|Edinburgh : A&E : Festivals : Fringe Theatre Reviews|
None = Unmissable
Page number refers to the Fringe programme
An Oak Tree (Page 168).
Drams none needed.
Venue Traverse (Venue 15).
Address 10 Cambridge Street.
Reviewer Lorraine McCann.
Tim Crouch's first play, My Arm, 'the story of the author's thirty years lived with one arm above his head', opened at the Traverse during the Fringe 2003, and has gone on to widespread critical success both in the UK and overseas. Be in no doubt that An Oak Tree will be a triumph of even greater magnitude.
One of the most prominent aspects of the publicity for this play focuses on its use of a different co- actor for each performance. Although these will be primarily actors who are appearing in other productions at the Traverse, none of them will have seen the play or read the script before they step up to play the role of the Father, alongside Crouch's Hypnotist. This is a particularly tricky ask because they are not there to improvise. On the contrary, they are given very specific instructions, some of which we the audience hear, and some we don't. But whatever the guest actors might imagine they're in for when they are ushered onto the stage, once they are there, they will find themselves in the midst of a tightly controlled performance of dazzling virtuosity.
The framework for the play is that of a confrontation between a bereaved Father and the Hypnotist whose car knocked down and killed the man's child. It is three months since the accident. In the intervening time, the Hypnotist has lost his belief in the transformative power of suggestion, but the Father has willed it that his dead child lives on in the form of a tree. And as the two of them grapple with their guilt and grief, we the audience are simultaneously pulled close and kept at arm's-length, at one point told we've 'gone home' whilst still lumpenly sitting there waiting for our catharsis like the voyeurs we are. Indeed, it is Crouch's weirdly Tantric acting that makes this piece so audacious. The way he constantly disrupts the Hypnotist's emoting, switching his remorse on and off like a lightbulb, never allowing us to slip our moorings and forget that this is a performance, is breathtaking.
Like My Arm before it, Tim Crouch's new work is an elusive, humane, luminously strange tale told by a consummate storyteller. Run, don't walk, to see it.
©Lorraine McCann, 5 August 2005 - Published on EdinburghGuide.com
Runs to August 28 at various times, not 8, 15, 22
news from nowhere.
Company Website www.newsfromnowhere.net
The Odd Couple (Page 168).
Drams None needed.
Venue Assembly Hall (Venue 35).
Address Assembly @ Assembly Hall, Mound Place.
Reviewer Lorraine McCann.
It's funny to think that there was a time when The Odd Couple didn't exist. A bit like remembering that there must have been a morning when McCartney sat down at the piano, plinked a few keys and warbled, 'Yesterday . . . Hmm. Not bad.' Meanwhile, in another part of the forest, Neil Simon looked at his brother living with a fellow-divorcee so that they could both save enough to pay their respective alimony, and an iconic idea was conceived. Since then, we've had the original stage play; the movie of the stage play; the spin-off TV series; the female version; the sequel to the movie; the re-make of the movie; and the re-make of the stage play. All we need now is the musical, the docusoap and the gay versions, and then we'll have a full set.
Interestingly, Guy Masterton 's hugely popular revival is of the original 1965 stage play. This means two things: unreconstructed men and bad furniture. Indeed, the latter is quite exceptional, with a particularly repellent faux leather sofa taking first prize. As far as the former goes, most people already know that Felix Unger is the sensitive, suicidally depressed neat-freak to Oscar Madison's laid-back, lassez-faire lady-chaser. Indeed, knowing these archetypes is precisely what Masterton 's high-profile casting relies upon, with the audience going in expecting to see Bill Bailey being a slob and Alan Davies being neurotic. Of the two of them, Bailey 's is by far the better performance. He brings to Oscar that essential sliver of ice in the heart, that selfish and studied immaturity that allows us to believe that this is a man who doesn't recognise his son's voice on the phone ('Dabby? Dabby who? No, there's no Dabby here. Oh, Daddy! Oh, hello, baby, yes it's Daddy . . .'). Brilliantly funny, of course, but with a dark undertow that Bailey understands and doesn't sell-out in the pursuit of cheap laughs.
Davies , on the other hand, gives a somewhat less assured performance, and seemed to me to be often on the very brink of corpsing. His accent, too, contains what can only be described as homeopathic levels of New Yorker (for which the (self-penned?) programme notes pre-emptively 'blame' his dialect coach). Also, I can't understand why he wasn't required to cut his hair. I mean, I know it's his 'trademark' Jonathan Creek look and everything, but it's just not credible that Felix would have that kind of shaggy mane, and it does rather have the effect of foregrounding too much that this is a celebrity event and not really theatre. However, I'd say the odds are definitely on Davies growing into this role as the run progresses and he gets the measure of the crowds, who really do seem to enjoy themselves.
