Category Archives: Edinburgh 2011

Medea’s Children

THEATRE
Medea’s Children
St. George’s West (Venue 157)
4 stars ****

ON THIS FRINGE, debate about the Medea story – one of the great founding myths of the west – has been dominated by the huge success of Zecora Ura’s eight-hour Hotel Medea at Summerhall.  Those who care about this mighty story, though – with its primal battle of the sexes, and two children doomed to become victims of it in the most shocking sense – should not miss this powerful alternative version of the tale by Swedish writers Suzanne Osten and Per Lysander, translated into English by Crister Dahl, and directed by Osten herself for Lung Ha’s, Scotland’s company dedicated to work with adults with learning difficulties.

As pure theatre, the show undoubtedly has its weaknesses, and its awkward moments; some of the casting seems decidedly strange, as Stephen Tait’s supposedly five-year-old  Jason Junior looms over his father Jason, in bulk and force of personality.  Yet Osten and Lysander’s script is so powerful, and Nicola Tuxworth’s performance as the older of the two children, Little Medea, so bold and poignant, that it’s difficult to forget this fierce, knotty and haunting version of the story, or to shake off its atmosphere of gathering terror and gloom.

Since the story is told by Little Medea, we have to believe in an alternative happy ending that she outlines, involving amiable divorce, and trips to burger restaurants on Sunday afternoons.  We’re haunted, though, by her dream or premonition of another ending, involving oceans of blood, and a mother finally driven by betrayal to the most terrible violence of all; and it’s the essence of this fascinating version of Medea – powered by a fine score composed and performed live by John Kielty – that it leaves us poised between these two possible endings, in that emotional no-man’s land between common sense and primal passion now  inhabited by so many broken families, across the western world.

Joyce McMillan
Until 29 August
p. 279

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The Pleasure Of Being: Washing, Feeding, Holding

THEATRE
The Pleasure Of Being: Washing, Feeding, Holding
The Point Hotel (Venue 109)
4 stars ****

AT THE TOP of this review, you’ll see a four-star rating: it reflects the poise and elegant design of the event I attended, and the conceptual boldness involved in planning and executing it. In truth, though, Adrian Howells’s second artwork of the festival – companion piece to his wedding show May I Have The Pleasure? – marks the point where one-on-one theatre merges into pure personal encounter, and into completely new territory. There’s no artifice here, no narrative unless you – the solo audience – want to supply one, no script, no invention of character. There’s just a hotel room, a bath filled with warm bubbly water and rose petals, and a 30 minute chance, under Adrian’s famously gentle touch, to relive the experience of being washed, wrapped in a fluffy towel, patted dry, and then lovingly cradled, and fed a few pieces of delicious fruit and chocolate.

For some, this experience seems to unleash oceans of pain, a suppressed longing for lost or broken family relationships that a lifetime of busy living has failed to heal; for me, it was more like pure pleasure and relaxation in the middle of a hectic day, a happy reminder of parents who loved me, and a family that worked. It does, though, provoke the deepest thought about the many different ways in which we buy intimacy, in a world where we are often too busy to get our personal relationships right; the soothing chat of hairdressers and barbers, manicurists, massage experts, physios, and all the other professionals – not excluding those involved in the oldest professional of all – whom people pay to give them the solace of what at least seems like a caring human touch. Now, it seems we can have that brief experience of intimacy for the price of a Fringe theatre ticket; and Adrian Howells is certainly a practitioner to be trusted with the raw material of anyone’s life. Yet the doubt remains: the questions about why we need this, why life itself now so often fails to offer us these basic pleasures of being, and how we can get ourselves back to a place where we have this kind of time, both for others, and for ourselves.

Joyce McMillan
Untl 28 August
p. ? Can’t find in fringe programme.

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Fit For Purpose

THEATRE
Fit For Purpose
Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33)
3 stars ***

THERE’S NO DOUBTING the good intentions of Catherine O’Shea’s 2010 play, presented jointly on the Fringe by the Pleasance and the End Child Detention Now campaign. Set in the notorious Yarl’s Wood detention centre, it tells the story of two detainees from Somalia, driven out of their country by tribal wars and by shocking abuse within their own family, and then further abused by a detention system manned by stupid, inhumane staff sunk in a culture of casual racism and institutionalised disbelief.

It goes without saying that there is an unceasing obligation to keep raising public awareness of the suffering of those caught up in a system which the British government could transform tomorrow, if it had the political courage to do so. As theatre, though, Fit for Purpose is almost as dull and obvious as it is worthy. Only people previously unaware of this issue could possibly gain much new insight or information from it, despite two beautiful central performances from Anna Maria Nabirye and Zeni Sekabanja; and although it has an obvious educational value, it misses out on the key role of art, which is not only to describe a situation which needs changing, but to be, in itself, part of that imaginative change.

Joyce McMillan
Until 29 August
p. 262

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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.

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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

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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

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