JOYCE MCMILLAN on FOREST FRINGE 2014 for Scotsman Festival Magazine, 8.8.14.
IT’S NOT IN the Fringe programme, it survives on a patchwork of shoestring resources, and it mainly represents a particular creative generation, now aged betwee 25 and 35. Yet if you want to have your ideas about theatre radically and sometimes painfully rearranged, then the Forest Fringe at Out Of the Blue is the place to be; and this year – at least for this first week – it’s almost all about the end of the world, in various guises.
The exception, maybe, is Louise Orwin gentle one-hour show Pretty Ugly (3 stars ***), in which she looks with compassion and apprehension at the vulnerability of teenage girls in the internet age, and at their unnerving habit of asking for online reassurance about their appearance. As a piece of theatre, Pretty Ugly is a shade too closely wedded to the ditsy, oh-I-can’t-really-organise-my-own-show style of presentation that is a prevailing cliche with this generation of performance artists. At the heart of the show, though, there’s a profound human concern, backed by some interesting research; and Orwin uses mobile-phone technology in intriguing ways, both to tell her story, and to provoke reflection on lives increasingly lived through tiny screens, held in the palm of the hand.
Elsewhere, though, it’s all versions of the apocalypse, led by Christopher Brett Bailey’s blisteringly brilliant monologue This Is How We Die (4 stars ****), a surreal and mind-blowing odyssey acros the planet, in which the speaker uses a kind of beat-poet William Burroughs idiom to describe how he and his partner encounter Nazism in England, drive across America, kill a man, and finally dissolve into something quite other, represented by a ten minute terminal blast of thrash rock with amplified violins. At this stage, Bailey reads most of his text, crouched over a small desk. Given the intensity of his presence and the striking beauty and range of his voice, though, that’s a minor glitsch in a staggeringly eloquent piece of work.
Molly Naylor’s latest piece, co-created by Iain Ross, works on a much narrower canvas; but If Destroyed Stiil True (2 stars ***) contains its own version of the apocalypse, in the shape of the coastal erosion that is about to sweep away the home of the show’s fictional heroine Jane, whose story interweaves, here, with Naylor’s account of her own teenage years. Naylor’s show has some charm, but many problems, from its tuneless, over-amplified rock score, through its adoption of that same well-worn apologetic style, to an obsession with the cultural detail of teenage life 15 years ago that suggests a serious case of generational arrested development, and a Radio-4-comedy cynicism that Naylor acknowledges is both tedious and reactionary; time for Naylor to re-boot her aesthetic, and try something more rigorous, and more radical.
There’s much more artistry, and even more reactionary nihilism, in the Sleepwalk Collective’s new show Karaoke (3 stars ***), in which performers iara Solano Arana and Sammy Metcalfe stand by a plastic palm-tree, dressed in slightly distressed disco gear, and read or fail to read the 60-minute text projected on the screen, which roughly takes the form of a karaoke song. The text begins with screamingly tedious levels of self-obsession about the nature of theatre, then gradually spirals out into something that seems more about the history of humanity, apparently set to end on a beach, with the last couple kissing their way to oblivion. It’s a strange form of theatre that mainly involves sitting in the dark reading text from a screen. Yet there’s an intensity and shapeliness about Sleepwalk Collective’s work that commands attention; and if the show is not exactly theatre, it is fluent visual and verbal poetry, witty, irritating, and pulsing with a weird insistent life.
As for the latest show from the duo known as Get In The Back Of The Van – well, if irritation is what you seek, this strange journey through the world of two female performers living together in a London flat delivers it by the truckload. Number 1 The Plaza (2 stars **) begins with the shockingly dull and unfunny ramblings of two women sitting on high stools, while singing bad versions of sentimental show songs. Later, the couple introduce us to the geography of their flat, and smear themselves with what they say is their own poo, although in fact it’s just mashed-up biscuit; then towards the end, there’s a touch of roaring right-wing authoritarianism, a bit of near-nudity, and a sense that something dramatic might be happening. There’s a relationship here, certainly; and that same tension between a deep inner childishness, and attempts at adulthood that soon become either boring or frightening. Mainly, though, it’s just agonising to watch; and recommended only for hard-core theatre addicts, who get their kicks from watching the art-form itself pushed to the brink of extinction.
Forest Fringe continues until 17 August, at the Out Of the Blue Drill Hall.