Support is typically flawless from the likes of Phil Nicol , Dave Johns and Liz Roper in particular, and Simon's one-liners are seldom better than in this piece. One could wish the price of admission was a bit cheaper (twenty quid seems very un-Fringe-like to me) but it's a lovely venue for a genuinely entertaining show. Now all you have to do is find a spare ticket . . .
©Lorraine McCann, 8 August 2005 - Published on EdinburghGuide.com
Runs to 29 August at 1515, not 15th
Company: Assembly Theatre and Marshall Cordell
An Ofsted Inspector Calls. (Page 168).
Venue Augustine's. (Venue 152).
Address 41 George IV Bridge.
Reviewer Guy Woodward.
Welcome to the Sir Christopher Woodhead Memorial Secondary Modern City Technology Arts Status College School, a chaotic institution where pupils run riot, where members of staff flirt outrageously across the staffroom, where a renegade PE teacher plots against the Headmistress, and where the French Study trip haven't been seen since February. Into this mess, and with only one day's notice, stride three crack operatives from Ofsted, led by the sinister Mr Topping. Their mission is clear: as Topping cackles, "We should have this place shut down by teatime."
This is a children's production. All the actors are under 14, and I'd like to say that this gave the observational humour about school life an extra level of irony. To their credit the boys and girls from Feltonfleet Prep School put in a spirited and enthusiastic performance, and seem to be having lots of fun, but sadly the script is just not up to the job. Jokes and routines are repeated too often to stay fresh. There are a few brave stabs at satire, attacking the numerous "initiatives" and vast tranches of paperwork inflicted on the teaching profession by New Labour over recent years. However, a creeping sense of missed opportunity is inescapable, in what is clearly a fertile area for dramatic and comic development.
Salvation comes from the performances, which are almost unfailingly strong. The boys playing headmistress Dr Hetherington-Smythe and anarchic troublemaker Jack Langham were particularly impressive, and there are undoubtedly some future stars of the Fringe amongst this tight and focused ensemble.
©Guy Woodward 12 August 2005 - Published on EdinburghGuide.com
Runs to 13 August at 12.50.
Company - Feltonfleet at The Fringe.
Oleanna. (Page 168).
Venue PendFringe at Gateway, Gateway Theatre.
Address Elm Row.
Reviewer Edmund Gould.
David Mamet's all the rage these days, it seems. The Fringe is hosting two productions of Oleanna this year, as well as several other of the playwright's other works. With dialogue so real that some have accused him of transcribing tape-recorded conversations, the language of Mamet's plays never fails to ring true with the audience. Stephanie Feeney's production of Oleanna is a tautly directed, claustrophobic rendering of a wordy, complex script, and the director has found two fine actors worthy of such a difficult play.
John, superbly played by Robert Radcliffe, is a quietly unconventional university professor on the point of being granted tenure by his faculty. Into his study walks a young student named Carol, Samara MacLaren, who threatens the blissful security of his serene academic lifestyle. Initially offering her his assistance, John's words are slowly torn apart and thrown back with venom by the manipulative Carol, who launches a sexual harassment case against her mentor. John's unconventional musings on the purposelessness of higher education do not sit well with his indignant student, who plots his downfall with a cold air of indifference. John is ultimately forced to re-examine his own principles and rhetoric, and finds himself locked in a bitter, sexually potent conflict that quickly breaks down 'the artificial stricture of Teacher and Student'.
Radcliffe brings the tormented professor's frustration to the boil with patience and delicate skill, and MacLaren's transformation from confused little girl to calculating young woman is executed with subtle precision. The script can be heavy going at times as arguments are proposed and then meticulously dissected, and it's not always easy to follow. Even so, the director never lets the play drag, and her cast maintain a high level of intensity throughout, right up to the explosive climax. It's a gripping war of words, and the wit of Mamet's script is finely brought out by this intelligent production.
©Edmund Gould 26 August 2005 - Published on EdinburghGuide.com
Runs to 28 August at 19:30 (1hr 10 mins).
Company – Born Ready Productions.
Company Website - www.bornreadyproductions.co.uk
Omnium Gatherum (Page 169).
Venue Church Hill Theatre (Venue 137).
Address Morningside Road
Reviewer Lorraine McCann
In a sleek, minimalist New York apartment, not long after 9/11, a self-made businesswoman invites a selection of the great and the good to enjoy an exquisite meal, witty conversation and fine wines. But what she gets instead is a fierce clash of worldviews . . . and a shocking revelation about her own status.
