Daily Archives: August 18, 2012

Desperately Seeking The Exit

THEATRE
Desperately Seeking The Exit
1 star *
Laughing Horse@ Edinburgh City Football Club (Venue 164)

IN THIS STAGGERINGLY self-absorbed monologue, New York writer Peter Michael Marino offers far too much information about the mental, emotional and physical stress symptoms he suffered while trying to make loads of money by staging the world premiere of a Blondie tribute musical in London. He also cracks a few ill-tempered and inaccurate jokes about the differences between American English and British English. The show is called Desperately Seeking The Exit; reader, I was.

Joyce McMillan
Until 26 August
p.271

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Panga

THEATRE
Panga
2 stars **
Hill Street Theatre (Venue 41)

THERE’S PLENTY of talent around in the Edinburgh-based company Strangetown; but in this latest new play, the company’s trademark combination of domestic comedy and slightly menacing surrealism fails to develop much momentum. Lucy, brilliantly played by Beth Godfrey, is one of the many unhappy and disturbed twentysomething women around this year’s Fringe. She drifts, she drinks, she takes drugs; and as in the current blockbuster movie Ted, she prefers the irresponsible, wrecking company of her old toy panda – who has mysteriously emerged as a human-sized presence in her flat – to that of her nice boyfriend.

Once the situation is set up, though, writers Sam Siggs and Tim Primrose seem to have no idea where to take it. The detail is repetitive, the ending rambling and irresolute; and if there’s some force in the zeitgeist that’s making infantilised young adults cling neurotically to their stuffed toys, Panga leaves us no wiser about what that force might be.

Joyce McMillan
Until 26 August
p. 307

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The Boat Factory

THEATRE
The Boat Factory
3 stars ***
Hill Street Theatre (Venue 41)

THERE’S PLENTY of high emotion at Hill Street this year, not least in this touching play about the life of a shipyard worker at Belfast’s huge Harland & Wolff yard, written as part of the Titanic 2012 commemoration. Once a bright-eyed young apprentice in the 1950’s, now facing death thanks to years of exposure to asbestos dust, the play’s hero Davy Gordon is a fictionalised version of the playwright Dan Gordon, who also plays the role; and in an eloquent but fact-laden theatre-in-education-type show, he and fellow performer Michael Condron lead us through the story of Davy’s life from childhood to retirement, and the decline of the yards as a major employer.

The show’s main dramatic interest lies in Davy’s interaction with the other characters, from limping carpenter Geordie – who becomes Davy’s best friend – to the violent foreman. The play serves to remind us of the brutality and danger of manual work in an age when ‘health & safety’ barely existed; and also of the tight bonds of male friendships forged in the yards, and the sheer grandeur of the huge works of construction they undertook. From their lunchtime perch high above the yard, Davy and Geordie can see it all; and they describe that long-gone scene for us, in memorably vivid terms.

Joyce McMillan
Until 26 August
p. 262

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Dream Plays 1, 2, and 3 – Most Favoured, Catterline, Clean

THEATRE
Dream Play – Most Favoured
4 stars ****
Dream Play – Catterline
3 stars ***
Dream Play – Clean
4 stars ****
Traverse Theatre (Venue 15)

A PLAY, a paper cup of coffee, and a pretty good brakfast roll, with bacon, egg, or veggie suasage; that’s what’s on offer at the Traverse, at nine o’clock each morning for the rest of the Fringe, in the theatre’s powerful and addictive Dream Plays series of 45-minute rehearsed readings of brand-new plays by top writers from Scotland and beyond.

The idea behind the season – put together by playwright David Greig and Traverse director Orla O’Loughlin – is to invite the writers to dare to write scenes from a previously unthinkable play. Hence the series subtitle, Scenes From A Play I’ll Never Write; and the results so far suggest that the format is .

So in David Ireland’s thrillingly upbeat comic two-hander Most Favoured, which opened the season, Gabriel Quigley and Jordan McCurrach play Mary and Mike, a couple whose morning-after-the-night-before conversation, in a hotel bedroom somewhere near Haymarket station, takes a strange and mystical turn when Mary confesses that as a single woman about to turn 40, she has been sleeping around in the hope of becoming pregnant. If Mary’s confession seems slightly desperate, though, Mike’s calm response is downright weird; and their conversation plunges brilliantly through layers of implausibility and is trust, to a brief, glimpsing recognition of the truth that new life itself, and the love that sustains and nurtures it, is something of a miracle, almost beyond belief.

Sue Glover’s Catterline, which followed, is a more tentative series of scenes from a possible play about the life of the great Scottish artist Joan Eardley, and the two friends – joiner-turned-artist Angus, and lover and companion Lil – who accompanied her to the end of it. The tone is meditative and elegiac, the energy sometimes low. Yet there’s some intense poetry here, about Eardley’s art and the place that inspired it; and a hard core of dramatic potential in the tension between the reality of Joan’s life, as a woman caught between the masculine and the feminine but always certain about her vocation as a painter, and the conventional assumptions of the family and society who returned to claim her, at the moment of her death.

In terms of sheer formal excitement though, it was the season’s third play Clean – written by new writer on the block Sabrina Mahfouz, over the last few days – that really began to rattle the cage a bit. Inspired by sexist assumptions about whether girls can have the kinds of streetwise adventures featured in computer games, Clean features three women in contemporary London – Zainab, Katya and Chloe – all of whom fancy themselves as “clean” criminals, expert perpetrators of victimless crime. In their opening monologues, they all reveal themselves as fluent solo speakers about their way of life; but when the female boss of the club they all frequent calls them together, and forces them on pain of exposure to undertake a joint mission, they begin to learn the knack of working in a team.

In just 30 minutes, in other words, Mahfouz’s play sets up a powerful situation, creates three memorable characters, and speaks volumes both about the empowerment of young women, and about the solidarity between them that – in our individualistic culture – is often the missing piece of the jigsaw. And for a short, instant show, performed from a script that didn’t even exist a week ago, that has to count as a pretty impressive achievement.

Joyce McMillan
Until 26 August
p. 274

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Gulliver’s Travels

EIF THEATRE
Gulliver’s Travels
4 stars ****
King’s Theatre

THEY CALL IT Gulliver’s Travels, this fierce and sometimes luminous 80 minutes of performance from Silviu Purcarete’s acclaimed Radu Stanca Theatre of Romania. In truth, though, it seems more like an image-led journey around the troubled mind of Gulliver’s author Jonathan Swift, the great 18th century satirist, represented here both by a mountainous wheelchair-bound image of his dying self, and by a little wide-eyed boy, his younger alter ego.

Set on an open stage that seems like a seashore washed with light – yet is transformed in a trice, by the nineteen-strong company, into a hospital ward or a squalid city street – Purcarete’s show is mainly inspired by part four of the novel, in which Swift learns to admire the noble race of horses who rule the land he visits, and to despise the ape-like Yahoos, a barely-veiled caricature of the human race at its worst.

In exploring Swift’s anguished sense of himself as a member of this foul species, Purcarete descends into the depths of his imagination; his horrified accounts of battle, his satirical suggestion that the Irish should sell their babies for human consumption, and – above all – his fierce sexual disgust, expressed partly through his ironic ode to a disease-ridden Drury Lane prostitute. Yet with the unmistakable voice-over of former Edinburgh bishop Richard Holloway reading the words of the older Swift, this powerfully choreographed show emerges as a remarkable and sometimes beautiful 21st century tribute to a long-dead writer who fully anticipated the post-human self-disgust of our age; and expressed it with a fierce, surreal imagination that has never been surpassed, in 300 years.

Joyce McMillan
Until 19 August
EIF p. 13

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