Category Archives: Edinburgh 2013

Sid And Valerie

THEATRE

Sid And Valerie
3 stars ***
Summerhall (Venue 26)

In my bag, there’s a packet of Werther’s originals, handed out as a parting gift to every member of the audience at this new show by Sue Maclaine and Emma Kilbey; and it’s a strangely appropriate gift, from a show that offers a skewed and distrbing sideways glance at mid-20th-century British life, and its ever-cheerful showbiz culture. As veteran entertainer Sid and his fortysomething daughter take the stage, it’s clear from Valerie’s boundlessly expressive face, in Kilbey’s terrific performance, that everything in the garden is not lovely. She hates the old man with the deep, hurt hatred of an unloved daughter who was never the child the old man wanted; he thinks she is useless, both as a daughter and as a performer, and never hesitates to make his feelings clear.

Like a miniature version of John Osborne’s The Entertainer, in other words, this is a show that sets out to reveal the shser cruelty that lurks behind the smile of the much-loved public entertainer; in an age of searing revelations about what went on behind closed doors in British showbiz circles in the 1960’s and 70’s, it comes as a timely reminder that emotional abuse can do at least as much damage. And it’s all enlivened by a little tap-dancing from the eerily genial Sid, as well as some passionate Shirley Bassey songs from the unhappy Valerie; and by those Werther’s Originals, of course, little packages of dependable pleasure, in an otherwise bleak world.

Joyce McMillan
Until 25
p. 321

ENDS ENDS

Advertisements

Pirates And Mermaids

THEATRE

Pirates And Mermaids
3 stars ***
Scottish Storytelling Centre (Venue 30)

IN THE garden at the back of the Scottish Storytelling Centre, a handsome young man dressed in a smart kilt and jacket is opening his heart to a tiny audience of six other souls, gathered around him on a bench. The scene is supposed to be Central Park in New York; and in this new show by Poorboy Productions, Cameron – played with terrific, insistent charm by Jeremiah Reynolds – is telling us the story of his love for a Scottish girl called Eilidh, his childhood friend and sweetheart, who wants to stay in Scotland, while he needs to be in New York.

This is Pirates And Mermaids, the latest show by Scotland’s award-winning Poorboy company; and over a slightly over-long 90 minutes, Cameron leads us through all the twists and turns of the long-distance relationship, to an ending so inconclusive that the audience is invited to sign up for email updates, so that we can catch the next instalment. In terms of its apparatus, style and engaging approach to the audience, in other words, Pirates And Mermaids is a show to remember. Sadly, though, its content and story are fatally weak, from the original premise that Scots are temperamentally either “pirates” or “mermaids” – oh really? – to its weird and dodgy essentialist presumption that Eilidh is feisty, direct and outgoing because she is – well – Scottish.

For all I know, Americans in Central Park, and tourists visiting Edinburgh, may lap up this kind of stuff, which casts Scotland as a sweet little nation of quaintly lovable types. For myself, though, I think it has nothing to do with the future of Scotland, or of serious theatre made in Scotland; and not all Jeremiah Reynolds’s charm can redeem one of the weakest shows ever presented by a company which can usually be relied on to dig deep into the texture of life, and to come up with something much more rich and strange than this.

Joyce McMillan
Until 25
p. 311

ENDS ENDS

The GB Project

THEATRE

The GB Project
3 stars ***
Northern Stage at St. Stephen’s (Venue 73)

THE TITLE carries a deliberate double meaning. On one hand, Kate Craddock’s rich and interesting new solo show tells the astonishing story of the life of Gertrude Bell, a remarkable Victorian woman, born in Co. Durham in 1868, who rose to become a senior diplomat, spy and kingmaker across the Middle East. And on the other, it also offers an undercurrent of reflection on Great Britain’s imperial history, and the role in it of a woman who broke all the rules – both positive and negative – about women’s supposed conduct and attitudes.

There are moments when Craddock seems like something of a fashion-victim of contemporary performance, surrounding herself with every available current cliche, from the obligatory reflections on her own family history, to the tea in china cups handed out to the audience. Despite all this self-conscious detail, though, the sheer strength of the story Craddock has to tell – and of its implication for contemporary global politics, since it was Gertrude Bell who actually drew the borders of modern Iraq – helps propel this show to a higher level of narrative intensity and political questioning; both about the arrogance of imperial Britain in its pomp, and about what exceptional women like Gertrude mean to the development of feminism, given their dangerous determination to prove that they can be as tough as any man.

Joyce McMillan
Until 24
p. 283.

