Category Archives: Edinburgh 2014

Boxman

THEATRE
Boxman
3 stars ***
Gilded Balloon (Venue 14)

THERE’S BEEN quite a bit of obsessive compulsive disorder  around on this year’s Fringe; but no sufferer of the complaint commands more sympathy than the twentysomething character conjured up in Ruaraidh Murray’s new solo show, which builds on his success with previous Fringe works like Bath Time and Big Sean, Mikey & Me.  This year – in a marked shift from the sub-Trainspotting plot of Bath Time – Murray’s protagonist is a troubled young man who, following a bad relationship breakup, sleeps in a cardboard box in the living-room, and can hardly come out of his flat without heading back several times to check that the cooker is off and the windows locked.

His life begins to change though, when he makes it as far as the local supermarket, and falls in love with one of the check-out girls; and the story evolves into a thoroughly witty and well-told modern romantic comedy, cheerfully peopled by all the weirdoes, sad cases, stalkers and eccentrics who wander the aisles of giant 24-hour supermarkets at night.  It seems strange, though, that a young Edinburgh writer of Murray’s obvious talent is still stuck in the same modest-Fringe-monologue groove he entered two years ago; time for someone to invest in his fast-developing gift for dialogue, and to challenge him to write the bigger play that is clearly in there somewhere, just waiting to emerge.

Joyce McMillan
until 25
p. 286

ENDS ENDS

Theatre Uncut 2014 Week 3 – Turkey

THEATRE
Theatre Uncut – Turkey
4 stars ****
Traverse Theatre (Venue 15)

SITTING RIGHT on the cusp between the west and the Muslim world, the great city of Istanbul has become a vital arena for some key  21st-century confrontations between faith and secularism, freedom and oppression.  In 2013, those tensions exploded into open conflict with the occupation of Gezi Park, a beloved open space in Istanbul scheduled to be bulldozed to make way for a new shopping centre.  There was a rapid escalation of violence, in which 11 protestors died; and now, the London-based  Theatre Uncut initiative, founded in 2010 when the UK’s “Occupy” movement was at its height, has put together a new programme of short 15-minute plays inspired by those protests, four by Turkish writers from Istanbul’s Dot Theatre, two by Scottish playwrights who have worked with them.

The plays – which will be available free for performance by any theatre group, anywhere, during Theatre Uncut week in November – range from near-verbatim pieces like Stef Smith’s Smoke (and mirrors), in which four young Turkish women reflect on their experience of the protests, to future fantasies like Hakan Gunday’s Flesh On Bone, which imagines a mid-21st century encounter in an art gallery where the paintings offer very different interpretations of this phase in Turkish history.

For me, the twin highlights of the programme are Derem Ciray’s Apollo 8844 – a tense dialogue about the threatened shutdown of free internet access in Turkey – and Davey Anderson’s Police State, about two sisters waiting in their flat during the protests who find their home invaded by state authority at its most arrogant and bullying.  Whichever play you choose, though, there’s a rich first draft of history, here, about one of the key civic conflicts of our time; and last Monday at the Traverse, they were given an impressive series of script-in-hand performances by a fine cast, led by Ece Dizdar, Tugrul Tulek, Lisa Diveney, and Iain Robertson.

Joyce McMillan
p. 358

ENDS ENDS

Green Snake

THEATRE
Green Snake
4 stars ****
C  (Venue 34)

IN A RARE final-week treat on the Fringe, the National Theatre of China arrives in Chambers Street with a brief 90-minute version of what began, last year, as a five-hour theatrical epic presented on some of the largest stages in China.  Based on the legend of the Green Snake – and featuring a strong element of Scottish collaboration, with a magical score by Edinburgh-based composer David Paul Jones – the show tells the story of two ancient snake-spirits, white and green, who decide to try to become human; the white snake because she yearns for love, and the green – well, because she just wants to have fun.

