Minute After Midday
Gilded Balloon Teviot (Venue 14)
4 stars ****
ON A FRINGE full of jugglers and mimes, acrobats and dancers, it is both sobering and tremendously enriching to come across a play like 15th Oak Productions’s Minute After Midday, which depends entirely on the fundamental relationship between three fine actors, a powerful, beautifully-written text, and an audience sitting quietly in the dark, utterly enthralled and moved by a story that could scarcely be better told.
Ross Dungan’s text – first conceived last year as a radio play – takes as its subject the biggest single bombing incident of the recent troubles in Northern Ireland, the Omagh bombing of 1998, in which 29 people died. In a fictionalised account of what happened on that August day – a Saturday, when Market Street was thronged with shoppers – he tells the story from three different perspectives, involving a young girl who survived the blast, a woman whose husband died in it, and one of the bombers, young angry teenagers drawn towards the republican splinter-group, the Real IRA.
It’s a simple formula, but it holds perfectly within its circle the deep truth that when terrorists attack civilian targets, they commit a huge and savage injustice; the people they kill are not the people who have hurt them, and are often the very people who had most to offer in healing the wounds of war. Playing in a hot, small space at top of the Gilded Balloon, Minute After Midday is a text-based play now transformed into luminous theatre by the voices and faces of the three young actors – Claire Hughes, Jude Greer and Rachel Parker – who give their story to the audience with an unforgettable intensity and generosity; and together with director Emily Reilly, they have created a show that, through a deep concentration on the detail of three human lives, tells us almost all we need to know about the horror, pity and outrage of war, in this form that treats civilians as combatants, and life itself as cheap ammunition in the struggle for power.
Until 29 August
St. George’s West (Venue 157)
4 stars ****
IT’S MESSY, it’s wordy, it’s over the top and sometimes all over the place; but still, there’s no resisting the indiscreet charm of this latest show from Sherman Cymru of Wales, which creates a mighty car crash between traditional Welsh culture – the Eisteddfods, the song, the language – and the world of a bunch of gay men, aged between 15 and 50, on a night out in Cardiff. Written in a fabulous mixture of English, Welsh, and the kind of 21st century “Wenglish” – Welsh structure, English vocabulary – that must give the language purists heart attacks, Dafydd James’s play tells the story of young Aneurin, on a weekend home from his life as a temporary office worker and aspiring writer in London, and his chosen family of gay men in the city of his birth, including thirtyish gay couple Rhys and Gareth, and ex-London showbiz extra Dada, now almost 50, but still game for a bit of love and laughter.
It’s a long night in Cardiff, and in its final half-hour, James’s play looks as if it will never end; it has more climaxes than the average porn movie, plunges wildly into emotional excess as Aneurin tries to face up to the death of his mother, and ends, unbelievably, with a fifteen-strong choir arriving on stage to sing a sentimental closing anthem, loosely based on I Am What I Am.
Despite its excesses, though, Llwyth is a play pulsing with energy, the kind of stereotype-busting cultural event which reclaims huge tracts of traditional Welsh male culture – including, after a fashion, the language itself – for those who might once have had to leave Wales entirely, in order to express the sexuality they were born with.
Until 28 August
The Simple Things In Life
Royal Botanic Garden – Simple Things In Life Sheds (Venue 212)
4 stars ****
IN A SMALL GARDEN SHED at the Botanics, with morning sunlight pouring through gaps in the planking, a tiny Asian woman – the dancer Makiko Aoyama – is dancing for an audience of seven or eight middle-aged theatregoers. The shed is decorated in red plush, Makiko’s little jacket is red, and the walls are lined with mirrors, in which we see our complacent selves reflected.
In Makiko’s dance, though – created by choreographer Frauke Requardt – we see an absolute reversal of the dead-eyed, pseudo-erotic display of commodified flesh that the situation half-suggests. Instead, this 15-minute dance is all about agency and energy, and shifts of real emotion on a vibrant face, full of humour, surprise, laughter and concern; and by absolutely forbidding the distancing of the dancer, or her reduction to an object, this tiny piece of intimate theatre distils the east-west theme of the current Edinburgh Festival into a single, tiny and unforgettable performance.
And this is only one of the five experiences created for garden sheds in the Fuel production company’s new show The Simple Things In Life, scattered across the gorgeous eastern ranges of the Botanic Gardens. Over 90 minutes, you can experience Barnaby Stone’s gorgeous oak-wood kitchen table, around which performer Victoria Mosley offers tea and encourages family memories; or David Harradine’s Song Field, which traps us in a hot shed with filmed images of a blue cloud-flecked sky and the sound of an ascending lark; or Lewis Gibson’s Lost In Words, a strange, dislocated and clever meditation on watching and reading, together and alone. There’s very little that’s simple about most of these experiences. They do, though, meditate powerfully on the detail of life, in a breathtakingly beautiful environment made to encourage deep thought and spiritual renewal; and together, they provide one of the richest experiences on this year’s Fringe.
Until 27 August