Written by Theresa Rebeck and Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros, this Priestlian drama was a short-listed finalist for the 2004 Pulitzer Prize, and its aim is certainly true. In an America shaken to the core, some red-blooded patriots are beginning to question their country's role in the world, whilst others dig in behind the twisted rhetoric of American exceptionalism, claiming simultaneously to be both victim and vanquisher. As with most dinner-party scenarios, the guests all bring their own baggage to the feast: the novelists and academics are insecure or egomaniacal, whilst the pet fireman is simply hungry and hoovers up everything in sight -- all of which is done with nicely-judged wit and not surprisingly little didacticism.
Omnium Gatherum takes great care not to wear its heart on its sleeve, and is all the better for it. Although there is a certain mechanical even-handedness to the arguments vented round the table, tempers do flare occasionally and the violence, when it erupts, is entirely convincing. Powerful, absorbing theatre, acted with commendable poise by its young cast.
© Lorraine McCann, 20 August 2005 - Published on EdinburghGuide.com
Runs 21 August at 2015; 22 August at 1615; and 24 August at 1415
Company American High School Theatre Festival.
One Man Went to Busk. (Not in Fringe programme).
Venue Scotland's Theatre Gateway. (Venue 7)
Address Elm Row.
Reviewer Neil Ingram.
I'm sure we all dream when young of what we might be, but few of us realise our childhood ambitions. One Man Went to Busk is a simple yet effective telling of the story of someone who did. It tells the tale of Matthew, who starts as a busker in Glasgow and more or less by accident finds himself in London with a recording contract. Then fate takes over, and he finds himself back where he started.
This one man musical is performed and written by Matthew McVarish, an accomplished singer and songwriter who also plays all the character parts himself, assisited only by his own voice and music on CD. It's an clever and entertaining show, and to an extent I presume it's autobiographical, though the programme notes indicate that the real Matthew has never been reduced to busking, having been a successful musician and composer from an early age. My reservations about it are that it isn't really engaging enough, and some of the characters are little more than sketches, though he is a very talented mimic. I sense he is a better actor than his material here allows him to be.
©Neil Ingram 7 August 2005 - Published on EdinburghGuide.com
Runs to August 7 at 21.30, run now ended.
Company PendFringe at Gateway.
Company Website www.pendfringe.co.uk
One Act Of Madness. (Page 169).
Venue Bedlam (Venue 49).
Address 11b Bristo Place..
Reviewer Thelma Good.
There are some wonderful images in this production and sharp acting but ultimately the production flounders in the confused no-mans land between two stories. There's a barely fleshed out musical in rehearsal called Death Row The Musical and one set in a cutoff community where the last visitor was fourteen years ago. Both have possibilities, best worked out in the second where the society starts to look for witches in its midst and, after the ghastly death of a baby, the society searching for blame outside their community, accuses an innocent pig.
Committed acting, particularly from Gomito Productions' core ensemble, shadow puppets, especially composed music and inventive approaches to portraying moments of drama and terror help to lift the production at times. Strangely for what is normally an company full of stagecraft the scenes fail to flow from one to another and there are too many times where actors have to walk across the stage in rather long blackouts before scenes start or finish.
Gomito show themselves, this Festival, to be travelling through underdeveloped lands and failing to come to Edinburgh with a map or a coherent enough traveller's tale.
© Thelma Good 19 August 2005 - Published on EdinburghGuide.com
Runs to 20 August at 20:00 not Suns.
Company – Gomito Productions.
Company Website www.gomito.co.uk
Otherwise Engaged (Page 169).
Venue C Central (Venue 54)
Address Carlton Hotel, North Bridge
Reviewer Lorraine McCann
There are lots of things to like about Otherwise Engaged, but none of them are particularly original. For example, there's the triumvirate of females that make up the main cast - the sexy one, the dowdy one and the brassy one. Then there's the annoying granny, the bitching mothers-in-law and the ludicrously streetwise DJ. Throw in the fact that this is all taking place in a ladies' loo, and you've got the kind of thing Victoria Wood probably wrote for her A-levels.
But, as I said, there really are lots of things to like. For a start, Jenny Hughes can certainly write a good one-liner and the three central performances fairly crackle with energy. Joanne Cannon, in particular, is superb as the shallow, flinty Jude, whose determination to be the centre of attention, even at her best friend's wedding, will ring many bells with many women, I'm sure. Fiona Kate McPherson also hits the spot with Trish, who offers her armpits up to the hand-dryer in the time-honoured fashion, and Natalina Poll must be applauded for the warmth she brings to plain-jane Lindsay, who reveals that she once wrote to Jimmy Savile to see if he could fix it for her to take up smoking. The hideous bridesmaid dresses and the cheesy soundtrack of 'The Birdy Dance', 'The Macarana' and 'Careless Whisper' are likewise bang on.
