Category Archives: Edinburgh 2012

Wonderland

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

NORMALLY, four stars above a Scotsman review means that a show is recommended to our readers. In truth, though, I would recommend Vanishing Point’s Wonderland only to those rare, brave spirits who are ready to spend 90 minutes in a grim exploration of one of the ugliest aspects of 21st century culture.

Loosely inspired by the disturbing imagery of Alice In Wonderland, this latest show in director Matthew Lenton’s series of international works involves a journey through the computer screen, into the darkest reaches of internet pornography. John is a middle-aged married man increasingly obsessed with sadistic online porn; his daughter Alice has split from her parents over her determination to become a porn actress. And through nightmare layers of darkness and illusion, shadowed by filmed images and live video, the two gradually approach one another, until the story reaches an almost laughably gruesome conclusion.

In a sense, what Matthew Lenton is producing is no longer living theatre. In overcoming differences of language, he has developed a theatre of soundless voyeurism that robs actors of the chance to connect directly with audiences; what emerges instead is a visual and aural poem – stunningly designed here by Kai Fischer and Mark Melville – that dwells relentlessly on a single note of alienation and despair, defying every rule of drama.

Yet in the end, it also compels us to look at what is actually going on today in the erotic imaginations of millions, and at the industry of abuse spawned by the demand for such images. Its story is of a naive man who fails to resist the reductive lies about male sexuality implicit in the porn he uses, and of a confused girl who believes that this commercialised vileness represents freedom. And if resistance to such lies has to begin somewhere, then Matthew Lenton’s brave and relentless show may just be one of those starting-places; bleak, terrible, and necessary.

Joyce McMillan
Until 1 September
EIF p.16

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Fringe First Winners 2012

FRINGE FIRST WINNERS 2012

WEEK 1

ALL THAT IS WRONG   Ontroerend Goed, Traverse Theatre
CONTINUOUS GROWTH   Pleasance Dome
JUANA IN A MILLION    Pleasance Dome
MARK THOMAS: BRAVO FIGARO!    Traverse Theatre
WHY DO YOU STAND THERE IN THE RAIN?   C Chambers Street

WEEK 2

AS OF….  DANIEL KITSON   Traverse Theatre
DIRTY GREAT LOVE STORY    Pleasance Dome
EDUCATING RONNIE   Assembly George Square
THE LIST    Summerhall
MIES JULIE    Assembly Mound
THEATRE UNCUT   Traverse Theatre

WEEK 3

FLANEURS Jenna Watt at Summerhall
MONKEY BARS Chris Goode and Unicorn at Traverse Theatre
RAINBOW Boxed Cat/Sell A Door at Zoo Southside
THE SH*T/LA MERDA Cristian Ceresoli/Silvia Gallerano at Summerhall
SONGS OF LEAR Song Of The Goat at Summerhall
THREAD Nutshell at Assembly St. Mark’s
THE WHEELCHAIR ON MY FACE Fishamble at Pleasance Courtyard

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Dream Plays 7, 8 and 9 – Room 7, National Health, Skeleton Wumman

THEATRE
Dream Play – Skeleton Wumman
4 stars ****
Dream Play – National Health
4 stars ****
Dream Play – Room 7
3 stars ***
Traverse Theatre (Venue 15)

AS THE TRAVERSE’s breakfast-time Dream Play season rolls into its second week, it becomes increasingly obvious that the remit of writing scenes “from a play I’ll never write” – because of its scale, or ambition, or sheer craziness – is not one that the current generation of playwrights find easy. Most are offering early scenes from plays that they might well write; and only a few – Sabrina Mahfouz in the first group, Gerda Stevenson and Linda Radley here – are diving straight off the deep end, into uncharted seas.