So what emerges, as the story unfolds, is something quite different from the chldren’s show perhaps conjured up by the title; a slinky, playful and erotic love-story about how one snake finds her human partner and gives birth to a human son, while the other does her level best to create mayhem among all the men she meets, including the stiff-necked and impervious Abbot Of The Golden Temple.

The costumes are gorgeous, the light sparkling, the floods and disasters that were staged in full in China conjured up by subtle projected images; the eight-strong acting company – six men, two fabulous women – are simply superb, funny, elegant, delicate, wise, and seductive.  At its deepest level, this ancient story invites us to consider the thrill and the tragedy implicit in our efforts to become something other than we are; the snakes want to be human, the humans strive for the perfection of Buddha, and in both cases they are likely to fail.  Yet the white snake’s love for her human husband carries her to the very brink of success; and the green snake too, in the end, finds that she now has more human love in her heart than some of the men she meets, on her long journey through the centuries.

Joyce McMillan
Until 25
p. 310

ENDS ENDS

Blood Orange

THEATRE
Blood Orange
3 stars ***
Summerhall (Venue 26)

IT’S A fiercely ambitious show, this first Summerhall outing by Electric Theatre Workshop of Dumfries.  In a fast, furious hour, writer/director Graham Main’s play sets out to tell the story of a teenage boy, mourning the death of his mother, who falls under the influence of the leader of the local right-wing SDL group, takes part in the savage bullying of a local Asian shopkeeper’s daughter, and – once he realises what he has done – becomes involved in a nightmare journey through the streets, in a doomed attempt to put things right.

There are echoes of Berkoff and of Shakespeare’s Romeo And Juliet, as the prowling SDL leader tries to drive a wedge between bofriend and girlfriend, and Main’s text flares into ambitious rhythms of verse and rhyme – there’s no routine in-your-face naturalism here.   In the end, the pitch and pace is just too intense, the story a shade confusing, and the tone oddly pitched between contemporary political street drama, satanic fantasy,  and dangerously stylish gangster movie.  It’s inspiring, though, to see Main’s young cast throw themselves at this difficult subject with such colossal energy, both physical and emotional; and with a little more light and shade in their theatrical style, Electric Theatre Workshop could emerge as an important new voice in Scottish theatre, and an impressive creative force.

Joyce McMillan
Until 24
p. 285

ENDS ENDS

Blood At The Root

THEATRE
Blood At The Root
4 stars ****
Assembly George Square (Venue 17)

WHEN THE United States elected its first black president, in 2008, many people hoped that his inauguration might draw a line under the long history of racial injustice, oppression and inequality in America. The record suggests, though, that history moves more slowly than that; and this month’s events in Ferguson, Missouri come as a sharp reminder that there are still parts of America where being a young black man is enough in itself to attract official suspicion, and even violence.

So it’s both interesting and inspiring to see the Penn State School of Theatre bring to the Fringe this powerful and timely new play by Dominique Morrisseau, based on a real-life incident, which examines what happens when a black student at a mixed high school in deep-south Louisiana decides to question the unspoken “rules” that still govern the uneasy interaction between black and white students.  In no time at all, racial tensions flare, with fights in the canteen and demonstrations in the schoolyard; and six young black students face the threat of a lifetime in prison, after an attack on a white classmate.

Featuring a vivid mix of dialogue, movement and sound, Blood At The Root makes its points with a graphic, open-hearted clarity that sometimes seems a shade obvious.  Yet Morrisseau’s play is not afraid to tackle some of the more complex aspects of racial politics in the USA, from the ambivalent attitude of some black students who want to put the racist past behind them, to the shocking bias that is evident in the criminal justice system.  And the level of commitment and understanding from Steve Broadnax’s young six-strong cast is unfailingly impressive, in a show that revolves around a terrific central performanc from Stori Ayers as Raylynn, the black student who decides that the old rules are no longer acceptable, and who risks paying a high price for her civic courage.

