Category Archives: Edinburgh 2011

Fringe First Winners 2011 – Complete List

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SCOTSMAN FRINGE FIRST WINNERS 2011 – COMPLETE LIST!
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This year’s Scotsman Fringe First winners. The Scotsman Fringe Firsts were founded in the 1970’s, by the late, great arts editor Allen Wright, to encourage new work on the Fringe. All pieces of new work premiered at the Fringe are eligible, provided they can be classed as theatre rather than comedy, music or pure dance. Shows previously performed more than six times in the UK, or previously reviewed in the UK, are not eligible. A final list of 2011 winners will be announced on Friday 26 August.

FRINGE FIRST WINNERS WEEK 1

FUTUREPROOF Traverse Theatre and Dundee Rep at the Traverse
MISSION DRIFT TEAM at the Traverse
SILENT Fishamble at Dance Base
SOMEWHERE BENEATH IT ALL, A SMALL FIRE BURNS STILL Gilded Balloon and Comedians Company at Gilded Balloon
THE TABLE Blind Summit at Pleasance Dome
2401 OBJECTS Analogue at Pleasance Courtyard
THE WHEEL NTS @ Traverse

FRINGE FIRST WINNERS WEEK 2

ALLOTMENT Nutshell at Assembly@Inverleith Allotments.
AN INSTINCT FOR KINDNESS Chris Larner/Festival Highlights at Pleasance Dome
THE OH F**K MOMENT Walker & Thorpe @ St. George’s West
RELEASE Icon Theatre at Pleasance Dome
SCARY GORGEOUS Rashdash at Bedlam Theatre
SIMON CALLOW IN TUESDAY AT TESCOS Assembly @ Assembly Hall
TEN PLAGUES Traverse Theatre Company
YOUR LAST BREATH Curious Directive @ Pleasance Dome

FRINGE FIRST WINNERS WEEK 3

LEO Circle Of Eleven at St. George’s West
MAD ABOUT THE BOY Iron Shoes at Udderbelly’s Pasture
MINUTE AFTER MIDDAY 15th Oak Productions at the Gilded Balloon
A REPLY TO KATHY ACKER: MINSK 2011 Belarus Free Theatre at Pleasance Courtyard
YOU ONCE SAID YES Look Left Look Right at the Underbelly

Congratulations everyone!

Follow The Fringe: Time For A Society Based On Creativity – Column 26.8.11

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JOYCE MCMILLAN for The Scotsman, 26.8.11
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AS I WRITE, it’s Thursday afternoon, and I’ve just returned from one of my favourite events of the whole Edinburgh Festival season. The Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award is given every year to the Fringe show – or shows – that make the greatest contribution to our understanding of human rights, and freedom of speech; this year’s joint winners were Sold, a terrific agitprop piece about modern forms of slavery playing at the Pleasance, and, at the Traverse, Zinnie Harris’s beautiful, disturbing drama The Wheel, about children in war.

As most people know, Amnesty is an organisation dedicated to “protecting the human” – our freedom, our right to a voice, our right to life itself. And as the Edinburgh Fringe roars towards its final weekend – with the city streets full of thousands of people engaging in all those activities that define and distinguish our species, from cracking jokes and juggling fire to reflecting deeply and obsessively on our own experience – it seems ever more important to ask whether this annual celebration of play and creativity always has to be once-a-year phenomenon, a brief celebration before things return to “normal”; or whether the time may not have come to take this explosion of creativity more seriously, as one of the major keys to a more sustainable future.

We in the west seem to be living, after all, through some kind of slow-burning crisis of our civilisation, in terms of where it goes next. For reasons economic, geopolitical and environmental, the long period of rapid post-war material growth in the west seems to be coming to an end; the age that took us from a world where most people owned little, to one in which even those classed as poor are surrounded by mountains of manufactured goods. During all of that period, with occasional pauses and downturns, we have used the fact of material growth as the main driver and raison d’etre of our society; the goal and reward that provided most people with a purpose in life, that kept them at work and on the right side of the law, and that – in our great shopping culture – always provided them with something to do in their leisure time.

