Daily Archives: August 20, 2014

The Bridge

THEATRE
The Bridge
3 stars ***
Just Festival (Venue 127)

WEAVING ITS WAY from Kerala in the 1930’s to Edinburgh in 2014 – with many detours and pauses for thought – Annie George’s solo show is a rich and meditative piece of family history, full of insight into the complex relationship between Indian culture and the idea of modernity, as it played out inthe 20th century.  On a simple stage backed by a rippling muslin curtain, George plays herself, her mother and her grandmother, all with different perspectives; the chief character, though, is her grandfather Paduthottu Mathen John, a poet and author in pre-independence India, who died in 1945 at the age of only 40.

Over 60 minutes, George brings together live performance, recorded voices, and visual images of family trees, old photographs, and her grandfather’s writings, in an effort to recapture his story, and that of his children.  It’s a slow-moving show, a little hesitant in style; and it sometimes seems a shade unambitious in drawing out the wider meanings of the narrative, across a vital period in Indian and British history.  There’s a memorable atmosphere and texture to The Bridge, though; and if it sometimes lacks dynamism as drama, it nonetheless represents a powerful act of remembrance for past generations, and for the sacrifices and journeys they made, in the quest for  a future in which their grandchildren might be free to speak, to aspire, and to create.

Joyce McMillan
Until 25
p. 286

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Belfast Boy

THEATRE
Belfast Boy
3 stars ***
Spotlites @ The Merchant’s Hall (Venue 278)

LIKE ANYONE visiting a psychologist for help with emotional or mental problems, Martin only has an hour or so to explain how he reached this point.  Martin is a gifted dancer, a gay man living in London, a lively, self-mocking character who likes to put up a cheerful and flamboyant front.  Yet he cannot sleep; and as he reluctantly opens up to his unseen counsellor, we begin to catch glimpses of a life that began amid the sectarian conflict of 1970’s Belfast, that brought Martin and his family to a safe house in England, and that has been shaped at so many levels by the constant threat of violence – sectarian, homophobic, domestic – that Martin barely knows, at the deepest level, how to relate to people without letting them abuse him.

This is the basic situation that inspires Kat Woods’s new monologue, based on a real-life story, and performed with terrific, febrile energy and feeling by Declan Perring.  With the audience essentially playing the role of the silent psychologist, Martin jokes, prevaricates, narrates, and even occasionally sings and dances, as he tries to tell his story while avoiding a confrontation with the terrible pain it implies.  It’s a very simple idea for solo play; but the young team from the Purple Penguin company work it out with impressive skill and intensity, tackling some familiar themes of abuse, self-hatred and emotional fragility from a distinctive angle, and creating a memorable and painfully vulnerable character in the process.

Joyce McMillan
Until 25
p. 283

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Broken Dolls

THEATRE
Broken Dolls (Razbitye Kuklu)
2 stars **
C cubed  (Venue 16)

IN THIS INTENSE and well-intentioned piece of journalistic theatre, the young Patere Theatrum company of New York deal with a subject – the trafficking of young women from eastern Europe into western cities – which has been the subject of many Fringe shows over the last decade, and has also become one of the voyeuristic obsessions of television and film drama across the west.

Broken Dolls tells the story of Narcisa, tricked into leaving her home in Moldova to become a prostitute in Germany, and of the rape, violence and bullying she endures, notably at the hands of her horrible pimp, Milos.  Despite an impressive leading performance from Ilona Saic as Narcisa, though, Peter Kelley’s   production seems theatrically hesitant; and Matthew Ackland’s script struggles to add anything new to our understanding of a situation which drama repeatedly describes, but seems powerless to alter.

Joyce McMillan
Until 25
p. 287

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Traverse Breakfast Plays

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JOYCE MCMILLAN on TRAVERSE BREAKFAST PLAYS for Scotsman Festival magazine, 19.8.14.
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IT’S WELL BEFORE 9 a.m. in the Traverse bar, but the room is packed.  In the middle stands stands a table bearing rolls, bacon, scrambled egg, and big pots of tea and coffee; people sit at tables munching their rolls and getting to grips with the morning, or join the queue that has already begun to snake its way down into Traverse 2, where Traverse associate director Emma Callander welcomes us, ten minutes later, with a glad cry of “It’s nine o’clock on a Sunday morning, and we’re in the theatre!”

And although some of the audience may look as if they have never been to bed, there’s no denying the huge popularity of the Traverse Breakfast Plays, briefly-rehearsed script-in-hand readings of brand new work featuring a brilliant team of actors, and lasting just under an hour.  This year, there are six plays, rolled out for the first time from Tuesday to Sunday last week, repeated again this week; and each one has been written by a member of the Traverse 50, the group of completely new playwrights recruited by the Traverse last year to celebrate the theatre’s 50th anniversary.  And if this raft of work is any guide, the future of Scottish playwriting is in promising hands; not safe hands, though, as these plays – each with a strong Scottish voice – veer through various levels of fantasy and surrealism, in their effort to get to grips with times that are often frightening, and sometimews downright absurd.

