Category Archives: Edinburgh 2008

Invasian – Another Paradise

THEATRE
Invasian Festival: Another Paradise
3 stars ***
ClubWEST at Quincentenary Hall, Royal College of Surgeons (Venue 112)

GIVEN THE IMPORTANCE OF THE DEBATE about identity cards and civil liberties in current British politics, it’s surprising that the 2008 Fringe doesn’t boast more shows like this thoroughly enjoyable play from Kali Theatre of London.  Another Paradise is set in the west Midlands, in a dystopian British future when citizens need their identity cards in order to exist at all; and when a lost card means the loss of everything, and probable exile to the city of Coventry, now designated a kind of outdoor prison for all those who can’t prove who they are.

Sayan Kent’s play is a jokey but hugely lively piece of work, built around the story of what happens when the disaffected wife of an eminent businessman – deliciously played by Sakuntala Ramanee –  loses her card, and finds her identity taken over by a nice bloke called Enoch, whose wife has just stolen his identity in order to bestow it on a fireman she fancies.  There’s also a senior lady policeman with a dramatic back-story, and a mysterious freedom campaigner called Tom Paine, whose card records that he’s over 200 years old.

This is a good old-fashioned piece of wacky English radicalism, in other words, performed with occasional awkwardness but plenty of enthusiasm by a five-strong cast; and presented – in Janet Steel’s brisk production – with the help of some fine video backdrops of bourgeois interiors and city squalor, and of the flickering electronic screens that dominate the characters’ lives.

Joyce McMillan
Until 25 August
p. 206

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Same Time Next Week

THEATRE
Same Time Next Week
3 stars ***
C cubed, Brodie’s Close (Venue 50)

HERE’S A DECENT LITTLE ONE-ACT  PLAY for today, about two mates who meet in the pub every week, but whose lives suddenly take a tragic turn.   Anthony is a marriage guidance counsellor devastated when his own relationship begins to break down; John is a nervy, frustrated university teacher whose life falls apart when he receives a grim diagnosis from his doctor.  And in the background – at Anthony’s office, and in the nearby pub – they are haunted by the presence of a young chav-style couple who, without meeting any middle-class criteria for compatibility or even basic mutual decency, somehow manage to get on with life anyway.

Lazy Man productions make a brave, brisk stab at this small-scale modern tragedy, written jointly by Chris Leask and Martin West.  The play lasts barely an hour, but is decently structured in a short-scene televisual style, with a nice balance of humour and pathos.  In the end, though, it’s a story without much wider resonance, beyond a vague sense that the British middle classes have got it wrong, particularly when it comes to relationships.  And the acting, although spirited, sometimes does the script no favours, in a show that seems poised on the borderline between student knockabout, and real professional achievement.

Joyce McMillan
Until 25 August
p. 228

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Lynn Ferguson – The Plan

THEATRE
Lynn Ferguson – The Plan
3 stars ***
Gilded Balloon Teviot (Venue 14)

IT’S ALWAYS A PLEASURE to see Lynn Ferguson perform.  Her combination of down-to-earth scepticism and surreal fantasy is unique, her stage presence is powerful, her underlying sweetness of spirit tugs powerfully at the heart.   For all that, though, it’s difficult to see much point to this latest Ferguson solo show, co-written with Elly Brewer, and playing at the Gilded Balloon in tandem with her gorgeous woman-in-love-with-fish fantasy, Heart And Sole.

In The Plan, Ferguson plays the angel of death, the grim reaper in a smart city trouser-suit, working from a desk replete with executive toys.   Ferguson is at her cruelly ironic best when conjuring up the last moments of the angel’s  hapless victims, such as the woman who forgot to mention her asthma to the anaesthetist before volunteering for cosmetic surgery, or the man attempting some amateur electrical repairs; and there’s also a hint of sharp satire against a managerial culture that succeeds in reducing even mortality to a tick-box exercise, and an element in some executive business plan.  The idea, though, is hardly original; and although some of the content is fun, it barely carries enough weight to leave a mark on the memory.

