Joyce McMillan online…

All my writing on theatre and general social/political issues is available online here.

Everything on the site appears in date order, below, beginning with the most recent column or review.  Most of these pieces are commissioned by, and first appear in, The Scotsman. Ultimate ownership of copyright remains with me, and is asserted here.

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© Joyce McMillan 2011

Fringe First Winners 2014 – Complete List

Here’s the complete list of Scotsman Fringe First winners for 2014 – congratulations to all of them!

WEEK 1

CUCKOOED by Mark Thomas, at the Traverse Theatre
CONFIRMATION by Chris Thorpe, at Northern Stage @ King’s Hall
MEN IN THE CITIES BY Chris Goode at the Traverse
CHEF by Sabrina Mahfouz at the Underbelly, Cowgate
THE COLLECTOR by Henry Naylor at the Gilded Balloon
SPOILING by John McCann at the Traverse Theatre

WEEK 2

THE CAROUSEL  by Jennifer Tremblay Stellar Quines at Traverse Theatre
THE DAY SAM DIED  Armazem Theatre Company at New Town Theatre
THE INITIATE  by Alexandra Wood Paines Plough at Summerhall
LIPPY by Bush Moukarzel with Mark O’Halloran Dead Centre at Traverse Theatre
THE OBJECT LESSON  by Geoff Sobelle Aurora Nova/ Geoff Sobelle at Summerhall
PIONEER    curious directive at Zoo Southside
SANITISE   Melanie Jordan and Caitlin Skinner at Underbelly Cowgate

 

WEEK 3

HAND MADE IN CHINA: MOONS, MIGRATION AND MESSAGES  Hua Dan – Dumpling Dreams Theatre and Migration Project at Summerhall
LETTERS HOME by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Kei Miller, Christos Tsiolkos and Kamila Shamsie Grid Iron and Edinburgh International Book Festival at Edinburgh International Book Festival
NO GUTS, NO HEART, NO GLORY   by the company   Common Wealth at Sandy’s Boxing Gym, Craigmillar
PONDLING  by Genevieve Hulme-Beaman Guna Nua at Underbelly, Cowgate
SPINE by Clara Brennan  FoolsCap at Underbelly, Cowgate .
TRAVESTI  by Rebecca Hill Unbound Productions at the Pleasance Dome.

 

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Fringe First Winners 2014 – Week 3

Hand Made In China: Moons, Migration and Messages Hua Dan – Dumpling Dreams Theatre and Migration Project at Summerhall
Letters Home by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Kei Miller, Christos Tsiolkos and Kamila Shamsie Grid Iron and Edinburgh International Book Festival at Edinburgh International Book Festival
No Guts, No Heart, No Glory by the company Common Wealth at Sandy’s Boxing Gym, Craigmillar
Pondling by Genevieve Hulme-Beaman Guna Nua at Underbelly, Cowgate
Spine by Clara Brennan FoolsCap at Underbelly, Cowgate .
Travesti by Rebecca Hill Unbound Productions at the Pleasance Dome.

Show 6

THEATRE
Show 6
4 stars ****
Summerhall (Venue 26)

THE SECRET THEATRE season at the Lyric, Hammersmith has been making waves in London this year, as a world-class team of actors and writers surprise audiences with a different anonymous play each night, partly chosen by the audience. Here in Edinburgh though, there’s a chance to glimpse just two examples of their work, in A Series Of Increasingly Impossible Acts at Northern Stage, and this brand-new piece at Summerhall by leading British playwright Mark Ravenhill, set in a country where a super-rich elite – permantly dressed in bathing costumes and designer shades – lolls around the poolside, guarding its secrets, and keeping the impoverished masses at bay.

Things start to fall apart, though, when our privileged and drugged-up young hero – jokily played by Steven Webb, in sparkly gold disco-shorts – knocks over a poor man while driving through the favella, and is told, in an act of revelation or revenge, that his wealthy parents are not really his parents, and that he was one of the children stolen from left-wing dissidents following a military coup, and brought up by supporters of the new regime.

Show 6 is a strange, unsettling play, which takes the image of a known human rights catastrophe – the theft of children by the Argentinian military regime of 1976-83 – and weaves it into a dream-like drama of family and political neurosis that sometimes suggests all narratives are equally questionable, a theme which seems dangerously wide of the mark in this case.

The texture of the writing is intense and fascinating throughout, though, in a three-way drama where realities constantly shift, and almost every sentence is interrupted by sudden silence; and it features a terrific performance from Matti Houghton as the woman our hero calls mother, possessive, seductive, sleek with privilege, and dedicated to the idea that her boy must look to the future – perhaps because the past bears no examination at all.

Joyce McMillan 
Until 17
p. 349

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Fringe First Winners 2014 – Week 2

Here they are, our seven superb Week 2 Fringe First Winners, awarded yesterday morning at the Assembly Rooms!

The Carousel by Jennifer Tremblay Stellar Quines at Traverse Theatre
The Day Sam Died Armazem Theatre Company at New Town Theatre
The Initiate by Alexandra Wood Paines Plough at Summerhall
Lippy by Bush Moukarzel with Mark O’Halloran Dead Centre at Traverse Theatre
Object Lesson by Geoff Sobelle Aurora Nova/ Geoff Sobelle at Summerhall
Pioneer curious directive at Zoo Southside
Sanitise Melanie Jordan and Caitlin Skinner at Underbelly Cowgate

ENDS ENDS

Fringe Firsts 2014 Week 1!

OK, so here’s our sparkling first week Scotsman Fringe First list!