So the week begins with Tim Primrose’s Broth, a play about the deadliy serious issue of domestic abuse, handled with a wild and fantastical humour that defies domestic miserabilism, and even conjures up a faint echo of Synge’s Playboy Of The Western World, with its image of a rowdy and violent old patriarch rising again, despite a fierce blow to the head.  Here, though, the assailants are three women, wife, daughter and grand-daughter of the roaring, bullying Jimmy, who sees himself as a genial chap, but whose horrible temper draws the women, over decades, into an increasingly powerful conspiracy of violence.  Primrose’s text rambles on a bit, before it comes to the point.  Yet its power to attract four terrific performances – from Jimmy Chisholm, Kay Gallie, Meg Fraser and Sally Reid – suggests a huge dramatic energy in its image of three generationso of women who have finally had enough.  There’s also a strong theme of domestic violence in Molly Innes’s Mother Ease, perhaps the most naturalistic play of the six, although here, too, there’s a sense that narratives can be unstable, and that none of the characters is fully revealed.  In a council flat, two single mothers face one another, each convinced that she needs no help, and that she is advising the other on how to cope.  Eventually, they join forces to trackle a real case of child abuse; but not before this slow-moving but disturbing play has raised key questions about whose assumptions dominate, and who patronises whom, in our increasingly judgmental national debate about “bad parenting”.

For sheer formal flair and accomplishment, though, it’s the two romantic comedies in this Traverse Breakfast season that really raise the stakes, and leave the audience breathless with laughter.  Alison Carr’s Fat Alice, already seen in short form during last autumn’s Write Here! festival, is a brilliant metaphorical drama about a troubled couple – he married, she his mistress for the last ten years – whose relationship reaches a crisis when the vastly fat woman in the flat above their love-nest begins to crash down through the ceiling.  The play asks a simple question – when is enough enough?  But the sparkle and swing of the writing is terrific, attracting superb performances from Keith Fleming and Meg Fraser; and there is something deep in Carr’s entreal metaphor, about a society ill with self-indulgence, and unable to kick the habit.

And Lachlan Philpott’s Walter is equally funny and assured , a hilarious fantasy-drama about a single woman called Gina, approaching her 40th birthday, and her sister Sandra’s relentless attempts to pair her off with a man called Walter who turns out to have some very strange interests.  There’s something here about the beast within, and about the sheer risk and messiness of letting another person into our lives, after we reach a certain age; but also a fabulous mix of poetry and well-turned, well-timed comic writing, including a single stage durection which – in the context of a rehearsed reading – gets the biggest laugh of the day.

If all four of these plays show social tensions mediated through domestic life, though, the remaining two take a more explicitly political view of issues arising in Scotland, and elsewhere.  Martin McCormick’s The Day The Pope Emptied Croy is set on the day in 1982 when Pope John Paul II visited Scotland, and what seemed like every Catholic in the country went to Bellahouston Park in Glasgow to hear him say Mass.  In a deserted church in the little Catholic village of Croy, on the easter edge of Glasgow, two lads are therefore plotting a raid on the communion chalice; Ranald is a Protestant, under pressure to display his loyalties within his own community, while young Finbar is a Cathplic who cares about nothing but his relationship with Ranald.  Their story soon takes a surreal turn, though, in a passionate work-in-progress of a play that tries out several different tones, before emerging as a straightforward call-to-arms for gay rights, in a world where coming out a generation ago could be extremely dangerous, and perhaps still is.

It’s Sylvia Dow’s Blinded By The Light, though, that perhaps produces the most enduring political and dramatic vision ofthe week, with is intertwined narratives about a miner’s sit-in in a ine in Bo’ness in that same year, 1982, and about the lives of a group of  human survivors who have gone underground into the same  old mine-workings to escape catastrophic climate change, a century later.  Blinded By The Light is not a wholly successful play yet; its structure is complex, the 1982 sequences a shade predictable.  Yet it demanded a range and reach of its acting company that suggests a bigger play to come.  And here as in all the other plays, the acting ensemble of Jimmy Chisholm, Any Clark, Keith Fleming, Emma Hartley-Miller and Scott Reid – joined elsewhere by Kay Gallie, Sally Reid, and Meg Fraser – offered a dazzling display of sheer professional skill and commitment, thinking on their feet, and delivering some of the finest, toughest and most thought-provoking entertainment on the Fringe.

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