Joyce McMillan
Until 25 August
p. 213

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The Time Step

THEATRE
The Time Step
3 stars ***
Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33)

WELL HERE’S A FRINGE THEATRE ODDITY, tucked away in the back of the Pleasance.  On a stage decorated in strange tones of nursery pink, with oversized toy-like furniture, mother Cid and daughter Ginger are locked together in an epic power-struggle.  Both have dreams of showbiz success as dancers, Cid in her supposedly starry past, Ginger in the future; but Cid also projects her formidable showbiz-mum ambition onto her four-year-old grandson, whom she prefers to treat as a granddaughter.

Things grow even more complicated when, at a talent contest, this ill-matched family encounter Cid’s former boyfriend Bradley, who has also abused teenage Ginger, and is probably the father of the ill-fated child.  Matthew Hurt’s play boasts a fine streak of Edward-Albee-like grotesquery, and benefits from a telling performance from the fabulous Linda Marlowe as Cid; and in Marlowe’s production, jointly directed with Josie Lawrence, the child is brilliantly played by a little life-size puppet created by Blind Summit.   But in the end, it’s difficult to attach much meaning, or real emotion, to a such an odd story of emotional child-abuse across the generations, told in such a deliberately alienating style.

Joyce McMillan
Until 25 August
p. 225

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Looking At Tazieh

EIF THEATRE
Looking At Tazieh
5 stars *****
The Hub

IN THE MAIN HALL at The Hub, the audience sit crossed-legged on a floor covered in beautiful Persian rugs. In front of us, a triptych of screens offers three perspectives on a performance of Tazieh – a traditional Shia Muslim passion-play, depicting the violent death of Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammed – in a provincial town in contemporary Iran. The large black-and white screen on the left shows the faces of the women in the audience, sitting on the upper tier of the outdoor Tazieh arena; the screen on the right shows the men and boys, sitting below. And in the middle, a smaller screen, in colour, shows the performance itself, a spectacular religious epic with heroes, villains and horses, powerful live music, and a thrilling alternation of verse monologue and song.

It’s not a theatre show, in other words, this superb masterpiece by the great Iranian film director Abbas Kiarostami; but it is an event profoundly about theatre, and about the nature of shared cultural experience. Over 77 minutes, we watch the magnificently varied faces of the audience as they gradually become drawn into the drama, weeping, covering their faces, gently beating their breasts in sorrow. And as we watch, Kiarostami seems to offer us infinite space, among the three screens, to reflect on what we are watching.

Looking At Tazieh reminds us, for example, of the roots of our own western theatre in similar passion-play rituals. It compels us to reflect on the faith that draws communities together in communal experience, and on the deep cultural consequences of the loss of that faith, in the shift to modernity. And above all, it emphasises the thrilling interplay of difference and common humanity that both divides us in the west from this devout Muslim community, and unites us in the profound human search for meaning and catharsis. This is, I think, one of the most magisterially brilliant works of art ever shown at an Edinburgh Festival; and the chance to see it is a privilege, not to be missed.

Final performance today, 6.00 p.m.

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4:48 Psychosis

THEATRE
4:48 Psychosis
4 stars ****
King’s Theatre

IF EVER THERE WAS a dramatic text that looked more like a score for performance than a conventional play, it’s Sarah Kane’s extraordinary final work 4:48 Psychosis, written shortly before her death in 1999.  Sometimes arranged across the page in strange patterns, sometimes moving from monologue into dialogue and back again, the continuous text is not assigned to any fixed number of speakers.  But it clearly records the last thoughts and conversations of a suicidal woman, as she reflects on the failure of her relationships, and argues with the doctors who cannot help her; and usually, in Britain, the play is performed as a fairly simple triple monologue.