Joyce McMillan
Until 25
p. 285

ENDS ENDS

3000 Trees, 3000 Trees: The Death Of Mr. William MacRae

THEATRE
3,000 Trees
3 stars ***
Gryphon@West End  (Venue 109)
3,000 Trees: The Death Of Mr. William MacRae
2 stars **
Sweet Grassmarket (Venue 18)

WITH SCOTLAND’S independence referendum just four weeks away, there’s huge dramatic potential in the story of the strange death, 29 years ago, of the leading Scottish nationalist William McRae, flamboyant Glasgow lawyer, ardent whisky drinker, and passionate campaigner against Britain’s nuclear industry.  MacRae was fatally injured on Good Friday 1985, while driving north from Glasgow to his cottage at Dorrie.  He was found in his car with a bullet wound to the head, and the gun some 60 feet away; documents related to nuclear waste dumping at Dounreay had disappeared from his briefcase.  Yet his death was officially listed as suicide.

It’s difficult to glean even this much information, though, from the two plays about MacRae’s death playing in Edinburgh this month.  George Gunn’s 3,000 Trees – presented by his own Grey Coast company – avoids the documentary approach altogether, in favour of an imagined final encounter, in a village shop on the road, between a MacRae-like figure called Willie Mackay, the sinister secret service man pursuing him, and the young woman staffing the shop, an old family friend of Willie’s.  The dialogue is well-shaped, intense and mystical, as Willie foresees his death, and the other two characters sing verses from Hamish Henderson Flyting O’ Life And Death; yet despite three fine performances from Jimmy Chisholm, Helen  Mackay and Adam Robertson, the effect is less to reopen the unresolved questions surrounding MacRae’s death, and more to remind us of how much Scottish nationalism has changed, in the decades since MacRae stood for the leadership of the SNP.

Andy Paterson’s 3,000 Trees: The Death Of Mr. William MacRae takes a more straightforward approach, offering a monologue spoken by Willie himself from the limbo that followed his death, and including a roughly factual account of events.  Produced by Teatro Magnetico of Glasgow, the play is delivered with terrific intensity in a tiny room at Sweet Grassmarket, as Willie’s restless shade downs the best part of a bottle of whisky.

In truth, though this version of 3,000 Trees – named, like Gunn’s play, for the forest planted in MacRae’s memory in Israel, where he had been a visiting professor – seems too short even to begin to encompass the complexity of MacRae’s character, from his campaigning brilliance to the allegations of  concealed homosexuality that haunted his political life.  And the time is made even shorter by the fact that at various points in the story, the actor playing Willie is obliged to burst into ill-advised original  song, accompanied by a karaoke tape.  In such a tiny space, the effect is unintentionally comic; but perhaps the show will play better in larger rooms, on its planned 2015 tour around Scotland.

Joyce McMillan
Until 24,24
pp. 359, 359

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Tea Time Story

THEATRE
Tea Time Story
2 stars **
Zoo Pleasance (Venue 124)

SET MAINLY IN a Chinese labour-camp in 1969, at the height of the Cultural Revolution, Heather Lai’s monologue Tea Time Story tells of a young girl and a slightly older woman forming a friendship under the most difficult circumstances; and reflects on the meaning of freedom, which these characters can only glimpse in rare moments of love or respite.

The problem with this tightly-interwoven story, though, is that Lai and her director, Tea Poldervaart, struggle to find a way of communicating its full range and meaning through the monologue form.  Switching constantly between characters with the aid of a single piece of cloth, on a stage drenched in flour to represent the domestic world where the two women meet, Lai rarely has the chance to settle into any of the play’s many voices.  And the huge mess created by the flying clouds of flour eventually becomes distracting; in a production that has plenty to say, but that needs to say it with much more calmness and clarity, and with a stronger sense of the primary relationship, in solo theatre, between the performer and the audience.

Joyce McMillan
Until 25
p. 356

ENDS ENDS