Category Archives: Edinburgh 2015

Iphigenia In Splott

THEATRE
Iphigenia In Splott
4 stars ****
Pleasance Dome (Venue 23)

SOMETIMES, it takes a really great piece of writing – an Oliver Twist, say, or a View From The Bridge – to challenge a climate of vicious indifference to the lives of poor people; and to reaffirm the truth of human equality by creating stories of tragic and epic scale, set in ordinary working-class communities. Gary Owen’s terrific new monologue for Cardiff’s Sherman Cymru Theatre may not quite be up there with Dickens and Arthur Miller; its scale is smaller, and its no-holds-barred depiction of a life marked out in drinking binges and hangovers is mirrored in many other monologues on this year’s Fringe.

Yet at its core, Iphigenia In Splott uses that same leap of imagination to blow apart our assumptions about Effie, a hard-drinking, unemployed “slag” living on a Cardiff councl estate whose life is changed by an intense one-night stand with a severely wounded ex-soldier, which leaves her pregnant, and set on a roller-coaster of new experience that leads her to strange new depths of love, grief, despair and self-sacrifice.

The texture of the writing is fast, sharp and completely gripping; this is one of those monologues with a descriptive narrative so vivid that it leaves the audience feeling as if it’s seen a 75-minute film, rolled out inside our minds.

The intensity of the experience, though, owes as much to Rachel O’Riordan’s flawless production, as to the text. From Hayley Grindle’s sharp, understated design, through Rachel Mortimer’s lighting and Sam Jones’s sound, to Sophie Melville’s stunning performance as Effie, every detail of this productiion shines with a rare quality of emotional intensity and precision. And it leaves us in no doubt that Effie’s journey is an epic one, shot through with as much beauty and pain as the tale of Agamemnon’s daughter herself; and with as great a sense that her story forms the prologue to a battle yet to come – a war not between Greeks and Trojans, but between rich and poor, over the wealth of the nation, and how communities like Effie’s now seem to be losing even the modest share of it they could once call their own.

Joyce McMillan 
Until 30
p. 338
 
ENDS ENDS       

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Willie And Sebastian

THEATRE
Willie And Sebastian
3 stars ***
Gilded Balloon (Venue 14)

TWO YEARS ago, they won a Fringe First for Kiss Me Honey Honey, Philip Meeks’s bizarre and hilarious comedy about two middle-aged men devastated by divorce, who find themselves living in the same dodgy Edinburgh rooming-house. And this year Grant Stott and Andy Gray are back, deploying the comedy chemistry of their famous annual partnership in the Edinburgh King’s Christmas panto in this new Ian Pattison play based on the strange, true Soho tale of Willie Donaldson and Sebastian Horsley – the one an ageing former theatre producer and epic drinker, the other a famous modern-day dandy – and how they fell out over a woman, the model Rachel Garley, played here by the gorgeous Michelle Gallagher.

There’s plenty here to entertain Gray and Stott’s fans for an hour, not least a study-cum-living-room set, in Donaldson’s flat, that pleasingly combines squalor and faded grandeur, and Gray’s vintage performance as Donaldson, which, despite a certain uneasiness of accent, scales tremendous heights of wrecked dignity, sheer desperation, and last-gasp reslience.

Stott’s version of Horsley, though, often seems more like a send-up than a performance, even while he captures some of Horsley’s loving goodwill towards both Willie and Rachel. And despite some beautiful precision acting from Gallagher as Rachel, the comedy flags as the story approaches its relatively tragic end. There may be a great play to be written about Willie and Sebastian, in other words; but despite many entertaining moments, this is not quite it.

Joyce McMillan 
Until 31
p. 385
 
ENDS ENDS

The Human Ear

THEATRE
The Human Ear
4 stars ****
Roundabout @ Summerhall (Venue 26) 

OF ALL the shows I’ve seen on this year’s Fringe, Alexandra Wood’s latest play, presented by Paines Plough and directed by George Perrin, is perhaps the most dazzling technical tour-de-force, in terms of its demands on actors.  Performed with astonishing split-second timing and precision by Sian Reese-Williams and Abdul Salis, The Human Ear interweaves at least five conversations between one woman and two – or is it three – different men, taking place over a time-span of more than 15 years.  

The shift between conversations is signalled by a change in lighting state, and occasionally by a longer blackout, marking a pause;  and so we gradually come to recognise the woman, her long-estranged brother who suddenly appears on her doorstep, her new partner Ed (a kindly policeman), and also the brother  and sister when they were much younger, crashing their way through the final, hurtful row that led to their estrangement.

What Wood’s text does, in other words, is to mirror what ha[pens in our minds when we are in one moment but remembering others, last week or long ago; the incidents happen chronologically, but the memories are all present in our minds at once, overlapping and sometims colliding.  The effect is strangely moving, reminding us of how vulnerable we are to sudden memories, and how difficult it is to concentrate, when they crowd in to distract us.  And if the play collapses into everyday explanations at the end, it remains a brilliant idea, perfectly executed; and a strange, resonant story about family relationships and the need for resolution, told in ways that make it not only poignant, but absolutely riveting.                 

Joyce McMillan 
Until 30
p. 335
  
ENDS ENDS

Counting Stars

THEATRE
Counting Stars
4 stars ****
Assembly George Square Studios (Venue 17)

SET IN THE TOILETS of a downmarket nightclub in Woolwich, in the immediate aftermath of the violent murder of Drummer Lee Rigby, Atiha Sen Gupta’s new play has become one of the quiet successes of this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, shortlisted for the Amnesty International Freedom Of Expression Award, and much admired for boldly highlighting two key issues of our time – both the shocking workplace exploitation often experienced by illegal migrants, and the threat of racial violence that they experience from day to day.

