Category Archives: Edinburgh 2010

Diciembre

EIF THEATRE
Diciembre
Royal Lyceum Theatre
4 stars ****

ACCORDING TO Jorge, the troubled hero of this brilliant new play by the young Chilean writer-director Guillermo Calderon, his country reminds him of the month of December.  Chile, he says, is full of “sad celebrations”; and Calderon’s bitter and hilarious  80-minute comedy is set during one of them, a dismal Christmas Eve get-together involving Jorge and his twin sisters, both of whom are pregnant.  The year is 2014, Chile is at war with neighbouring Peru, Jorge is home on leave from the army, and his sisters are involved in a bitter political dispute.  Trinidad is rebellious, left-wing, internationalist, and determined to help Jorge desert from his regiment; Paula has become increasingly patriotic and nationalistic, affirming the racial superiority of Chileans over all other South Americans.

What’s striking about Calderon’s play, though, is the profound note of despair that drives the comedy.  If Calderon shares Trinidad’s scorn for the stupidity of militaristic nationalism, he cannot believe in her vision of a joyful revolutionary future.   And as for Jorge, he has stopped hating the war, because within it, he has found a love between men that means more to him than anything else on earth.

Performed in Spanish with English supertitles awkwardly placed on either side of the stage, the play requires the audience to read fast, as well as watching the action, particularly during the three raging monologues that form its climax.  The sheer youthful force of the acting, though, is moving and memorable, a masterclass in loud, hard-edged family comedy moving towards tragic political surrealism.  And if the theme of Jonathan Mills’s 2010 Festival was New Worlds, then this final play shows us a world not new enough; still plagued and made barren by hatred and war, and by dividing-lines between nations that amount to little more than lies, writ large not only on our maps, but in our minds.

Joyce McMillan.
Until 4 September.
EIF p. 33

ENDS ENDS

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The Man Who Fed Butterflies

EIF THEATRE
The Man Who Fed Butterflies
King’s Theatre
3 stars ***

SOMETIMES, DURING THE EDINBURGH FESTIVAL, an idea emerges with such a strange persistence, from so many different sources, that it’s difficult not to believe that it arises from some kind of collective unconscious.  This year, the recurring idea has had something to do with the moment of death, and with the concept that in that moment, we are somehow more alive, and more able to resolve our lives, than at any other time; and that idea is also the driving force behind The Man Who Fed Butterflies, the second of the two shows presented at the King’s this week by Juan Carlos Zagal’s extraordinary Teatro Cinema of Chile.

It has to be said that this second show in Zagal’s planned trilogy of cinema-theatre does not match the intensity of the first, Sin Sangre.  Its story is less focussed, less politically charged, and more cumbersomely playful.  The filmic style it references has more to do with sentimental magic realism, and the kitsch battle scenes of computer-generated fantasy-fiction, than with the classic elegance of film noir; its plot contains at least four slightly chaotic strands, including an irritatingly self-referential one about a film-maker trying to make an epic fantasy-movie.

Yet still, Zagal’s strange, poignant mixture of film imagery and live action exerts a strong pull on the imagination, as he explores the story of an old man in Santiago who believes he is the last link to an ancient people who, by feeding butterflies, forged a connection with the most powerful life-forces in the universe.  There’s also the story of the film-maker and his ex-girlfriend, who has lain in a coma for eight years after being shot during a student demonstration, and of a mediaeval knight and his lady, commemorated in a statue in the city.   And in the end, they all combine in a memorable rush of filmic mysticism; with the hint of a miracle for the living, as the old man finds his death, at last.

Joyce McMillan
Until 4 September
EIF p.31

ENDS ENDS

Sin Sangre

EIF THEATRE
Sin Sangre
King’s Theatre
4 stars ****

THINK OF live theatre, and the key element that comes to mind is the sense of a living interaction with performers who are breathing the same air, and almost close enough to touch.

So what are we to make of the Chilean director Juan Carlos Zagal, and his remarkable company Teatro Cinema, who seem – at least superficially – to create live theatre that is as much as possible like cinematic film noir?  With a hand-drawn aesthetic that involves graphic and abstract images as well as film, they project the background to the story onto two wide cinema-sized screens, one behind the other; while the five actors appear in the shadowy two-metre space between screens, fitting their performances to the stream of images, naturalistic or dream-like, that move around them.

It’s a strange, dusky form of theatre, in other words; it involves peering into the dark, for 90 minutes, at dimly-lit faces and figures veiled from us by the screen, and further distanced by the use of half-masks and wigs to alter the actors’ appearance.

The point about Sin Sangre, though, is that it has a formidable story to tell.  Based on a short novel by Alessandro Baricco, it involves a tale of hatred, revenge and continuing war that carries huge resonances for recent Chilean history, and that gradually emerges from Zagal’s strange symphony of images with a memorable force and lyricism.  The experience is far more filmic than it is theatrical.  Yet the presence of the live actors, trapped between screens, gives it an edge, an oddness, a poignancy, that almost seems like a metaphor for the situation it describes.  And if Zagal’s technique is too elaborate and  strange to point a major way forward for 21st century theatre, in Sin Sangre it nonetheless delivers a unique work of art; painting rich pictures of a pain that seems endless, until a moment of pure human redemption suddenly emerges from the darkness of the city, surprising, beautiful, and true.

