Flesh And Blood & Fish And Fowl
Traverse @ St. Stephens (Venue 101)
4 stars ****
Traverse @ Scottish Book Trust (Venue 346)
4 stars ****
The Track Of The Cat
C (Venue 34)
3 stars ***
IT’S AN ORDINARY SORT OF DAY in the office; or then again, maybe not. The sign over the door says Convenience Foods; and Geoff climbs out of the waste-paper dumpster, ready for another day of futile battle with all the awkward little objects that dominate his working life – including his less-than-gorgeous female colleague, a woman with whom he seems locked in a terminal battle of half-hearted lust and loathing.
This is the opening scene of Flesh and Blood & Fish and Fowl, created by Philadelphia-based theatre artists Geoff Sobelle and Charlotte Ford; and to begin with, it seems like a familiar piece of office satire, pitched somewhere between inspired post-modern clowning and situation comedy.
It turns out, though, that this superb pair of theatre-makers have more to say; for after half an hour or so, strange things begin to happen at Convenience Foods, as green tropical plants burst from the filing cabinets, and stuffed animals rear up over the open-plan partitions, staring glassily at the human race in all its glory. The music and lighting grow stranger and deeper, and the ravages of nature ever more exuberant; until the set looks like one of those images of an old Detroit skyscraper, sprouting trees and shrubs through its once-sparkling windows.
As a piece of theatre, Flesh and Blood & Fish And Fowl is short, clever, spectacular, and brilliantly executed. And as a piece of social commentary, it is even better than that; not unfamiliar, in its 21st century pessimism about a brittle urban civilisation on the brink of destruction, but full of rich irony, as the plasticised world of convenience food is swept away in a torrent of fur, flesh and foliage, and the powerful landscape of North America reasserts itself, at last.
Catherine Wheels’s exquisite new 40-minute show White – made for small children, and playing at the Scottish Book Trust – is also about a controlled and slightly bloodless environment invaded by outside forces; but in the optimistic world of theatre for the under-4’s, the invasion is seen as a positive and fertile thing, if a little scary at first. In Gill Robertson’s meticulous production, the show’s creator Andy Manley, and his collaborator Ian Cameron, play Cotton and Wrinkle, two little white men in white bobble-hats who live in a white world of white bird-boxes, nurturing white eggs that hatch into birds with fluffy white feathers; until a strange red egg falls from the sky, plunging their world into an ever-brightening riot of colour.
As a metaphor for change, and resistance to change, the idea is perfectly pitched, simple, clear, witty, and gorgeous to look at. What is really striking, though, is the sheer technical perfection of the show’s pacing and unfolding, as the tiny children who are its target audience follow the story in every detail. I still don’t quite know how some of the show’s transformations into colour are achieved; that’s a secret for the cast, the director, and designer Shona Reppe. However it’s done, though, the effect is delightful; playful, wise, mysterious, and full of joy.
Over at C in Chambers Street, meanwhile, Scottish-based director Graeme Maley and writer Chris Fittock launch their new 75-minute stage version of Walter Van Tilburg Clark’s fine American novel of 1949, The Track Of The Cat. Like Flesh and Blood & Fish and Fowl, the show seems preoccupied with the fragility of European-style civilisation set against the the mighty landscape of the new world, as it tells the story of a Nevada farming family gradually decimated by internal conflict, and a growing obsession with the hunt for a huge black panther said to haunt their valley in winter.
At this end of the Fringe – modestly funded at best – the standard of acting is often uneven; and the decision to have the whole family of five men and three women played by youngish female actors in black lacey slips creates such a distance of imagery between the story and the performance that they sometimes lose contact altogether. As the narrative takes hold, though, the visual dissonance becomes less confusing, and more interesting. And there’s some powerful live music from Edinburgh-based indie musician Benni Hemm Hemm – the only man on stage, and increasingly a key voice in the family’s dialogue with a natural world that both reflects their inner tensions, and generates the pressures that drive them to breaking-point.
Flesh and Blood & Fish and Fowl until 28 August (p.252)
White until 29 August (p.18)
The Track Of The Cat until 30 August (p.298)