The play’s two characters are Sophie and Abiodun, a young couple who are both from Nigeria, but who have met and fallen in love since they arrived in Britain; they are essentially working as unpaid attendants in the ladies’ and gents’ toilets of the nightclub, dependent for their income on tips, and on their ability to sell “extras” like condoms, chewing-gum, and squirts of designer perfume.  Sophie loves the work, and sees herself as a late-night beauty therapist and counsellor to the club’s female customers; Abiodun, who is more politically aware, absolutely detests it, particulary when their boss demands than he sing like some caricature of a black entertainer, to encourage the customers to buy his wares.

In the end, the play rushes towards its tragic ending at an almost dizztying pace, after 45 minutes of what seems more like pointed social comedy; it perhaps needs more than a one-hour slot to develop its narrative fully.  It benefits, though, from two fine performances, with Bunmi Mojekwu as Sophie embodying a terrific, warm life-force of young female energy; and Joe Shire brilliantly portraying not only Abiodun and his boss, but also the racist thug who, as the play reaches its shocking climax, decides to vent his rage on the only black man within reach, and to end Sophie and Abiodun’s chance of happiness, once and for all.               

Joyce McMillan 
Until 31
p. 310  
 
ENDS ENDS

A Game Of You

THEATRE
A Game Of You
4 stars ****
Traverse Theatre (Venue 15)

ONTROEREND GOED is one of Belgium’s most acclaimed theatre groups; and one of the key reasond for their fame is that instead of simply reflecting the profound individualism of the culture in which we live, they like to invite their audiences to confront it, to analyse it, and to think afresh about how they interact with other people.

A Game Of You is the third part of what they call their “personal trilogy”, which began a decade ago with The Smile Off Your Face; and this time around, as they lead each individual audience member into a dark labyrinth of spaces off the Traverse atrium, they use a web of visual and sound technology to confront us repeatedly with images of ourselves, as experienced by ourselves and other people. Over 30 minutes or so, we meet members of the company and chat to them, then hear our words reported back, or used to start a dialogue with the next audience member; we invent new identities for ourselves and others, and in the end, we receive a CD, recording our experience.

So far, i haven’t been able to watch the CD: one intense of half-hour of confrontation with my own image seems enough, for any one week. What’s striking about A Game Of You, though, is the careful gentleness of the experience, and the atmosphere of respect and even love with which the company surround our impromptu ramblings and responses. Whether I learned anything much from A Game Of You is hard to say. Yet there’s something about the mood of welcoming acceptance created by the company that seems strangely memorable and liberating; perhaps the lesson is that if we can learn to be as accepting of ourselves, then we might also find it easier both to connect with others, and to see ourselves as others see us.

Joyce McMillan 
Until 30
Not in Fringe programme  
 
ENDS ENDS

Forever Young

THEATRE
Forever Young
4 stars ****
Traverse Theatre (Venue 15)

IN THE MIDDLE of a busy Fringe day, I find myself in a moment of peace; sitting on a chair in a shop doorway on the corner of Queensferry Street, doing some people-watching, thinking about the hard question I’ve already been asked – in a nearby graveyard – about what my teenage self would think of me now, and then, on the instruction of a text message, reading the little handwritten diary of the girl who brought me here, which she’s left beside my chair.

This is the kind of thing that happens, to those who join in the solitary “journey theatre” experiences created by Melbourne-based company One Step At A Time Like This; and over the past two years, with a group of young artists from the Clonmel Junction Festival in Ireland, they have created this latest piece, designed to raise questions about what happens to youthful dreams, yearnings and ambitions, and how we feel when we look back on our own teenage years.  

The show involves a 90-minute walk around the West End backstreets of Edinburgh, and a series of strange encounters with two young women and a young man, who fly around and past like the spirit of youth itself, before returning to engage us in some telling chat; mobile phone calls and text messages ask questions, and give gentle instructions about the next step.  In the end, there’s a session with a young therapist, who asks how he should live his life, and keep his dreams alive. And there’s something about this rich encounter with new people, in a familiar landscape made strange and beautiful by their presence and perspective, that makes the answers to those questions seem very close at hand, although still just beyond our reach. 
                
Joyce McMillan 
Until 30
Not in Fringe brochure.  
 
ENDS ENDS       

Am I Dead Yet?

THEATRE
Am I Dead Yet?
3 stars ***
Traverse Theatre (Venue 15)

THERE MUST BE a great show to be written, sometime soon, about what happens to the human psyche when science reaches a point where death, the great equaliser and the one shared certainty of human life, begins to seem no longer inevitable.

It’s clear almost from the outset, though, that this gentle meditation from Unlimited Theatre of Leeds, presented in suitably vulnerable-looking pants and vests by co-authors Chris Thorpe and Jon Spooner, is not that show.  It’s rather a light-touch late-night cabaret, with songs sung by the cast and sometimes by the audience, that offers a slightly unresolved mix of intriguing information about the latest medical advances in reversing the process we call death, and exploration of our attitudes to the dead and dying, to the treatment of dead bodies or body parts, and to the prospect of our own eventual extinction. 

The show – written in collaboration Dr. Andy Lockyer of the UK Resuscitation Council – sometimes has the feel of a well-worked up health education project, as its accompanying leaflet urges us to find a “Death Cafe” somewhere near us, and talk through our  end-of life issues.  Thorpe and Spooner are charismatic performers, though, full of energy and style; and those who spend a calming 45 minutes watching this show are likely to emerge much better informed, although not necessarily very much wiser.          

Joyce McMillan 
Until 30
p. 294
 
ENDS ENDS