Category Archives: Edinburgh 2008

Phantomysteria

THEATRE
Phantomysteria
3 stars ***
Old College Quad (Venue 192)

MY HEART SANK A little, as I made my way up into Old College Quad to experience this spectacular show by Teatr Novogo Fronta, of Prague and St. Petersburg.  In recent years, after all, there’s been a slightly toxic collision between the once-mighty east European tradition of visual and physical theatre, and the insatiable showbiz demands of the western outdoor festival circuit.  Never mind the poetry, comes the message from the marketplace; just give us plenty of loud bangs, and fireworks.

It’s therefore very much to the credit of this long-standing group of artistic collaborators that they succeed, this time round, in meeting many of those demands, while at the same time producing a show that has its moments of genuine delicacy and thoughtfulness.  Like many outdoor theatre pieces, Phantomysteria tells a broad-brush-stroke story of the rise and fall of a civilisation; it begins with an apocalypse, follows a dusty survivor with a briefcase as he staggers from the wreckage to begin again, and watches his world in turn reach a crisis of violence and agony, before reaching a new accommodation with nature.  There’s plenty of smoke and blazing fire, and a brief satirical riff on the American Dream, in which an old 1950’s jalopy roars around the courtyard.  But there are also three powerful and precise performances from Irina Andreevna and her fellow-actors; and towards the end, some memorable use of contemporary photographic images, to remind us that this is, at heart, a show with serious intentions.

Joyce McMillan
Until 25 August
p. 120

ENDS ENDS

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You Don’t Know Jack

THEATRE
You Don’t Know Jack
3 stars ***
Rocket@Demarco Roxy Art House (Venue 115)

THE CARPETBAG BRIGADE of San Francisco are a company not to be ignored; and at the Demarco Roxy Art House, they’re presenting this most extreme and mind-blowing of all the shows on this year’s Fringe about the damaging impact of war. On a stage strewn with domestic debris and paths of stones, featuring a window here, and a teetering tower of authority there, it reflects – for a surreal, enigmatic 50 minutes – on the continuing family legacy of the wartime trauma suffered by Jack’s grandfather. Both little Jack himself, and his mad, self-destructive mother, are stalked by twin demons, male and female; nor is there much sign, in the show’s beautifully choreographed ending, that they will ever be laid to rest.

The problem, though, is that although this show contains some of the most bold and memorable imagery around on this year’s Fringe, it also suffers from some of the silliest acting, with the demons veering between that solemn, pompous self-absorption that reduces avant-garde theatre to a joke, and a needless, camped-up irony that doesn’t fit the subject-matter. There’s huge musical, theatrical and visual talent here, as well as the weirdest male hairstyle on the Fringe; but Carpetbag look like a company who need to stop playing to their admiring friends, and start reaching out to a wider audience.

Joyce McMillan
Until 24 August
p. 123

ENDS ENDS

Class Enemy

THEATRE
Class Enemy
3 stars ***
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

THE FINAL WEEK of the Festival approaches, and out of the dark   comes thundering a huge underlying theme of this year’s event; the story of a betrayed generation of young people.  This weekend at the Playhouse, the National Theatre of Scotland opens its new show 365, about the fate of young people emerging from care; for another few days, the Traverse plays host to Once And For All…, the electrifying Flemish show in which thirteen kids play and fight their way towards adulthood.

And now, on stage at the Lyceum, there’s Haris Pasovic’s production, for his Sarajevo-based East-West Theatre Company, of Nigel Williams’s Class Enemy, a play about seven fiercely alienated kids waiting in detention in a broken-down, failing school.  First seen in London in 1978, Williams’s play is an early example of high-energy in-yer-face theatre, full of splattering body fluids and naked contempt for authority; and Pasovic and his young company adapt it to the conditions of modern postwar Sarajevo in ways that entail some very high risks.

They dispense with the play’s beautiful, low-key, menacing ending in favour of a startling burst of gun-crime that provokes audience laughter.  They make three of the characters girls rather than boys, unleashing plenty of disturbing, porn-inflected sexual energy, but blurring the lines of character.  In the translation from Williams’s obscene 1970’s Cockney to contemporary Bosnian street-speak, they lose Williams’s fast-talking, redemptive verbal humour; and most importantly, they lose the powerful kinetic relationship between language and movement, suddenly rediscovered in the brief, electrifying sequences when Pasovic has two young Bosnian hip-hop artists set Williams’s words to their own rap rhythms.

What remains, though, is a fascinating work-in-progress exploration of the space between Williams’s 1978 vision of disaffected youth, and East-West Theatre’s traumatic and traumatised reworking of the material for a battered postwar society; and the production is illuminated by two or three magical performances, notably from Irma Alimanovic and Maja Izetbegovic as the two most obviously vulnerable girls.   “Most people, they pretend they don’t see me,” says one of them early in the show, the words weirdly coinciding with a walk-out by a section of the audience apparently unprepared for a bit of chaos and obscenity.   But the walkers would have done themselves more credit if they had stayed the course, to hear the story of these battered kids to the end.

Joyce McMillan
Until 23 August

ENDS ENDS

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

ENDS ENDS

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

ENDS ENDS

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

ENDS ENDS

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

ENDS ENDS