CUCKOOED by Mark Thomas, at the Traverse Theatre
CONFIRMATION by Chris Thorpe, at Northern Stage @ King’s Hall
MEN IN THE CITIES BY Chris Goode at the Traverse
CHEF BY Sabrina Mahfouz at the Underbelly, Cowgate
THE COLLECTOR by Henry Naylor at the Gided Balloon
SPOILING by John McCann at the Traverse

Congratulations to all these terrific winners – and on to next week!

Cuckooed, The Collector, Sochi 2014, The Trial Of Jane Fonda

THEATRE
Cuckooed
4 stars ****
Traverse Theatre (Venue 15)
The Collector
4 stars ****
Gilded Balloon (Venue 14)
Sochi 2014
3 stars ***
Pleasance Courtyard  (Venue 33)
The Trial Of Jane Fonda
3 stars ***
Assembly Rooms  (Venue 20)

HUMAN RIGHTS take many forms, including the much-abused right to life itself.  There’s a sense, though, in which freedom of expression is the key to all the rest, the main means we have for challenging and reforming the world we live in; and it’s because the writer, comedian and political activist Mark Thomas so fully understands this truth that his new one-hour solo show Cuckooed, playing at the Traverse, represents such a vital contribution to this year’s Fringe, and to the general debate about whether, in the name of security, we are losing vital rights and freedoms in the UK.

The play revolves around a series of events which took place just over a decade ago, when Thomas was heavily involved in the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, and when he and his friends around the organisation – a group brought to life by a series of warm and lively filmed interviews, presented on screens pulled out of the filing-cabinets that surround Thomas on stage – learned that one member of the group, much loved by all of them,  had in fact been a BAe Systems mole and informer.

All that Thomas does, over an hour, is to make a brilliant job of telling this sad tale of activism and betrayal, and of a friendship lost.  In Emma Callander’s fluent production, though, he does it in irresistible style, funny, self-deprecating, infinitely accessible, eloquent in its use of film and video, but never overwhelmed by it.  And by the end of the show, he is asking hard, passionate questions to which every citizen of the UK should have an answer; about where exactly we draw the line, in a surveillance state that now abuses the privacy of us all, partly to protect us – apparently – against campaigners like Mark Thomas, and against the better part of ourselves.

The image of western nations betraying their own best principles is also central to Henry Naylor’s new play The Collector, at the Gilded Balloon; but here, the main target of Naylor’s scorn is the United States and its conduct in Iraq.  The play tells its tale of young pro-western prison translator, and his tragic destruction, through three linked monolongues, brilliantly delivered by William Reay as the prison commander, Lesley Harcourt as the young translator’s US army colleague, and Ritu Arya as his fiancee, Zoya.

The heart and soul of the play, though, lies in Zoya’s story, the narrative of a young woman who begins as a free spirit and indie music fan falling in love with a man who shares her dreams, and ends by being sold into the keeping of a warlord as little more than a domestic slave.  This is a terrible tale about the fate of  young women in war, with a shattering ring of truth; and it’s made all the more poignant by the youthful lightness of spirit that Zoya and her man manage to sustain for so long, in an increasingly desperate situation.

There’s the same alternation between blithe, youthful optinism and a darkening political scene in Fullfuse Theatre’s Sochi 2014, co-presented with the King’s Head at Pleasance Courtyard.  Researched and shaped by Tess Berry-Hart, Sochi 2014 is a 70-minute documentary piece about homomsexualty in Russia, culminating in a fierce warning about the rising tide of anti-gay legislation and violence amid which the Sochi Winter Olympics took place, depiste calls for a boycott.

Working in a small space at the Pleasance Caves, John Brooke’s young company of five performers present the material in a direct, well-choreographed style that sometimes looks like an exercise in the dramatic delivery of documentary material, complete with a screen projecting key facts.  If the performance style is occasionally a little flat, though, there are moments when the company achieve a real sense of ensemble power and passion, as they face the truth that many who began their journey into an openly gay life with westen-style levels of style and optimism are now facing exile, or trying to creep back into the closet, broken, defeated, and excluded from society.

All of which provides a thought-provoking context for one of the largest set-piece political dramas on this year’s Fringe, which echoes Mark Thomas in raising key questions about a free citizen’s right to dissent from the policies of her own government.  Terry Jastrow’s The Trial Of Jane Fonda is based on a real-life incident in Waterbury, Connecticut during the filming of the 1990 film Stanley And Iris, when Vietnam veterans protested against the presence of the film’s star Jane Fonda, on the grounds that in her role as an anti-war activist, she had visited North Vietnam in 1972, and had even been filmed laughing as she sat on an enemy anti-aircraft gun.

The play envisages a meeting in which Fonda tries to explain her actions to a group of furious veterans, gathered in a church hall; it is an immensely powerful dramatic situation, with echoes of the great courtroom drama Twelve Angry Men, in which Jane’s father Henry Fonda so famously starred.   Sadly, though – and despite the use of some fascinating archive news footage – Jastrow’s script and production never quite measure up to the potential of the story.  There are some powerful performances from the angry men who surround the actress, notably from Ian Virgo as a wheelchair-bound veteran.

Anne Archer’s Jane, though, is a stiff, nervous-looking figure, her face half-obscured by a voluminous blonde wig; and a mere glance at the vitality of the Jane Fonda who appears on flm footage – confused, tired, beautiful, humorous, desperate for peace – reminds us how far this dramatised version of the woman falls short of the reality, not least in the rash, good-hearted  political passion that drove her to North Vietnam, and then back again, to her angry and troubled homeland.

Joyce McMillan
Until 24, 25, 21, 24.
pp. 295, 293, 352,362

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