For us in the west, though, there’s now a growing feeling that that time is over. As the recent riots demonstrated, we in the UK now have millions living on the kind of poverty pay or unemployment benefit that forbids any carefree participation in the consumer society; many of our young people are facing a future in which it seems they may never earn the kind of steady middle-class incomes their parents once took for granted. And we will inevitably face ever-higher levels of rage, disruption and unrest from those permanently excluded from participation in the only activity the culture around them seems to value, unless we can find a way of reorientating our whole society away from the crudely material goals that are slipping beyond our reach, and towards definitions of happines and satisfaction that reflect a more complex understanding of human needs.

Which is where cultural creativity, exchange, self-expression and challenge enters the argument, as one of the most dynamic and compelling of those needs; when the Rolling Stones asked, back in 1968, “what can a poor boy do, except sing in a rock and roll band?” it was the best kind of rhetorical question, a long finger pointing forward to an age when for many poor boys, the choice between a life of meaningless, jobless street violence, and a life of creative effort and self-reinvention, has become a stark one. Equally vital, though, is our need for close and joyful personal relationships, of the kind often disrupted by our recent high-stress, long-hours work-culture; for a sense of ourselves as a part of a wider community that is not under constant threat of destruction by economic change; and for time to savour the sheer beauty of the earth, to dig our gardens, look at sunsets, enjoy the view.

And the difficulty about all this is that although some of these changes can be reflected and picked up in market processes, markets cannot do the job by themselves; in the short term, they cannot help promoting superficial material remedies for deep forms of human unhappiness, or inciting the breakdown of convivial social structures, the better to sell us commodified protection against isolation and hardship.

If our society is to be refounded on a more creative and sustainable pattern, in other words, then our battered political systems will have to make the supreme effort involved in imagining, co-ordinating and supporting that change. Here in Scotland, we have at least the vague outlines of an economy that could, one day, move successfully towards a different kind of future; an economy both convivial and creative, that finds sustainable solutions to practical problems almost as a by-product of its dedication to human inventiveness in all its forms, artistic, scientific, and personal; a society that balances security and freedom by insisting on creative liberation, while guaranteeing to meet basic needs. And we wait, of course, for that new generation of mainstream politicians who will have the nerve to turn away decisively from the old gods of ceaseless material growth, to value the planet as a home we need to sustain, and to begin the serious work of shifting our measures of success away from the simple sledgehammer of gross domestic product, towards subtler measures of quality of life.

Yet in the end, it should not be impossible to imagine a world where the search for a rich, creative and connected life begins to replace the dreary grind of earning enough cash to pay down the mortgage, and to buy the next must-have consumer good. If the planet has had enough of this kind of empty, joyless consumerism, then so, at a deep level, have we. And this could – just possibly – be the moment when we begin to say goodbye to the age of consumption; and to move on into the age of invention, creation and reflection that we in Edinburgh are privileged to glimpse in embryo, for a few noisy, crazy and exhilarating weeks, in the summer of every year.

ENDS ENDS

Minute After Midday

THEATRE
Minute After Midday
Gilded Balloon Teviot (Venue 14)
4 stars ****

ON A FRINGE full of jugglers and mimes, acrobats and dancers, it is both sobering and tremendously enriching to come across a play like 15th Oak Productions’s Minute After Midday, which depends entirely on the fundamental relationship between three fine actors, a powerful, beautifully-written text, and an audience sitting quietly in the dark, utterly enthralled and moved by a story that could scarcely be better told.

Ross Dungan’s text – first conceived last year as a radio play – takes as its subject the biggest single bombing incident of the recent troubles in Northern Ireland, the Omagh bombing of 1998, in which 29 people died. In a fictionalised account of what happened on that August day – a Saturday, when Market Street was thronged with shoppers – he tells the story from three different perspectives, involving a young girl who survived the blast, a woman whose husband died in it, and one of the bombers, young angry teenagers drawn towards the republican splinter-group, the Real IRA.