Stevenson’s wonderful 25-minute theatre-poem Skeleton Wumman, featuring one actress and two on-stage musicians, is a monologue for a rickle of bones lying on the seabed, long dead, but somehow still able to think. Once, she was a disabled woman with non-working legs, living in a seaside cottage with her mother and fisherman father; but in this traditional yet futuristic tale, told in rich Scots, a big wave from the rising ocean has come and swept away their village. Now, she lies on the seabed, with only dolphins, seaweed and the odd drowned church-bell for company; until some kind of redemptive miracle begins to take hold, driven by the power of love. Pauline Knowles gives a stunning performance in this remarkable story, inspired by native American tales as well as by Scotland’s huge tradition of sea stories; and although it takes a while to exert its grip, its strange, ecstatic ending leaves the audience gasping, with the power of its poetry and storytelling.

Linda Radley’s National Health is set – like Janice Galloway’s play last weekend – in a women’s psychiatric unit; but what’s delightful about this treatment of the subject is that within minutes, her three actors are also out and about, demonstrating to us that if the three women in hospital are disturbed, then the society around them is just plain mad. A really interesting wave of sharp gestures and sudden twitches ran through the audience, for example, as Lynn Kennedy and Rosie Wyatt, both in excellent form, acted out a dialogue between an elderly man and a bank clerk whose employers have just frozen his account through their own incompetence; clearly, Radley is onto something here, with her contention that the national health is being damaged not so much by cigarettes and junk food, as by the sheer uncaring bureaucracy and corporate capture of the world we live in.

Johnny McKnight’s Room 7 also emerges as a lively show about a society that commodifies everything, as pretty young new recruit Jessie, played with spirit by Hannah Boyd, turns up for a job interview with an organisation that calls itself an IVF clinic, but turns out to have much more sinister baby-farming intentions. In the end, though, this seems like a play that’s going nowhere even over a short half hour, as Ros Sydney, playing the interviewer Vera, rolls out her increasingly chilling line in demented corporate newspeak and double-think, and two of Scotland’s finest actresses, Jeanette Foggo and Joanna Tope, loll in front of their computer screens, watching the whole scene on security camera. It’s a strong situation, well set up in the first five minutes; but dramatic development is there none, and the play ends up repeating itself, in a way that’s both deliberately nasty, and just a shade boring.

Joyce McMillan
Until 26 August
p. 274

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Teach Me

THEATRE
Teach Me
3 stars ***
Hil Street Theatre (Venue 41)

SIMON IS EIGHTEEN, Emma is 28; and she never thinks of him as anything more than her friend’s wee brother, untl they find themselves in bed together after a drunken night out. Emma is in a bad place anyway, caught up in a messy relationship with a married man, and exhausted by the increasingly gruelling round of other people’s hen nights, weddings and christenings; Simon is just inexperienced, and feels he needs to be taught the ways of love, or at least of sex.

And that’s about it, in this lightweight rom-com from the talented Edinburgh group Strange Town, as conventional as it is well-made. Playwright Alan Gordon clearly has a sharp eye for the ups and downs of modern romance, articulated as much through Facebook pages as through the traditional phone calls and dates, and Amy Drummmond and Andy Peppiette turn in two delightful performances, on a set that consists entirely of one big bed. Of the despair on Amy’s side that might form the real backbeat to this story, though, we see very little; and the rom-com format ensures an ending as reassuring as it is unconvincing

Joyce McMillan
Until 26 August
p. 326

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Female Gothic

THEATRE
Female Gothic
4 stars ****
Assembly George Square (Venue 3)

IN YOU ARE looking for a handsome, well-turned out, value-for-money Fringe show, that will offer you a superbly professional 75 minutes of pre-lunch entertainment without rearranging your life in any way, then Dyad Productions’s Female Gothic is exactly the show for you. Written and beautifully performed by Rebecca Vaughan, in a most elegant Victorian dress, it tells three Gothic tales of supernatural horror, each linked by a faint sense of the ongoing 19th century battle of the sexes.

So in the first, an arrogant student is pursued across Europe by the unquiet spirit of the loving young fiancee he jilted. In the second, an obsessive scientist is condemned to eternal horror by the passion for experimentation that led him to reject the woman who loved him. And in the third, the narrator tells a tale from her own life, of a friend seized by death soon after giving birth to her first child, and of the friend’s distraught husband, whom the narrator perhaps once loved.

