Daily Archives: August 24, 2007

Romeo And Juliet (Aquila)

THEATRE
Romeo And Juliet
3 stars ***
Assembly @ George Street (Venue 3)

AT THE BEGINNING of Aquila Theatre’s version of Romeo And Juliet, fresh from New York, there’s a moment of live drama like no other.  The cast line up on stage, each carrying a little velvet sack containing the names of the major characters of the play; then they pass among the audience asking them to draw lots, with each actor fated, that day, to play the character whose name is first out of his or her bag.  Thus it was that on the day when I saw the show, Juliet was played by a chunky, bald, middle-aged bloke, while Romeo was played by a beautiful blonde girl; the effect was occasionally comic, of course, but not so much so as to obscure the beautiful basic shape and poetry of the play, presented in a sharply-cut two-hour version.

The difficulty is, though, that once the shock of the reallocation of parts is over, this really amounts to nothing more than a decent, middle-range Rome and Juliet, presented with minimal set and props.  The fight scenes are outstandingly exciting and well-choreographed, the acting is variable but always spirited, and the inevitable gender-bending invites the odd deep thought about the absence of female actors in Shakespeare’s day.  But to experience the full effect of this experiment, audiences would have to return day after day, until they had seen the parts played by every possible combination of actors; and in Edinburgh in August – well, very few people have time for that.

Joyce McMillan
Until 27 August
p. 217

ENDS ENDS

The Ethics Of Progress

THEATRE
The Ethics Of Progress
4 stars ****
Underbelly (Venue 61)

IT’S  ALMOST 50 years since C.P. Snow described how the “two cultures” – science and the arts – were becoming ever more separate; and the massive conceptual advances in science since then have only widened the gap.  Now, though, a whole generation of scientific writers and artists are seeking to heal the breach; and Unlimited Theatre of Leeds is one of the leading companies in this field, a group whose most personal and lyrical work has often featured a spooky backbeat of quantum physics.

Their latest show, The Ethics Of Progress, is a straightforward solo lecture-cum-stage-show, scripted for young and adult audiences by the regular Unlimited team of writer Chris Thorpe, director Clare Duffy and actor/artistic director Jon Spooner.  Over a brief hour or so, Spooner seeks to explain the meaning of three major concepts in quantum particle theory (superposition, entanglement, teleportation), and to outline what developments based on them might mean in practical and ethical terms.

This is mind-blowing stuff, well if hastily presented with the aid of clever visual images by Mic Pool.   The show really hits its stride, though, in the final sequence, where Spooner begins to talk about the experiences, memories and privacies that make us human, and to question what would become of those in a world – say – of regular teleportation, in which our physical composition could constantly be unmade and remade.

There are no answers here,  of course.  But there is a powerful clarion call for all of us non-scientists, young and old, to drop our foolish mental block about scientific concepts and arguments; and to engage with the astounding developments on which scientists are now working, if we want to have any hope of a democratic debate on how these technologies may be used and abused, as they begin to transform the nature of human life on earth, and beyond it.

Joyce McMillan
Until 25 August
p. 189

ENDS ENDS

The Psychic Detective

THEATRE
The Psychic Detective
4 stars ****
E4 UdderBELLY’s Pasture (Venue 300)

IN A ROUGH-AND-READY way, this latest piece from the Scottish-based company Benchtours is one of the most stylish shows your likely to see on this year’s Fringe. Staged in a louche-looking red-painted container parked in George Square, it’s a brief 55-minute essay in film noir imagery, scripted by new-to-theatre writer Helen Smith, that brings an X-Files twist to a classic West Coast tale of dames, car-chases, and shady motels where gangsters drink champagne from the shoes of expensive ladies. Its hero – a gloomy private detective played by Peter Clerke, with middle-aged angst and crisis etched on his face – finds himself mugged, thrown into a dock, and on the point of drowning. But instead, he falls through a time-warp from the present day into a classic 1940’s mystery involving a doomed dame who strangely fascinates him; and becomes haunted by the feeling that he must solve the mystery in time to win his own life back.

Once that point is made, The Psychic Detective – subtitled And Those Disappeared – has nowhere much to go; the story remains as trapped in a lost corner of time as our hero. But with the action played out entirely behind a little cinema-screen-shaped window at one end of the narrow space, it’s fascinating to watch how Benchtours’ director Pete Brooks, designer Laura Hopkins, and lighting designer Jeanine Davies, use the tiny space available to create strange, surreal images with a magical sense of perspective, to change locations with a flick of the lighting-state, and to play around with the relationship between filmic imagery and live action. Smith’s script is a slender piece of pastiche, that struggles to find a persuasive ending; but the presentation is a haunting and sometimes moving exploration of the film noir aesthetic, and of the feeling of doom that haunts it, then and now.

Joyce McMillan
Until 27 August
p. 217

ENDS ENDS