It’s a simple formula, but it holds perfectly within its circle the deep truth that when terrorists attack civilian targets, they commit a huge and savage injustice; the people they kill are not the people who have hurt them, and are often the very people who had most to offer in healing the wounds of war. Playing in a hot, small space at top of the Gilded Balloon, Minute After Midday is a text-based play now transformed into luminous theatre by the voices and faces of the three young actors – Claire Hughes, Jude Greer and Rachel Parker – who give their story to the audience with an unforgettable intensity and generosity; and together with director Emily Reilly, they have created a show that, through a deep concentration on the detail of three human lives, tells us almost all we need to know about the horror, pity and outrage of war, in this form that treats civilians as combatants, and life itself as cheap ammunition in the struggle for power.

Joyce McMillan
Until 29 August
p. 281

ENDS ENDS

Llwyth (Tribe)

THEATRE
Llwyth (Tribe)
St. George’s West (Venue 157)
4 stars ****

IT’S MESSY, it’s wordy, it’s over the top and sometimes all over the place; but still, there’s no resisting the indiscreet charm of this latest show from Sherman Cymru of Wales, which creates a mighty car crash between traditional Welsh culture – the Eisteddfods, the song, the language – and the world of a bunch of gay men, aged between 15 and 50, on a night out in Cardiff. Written in a fabulous mixture of English, Welsh, and the kind of 21st century “Wenglish” – Welsh structure, English vocabulary – that must give the language purists heart attacks, Dafydd James’s play tells the story of young Aneurin, on a weekend home from his life as a temporary office worker and aspiring writer in London, and his chosen family of gay men in the city of his birth, including thirtyish gay couple Rhys and Gareth, and ex-London showbiz extra Dada, now almost 50, but still game for a bit of love and laughter.

It’s a long night in Cardiff, and in its final half-hour, James’s play looks as if it will never end; it has more climaxes than the average porn movie, plunges wildly into emotional excess as Aneurin tries to face up to the death of his mother, and ends, unbelievably, with a fifteen-strong choir arriving on stage to sing a sentimental closing anthem, loosely based on I Am What I Am.
Despite its excesses, though, Llwyth is a play pulsing with energy, the kind of stereotype-busting cultural event which reclaims huge tracts of traditional Welsh male culture – including, after a fashion, the language itself – for those who might once have had to leave Wales entirely, in order to express the sexuality they were born with.

Joyce McMillan
Until 28 August
p. 276

ENDS ENDS

The Simple Things In Life

THEATRE
The Simple Things In Life
Royal Botanic Garden – Simple Things In Life Sheds (Venue 212)
4 stars ****

IN A SMALL GARDEN SHED at the Botanics, with morning sunlight pouring through gaps in the planking, a tiny Asian woman – the dancer Makiko Aoyama – is dancing for an audience of seven or eight middle-aged theatregoers. The shed is decorated in red plush, Makiko’s little jacket is red, and the walls are lined with mirrors, in which we see our complacent selves reflected.

In Makiko’s dance, though – created by choreographer Frauke Requardt – we see an absolute reversal of the dead-eyed, pseudo-erotic display of commodified flesh that the situation half-suggests. Instead, this 15-minute dance is all about agency and energy, and shifts of real emotion on a vibrant face, full of humour, surprise, laughter and concern; and by absolutely forbidding the distancing of the dancer, or her reduction to an object, this tiny piece of intimate theatre distils the east-west theme of the current Edinburgh Festival into a single, tiny and unforgettable performance.

And this is only one of the five experiences created for garden sheds in the Fuel production company’s new show The Simple Things In Life, scattered across the gorgeous eastern ranges of the Botanic Gardens. Over 90 minutes, you can experience Barnaby Stone’s gorgeous oak-wood kitchen table, around which performer Victoria Mosley offers tea and encourages family memories; or David Harradine’s Song Field, which traps us in a hot shed with filmed images of a blue cloud-flecked sky and the sound of an ascending lark; or Lewis Gibson’s Lost In Words, a strange, dislocated and clever meditation on watching and reading, together and alone. There’s very little that’s simple about most of these experiences. They do, though, meditate powerfully on the detail of life, in a breathtakingly beautiful environment made to encourage deep thought and spiritual renewal; and together, they provide one of the richest experiences on this year’s Fringe.