In this dark and sensationally powerful version by TR Warszawa, though, director Gregor Jarszyna uses all the resoures of his company to create both a powerful soundscape and physical setting for the drama – a hospital-like space, stunningly lit by Felice Ross in shifting crosses, tunnels and tesselations of fading light – and to animate the various angels and demons that haunt the speaker.  There’s a doctor, a male lover, a female lover, and images of her younger and older self, all casting new light on Kane’s superb original text, which sometimes seems to blaze on the English surtitle screens like liquid fire.  What’s remarkable about Kane’s writing is that even in this moment of infinite bleakness, her words can’t help pulsating with an astonishing energy, beauty and wit.  And in the leading role, the wonderful Magdalena Cielecka gives an unforgettable performance, as clever, tormented, sharp-witted, beautiful and passionate as the lost writer herself.

Until Sunday, 17 August.

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Jidariyya

THEATRE
Jidariyya
3 stars ***
Royal Lyceum Theatre

SOMETIMES, the Edinburgh International Festival programme hits a nerve that is almost too painfully topical.  Last week, the Georgian National Ballet danced while their country spiralled towards war.   And now, the Palestinian National Theatre present their stage version of Jidariyya, an exquisite epic meditation on life and death by the great Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, who died suddenly last weekend.  On stage, a man lies in a hospital bed, watched over by a son who is also his younger self; and as the fading pulse of his life comes and goes, he rises to walk again through the fields of memory, through dreams of exile and love, of language and yearning, and of the rich beauty of the earth itself.

In the end, this beautiful show – eloquently designed by director  Amir Nizar Zuabi, with great washes of light and colour against which migrants carry their suitcases, or a goddess-like figure cloaks the earth in a field of corn – seems to me too much like a illustration of the poetry, and an afterthought to it, to sit entirely comfortably as a piece of live theatre.  The relationship between the images and the words – available to non-Arabic speakers only in awkwardly-phrased surtitles – sometimes seems strained, and a little unnecessary.

But Makram J. Khoury’s leading performance as the dying man is luminous with humanity and wonder; and the quality of the live  music, when the cast move into song, brings theatre and poetry together in a magnificent whole.  And with the whole performance dedicated to the memory of “our beloved writer”, Jidariyya is inevitably an intensely moving experience; although one that, in the end, probably offers little more than a reading of Darwish’s great poem itself, a hymn to the pain and beauty of life on earth written on the brink of death, and all the more radiantly sensual for that.

Until Sunday, 17 August.

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A Real Humane Person Who Cares And All That

THEATRE
A Real Humane Person Who Cares And All That
3 stars ***
Hill Street Theatre (Venue 41)

THIS YEAR’S FRINGE is not short of stories which journalism has abandoned, but which have been taken up by theatre companies.  One of them is the sad tale of Craig Murray, the sacked former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, whose story forms the basis of more than one current Fringe show.

In this new play by Adam Brace, presented at Hill Street by Rested Theatre, a liberal-minded ambassador in a central Asian republic is outwitted and humiliated by a well-connected resident British businessman who has – to put it politely – formed close relations over the years with the local warlord on whose land he mines.  And three naive British writers – supposedly in town to give British Council workshops – are the ones who eventually pay the price not only of the endless compromises made by British government and business  with the wealthy thugs now in charge of the natural resources of the former Soviet Union.   Rested’s production involves endless doubling and trebling of roles by a tiny cast, and sometimes seems, in style, like a frenzied low-budget version of one of those sexed-up, sensationalised television mini-series on topical themes; and the play barely has time, in 50 minutes, to do more than touch on the big subjects it tackles.   But it’s energy is formidable, and thoroughly enjoyable; and full of promise for the future.

Joyce McMillan
Until 25 August
p. 225

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Now Is The Hour

THEATRE
Now Is The Hour
3 stars ***
Hill Street Theatre (Venue 41)

REMEMBER THAT GREAT OLD British war movie of the 1950’s, The Cruel Sea?  Well, now you can enjoy your own Cruel Sea experience at Hill Street, where Crossroads Theatre present this unchallenging but thoroughly enjoyable and well-presented new play by David Walter Hall, based on the real-life story of the sinking in 1942 of the troopship Laconia, on its way back from Egypt to the UK.