All three tales are delivered with impressive eloquence and quiet passion, in a ladylike but intense performance that holds the audience in the palm of its hand. And if 11.45 in the morning is a strange time to be enjoying this near-perfect piece of after-dinner theatre, it still offers a great deal of pleasure, to those who like their theatre polite and handsome, but not without an edge of sharp intelligence.

Joyce McMillan
Until 27 August
p. 278

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Oh The Humanity/Once In A House On Fire

THEATRE
Oh The Humanity And Other Good Intentions
4 stars ****
Once In A House On Fire
3 stars ***
Northern Stage at St. Stephen’s (Venue 73)

IT’S BEEN A quiet presence on the 2012 Fringe, the first-ever Northern Stage season at St. Stephen’s Centre. Yet there’s been no shortage of respectable audiences for the strong and well-crafted programme of work there; and no show displays that commitment to quality more clearly that the Northern Stage/Soho Theatre co-production of New York writer Will Eno’s Oh The Humanity, playing at St. Stephen’s in the early evening.

On a subtly lit set of five screen doors which challenges the technical capacity of the venue to its limit, actors John Kirk, Tony Bell and Lucy Ellinson move swiftly through an 80-minute programme of five short plays, including two monologues, two two-handers, and one brief piece that involves all three actors. From a struggling New York sports coach delivering an imaginary speech to the press that reveals his inner heartbreak over a broken relationship, through a pair of middle-aged singles trying to compose their profiles for a dating website, to a hopelessly out-of-her-depth airline spokeswoman trying and failing to say the right thing after a fatal crash, his characters all seem lost, their disorientation reflected in the slightly surreal quality of his drama. In the finest piece of writing, The Bully Composition, he even invites us, the audience, to enter into a strange psychic communion with a group of soldiers photographed during the Spanish-American War of 1898, as we too prepare, in the middle of our lives, to have our group image preserved in time by one of the two speakers, an eminent photographer; and everywhere in this five-cornered pattern of shows, there is a sense of exploration, not only of the characters, but of the fragile possibility of communication between characters and audience.

Andrea Ashworth’s Manchester memoir Once In A House On Fire, also at St. Stephen’s, represents a much more familiar kind of northern drama, and is slightly disappointing in the predictability of its content and style. The story revolves around two young sisters growing up in Manchester in the 1980’s, with a series of abusive or unsatisfactory stepdads visited on them by their loving but gullible mother. There’s plenty of Smiths music, a lot of violence, and a real struggle for escape, on the part of the clever older sister, Andy. Yet somehow, the story seems familiar even before it starts; and it offers up enough stereotypes about how life is “grim up north” to get a powerful fire going, if the time ever came to consign some of those well-worn images to the blast-furnace of history.

Joyce McMillan
Until 25 August
pp. 305, 305

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream (As You Like It)

EIF THEATRE
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (As You Like It)
5 stars *****
King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

THE SEATS in the stalls are covered with dust-sheets, the stage is bare. Then from the back of the auditorium, with a volley of shouts like a bunch of removal men shifting a piano, Dmitry Krymov’s astonishing 20-strong Moscow company appear, hoisting chunks of a giant tree down through the audience, until it disappears backstage, never to be seen again.

This is the brilliant opening of Krymov’s joyous, anarchic and completely alive and beautiful 90-minute response to Shakespeare’s Dream; and it’s a gesture with a point, in a production that puts the “rude mechanicals” – and their play about lovers Pyramus and Thisbe – at the centre of the action, while a well-off-looking stage audience saunter in and take their onstage seats, flaunting their designer clothes, and displaying their prejudices.

There are acrobatic routines, passionate songs, an adorable performing dog, and two of the strangest and most poignant giant puppets you will ever see, playing the lovers. Beyond all the free-flowing fun and laughter, though, this gentle circus of a show has something vital to say about class; and about the need for theatre itself to live in the love of the common people, rather than treating them as light relief to be laughed at for a few minutes, towards the end of the play.

Joyce McMillan
Until 26 August
EIF p.14

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