Joyce McMillan
Until 27 August
p.297

ENDS ENDS

Samira

THEATRE
Samira
C soco (Venue 348)
4 stars ****

ITS FORM is strange, and only partly theatrical; its subject is one of the most difficult on earth. For those seeking to understand the forces that drive suicide bombers to commit their terrible acts of destruction, though, this new monologue from the Open Theater of Israel – written and performed by leading actress Anat Barzilay, and intercut with documentary-style filmed interviews with other characters in the story – offers a powerful speculation on the pressure experienced by one fictional suicide bomber, a 50-year-old woman called Samira.

Caught and interrogated by Israeli police after the partial failure of her suicide bombing, Samira seems like a rabbit caught in the headlights of their harsh and often obscene questioning, gradually forced to reveal the truth of a life in which she has been mistreated, excluded and despised by almost everyone she has encountered. Unable to give her husband any sons, treated with contempt by her all-powerful mother-in-law, denied the chance to study for which she yearned, confused by increasingly extreme religious teaching, and finally caught exchanging a shy kiss with a young academic who brings her books to read, Samira comes to regard herself a some kind of human trash, who can only be redeemed or forgiven through a spectacular act of martyrdom.

The play’s point – beautifully conveyed in both monologues and filmed interviews – is to suggest how extreme patriarchal family structures on one hand, and fundamentalist religious beliefs on the other, essentially destroy the possibility of moral behaviour, by constantly pressurising people to behave inhumanely as a matter of “honour”, and inviting them to seek glory in the next world, rather than to do good here on earth. At the end of the show, in a cinematic coup-de-theatre, the women on film simply remove their veils, as does Samira on stage; and the sense of transformation and liberation, seen in close up, is both startling, and deeply moving.

Joyce McMillan
Until 29 August
p. 295

ENDS ENDS

Death Song

THEATRE
Death Song
Udderbelly’s Pasture (Venue 300)
3 stars ***

LIKE A POWERFUL, atmospheric footnote to TEAM of New York’s huge Fringe hit Mission Drift, this latest show from the Newbury-based but internationally-connected You Need Me company is set in a trailer park on the edge of Las Vegas, where illegal migrants from Mexico compete with poor white people for scarce, badly-paid work, and the rule of law hardly applies. Seen from the perspective of a girl on the verge of puberty whose father is an illegal migrant – and using every dramatic square inch of a small, conventional studio theatre space, including the aisles and the back rows beside the lighting box – the story involves a love-affair between the father and an American girl which ends in furious violence, when he realises that while he has been distracted by his new love, his daughter has begun a relationship behind his back.

In the end, Death Song never achieves a clear enough focus to full justice to the steamy, threatening atmosphere it creates. It touches on themes of migration, child abuse, teenage alienation, violent crime and the death penalty, without fully committing itself to any one of them. At its best, though, it features some memorably powerful acting; and brings to the Fringe a strong and angry Latino voice, the voice of an emerging America that is rarely heard at all in British theatre, least of all in Edinburgh in August.

Joyce McMillan
Until 28 August
p. 255

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Hex

THEATRE
Hex
Hill Street Theatre (Venue 41)
3 stars ***

IF YOU’RE looking for a well-turned-out, laugh-a-minute late-evening sitcom to send you home happy after a day on the Fringe, then you could do much worse than show up at Hill Street for this latest show from Edinburgh’s startlingly gifted young company, Strangetown. Written by Tim Primrose (who also directs) with Sam Suggs, Hex is a deft 50-minute joke of a play that makes no claim to great substance or deeper meaning. Toby and Siobhan are a slightly creepy young married couple whose perfectly-furnished home harbours a Shop-Of-Horrors-type secret; Gwen is a new-age therapist who arrives to try and deal with the problem, along with her hilariously tact-free sidekick and lover, a peculiar girl known as Six.

What’s striking about the show, though, is its rare combination of near-perfect dramatic structure and pitch-perfect performance, with all four young actors achieving some superb, deadpan comic timing, and just the right note of slightly desperate hyper-realism, shading into black farce. There are plenty of good one-line jokes, and an all-round demonstration of theatrical skill that promises great things for this company’s future; and if I tell you that after this show, you’ll never feel quite the same again about the ubiquitous “sofa play” set in someone’s living room, I’m not betraying enough of the plot to spoil the fun.