Among the group of passengers on lifeboat No. 9 were young New Zealand serviceman Peter Medhurst and his lover, a beautiful Scottish aristocrat married to a senior British army officer but pregnant with Medhurst’s child; and in Hall’s play, we see this group of people – also including a feisty middle-aged spinster nurse, a stalwart Scouse seaman, and a verbose ship’s doctor – gradually reduced by dehydration and exhaustion, after 27 days at sea, to three struggling survivors.  It’s a decent story, well told; and if, in the end, it makes disappointingly little of the story of Medhurst’s dangerous love-affair, and its profound social resonances at such a time, that’s not the fault of the hard-working six-strong cast, or of designer Jeremy Daker, whose good-looking, ingenious lifeboat set keeps the show rolling on, towards the final moment of rescue.

Joyce McMillan
Until 25 August
p. 219

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Once And For All We’re Gonna Tell You Who We Are So Shut Up And Listen, Slick

THEATRE
Once And For All We’re Gonna Tell You Who We Are So Shut Up And Listen
4 stars ****
Slick
4 stars ****
Traverse Theatre (Venue 15)

ARE THE KIDS ALL right?  The answer, to judge by these two thrilling final shows of the Traverse 2008 Festival season, is that they might be; but if they are, it’s little thanks to us, the confused and self-serving older generation.  Once And For All We’re Gonna Tell You Who We Are So Shut Up And Listen – a new show from Flemish companies Ontroerend Goed and Kopergietery – features thirteen young performers aged between 14 and 18, who have created the work with director Alexander Devriendt; and the irony of the title is that in verbal terms, they don’t actually tell us much.  In a prologue, one of the girls, Charlotte, points out that anything they could say would be a cliche; and so what follows is largely physical theatre, intercut with a few infinitely telling short monologues and dialogue scenes.

So how do the kids tell us who they are?  They sit in a chaotic line on a range of old chairs, like a badly-behaved school class.  They play like the children they still sometimes are, with chalk and skateboards and even a Barbie-doll.  They dance, they fight, they experiment with sex and drugs; they mock the very idea of the perfect nuclear family.   The whole event is stunningly well choreographed, with a deceptive apparent casualness; the action is driven by a terrific choice of music, both rock and classical.   And by the end – barely 55 minutes on – we somehow feel we’ve come to know many of these young characters, with a close, physical immediacy which reminds us, on our very skin, that for all their striving for independence, young people in their teens still need physical warmth all around them, and plenty of hugs.

As for little Malcolm Biggar – the ironically-named short-arse hero of young Scottish company Vox Motus’s new show, Slick – it’s clear that hugs have been in short supply for him since birth.  Played, like all the characters around him, by a chubby, short-legged, cabbage-patch-style puppet with the face of a live grown-up actor, little Malcolm (aged nine and three quarters) is the unwanted child of a nasty failed stockbroker and fat, selfish Mum in a designer track-suit.  And when a gusher of hyper-priced crude oil suddenly emerges from the toilet-bowl of their city flat, he’s left alone with his trusty skateboard to deal  with the greed, curiosity and suspicion of evil, sex-crazed landlord Jerko Dreich, and his half mad old mother in the attic.

The story of this devised show, with script advice from Stephen Greenhorn, is frankly barking, although the consistency of its savage portrait of the adult world often leaves the audience gasping.  What Slick has, though, by the oily bucketload, is a faultless, fast-paced, brilliant sense of style, and of how to create a cutting-edge comic-strip show for theatre that combines the pathos of Oliver Twist with the savage satire of Viz magazine.  Jordan Young’s performance as the face of wee Malcolm is beyond praise; and the rest of the four-strong cast give him terrific support, in a show whose whole inspired creative team deserve a standing ovation.

Joyce McMillan
Until 24 August
pp. 220, 231

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