festival season, but in that case why bother staging the play in a hotel at all?

This doesn’t detract from the production so much as deny it a potentially resonant extra dimension. The generic anonymity of hotel rooms, and the sense of dislocation they generate, is the play’s dominant theme, and the production would be strengthened if the audience could experience that first-hand. Instead, we experience the equally generic anonymity of black box theatre spaces in what claims to be a site-specific production.

It’s to the play’s credit that it remains intriguingly watchable despite being denied its full potential. Two parties of hotel guests find that the bland surroundings draw out their secrets and desires almost by osmosis. Action occurring in two different (but identical, anonymous, generic) rooms simultaneously on the same set, a dramatic device borrowed from Andrew Bovell’s Speaking In Tongues, demands the audience’s full attention and ensures a quickfire pace throughout. Bovell’s play does it better, highlighting the generic nature not just of the environment but also of the kinds of conversations that take place there; but Hotel Nowhere’s dialogue is still witty and acutely observed, especially when flirtation is involved.

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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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