Joyce McMillan
Until 29 August
p. 269

ENDS ENDS

One Thousand And One Nights

EIF THEATRE
One Thousand And One Nights
King’s Theatre
3 stars ***

THE BATTLE OF THE sexes rages for six long hours in Tim Supple’s vast and colourful multinational staging of the great Arabic epic One Thousand And One Nights, which had its world premiere at the Royal Lyceum on Sunday; but alas, to much less effect than the theme deserves, at this critical turning-point in Arab and world history.

Adapted from the original text by Supple himself and the Lebanese writer Hanan al-Shaykh, this version of the One Thousand And One Nights tells a series of 16 stories, in two three-hour chunks, and in a style that moves sinuously from illustrated narrative to direct performance and back again. And in story after story – beginning with the central tale of the lovely Shahrazad, who escapes her once-betrayed husband’s murderous vengeance against all women by telling him stories so spellbinding that he cannot bring himself to have her executed – we see women abused by men, raped, disbelieved, betrayed and lied to, summarily murdered, or ostracised and deliberately marked; and, wherever women can muster enough power to get their own back, we see men too being deceived, cajoled, cuckolded, and damaged.

It’s part of the magic of this mighty epic, though, that the mood is not often tragic. It has wild, surreal humour and light-touch jokery; and a constant awareness that if men and women can damage one another, it’s precisely because of the sweetness of the mutual desire that drawn them together in the first place, raunchily portrayed, in this version of the story, in one fierce sexual encounter after another, consensual and otherwise.

The problem with Supple’s version, though, is that it has not found a style which enables it fully to exploit the huge contemporary significance of its theme. The most obvious influence on its look and sound, and its illustrated-narrative technique, lies in Peter Brook’s mighty Mahabharata, created with a similar transnational company in the mid-1980’s. A quarter of a century on, though, Supple’s neo-traditional style begins to look painfully old-fashioned, and often irritatingly whimsical.

What is most important, though, is that this style, in the end, prevents the show from developing the kind of narrative cutting-edge it needs to create a compelling theatrical experience for a 21st century audience; and the consequences of this failure show up in long, lifeless passages of half-hearted jokery, and some pretty routine acting. Hidden within this show, there lies a great continuing meditation on the nature of oppression; on the fear, self-pity and paranoia of the oppressors, and the great human weapons – wit, music, storytelling, art – that no-one can ever quite take away from the oppressed.

Painfully absent, though, is the look, the imagery, the living debate about new kinds of freedom in the Arab world, which has raged during the show’s rehearsal period, and that would have linked this mighty epic decisively to our contemporary experience. And the result is an attractive but disappointing show, finally too long, too shapeless, and not bold enough – intellectually or artistically – to do full justice to its material.

Joyce McMillan
Until 3 September
eif p. 20

ENDS ENDS

Free Time Radical

THEATRE
Free Time Radical
Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33)
4 stars ****

BILLED AS “an epic tale of domestic proportions”, this new play from the company who created 2008 Fringe First winner Paperweight takes a familiar genre of lad comedy – the one about the two thirtysomething guys who still want to live like teenagers – and pushes it to a rare and intriguing extreme. Free Time Radical is set in a flat in London, where two men who have met in a pub, both keen on surfing, apparently find themselves trapped by a huge tsunami which has swept away most of Britain.

There’s something uneasy and ironic in this collision between hideous tragedy and trustafarian leisure cult; and the sense of creative, poetic unease continues and builds through a surreal hour, as the two characters – the married one who has waved goodbye to his wife through the sealed windows of their fast-drowning house, the single one who might or might not be gay – divide up their few cans of food, calculate that they can last for nine days, and embark on an intriguing see-saw between laddish banter, and abject tragic failure to deal with the world beyond the flat.

In the end, the bubble of illusion bursts, and the married one – played with terrific flair by Tom Frankland, with Sebastien Lawson equally persuasive as his sidekick – heads off home. And despite several false endings, leading to a long-drawn-out final 15 minutes, there’s something deep going on in a play, co-written by the company with director Jamie Wood, that can gaze so mercilessly at the truth that many grown men, in some moods, would rather see the world swept away by a tidal wave, than go home from the pub, love their wives, and shoulder their responsibility for the next generation.

Joyce McMillan
Until 28 August
p. 264

ENDS ENDS