Joyce McMillan
Until 3 September
EIF p. 30

ENDS ENDS

Waiting For Lefty

THEATRE
Waiting For Lefty
Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33)
3 stars ***

ON A FRINGE where “political theatre” often involves nothing but a violent expression of anger, it comes as a pleasure – and even a joy – to see this young company from King’s College, London, present such an ambitious and thoughtful production of Clifford Odets’s 1935 one-act classic about a group of taxi drivers, working for the same company, who can no longer live on the pittance they are paid, and who have to decide what to do about it.  In a brief hour, as the men wait to hear from an activist called Lefty who never appears, the scene alternates between their shared discussions in a union meeting, and brief insights into their fraught and poverty-stricken private lives;  no play can ever have made audiences feel more clearly the link between economic exploitation outside the home, and private misery within it.

Some of the young eight-strong cast do better than others, at playing characters substantially older than themselves; and the switch from an American to a northern English voice doesn’t always work.  But in Michael Tucker’s production, all the actors seem tightly and impressively focussed on the main purpose of the show, which – in a phrase from Brecht’s Arturo Ui quoted on their website – is to rouse people confronted with injustice and exploitation to “learn how to see and not to gape; to act, instead of talking all day long.”

Joyce McMillan
Until 30 August
p. 302

ENDS ENDS

Ma Joyce’s Tales From The Parlour

THEATRE
Ma Joyce’s Tales From The Parlour
Zoo Southside (Venue 82)
3 stars ***

THE POLITICS OF RACE often suggests – intentionally or otherwise – that “black culture” or “black experience” in Britain is a single phenomenon, rather than a hugely rich and varied one.  Victoria Evaristo’s low-key but interesting show highlights the experience of a black British character who is not young, is not male, does not live in London, and has no Caribbean family background; she is Liverpool born and bred, she lived a while in Africa with her Nigerian-born husband, and she is a mother and a grandmother, with strong views about family life.

She welcomes us into her parlour in the aftermath of her birthday party, although she doesn’t quite divulge her age.  She offers tea and crisps.  And for an hour or so, she reflects on her life, and on the pace of change in world where it was thought OK, when she was a child, to put her up on stage to sing a song called “I’m A Little Nigger Doll”; but where, now, she cannot even call herself “coloured”, but has to remember that she is “black”.

The play lacks any real sense of drama; Ma Joyce has no particular reason to be talking to us.  But there’s a sense of a character who has somehow never internalised the self-hatred that white culture often imposes on minority groups; with the help of her community, her city, her happy marriage, she has survived personal tragedy with her self-respect intact.  And her story comes as a powerful reminder that the history of black people in Britain has many faces; some of which reflect dignity, and wisdom, and strength, in quantities that can truly change the world.

Joyce McMillan
Until 30 August
p. 269

ENDS ENDS

Quality Control

THEATRE
Quality Control
Underbelly (Venue 61)
2 stars **

THERE IS A PLAY  ABOUT TWO Glasgow men with partners, having affairs on the side – one with another woman, the other with a young man.  There is the crayon factory where the two abused lovers work; and there are the dreams and nightmares that accompany the two doomed relationships, affectingly played out on a set that takes a few pieces of domestic plumbing – a bath, two washbasins – and maroons them in space.

Then there is the play about Quality Control, a shouty, aimless satire which involves a man dressed as giant crayon giving what is possibly the single worst performance on the Fringe.  If promising young Glasgow group proudExposure had stuck to the first play, they would have had a good three-star show on their hands.  But as it is – well, no.

Joyce McMillan
Until 29 August
p.281

ENDS ENDS

Face

THEATRE
Face
C soco  (Venue 348)
3 stars ***

OF ALL THE stories of sexual abuse and trafficking told on this year’s Fringe, none is more tragic than the history of the Korean “comfort women” who were forced, during the Second World War, to service the needs of the Imperial Japanese Army.  Tricked into leaving their homes, imprisoned, ill-treated, and raped thousands of times, these women not only endured a shocking wartime ordeal, but then lived through four decades of silence, during which a culture of shame about what had happened to them forbade them even to speak of it.

Haerry Kim’s solo show – written and performed by herself – is inspired by the courage of the first “comfort women” to speak out, back in the 1990’s.  Spoken in the voice of one of these women, who seeks to exorcise the ghosts of the past by drawing the faces of former “comfort women” she encounters at meetings, it presents the story of a typical abduction and rape, reflects on the postwar experience of the women, and features some wonderful visual imagery projected on a screen behind her still figure; images of sea and land, and of the women’s faces drawn in charcoal or pencil, lined, beautiful, magnificently feminine.  As a piece of theatre, the show lacks energy; there’s no sense of a real and necessary dramatic relationship between the speaker and the audience.  But it has weight, and dignity, and a vital story to tell; and many of the audience, on the night I saw it, were moved to tears.

Joyce McMillan
Until 30 August
p. 249