ENDS ENDS

How To Occupy An Oil Rig

THEATRE

How To Occupy An Oil Rig
3 stars ***
Northern Stage at St. Stephen’s

At the beginning of this latest show by poet and performer Daniel Bye, coproduced by ARC in Stockton-on-Tees, we in the audience are invited to fashion a little plasticine version of ourselves about an inch and a half high, and then to place it in a little tabletop demonstration that’s taking place on stage, with a tiny placard in hand, bearing the message of our choice. And as it turns out, it’s an opening that speaks volumes about the strengths and weaknesses of the whole show, which is timely and interesting in its proccupation with protest and activism on one hand, and yet strangely over-dependent on a certain hand-knitted charm on the other.

So over a genial 70 minutes, Bye and his co-performer Kathryn Beaumont tell a winning tale of a couple who first meet on an environmental protest, and who greadually become closer as they find themselvews meeting again and again, on ever more serious actions against overweening energy giants and oil companies. There’s some attractive music and fun chacterisation, but not nearly enough politics; and by the end, when the two are conducting a little puppet-sized occupation of a North Sea oil rig, it’s difficult not to feel that an opportunity has been wasted to say something harder-edged, and more seriously entertaining, about one of the key themes of this year’s Fringe – riot, protest, and rebellion.

Joyce McMillan
Until 25
p. 290.

ENDS ENDS

I Guess If The Stage Exploded

THEATRE

I Guess If The Stage Exploded
2 stars **
Summerhall (Venue 26)

Sylvia Rimat is a performer with a gift for off-the-wall stand-up comedy, who somehow finds herself trapped in the infinitely pretentious and self-obsessed world of post-graduate creative performance. In I Guess If The Stage Exploded, her main aim – expressed with a pleasing air of laid-back irony – is to explore the human power of memory, and to offer up various mental tricks that might make us remember her show.

In fact, there’s not much chance of forgetting two key visual elements of it, the large dark-red lampshade under which Sylvia spends most of her time, and the beautiful eagle owl which she brings on stage, as a symbol of memory and wisdom. But if she is really keen to create a show worth remembering, she could try this; she could remove her gaze from her own creative navel, distance herself from all those young creatives hanging around Tempelhof airfield in Berlin recording videos of each other, and try telling a story that matters, with a degree of craft and artistry that might make people want to listen.

Joyce McMillan
Until 24
p. 291

ENDS ENDS

Newton

THEATRE

Newton
2 stars **
Summerhall (Venue 26)

In this 80-minute lecture-style performance, the award-winning writer and actor Jack Klaff tells the story of the life and character of Sir Isaac Newton, the great founder of modern physics and cosmology, who sought to understand the inner workings of the universe. The problem is that Klaff seeks to tell this tale by taking on the roles of at least a dozen different historical and scientific characters, from the astronomer royal John Flamsteed to Sir Winston Churchill, each one with an accent more mannered and bizarre than the last; and alas, science has yet to investigate – never mind comprehend – the intergalactic black hole of compulsive over-acting into which Klaff’s performance disappears, never to return.

Joyce McMillan
Until 25
p. 305

ENDS ENDS

The Secret Agent

THEATRE

The Secret Agent
3 stars ***
Traverse Theatre (Venue 15)

LIKE MANY other shows in this year’s Traverse programme, Theatre O’s version of the Joseph Conrad novel The Secret Agent, first published in 1907, reflects on an act of violence, its causes and its aftermath. Set in Edwardian London, and staged in a version of the satirical Victorian Gothic style that briefly swept through English theatre a few years ago, the show tells the story of an ordinary early-20th-century everyman called Verloc, who finds himself being asked to infiltrate a group of anarchists who are allegedly planning violent incidents on the streets of London. The echoes of the more recent “wars against terrorism” are obvious; and in the final half-hour, when the story darkens into a real tragedy involving Verloc’s troubled wife (brilliantly played by Carolina Valdes) and her vulnerable child-like brother, it develops a dark dramatic energy that gives a fine ironic edge to its use of Edwardian music-hall trickery, and sweet popular love-songs of the period.

Up to that point, though, the show spends a long 75 minutes making a wordy, overwritten meal of the development of the story, slowed down even further by the company’s compulsion to turn every character and incident into a heavily-stylised vaudeville turn. There’s no point in strongly visual forms of theatre that only repeat in imagery and movement what’s already been said in the text; and if ever a production needed a sharp red pencil, more self-discipline, and a tighter focus on the narrative in hand, this ambitious but flawed version of a great novel is that show.

Joyce McMillan
Until 25
p. 318

ENDS ENDS