All this adds up to something that's pleasant enough but doesn't really land its punches. It also seems to lose energy in the final third, perhaps because of the need to advance the plot rather than just have the girls sparking off each other. If you like your Fringe fluffy, though, this is one for you.
© Lorraine McCann, 15 August 2005 - Published on EdinburghGuide.com
Runs to 29 August at 12:30.
Company - Emergency Productions.
Our Girls' Brightest (Page 169).
Drams . or maybe a whole case of XXXX?
Venue The Zoo(Venue 115)
Address 140 The Pleasance.
Reviewer Neil Ingram .
There is no way I can do this show justice. I simply do not know what it is about. Their fliers talk about pleasure, but I could not detect any. There are two female actors from Australia. They appear on stage together, and do things.
It is a performance, but it does not communicate. It is occasionally funny, and often embarrassing to watch. One of them sings quite well. If this is what Australians think entertainment is about, I am sorry for them. And indeed for their cricket team. But not much.
©Neil Ingram 13 August 2005 - Published on EdinburghGuide.com
Runs to 29 August, not 15 or 22, at 15.45.
Company Hart and Low
Our Country’s Good. (Page 169).
Venue Demarco Roxy Art House (Venue 115).
Address Lady Glenorchy’s Church, Roxburgh Pl.
Reviewer Alex Eades.
I’ve always loved Our Country’s Good. I read it about five years ago and since then have been dying to see aproduction of it. This year, the opportunity presented itself and I jumped at the chance. Now, there is always the risk of building something up so much that there is no option but to be disappointed by the end result. Fortunately for me, I walked out of the theatre with a glow in my heart and a big smile across my face.
A wonderful story of theatres power to bring hope to those who don’t have any, Our Country’s Good leaves the audience wanting to set up their own theatre company and wow the crowd. The performances by the young cast are brilliant. Funny and powerful, the actors really do look like they are enjoying themselves and this knocks onto the audience, who really just want to jump in and make some theatre.
It isn’t on for long, so I’d catch this show before it disappears. One of the quiet gems of the festival.
©Alex Eades 24 August 2005 - Published on EdinburghGuide.com
Runs until 27 August.
Company - Demarco Rocket Production
Strangers. (Page 182).
Venue C Venue. (Venue 34).
Address C, Chambers Street.
Reveiwer Ariadne Cass.
I want to see Strangers because it says in the programme that it is influenced by Lecoq and Complicite. Good, I think. European style, physical theatre. I skim over the bit which says it is also about despair and the beauty of ludicrousness, because after all, what self respecting Lecoq - influenced peice wouldn't have a bit of despair in it?
I find myself and the six other members of the audience in a claustrophobic theatre at the bottom of C Main, with the sounds of jazz from the main bar and the babble of the staff outside invading. The theatre is evidently not well sound-proofed. I try not to let it get to me, but it does.
The show itself does have a lot of despair in it. Each scene is a beautifully played out physical ode to despair. But unfortunately, it also appears to have no discernable plot, save that one of the characters suddenly becomes a little crazier and starts to attack the others. I am never sure whether each scene is a separate sketch, or if I'm supposed to be keeping track, trying to connect them together. I spend a lot of time puzzling over the threads of plot I manage to pick up. I like my theatre to have a plot. I know physical theatre is supposed to be symbolic, but what is the point if you've no idea what it's supposed to be symbolising? Abstract emotion does not keep me occupied, no matter how well done. Nor does existential loneliness. It's too uncomfortable.
Much of the mime is carried out in complete silence, and this is very unfortunate, because, thanks to the ambient noise, it isn't silence which accompanies what should be some wonderful dramatic moments, but jazz or careless conversation. When music is played, it is a relief. It helps me to be absorbed into the show.
There are some funny moments and some good clowning in this peice, but everyone seems to be too shy to laugh. The audience almost manages to portray loneliness and isolation better than the performers do.
I want to see this show again, and this time, I want to enjoy it. I want to like it. I want, above all, to understand it.
The performers from this international company are impeccable in their discipline and their emotional expression. Each actor, and each scene, is very good. But true understanding of what they're collectively trying to convey is always just beyond my grasp.
©Ariadne Cass 7th August 2005 - Published on EdinburghGuide.com
Runs 3 - 29, Aug at 18:10.
Company - Somatic Tintamarre.